Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: cancer

It’s All Connected And Life Depends On It

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops on June 26, 2017. 

A few things have happened in the last few days. The Rae Fawcett Breast Health Clinic at RIH is now officially open in Kamloops, after being active for a month already, providing women with streamlined care, from examinations to diagnostic. A beautiful example of putting money to good work – the Fawcett family has donated $1 million towards the centre.

This comes as positive news after the recently released study by the Canadian Cancer Society. The report predicts that 1 in 2 Canadians will develop cancer during their lifetime, and 1 in 4 will die because of it. Can you say dire?

The report states that the rather dark predictions have to do with with aging. An aging population is indeed subject to more chronic disease, that is what we learn. With a catch: the report places old age past the age of 50. Wait, that is not that old, I can hear many say. True. Life does not take a downturn after you turn 50. Not if lifestyle choices include healthy eating, exercise, and stress-busting strategies of some sort, be it volunteering, reading, gardening, making time for precious family time, you name it.

When I first learned about cancer, I also learned that if a person lives long enough, they’ll eventually develop the dreaded disease simply because the cells in their body age.  The DNA ages too and that induces changes that translate into the ultimate cellular havoc we all know about. Yes, all true, except that ‘old age’ in this case was placed closer to 100 than at the halfway mark like mentioned above.

So, many will say, that refers to the older people. Young ones are safe then? I wish I could say yes, yet before the young population feels relieved, here’s some sobering thought bites:

  • Cancer is often intertwined with lifestyle choices: radiation exposure, smoking, unhealthy food consumption which leads to obesity, combined with lack of physical activity. Genetics plays a role as well, that is true, but giving ourselves to fate alone would be disempowering to say the least
  • Young people and even children do develop cancer, and the rates of cancer in kids under the age of 19 have been increasing over the last decades. That treatment and survival chances have also gone up is true, but that does not change the increased rates.
  • In many types of cancer, the risk of recurrence can be significantly lowered by daily physical exercise. Moderate intensity, that is, and performed for a certain length of time, benefit both body and mind, mood if you prefer, a definite helper in beating cancer
  • Our world is getting more chemically loaded by the day. Of the chemicals that are found in our homes, work places and in the great outdoors, especially in various bodies of water, many are found to be carcinogenic, or potentially carcinogenic. Exposure matters. ‘Nuff said.

It so happened that the latter is made more relevant by news pertaining to events such as the Mount Polley spill disaster. As of April 7, 2017, the BC Ministry of the Environment has granted permission to Mount Polley Mining Corporation to transfer their mining waste water into Quesnel Lake. Entertaining the thought of having to drink water from what used to be a pristine source, but is now laced with many chemicals from the spill, which was never fully cleaned up to begin with, is enough to make one shudder. Yet people will.

It will take years to see the unfortunate consequences of drinking polluted water years from now. That water was deemed clean and safe by government official through environmental assessments that might or might not be biased, and by the corporate management team who likely gets their drinking water from a different source, only adds to the controversy and the wrongness of it.

Kamloops has been in the decision trenches regarding the Ajax mine for a few good years now. We’ve heard it all and then some, the pros and cons. In the wake of the report that the Canadian Cancer Society released, I feel compelled to say that in every decision we make, as individuals, or as communities, health should be first on the list. Truly, we have nothing if health is affected.

Should a mine or any other project be built, strict safety standards closely monitored by a government that has the best of its citizens in mind, that would allow for an economic boost without the risks. If priorities other than health crowd the list, we will simply get used to getting dire stats, shrugging once we have digested the news and opt for… well, adapting, which is what one radio show host was suggesting as a solution for dealing with climate change.

Adaptation is a wonderful gift that the living world is blessed with, but there’s only that much we can stretch the concept until it becomes another nail in the coffin. And until proven otherwise, no scary-sounding stats will make a corporate heart bleed and turn a compassionate eye towards the community its profits come from.

It comes down to every one of us getting the facts and making individual and community-wide decisions that will ultimately enhance quality of life, long-term, for everyone. That’s partly how I think a cancer prediction-beating strategy could work.

The Undeniable Truth About Our Environment

?A documentary aptly titled “Toxic Hot Seat” aired yesterday on HBO Channel. While I have yet to watch it, I have researched the topic (flame retardants) extensively for a feature article a while ago. They are a vile bunch of chemicals.

