And so we launch with their help…

The room was abuzz – UMass athletes filing in…tennis, field hockey, track and field, lacrosse, softball, the entire hockey team…the entire cheerleading squad…that nearly seven foot basketball player towering over everyone else, and the football players – most of whom, it seemed, took up the space of two people. And they kept coming. Over a hundred athletes joined an additional 30-plus Women in Business students and sat quietly at desks in the classroom. It was 8:00 pm and many had just finished practice, and yet there they were, waiting to hear how they could help.

It is breast cancer month and they had come to show their support. They were silent as I shared the statistics – one in eight women will be diagnosed in their lifetime, 70% unrelated to heredity or lifestyle factors. The athletes listened closely as I told them of the efforts of the Breast Cancer Fund, the Silent Spring Institute, and the Endocrine Disruptor Exchange to bring scientific news of environmental links to breast cancer. They were surprised to hear that the Presidents’ Cancer Panel asserted in May of 2010 that “The true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated.”

The athletes joined us by taking a pledge and signing a banner to let others know of their support. In unison, they repeated, “I pledge to avoid products containing chemicals that contribute to breast cancer, creating a healthier future for all!” The banner will be hung at this Friday night’s hockey game against BU, and a videotape of the signing will be played during the first intermission.

As they crowded around to sign the banner, I wondered how much had sunk in…until they started to reach me. “My mom had cancer, so thanks for doing this.” “Hey this is cool, who knew?” “this is a really big deal, thanks” “thanks for giving us the chance to participate!”

What?! They were all thanking us and then it hit me. Because breast cancer is so widespread, we all know someone who has suffered through it. Whether it is someone we love or a casual acquaintance, the word “cancer” leaves us feeling helpless. What can we do to protect ourselves and the ones we love?

We don’t know exactly…yet. But scientists are getting there. There is the awareness that environmental toxins are disrupting our systems and creating cellular havoc. Much of the damage can occur before a woman reaches her first pregnancy. There are certain chemicals that have the greatest potential to put us at risk. We have two very important lists…of 216 mammary gland carcinogens and 870 likely endocrine disruptors. We are connecting the dots back to the products on our grocery shelves, from pesticides used to grow our foods to chemicals used in most microwave popcorn bags.

It will take time to have definitive answers, but we feel we shouldn’t wait. Protect Our Breasts is committed to sharing the conversation — what is known and not yet known — so we consumers can make our own safer choices. Will we have a guarantee it will protect us from breast cancer? Absolutely not. Will it empower us and provide us with an opportunity to do something in the face of this terrible disease? Absolutely.

And for that, I realized, these student athletes were thanking us. And so, with their help, we will officially launch our information sharing Friday. Sometimes we will forward news of a discovered link, other times we will share our thoughts about how best to avoid certain chemicals, and maybe someday, we will have easily accessible data. In the meantime we will share. We hope you will listen in on the conversation and feel more empowered so we can all …protect our breasts.

Comments are closed.