Monday, August 30, 2010

Army of Women

For months I have been pondering the question of what caused my breast cancer. I do not fit the published profile; I am not overweight, not a heavy drinker, have never been a smoker, and there is no breast cancer in my immediate family. My routine mammograms were just that....routine. There was never even a blip of anything suspicious. I breast-fed both of my children (supposedly a breast cancer preventative). In short, I have been a naturally healthy person, but also a conscientiously healthy person, my whole life.

I like to make sense of situations. I even like to diagram sentences. Finding a pattern in a problem opens the door to a solution. So, I naturally started looking for a discernible pattern in breast cancer experiences among women. I found that the experiences are spread all over the map. Some women have a family history (actually a very tiny percentage of breast cancers are genetic), but most women have no real idea where their malignancy came from. They might postulate that it was hormone replacement therapy or exposure to pesticides (my friends and I have laughed about riding our bikes behind the DDT fogger in the summer evenings of our childhood) or too much red meat, or something in the water in their hometowns, or their deodorant. What activity or exposure flips the switch on those gremlins hiding in ones body?

Also, breast cancer treatment offers questionable outcomes. All of the therapies are toxic or destructive and potentially harmful themselves. The treatment choices are pretty limited, and can have awful side effects. However, most people are more afraid of the proliferation of the cancer in the present moment, than they are of the potential problems resulting from the "cure" somewhere down the road. I get that. What I don't get is why there has not been more time spent finding the cause of cancer, in order to "head it off at the pass." When the "cure" is often worse than the disease, why has there not been more effort expended looking at prevention rather than in developing toxic treatments which often cause cancers themselves.

Finally, someone is doing just that. I recently got some information from a friend ( another woman who was "blindsided" by a breast cancer diagnosis several years ago) about a great organization called Army of Women which is the brainchild of Dr. Susan Love, who has been the guru of breast cancer information for many years. She wrote one of the definitive guides to breast cancer, Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book. She has now teamed up with the Avon Foundation to enlist a million women to participate in studies to find the CAUSE or CAUSES of breast cancer. This is what I had been wishing for, long before I myself was diagnosed. Every time I would hear about another friend getting breast cancer, I would say "I wonder what is causing all of this cancer!" Finally, someone is doing something to find answers.

I plan to send an email to all the women on my email list about this effort to enlist a million women....both those with breast cancer and those urge them to participate in this effort. Observing the remarkable success of the Susan Komen Races and the money that has been raised for education and research for a cure, I have great hope that this Army of Women idea can accomplish the goal of discovering the underlying causes of this scourge. Please take a look at and join the fight to prevent breast cancer by discovering the causes.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


A lot of non-cancer happenings have kept me busy for a couple of weeks, and that is a good thing. I am continuing to feel healthy, energetic, and positive. Most days I completely forget that I have cancer (or, as Gordon keeps reminding me, that "I have had cancer), and I also forget that I am bald....which leads to my getting lots more vitamin D because I go out in the NC August sun with no head covering. So far, no sunburn on the tender skin, and the Vitamin D I absorb is a really good thing as a cancer preventative. No, I am not "shutting the barn door after the horse is lost;" I am gearing up to keep cancer from recurring after all these treatments are behind me.

Now about the Tshirt heading of this entry: getting there is a bit convoluted, so bear with me.

First of all, when tshirts began to be popular casual wear...maybe in the late 60's and early 70's, I had a particular bias against wearing ones which sported logos or brand names. I didn't like advertising for a company, and I particularly did not like the "in crowd" thing of wearing certain popular brands, which printed their names on the shirts. (Even before tshirts were the "thing," there was a fad among teenagers of letting the interior label of a shirt stick up at the neck so it could be seen. Ugh! Hated it.) Anyway, I liked my tshirts plain in those days - so much so that my sister-in-law Lynda had a tshirt printed up as a gag for my birthday which read "Printed Tshirts Make Me Put Out." Of course, I never could wear this comfortably in public....because I didn't wear printed tshirts and because the double entendre of the slogan took some explaining to my children (young at the time) and to others.

These days, I feel somewhat different about printed tshirts. I have numerous tshirts, from Salem College, from the Susan Komen Race for the Cure, from Fiddler's Grove Ole Time Fiddler's Festival, from the Great American Brass Band Festival, and so on. Rather than advertise for name brand clothing, which I still dislike, I find I enjoy sharing my passions through my tshirts. Sometimes I get a thumbs-up for whatever particular enterprise I am sporting on my back. It can be a great conversation starter.