Just like so many other environmental toxic substances, flame retardants are so pervasive in today’s world that it comes down to this: If you are alive, you have them in your body. And if you do, then you may, at some point in your life, experience the plethora of health problems that come with them. Flame retardants accumulate in your body and unless you move to Mars, and soon, there’s no escaping building your own supply of them.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Here are some required facts about flame retardants:

  • Flame retardants are used, well, to retard the onset of a fire. Chemically speaking, these substances are called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs.) The people who come most in contact with them are firefighters of course, but more and more studies point to all of us being exposed to them because of their ubiquitous presence around us.
  • PBDEs are found in mattresses, electronics, carpets, curtains, and sadly, even in children’s pajamas. They are found in the dust you have in your home (unless you live to vacuum, which you should not because life is too short for that.)  Regardless of your vacuuming habits though, gone are the days when dust bunnies were just a sign of a bohemian lifestyle or a rushed one. Now they’re the harbingers of health problems because of the chemicals they house within their fluffiness.
  • Chemicals used as flame retardants affect the reproductive system and the brain (they affect learning, memory, behavior and cause deficits in motor skills,) and they increase the risk of various types of cancer. In short, bad news.

I’ve written about these chemicals a while ago. I said then that the ones who get it bad are children. It’s true. Due to their growing bodies and propensity to jump on couches, crawl on the floors and take in more breaths than us adults, more chemicals per body weight enter their bodies and that is a sad reality. Not only flame retardants but many others.

Though many companies do plan to phase out flame retardants in some of their products, one has to wonder about history repeating itself. Many chemicals that were phased out due to their ill effects on human health, wildlife and the environment  (think DDT, PCBs,) have yet to disappear from our surroundings. In other words, a 30-year-old ban may have prevented more chemicals from being dumped upon us, but the ones already here are here to stay for a few more decades. Present-day chemicals such as flame retardants and others such as plasticizers are no different.

Some could argue that such is the price of comfortable, practical and safe goods. “Safe” according to the industry promoting and encouraging the use of these chemicals, not safe from an unbiased, evidence-based and responsible perspective. A terrible and sad case of abusing a concept, you’d have to agree.

It should not be this way. In a considerate world, people’s health and well-being should come before money.

Flame retardants and many invisible yet powerful chemicals we all breathe and eat today should be assessed at face value and given proper consideration.

The environment changes slowly and subtly, yet the manifestations of those changes are displayed dramatically, some more than others.

  • The number of children suffering from environmental allergies as well as asthma are increasing year after year; same for asthma. There are more and more people suffering from what it’s called multiple chemical sensitivity, a disease that is somewhat controversial due to a difficulty in establishing a clear connection between symptoms and causes. While the debate goes on, some people are affected by the same environment that leaves many of us unscathed (for now.) In the meantime, more public buildings adopt a fragrance-free policy in order to reduce the effects of exposure to fragrances and similar substances that many people are sensitive to.
  • More children than ever display signs of what is slowly becoming “yesterday news,” such as hyperactivity and ADHD, learning disabilities, and autism. Again, easy to overlook if you’re not in the thick of it. Not to say that all causes of above-mentioned issues are caused by the collective chemicals that keep adding to the environmental burden, but if multiple studies point to a clear link in some cases, or a putative connection, in others, perhaps it is wise and responsible to look at it objectively and take the appropriate measures.
  • Endocrine imbalances translate in infertility and other hormone-related health issues including breast cancer, a chronic affection that was deemed environmental in many cases.
  • Cancer attacks indiscriminately nowadays and that’s both sad and scary. Cancer used to be a disease of old age, but that is no longer the case. Also, cancer used to be associated with doing this or that (fill in with various “bad for you” activities such as smoking) but nowadays living seems to be associated with a moderate to high risk of cancer. It should not be like that.

The only big problem with all of these issues is that there are no big bad monsters with clearly defined contours for us to point at. Invisible chemicals used extensively and in high amounts to the financial benefit of industrial giants are not an easy enemy to defeat. Books have been written and environmental scientists are working hard at gathering evidence that the environment suffers and we will suffer with it but somehow we are a bunch of die-hards who are playing hard to get.

The environment is changing slowly and that gives us reason to say “maybe it’s not that bad after all…” Hardly a good thing. It makes it easier for naysayers to persist in denial, and it makes it easier for many to turn a blind eye. But it also makes it difficult to make changes down the road when we’ll realize the ill effects but by then we’ll be too far in the game and, from many an industry point of view, too costly to change anything.

So what are we to do? For one, become aware of what’s around us. Documentaries, independent studies and talks by people who put human health and the environment before anything else are a great starting point in becoming aware.

Imagine a world with a motto like: Proceed if safe for humans and all forms of life on Earth and the environment.

We come into this world with nothing and we leave like that too. We are thinking, empathetic beings who know right from wrong. I choose to believe that deep down most of us are like that.

Assessing and reassessing our priorities, our needs and wants and also, taking into consideration the needs of others is a matter of maturity. From sharing a home to inhabiting the (only) planet, everyone’s actions will becomes collective consequences. Today’s actions will shape everyone’s tomorrow. I think a good tomorrow would suit everyone.

What do you think?

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