Beyond the Pink Ribbon
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
This is the month of pink ribbons and charity walks. I love the enthusiasm and the solidarity but I just somehow feel we are missing the point of this whole campaign.
It’s more than just about turning October pink.
Can we truly say we are anywhere closer to being really aware of breast cancer? Are we better informed? And more importantly, what can we do to prevent it?
I considered myself generally well-informed on health issues and yet I made startling discoveries after my own diagnosis in 2009. This is what I found out and I hope in some small way it contributes towards your awareness of breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Awareness – What are we really aware of?
- Breast cancer can be triggered by hormones. The female hormone estrogen promotes the growth of breast cancer cells in some women. I was diagnosed with a hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer which was triggered by high levels of estrogen in the body.
Having the first baby after the age of 35 increases the risk of breast cancer. Partly due to celebrities who made it trendy and acceptable for motherhood to start in their 40s. Women are now having children later and later in life concentrating on building a career first or other economic or social reasons without knowing of the breast cancer risk involved. I had my first child at the age of 36.
- Early onset of menstruation in girls below the age of 11 and for women who have a late menopause is another risk factor. The longer one is exposed to the hormone estrogen, the higher the risk. Early age at menarche has been consistently associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.
Obesity Fat in the body feeds the hormone estrogen. Obesity is associated with increased risk of different types of cancers including breast cancer.
- Adopting a Western diet. An Asian woman who switches to a Western diet increases her risk of breast cancer by 60%. “I definitely think women in Asia should be cautious about embracing a Western diet,” Marilyn Tseng, Associate Professor in the Division of Population Science at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia and co-author of this study.
The Asian diet comprise mainly of vegetables, grains and plant based proteins. Dairy products are hardly present as most Asians are lactose intolerant. When I moved to Finland, there was a clear shift in my dietary habits. Meats, sausages, ham, cheese, milk, chocolates, ice-cream, desserts, pasta and pizza started to creep into my diet more and more either from eating at friends and family’s or eating out simply because these foods were just more readily available.
- Multi-vitamins and breast cancer. Most of us pop these supplements thinking we are doing a favour to our health and bodies. This report shows otherwise. I have talked to several nutritionists and doctors concerning this issue. It should be noted that the multi-vitamins in question are synthetic supplements.
Red meats, alchohol and dairy consumption linked to breast cancer. Women who ate more than 1 1/2 servings of red meat per day were twice as likely to develop hormone related breast cancer than those who ate less than three servings per week, in a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Drinking alchohol is directly linked to breast cancer. Even low level consumption of alchohol increases the risk.
Studies have yet to prove conclusively that a high consumption of dairy products is linked to breast cancer but it has been suggested that the saturated fat content, the presence of bovine hormones which promote breast tumours and pesticides and contaminants which are potentially carcinogenic could be risk factors.
- Stress. Researchers have discovered and confirmed that stress stimulates both cancer cell growth and migration in breast cancer.
Sleep deprivation linked to aggressive breast cancer. Published in the August 2012 issue of Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, the study found that women who reported six hours or less of sleep per night on average had higher tumour recurrence scores. A strong immune system is crucial to ward off cancer. Sleep is nature’s way of healing and strengthening the body.
- Vitamin D deficiency and breast cancer. Research has found a clear association between exposure to sunlight and breast cancer. The ultraviolet portion of sunlight stimulates the body to produce Vitamin D which protects from breast cancer.
Exercise lowers breast cancer risk. Exercising 4 or more hours per week may decrease hormone levels and the risk of breast cancer.
- Monthly self-examination. Yes, after all’s been said and done, please remember to palpate and check yourself a few days after your periods every month. That was how I discovered mine when I did.
I wish I had known what I know now so that I could have made certain lifestyle changes then. But it is my hope that by reading this today, you will make the necessary changes in your own life and in the lives of your loved ones.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Neither is it meant to alarm you if you had ticked off more than one category above. I believe it is a series of high risk factors which we engage in that ultimately tips the balance of good health and puts the woman at risk. I have since made some major changes in my lifestyle and dietary intake. I juice daily. I have stopped taking all dairy. I try to keep to a vegetarian steamed diet, though I sometimes have small quantities of fish and chicken. I have cut out sugar and desserts. I try to exercise outdoors at least an hour every day. I am learning to breathe deeply. I try to go to bed by 11pm. I am back to my ideal weight.
