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.