Welcome to Protect Our Breasts

Approximately one year ago, I was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer. One of the “lucky” ones to have caught it early, I have been through a very typical treatment of surgeries (lumpectomy) and six weeks of radiation. Throughout the experience and its emotional rollercoaster, it became crystal clear that it was up to me to learn everything I could and take care of myself with whatever tools I could discover.

Two major sources emerged to help through the initial phase. First, Susan Love’s Breast Book (textbook, manual or bible?) provided all I needed on the disease itself and the various treatment options. Second, an integrative oncologist turned me on to the next must-have for the newly diagnosed: Anticancer by David Servan-Schreiber, told me how to change my “terrain” to discourage the growth of cancer cells. As a gardener with an M.S. in Plant, Soil and Insect Sciences, I like the idea of tilling my own soil to remove the opportunity for cancer cells to grow. These recommendations ranged from mitake mushrooms to meditation. I loved empowering myself to make these important changes.

However, as an organic advocate for many years, I was surprised by the lack of information about pesticides and other toxins in our environment. Even as someone “in the know,” I felt like I had nowhere to turn. Slowly working through the overwhelming world of pink, I found a welcome shade of green in The Breast Cancer Fund’s work on environmental toxins and their relationship to my disease.  There were a handful of books addressing the issue, some of which were very helpful, but most of them were aghast at the politics (for a very good reason). I simply wanted something that would tell me what chemicals were of concern and how to avoid them.

All around us, there are chemicals which have been designated carcinogens, and thousands more which have not been tested. According to Janet Gray, PhD, professor and director of the Program in Science, Technology & Society at Vassar College, and the author of the most recent report from the Breast Cancer Fund that explores the complicated link between chemicals in the environment and breast cancer, “Of the 85,000 chemicals in use in the U.S. today, just 7 percent have been evaluated for safety…and included in that 7 percent are 216 chemicals that international regulatory agencies have associated with breast cancer.”

While we wait for the “scientific evidence”, there is a tremendous need to provide individuals with what we do know in a form that is digestible. We hear and we know–viscerally–that we are exposed to dangers in our everyday existence. Too often, however, we throw our hands in the air and say it’s impossible to avoid the myriad of toxins in our environment. Thus we give in to a collective, overwhelmed state of denial.

Ten years ago, I wrote The EcoFoods Guide: What’s Good for the Earth is Good for Youin which I tried to take consumers by the hand and lead them through the grocery store to learn of the many issues related to our food system. This kind of information is what I craved after my diagnosis: Please tell me what I need to know about toxins related to my breast cancer as I shop. Finding no such tool, I have decided it is time to devote myself even deeper to our collective future and develop that source of information I wish had been available to me.

During my earliest research, it quickly became clear that many of these toxins do their most damage at earlier stages of our lives. How could I share this vital information, not only with those most desperate for it at diagnosis, but with those whose lives might be saved if they were “in the know” in their youth? Surrounded by college students as a UMass professor, I was given my not so subtle answer, Engage the Girls!!

So, here we are: your team, dedicated to discovering the science behind the solutions and communicating them in a way we can all understand. It is a journey for all of us. The young women on this project will journal their AH-HA moments throughout their research and I will commit to learning from those who have devoted their lives to this work.

You might be saying, how can you possibly use a photo of a team full of laughter and love? Because, we believe there are upbeat and exciting solutions such as organic foods and natural cosmetics that should be accessible to anyone, particularly those in the throws of fear and frustration from a new diagnosis of breast cancer. We are full of gratitude and joy to be doing this very important work. It is a blessing to have our lives today and to be awake from the trance of modern life. We, at Protect Our Breasts, are here to do this very important work to the best of our abilities with humility, tenacity, spirit and love.

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