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.

CHANGE.

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?

Turn those pink ribbons green

I’m going to make a confession.  I never could stand those pink ribbons.  I’ve never done a “Walk for the Cure” or bought daffodils for cancer victims or even picked a cancer-cure-themed postage stamp.

I’m glad to hear that the Komen Foundation has bowed to pressure and is restoring funding to Planned Parenthood, a worthwhile organization if there ever was one.

But in general, the idea of putting the energy and effort of well-meaning citizens behind “the search for a cure for cancer” just irritates me, because let’s face it, we know what causes cancer, and therefore we can do better than cure it, we can prevent it!  Maybe not 100%, but we can take it back to the modest rates that previous generations of human beings enjoyed.

For my grandparents’ generation, a diagnosis of cancer was frightening because it was so often a death sentence, but it was rare. Not one of my four grandparents came down with cancer, and I don’t believe their parents did either.  This isn’t due to some genetic serendipity, it’s just a fact that cancer rates in the first half of the 20th century (and every century before that) were way lower than they are now.

Cancer rates are skyrocketing now thanks to the environmental toxins that humans have introduced into our air, soil and water, and thus our agricultural crops, drinking water and the very air we breathe.  Rachel Carson saw the effects of DDT on birds, and gave the warning just before she succumbed to cancer.  

We may have removed DDT from the US market, but it’s still being used in other countries, and here it has been replaced by a whole host of alphabet-soup chemicals, each one more potent and carcinogenic than the last.

If you really want to make a difference in the war against cancer, forget about those ridiculous pink ribbons.  Use the power of your wallet and your ballot to insist that the government step up and do its job in regulating the industrial agriculture sector.

Or better yet, let’s allow the specter of industrial agriculture to fade away into the dustbin of the 20th century, and start a real “green revolution,” dedicated to the health and well-being of our planet and all her denizens.

What color is your ribbon?  Mine is green.

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