If there is one thing I can leave with you today from all my research and reading it is this: Breast cancer is preventable.
Further reading. Nature’s Cancer Fighting Foods, A Cancer Battle Plan, The Gerson Institute
Please note: This article is not meant to substitute any medical advice given by qualified physicians nor does it claim to be a prescription for any medication or medical treatment.
If I had to name one cancer trigger, it would be stress. Living is riddled with stress, even when we strive to live quietly. Crazy makers are everywhere, needling us around every corner. As hard as I try, I do get wound up. Most recently dealing with HP over computer issues–attempting to communicate over the telephone with outsourced techs with heavy accents. After ten hours of MY time, issues are still not resolved. As a cancer survivor, I find that I have less tolerance with BS. Life is too short to spend time with unpleasant circumstances!
At least stunning fall is here and I can get out and de-stress by riding a fine horse or walk a quiet path.
Be still today Sharon and tune into the finer seconds of this day! 😉
I simply have to agree with you Diane! Looking back at my life prior to being diagnosed, one factor stood out (among others) and for me it was also stress. At that time I just didn’t have any coping skills or stress management know-how. I am learning not to sweat the small stuff 😀 Aaah…I have a feeling everything melts away into nothingness when riding a fine horse out on a crisp autumn day! You go have fun now and yes, I just returned from a very long walk mucking about in the woods on this stunning golden day and first snow! Many hugs to you my dear! Sharon
Excellent! I’m sure that many people have no idea how closely related cancer and diet is. I’m convinced that a plant based diet is the way to go after reading The China Study. Thanks for passing it on.
So good to hear from you Mo! More than ever in all my readings and talking to breast cancer survivors who modified their diets, I am convinced that cancer is a lifestyle diease. I personally have not read The China Study but it has been cited by the American Institute for Cancer Research which advocates a predominantly plant-based diet for lower cancer risks becuse of the great work by Dr Colin Campbell. I will be sure to get a copy of this book. Thank you so much!!! Hugs,Sharon
Hi Sharon. It is absolutely a ‘must read’ book. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it and it opened my eyes to the relationship between diet and cancer. Thank you for that important post.
Ordering it right away and getting copies for family and friends too!! 😀 Hugs to you and thank you again!
Thank you for these important reminders, Sharon; your suffering transmuted to gift is so greatly appreciated. For several years, I was employed by facilities that promoted overwork, punished those who restricted their workday to 8 hours, and, because of internal politics, were extremely stressful for employees. Many were excessively overweight, yet physically, mentally and spiritually under-nourished…and this was in the domain of “healthcare!” (And most of these employees were women.) In the year since choosing to leave my last place of employment, I’ve been able to renew my daily meditation, walks, and yoga…such a difference in spirit. The financial sacrifices are real, but for us, it’s been a very, very good year. Thank you, again, for reinforcing the value of self-care and awareness of the ways we can live in health,prevent disease, and contribute our gifts from a place of well-being/being well.
One thing which I cannot overemphasise enough is this: Pay attention to your body. Modern day culture worships busyness and equates productivity with exhaustion and relentless drive to work. So much so being busy and tired and having no time to rest have reached cult status. I have noticed that it has even become a thing of great pride to boast about how busy life has been that we have no time to rest!
We are taught to push ourselves beyond what is reasonable. We are intense, driven and passionate. Yet, in losing that balance, all life is out of order. To work without knowing how to rest or in your case, rest was not eve honoured as part of the working culture!
If there is one message I would like to get out there, it would be to pay close vigilance to prolonged signs of exhaustion and frequent tiredness. I believe the body is able to heal itself when we provide it with the optimum conditions like rest, a clean diet and a restful mind.
I cannot thank you enough Catherine for drawing our attention to the much sorely neglected issue of rest and stress at the workplace and in our frantic modern living. To renewal, rest and keeping a sacred balance. All my love! Sharon
Thank you for sharing these important facts about breast cancer prevention. Much of Western Medicine deals with treating it, but even now, little is said about lifestyle changes that can prevent it. I think you’re so right, prevention through awareness should be at the top of the list of activities for the Pink Ribbon Movement.
My dear Cathy,
That is unfortunately the sad truth. Even when I was diagnosed and met with my breast surgeon and oncologist (both exceedingly accomplished in their fields and I received top care from), both refused to commit or offer any suggestions pertaining to dietary and lifestyle changes eventhough I woud have been more than ready to comply. They basically refrained from interfering into my private life and focused solely on treating it from the outside in instead of also working from the inside out. All the changes I have made since my mastectomy and chemotherapy has been from my own study, research and interviewing survivors, nutritionists and doctors who have also branched into holistic treatments.
