Cancer blues

This is a post about cancer.

This is a post in honor of all the men, women and children who have died from cancer in the post-industrial age.

This is a post that acknowledges, fully, the extent to which American society has led the way in the extermination of these people–these cancer victims.

How many cancer victims do you know?  According to the World Health Organization, cancer accounts for millions of deaths worldwide each year (7.6 million deaths in 2008, more than died from the Nazi Holocaust).

Cancer is a Holocaust.  It is a disease, or disorder, that cuts across every economic boundary.  It is just as prevalent among the 1% as among the 99%.  It is just as prevalent among the highly educated as among the working class, although of course certain professions are more risky: industrial agriculture, factory work, anything involving radiation.

The truth is that most of the technologies we Americans love the most–cell phones, smart phones, wireless, for starters–are hazardous to our health.  Just like junk food, which we also love.  Or the wanton burning of fossil fuels in our beloved SUVs.

When climate change activists tell us we have to give up our fossil fuels to save the planet, we act like spoiled toddlers.  NO! We will NOT give up our toys!  NO!  We will NOT turn down our themostats, or buy smaller cars, or make a concerted effort to switch to solar.

As parents, we Americans are generally pretty permissive.  We let our kids have what they want, unless it is dangerous for them, or detrimental to their health.

I never let my kids drink Kool-Aid or eat Cheetos, because I knew very well that the junky chemicals in those products were harmful.

But I have let them have cell phones. We have wireless throughout our house.  From what I understand, smart meters, which communicate wirelessly, via electro-magnetic radio frequencies, are in the process of being installed on every home in America.

We can’t afford to eat exclusively organic in my home.  We live near a river polluted with PCBs by GE.  We breathe air labeled “hazardous” on many summer days.

And as a result, we are at risk for cancer, just like everyone else in the developed world.  Everywhere that chemicals are dumped into the environment, everywhere that the ozone layer is thinning, everywhere that the winds blow radiation around, living organisms, including human beings, are dying of cancer at elevated rates.

Last week my Human Rights, Activism and the Arts class at Bard College at Simon’s Rock watched a TED Talk by Eve Ensler, who has (so far) survived a run-in with cancer.  Eve brilliantly makes the point that the inner landscape of cancer mirrors the outer landscape.  What we do to the environment comes back to haunt us in our own bodies.

If we humans, of every class background, are now falling sick in record numbers, it’s a reflection of our sick our environment is.  How sick we have made our environment.

Heal our world, heal ourselves.

Eve Ensler has spent years fighting against the violence that men perpetrate on women’s bodies.  A survivor of an abusive father herself, she has waged a heroic battle against her own demons, and the demons that beset patriarchal cultures worldwide.

She is gearing up now for her biggest effort ever, One Billion Rising, a campaign by V-Day to galvanize men and women to stand up against violence, especially violence against women.

I salute Eve Ensler’s ground-breaking efforts to put her art in the service of social justice, and to link the quest for social justice to environmental health.

If we can’t heal our planet, we will not be able to heal ourselves.

We are the cancer on our planet.

Our own treatment approaches would dictate our eradication.  Radiation therapy: burn it out.  Chemotherapy: poison it to death.

But there is another way.

Look upstream, as Sandra Steingraber has been telling us for the past 20 years.

Find out what is causing the cancer, and CHANGE IT.

Find out why so many women are suffering from violence, and CHANGE IT.


Where there is a will there is a way.  How sick do we have to become, how sick does our world have to become, before we find the will to change our ways?

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  1. Paul Klinkman

     /  February 18, 2012

    Ten years ago my wife went to a cancer causes workshop. The researchers were drinking out of glass jars. We have been carrying our own water and drinking out of glass jars ever since.

    Every house on our street where I grew up had someone with cancer. In our house it was my older sister, who died of uterine cancer. We were near a Superfund site. Our block had to switch from well water to city water because we were drinking trichlorethylene.

    1 out of 1800 people died of cancer, up until 200 years ago. The concept was so rare that Greek physicians almost missed it. A child born today has a 1 in 2 chance of dealing with cancer. That’s far more than our extended life spans would create.

