It’s that time of year when the world looks a little more pink. Retailers decorate their stores with pink ribbons and the promise to donate a portion of their sales to the fight. There are the pink M&M’s. There are pink cereal boxes lining the cereal isle. There are pink ribbons everywhere. But what does all this pink really mean?
I received an email the other day, asking me to donate to a breast cancer foundation during October because it is breast cancer awareness month. In this email the organization stated that in this country, a woman dies of breast cancer every 13 minutes. The email went on to explain that a portion of the money they raised would provide funding for screening mammograms, because they believe that this is the best way to save lives. I don’t dispute that early detection is saving lives, but what if the emphasis was not just about screening, early detection or how well we treat the disease? It got me wondering: what if women understood how to prevent the disease in the first place? How many breast cancer deaths could be averted?
For many women, breast cancer awareness is a reminder to schedule their mammogram. For others it can mean purchasing an item from a retailer with the hope that it will somehow help the cause. For many of us, it’s a time to hear inspiring stories of survivors who found their own lump, then made it through a mastectomy and grueling chemotherapy treatments. These stories are very compelling and these women deserve our admiration and praise. But somewhere along the line, the end goal became awareness, and awareness simply became synonymous with prevention. And although awareness can lead to increased screening, we should not stop there.
What if we changed the paradigm in which most of us see breast cancer? What if we banded together – mothers, sisters, daughters and grandmothers, aunts, and all of those that love us – and demanded that we do more than just be aware. What if the message was about how to actually prevent breast cancer in the first place?
Unfortunately, prevention is not sexy. Prevention doesn’t make anybody – especially corporations – wealthy. Prevention isn’t easy, and its not convenient. Prevention doesn’t happen overnight. Prevention involves commitment and hard work and a long term vision. The struggle with prevention touches all of the cornerstones of our culture: sex, money, convenience and instant gratification.
We all know that our health care system is broken, and tends to be more of a “sick care” system. In the current model, Providers are not rewarded for promoting prevention, but instead find themselves prescribing costly imaging and cancer treatments. Cancer, diabetes and heart disease would dramatically decrease if we practiced prevention. Imagine if we replaced every pink ribbon with a picture of a vegetable and a pair of walking shoes. Or if we incented women to make lifestyle changes and offered information about breast cancer prevention at our malls, grocery stores, libraries and in schools. What if our health insurance actually paid for prevention?
And yet, we know that many cancers are the result of our lifestyle. There is growing evidence that the choices we make everyday affect our health in profound ways. Each of us has the power to prevent disease; but the problem is that many of us don’t know it. Its time to take back our power.
It’s not easy to make changes in our lifestyle; but with determination and will, it can done. The key is to empower women to understand that the choices they make everyday affect their health and their risk of breast cancer. Through education and information about lifestyle choices, plus tools and strategies that can help integrate gradual changes, women and men will be motivated to make changes that are sustainable and will lead to less obesity, diseases like heart disease and diabetes and yes, less cancer. We must demand it from the corporations, our legislators and government, and especially from ourselves. We must change a health care system from one that rewards technology and sickness, to one that emphasizes prevention. We must create a society and ultimately a lifestyle that allows us to adopt healthier lifestyles.
Here are a few ways to get started today:
Nutrition is a choice we make several times a day. How much we eat and what we choose to put in our bodies has a powerful effect on our health. Choose more whole foods and less processed foods. Choose more vegetables and fruits and fewer carbs and starches. We already know that the phytonutrients in fruits and vegetables are powerful tools against cancer. These include broccoli, kale, blueberries, spinach, garlic and onions just to name a few. Obesity increases risk of all cancers ; if you shed those extra pounds, your risk of breast cancer decreases.
Exercise is another way to prevent and reduce recurrence. More and more research is showing that moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes a day can reduce the risk of a recurrence of cancer. Walking is the best form of exercise and doesn’t cost anything, so get moving! Even if you don’t lose weight, exercise helps to reduce your cancer risks.
Managing stress in our lives can help improve our body’s ability to resist cancer, since stress can weaken our immune system. Tune into your body and understand how you manage stress. Learn to meditate; find time for something you enjoy once a week and reach out to spend time with a friend.
Reducing Environmental Toxins. It’s important to remember that the choices we make about our home cleaning products, water bottles, plastics, dry cleaning, and the personal-care items we choose also affect our health. For more information about environmental toxins go to the Environmental Working Group site at www.ewg.org.
We all know that bad habits are hard to change. But be patient with yourself: the rewards will be not only realized in better health, but also in feeling better than you ever have before. Continue to have regular mammograms and don’t forget to do your monthly breast exams, but also remember that each of us has the power to prevent cancer by the choices we make every day. This October, I want to see more women empowered to make informed choices everyday that reduce their risk of breast cancer for not only themselves, but for their children and generations to come.