I thank you so much for your warm and kind support! With so much love and blessings, Sharon
Good on you for posting all these facts. I believe that knowledge is power. That’s why I wanted to add one more fact…..Breast cancer is not ONE disease but an umbrella term encompassing many different types of breast cancer, each with their own unique signature and treatment response. Thanks for letting me share this. Keep on going.
Thank you so much for your valuable feeback and input into this post. You are absolutely correct that there is not just one type of breast cancer but its causes and triggers are many. I do not wish to oversimplify this matter but only to focus from this little post some lifestyle changes we all CAN make. Once again, thank you for your concern in raising awareness. I appreciate it so much. Hugs, Sharon
Thank you, Sharon. This is a well written and informative post.
Dear Lee, thank you. I appreciate it very much! Blessings and beautiful health surround you and your family always! Hugs, Sharon
Sharon, this is good and hope since you were diagnosed it has been well managed to reduce the pain associated with the cancer. Wish you well
Dear Makagutu, thank you so much for your kind wishes. It means a lot to me. I had a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and have since been given a clean bill of health by my oncologist. Right now, I have a yearly mammogram screening and it’s all good! 😀 I wish you and your family excellent health and happy days! Sharon
Am happy for you Sharon! It’s the least I can do and besides it’s always nice coming here.
Wow! You sure opened my eyes to much more about breast cancer than I’d known. I plan to send your info to loved ones. Thank you, Sharon!
Thank you so much Russ for your great support in this cause! It was also an eye-opener for myself as I delved into researching some of these studies which showed me some life-style habits and practices I had previously been engaged in and been ignorant of its consequences. I wish you and your loved ones radiant health and happiness! Hugs, Sharon
Very good list of information – thanks Sharon!
So glad you found it useful Cathy. Thank you so much for the support! Hugs, Sharon
An excellent post Sharon. Education and awareness is so important.
Thank you so much Chillbrook. I wholeheartedly agree with you on education and awareness when it comes to our health. I appreciate your kind support for this cause. Sharon
Very informative post. I didn’t know diet can also cause breast cancer. I definetly need to work on my sleep….5-6-7 hours is not simply enough (especially during winter). And the meat. And stress of course. What exercise do you do? Thanks for making me aware of these things. 🙂
Oh I absolutely understand the challenges of a mother with young children! It is I think while it is a most rewarding time of a woman’s life, it is also very demanding and taxing on the body. And as a mother myself, it is so natural to put the needs of the children, the family above our own.
I think in the midst of all the responsibilities and changes going on in a mother’s life, she needs to also pay careful attention to her body and health. Tiredness is a good indication to slow down and rest. Looking back, I simply didn’t know how to rest as a new mother! It would have helped so much if I sometimes had an afternoon off just to nap or recharge for a bit while the hubby took over.
Right now I mostly do power walking and short spurts of running. I do some simple stretching at home. I think yoga is very helpful. But I think even going on the bicycle machine for 30 mins a day helps.
I am sure you are doing great and reading your blog, your practice of mindfulness and staying centred by being in the now eliminates much stress. Warm hugs to you dear one! I wish you and your lovely family beautiful health always! Sharon
Good points here, Sharon.
Another factor many times overlooked in all dis-eases is considering that where ever our trauma lies or lodges in our body, may be an area that is susceptible to dis-ease also. This is not a medical fact, it is simply a hunch I have.
I’m glad to know you’re okay. I don’t even know what it would feel like to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Thank you for sharing your very important story and tips.
My dear Brenda, it is always so comforting to hear from you. Your gentle understanding speaks much wisdom. Your observation and hunch is something I too believe – that many diseases are the result of pain, trauma or imbalance in our inner lives. Reading Louise Hay has helped me greatly in understanding and healing the body by first healing our emotions. Thank you so much for warm friendship and support. With love, Sharon
Thank you for this informative post Sharon. You certainly have a healthy lifestyle and I hope you stay powerful in body and mind. I would add to your list of breast cancer triggers, that our self-image, our hidden attitudes towards ourselves also plays a role in diseases like breast cancer. While many people may be able to adjust their diets, its much harder to adjust emotions such as deep-seated resentment etc. Through your posts I see you exploring your past, meditating on important issues and finding new attitudes to life. For me this is key to your healing and is the true meaning of health. You are a good role model for all of us. Thank you Sharon, and lots of love to you and your family.