Here's the deal: I have a terrific, new tshirt, given me by Julie Searcy who works in my husband Gordon's office. Julie has been touched by breast cancer through her mother's experience with a very aggressive form of the disease. Her mother is a survivor, and she and Julie have involved themselves in many efforts to raise awareness and money for the community. Now I want to share this shirt with you. Not only does the shirt fit me really nicely...not too big, not too small...but the colors are attractive and the printed words are funny, heartfelt, sassy, serious, and powerful. When I wear it, I get lots of positive comments, both on its attractiveness and on its message.....a good combination.

One more thing. My daughter Sarah, who lives in NY, has a friend, Valerie, who writes a very creative, interesting blog, I am going to submit a picture of my tshirt to her in a day or two, and I hope she will use it. The premise of her blog is this: she spots people in tshirts, asks permission to photograph the shirt, then posts the photo along with info about the "history" of the shirt, why the owner likes it, where it was purchased/acquired, etc. I find the stories fun and informative...a little bit of contemporary culture. I hope you will take a look. And one more thing.....I would love to hear from you if you know some other good names for those two protuberances which are both a blessing and a curse.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Milk of Magnesia and Lemon Juice

If the eyes are the window of the soul, then the tongue must be called the mirror of the digestive tract. (Gross-out alert! I may be going some places that certain people will find the least, unappealing, the most, downright disgusting. You have been warned.) Right now my tongue is white, my breath is noxious, and my digestive system is sluggish. This has been the pattern following chemotherapy treatments since the beginning, but I am very conscious of the experience this time around. All of this focus on digestion makes me think of my mother's frequent requirement during my childhood that I "stick out my tongue." Clearly, she could look at me and know that all was NOT running smoothly. One look at my tongue would tell her how serious the problem was and what to do about it. If I was lucky, the solution was merely MIlk of Magnesia. If my tongue was really coated, then out came the dreaded bag which hung on the back of the bathroom door. I will say no more.

It interests me, however, that the motherly directive "stick out your tongue" seems to have disappeared. And I am not suggesting that an obsession with our bowels needs to make a comeback (Have you seen "The Road to Wellville?" Yikes!), but I do think that a closer connection with our bodies and how they work is not a bad thing. I also wonder how my mother learned about the connection between the white tongue and the condition of my interior.

I have also thought a lot lately about other "folk traditions" in healthy living which I experienced growing up, and which I now know to be solidly based in good science. The best example has to do with drinking lemon juice. When I was growing up, we lived with my Grandmother Davis, who was born in 1874, so she really came from a radically different world than the one I lived in. She died when I was 10. Each morning she would have a cup of hot water with fresh lemon juice before having her breakfast or her morning cup of tea. I know from talking with my mother that my Great Aunt Mamie (my grandmother's sister) followed this ritual also. In talking with my husband Gordon, I have learned that his grandmother (born, I believe, in the 1880's) did the same thing. - Now, here is the part I find most interesting:

While looking into ways to help my body during and after cancer treatment, I found that it is advisable to increase the alkalinity of ones body, because cancer cells thrive in an acidic environment. This is hard to accomplish, but can be done. Even though lemons are acid, their reaction in the body is to cause increased alkalinity. On top of this is the fact that the ingestion of lemon juice increases the production of bile in the liver, which allows the liver to work more efficiently in getting rid of toxins. Right now chemotherapy is overloading my body with toxins, so anything I can do to energize my liver is a good thing. And just for good measure, lemon juice aids digestion, acts as a mild diuretic, and hastens wound healing. Needless to say, I am drinking my lemon juice.

So, what I want to know is, how did my grandmother and her generation come to understand the advantages of drinking lemon juice? Was this habit born out of observation of the effects? Did they really know what they were doing, or was it something that they picked up from their mothers, who got it from their mothers? And the final question is, why did we stop doing it? Was it just too simple? Would we rather take a pill or potion whose ingredients we cannot pronounce, just because they have been developed by a drug company? Sometimes our easiest and best answer is......right on the tip of our tongue or right in our own grocery aisle.

One final note: I found out where the mystery book came from - Gordon's first cousin Ann Womble Strader sent it, thinking there was a card enclosed. I am glad to have the mystery solved. I have now read another book by Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church, which I loved also. Now I need to buy a copy, because it will need some underlining as well.