    In addition, chemicals may cause autism. The Amish have a 1 in 15,000 incidence of autism, and the rest of us have a 1 in 150 incidence. Something causes chemical sensitivity, known to veterans as Gulf War Syndrome. We’re also seeing more birth defects.

    Our manufactured food and our low-exercise lifestyles are causing diabetes and heart disease, and may contribute to the cancer rate.

    Where fossil meets nuclear is in terms of human casualties, but this is where quite a few manufactured products also play a part.

    Our first level of self-defense is to find and take easy steps to reduce our health risks. Don’t put up with recyclable plastics number 3, 6 and 7. Use non-pesticide ways of maintaining your lawn. Don’t eat genetically engineered foods because they contain a real soup of odd chemicals, some of which regularly make sensitive people sick.

    Our second level is to act as extended families. If you wouldn’t do something to your own children, don’t do it to the neighbors’ children, or to anyone in a close community. We go selectively organic (peanut butter is in my opinion the most important food to buy organic) not because we’re rich (I’m pretty poor) but because it’s medically prudent, and because insurance companies might drop you like a hot potato if you are diagnosed with cancer, so your community’s best strategy is to avoid the sources of cancer.

    I know how hard it is to act as a community. That’s the problem. If even 10% of us acted as communities, the stores couldn’t make a profit selling cancer-causing products to the other 90% and they would switch over to the safe alternatives that the Council of Europe already demands.

    • On February 16 the journal Human Molecular Genetics published a study by UC Davis researchers which linked the chemical BDE-47 to autism. BDE-47 (tetrabromodiphenl ether), a member of the class of polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs) is a common flame retardant used in electronics, furniture, bedding, carpeting.

      This is the first time that genetics and epigenetics are linked with exposure to flame retardants.

      Janine LaSalle from UC Davis: “While the obvious preventative step is to limit the use and accumulation of PBDEs, these pollutants are going to be hard to get rid of tomorrow. However, one important preventative that all women could do tomorrow is to start taking prenatal vitamins before becoming pregnant, as these may counteract the toxins in our environment through DNA methylation.”

      Concerning vitamin pills read my other comment (polystyrene nanoparticles).

      An average of 1 in 110 children born in the US today will be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

  2. The journal Nature Nanotechnology published a study on February 12 about polystyrene nanoparticles — a common, FDA-approved material found in food additives and vitamins. The substances were tested on chicken. Short-term exposure blocked iron absorption, long-term exposer led to increased iron absorption because of structural changes of the intestinal villi. It seems, that the body of animals and humans can adapt to challenges but the researchers pointed out, that such adjustments could lead to an over-absorption of harmful compounds.

    Two issues:

    1. We are in the midst of a gigantic field experiment with millions of new synthetical compounds introduced into the biosphere, increased electromagnetic radiation across all wavelengths (from radio waves, micro waves, infrared, visible light, UV, x-rays to gamma rays) and a drastically changed environment that makes our brains squirm.

    Will we be able to adjust to this changes? Or wither away in a cancer pandemic?

    2. Why animal testing? The researchers used tissue samples as well and got exactly the same result. Why torture the chicken in the laboratories when this research could have easily be done alone with human gut tissue?

  3. Yeah, good post. I just wish you would not call me a cancer victim. Ugh.

    • Luckily we are not victims yet, we are survivors still. But Jennifer didn’t mean us when she used the term “victim” in the second and third paragraph.

  4. Mato, I have been dealing with cancer for 17 years. I am not its victim, nor are my friends victims who have died of it. What I was trying to get at is… look, say you come to heaven, and run into a soldier who perished during D day on the beaches of Normandy. And you refer to him as Hitler’s victim. I think he will object, and tell you he was a plucky, courageous fighter, not victim!

    Yes, we all are victimized by a social system that pours poisons into the watery bowl that is Earth. But that does not make us victims of cancer. Cancer seems to be the visible bodily manifestation of what is happening to all of us, on many levels. Cancer is the body’s feedback regarding the onslaught. Or so I think.


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