My dear Yaz, you are absolutely right that while our bodies need a physical detox, so does our inner and emotional life. To try to heal the body without attempting to heal the spirit would be to miss out the true essence of healing. Thank you so much for your kind and valuable feedback. Most of all for your loving kindness and friendship. Hugs, Sharon
Thanks so much for this informative post. Have a great day!
Dear Joy, thank you for your support for this cause and for the work you do in educating us on health, fitness and wholesome living! Have a lovely day too! Hugs, Sharon
Pingback: CHURCH CANCER AWARENESS MONTH… « Miss Aleck & Co.
Stay healthy, my friend. Stay happy. Thanks for this post.
Thank you so much dear one. Your well-wishes mean a lot to me. Thinking of you with much warm affection, Sharon
Thank you for selfless service to our little blogging community. I for one will be making some changes to my lifestyle as a result of this post and I appreciate your noble and caring efforts to share with us some of the lessons you have learned as a result of your breast cancer.
More than once I have thought how very blessed I am to have found you my dear Vivian! More than once. And everytime you come by and lend such warm support and words that bring life and healing to me, I thank God upon every remembrance of you. I am glad to know if this post helped in some way for all of us take better care of our health and bodies. May this sacred temple be used for good, lovely and mighty things…With much love and blessings your way today. Sharon
Reblogged this on Something Beautiful and commented:
Something I couldn’t help sharing. Share as much as you can. May be there would be an awareness in someone’s life.:)
My dearest Tanzz, thank you so much for this reblog! May we get the word out and empower women, men, young girls, families and health centres of what we CAN do. I appreciate your kind gesture and I wish you perfect, wholesome health and a lifetime of happiness! Hugs, Sharon
Lots of information here. I didn`t know changing the diet could be so dangerous. What if that woman`s father was Asian and her mother European? Which diet do you thing would be right then? Several of my family members and other people I knew died of cancer.
Hi Aditix! Good question. I do not have any studies to present to you at the moment except for European ancestry in Latinas and the risk percentage for breast cancer risk involved. I have also read the effects of migration and cancers. I shall look into it and get back to you ok. Though, personally, I think having a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, while keeping a moderate intake of meats, fats and dairy would be healthy for anyone. I am sorry to hear that you have lost family members and friends to cancer. It is indeed good to stay informed and updated to make better choices for our health. Thank you so much for your feedback and support. I really appreciate it.
Oh, Sharon, could I write volumes in reply to this post! While I am not a cancer survivor, I have lost loved ones to cancer and know survivors. I see how widespread cancer has become and how much is dependent on lifestyle choices, food sources riddled with hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, fat and sugar, and the ubiquitous stress. Although there is never a guarantee, and people are becoming more educated about choices than ever before, we do have choices. The guiding medical professions don’t seem to be stressing the importance of prevention as sufficiently important – my feeling is it’s more so – than the cure. But yes, I see, like you, that in all the enthusiasm of charity events and so on, that the point is often missed. What monies are being raised to bring our selves into wholeness? We really do need to take care of ALL of us – our minds and hearts, bodies and souls. Not easy in today’s frenetic world, but it is something to strive toward.
A peaceful day to you ….
Thank you so much Jeanne for your valuable feedback! I couldn’t have said it better! It continues to amaze me that so much of what is considered “safe” to eat and is sold openly and has become household names and products offer little in terms of health benefits and sadly lacking in any nutritional value. The first thing I learnt was the empty calories of breakfast cereals loaded with colour and sugars which we have been taught to feed our kids.
When I was first diagnosed, my initial response was what I could do to have a higher rate of recovery and survival. I immediately asked if I should make any dietary or lifestyle changes but all the breast surgeons and oncologists I consulted did not want to commit or address these factors at all. I am indebted to their expertise and skills in their professions but I continue to be amazed that the only aspect of cure they are willing to consider is in the treatment of the patient and not other health care aspects.
Once again, thank you for writing. We need to all learn to address health as more than just isolated bits of our bodies but to see us as a whole being. To wholesome good health! Sharon
I think people like you have made a difference in awareness and research. My mother died of Breast Cancer in 1970–she waited so long to tell the doctor of a lump because such things were not talked about. I am a 10- year survivor and that may be because of early detection, community, and advances in treatment.
My dearest Alice! Your survival story is an inspiration and another message to tell the world – that breast cancer can be treated. Hope is a very powerful message indeed. Thank you for inspiring me today and I am sure countless others! Thank you for your great support and I am so sorry for the passing of your mother. I wish you wholesome perfect health and a beautiful life. Hugs, Sharon
Dearest Sharon, I am grateful that you are here to share this valuable information, but I do want to add that people who do have to deal with breast cancer should not be made to feel guilty that they did something wrong. I have lost too many friends and cousins who had the BRCA gene. Whatever they did to prevent/avoid breast cancer was not enough.
I am so very sorry to hear that you have lost many friends and relatives to breast cancer. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for you and your family.
Thank you so much for writing and sharing your valuable point of view which I greatly appreciate. I fully understand and support your statement that at no time should anyone be made to feel guilty for being diagnosed because breast cancer is a complex issue.
There are so many factors involved one of which is of course the inherited gene mutation – the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. I understand that in the US, this affects 5-10% of the population and that genetic testing is recommended to include those with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage.
I grappled with publishing this post because even as the pink ribbons are being celebrated, and we talk of hope and second chances, I know there are many families and women out there who have to face great uncertainties and loss. And that is the stark reality of breast cancer too. I wish you and your loved ones wholesome, abounding health and blessings.
With all my love and a very tight hug, Sharon
Thank you, Sharon. I wish you also the blessings that you should be able to continue with great strength, health, and joy to share your gifts with all of us.
Sharon- I appreciate you sharing your personal story in regards to this most important topic. My mother had breast cancer at 62. One of my two sisters at age 60. Both were estrogen fed. Thankfully they are both survivors. My other sister and I are of course at high risk so we are taking our health very seriously. I am in the process of weaning from hormones at this moment. I know long term it is the right thing to do. Diet and exercise are also something that I continue to tweak. Stress? Well….let’s just say I’m a work in a progress. I will say that I am angry that we as consumers are not more protected. Especially in re: to supplements and self care products which are toxic. I pray for progress and individuals who fight for quality food and products. Keep yourself healthy and strong. We need your voice, sweet lady.
My dearest Becky! Thank you for sharing your story about your mother and sister. Both of them are an inspiration!!! Please send them my warmest greetings and a special hug from me! I am happy to hear that you are taking good care of yourself and enjoying every minute of life. We try to do all we can to provide the best care possible for our bodies to thrive – the rest we just need to live in balance, moderation and heap of thanksgiving! A big hug to you and thank you so much for your well-wishes. I cherish them very much! With love, Sharon
GREAT post! What a coincidene– I posted a video and blog a few weeks ago under the exact same title!
Dear Fifi! How very good to hear from you! Thank you so much for coming by and indeed what a great coincidence indeed! It is always so good to be connected to someone who supports breast cancer awareness beyond the pink ribbon. Thank you for the fine work of promoting good health, eating an lifestyle at yours. I look forward to getting to know you! Many hugs, Sharon
Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing this important information. I wish you many years of continued good health! 😉
I thank you so much Ruth for coming over and for your beautiful wishes for me! I truly appreciate your kindness. I wish you a lifetime of happy travels and good, wholesome healthy always!!! Hugs, Sharon
Dear Shaz-Thank you so much for taking the time to share this extremely valuable information. Many blessings to you. Love-Julie
Thank you for your personal insight on this important subject… Self exams and routine checkups are critical and we can never say it enough that women must be strong advocates for their own health; speak up, speak out and get a second opinion. It saved my life.
Thank you for checking in during the Hurricane… your kind wishes were appreciated!
Muchísimas gracias por compartir, desde luego nos viene muy bien saber todas estas cosas, besos
Sweet Sharon ✿,
Not only are you a great inspirational writer, but you are also a compassionate educator. I read this article a day after you had posted. I thought of you all day (with smiles) and also, how to work on the facts you have presented to make our lifestyle a little healthier. Love, love, love the photo! Hugs, ♥ Fae.
Every morning I wake up next to a 23 year survivor.
And that, is one of the most inspiring message you can ever leave me. Please give an extra tight hug and send my warmest greetings to your special 23 year old survivor from me. Thank you so much for coming by Ron. Sharon
Pingback: 5 Things I Want the Pink Ribbon to Stand For | A Leaf in Springtime