07 September 2008

"Stand up 2 Cancer?" Try, "Bow Down to Industry"

Ten weeks ago, I had colon resection surgery for a malignant polyp. At 36 years old, I had cancer. I have been a vegetarian for nearly 15 years, have not eaten red meat in nearly 20 years, and have been physically fit my entire life - I was even a college athlete. I possessed exactly zero risk factors (as defined by the ever knowledgeable medical industry) for such a malady. In fact, I had numerous “anti-” risk factors that should have placed me at negative odds of acquiring cancer at all. My reality belies these erroneous beliefs about health and cancer. A great number of our common health problems and syndromes (I refuse to term them diseases, because “disease” connotes known specific causes) can be attributed to our atrociously unhealthy lifestyles and western diets that lack nutrition. Cancer is not one of them. The notion that good nutrition, fitness, health and well-being prevent cancer is fallacious. And the unwavering hope that we will find a cure to this epidemic is just as flawed.

Cancer stems from carcinogens. Carcinogens are agents that promote mutations in DNA, which promulgate the uncontrolled growth and division of useless cells that may interfere with the normal cellular, organ, and system functions in the body. This is about all we truly know about cancer. Yes, much research has been conducted for decades about the life cycle and progression of this illness, but most results are nothing more than theoretical and dubious. Recently there has been a lot of discussion and endorsement of supposed “cancer genes", which are said to be inherited. Much of what has been stated as fact flies in the face of everything that scientists believe about evolutionary biology. According to evolutionary theories, undesirable traits (such as cancer) would in time decrease in the gene pool because of natural selection and normal mutations. Yet cancer continues to increase at an alarming rate. Last I heard, in 2004 in America, one in every two men will develop cancer in their lifetimes, while one in every three women will develop cancer. This is not because we are living longer and thus have more time to develop the illness. Discounting infant mortality rates and those who perished young from infectious disease, Americans are not living longer than those hundreds of years ago who made it through infancy and infection. Cancer is striking Americans at younger and younger ages. When my grandparents were my age, they knew no peers who suffered from cancer and barely knew anyone who had cancer. When my parents were my age, they knew no peers who had cancer and a couple of older-aged people who had the illness. I have personally known at least a dozen peers with cancer, and have known at least a three who have perished, including a close friend. So why are so many of us young, strong, healthy individuals contracting cancer? Because of carcinogens.

Some carcinogens exist in nature, but most result from industrial technology. The vast majority of synthetic chemicals, which do not exist in nature, were introduced to the world as recently as the late 1940s. Many if not all of these are carcinogenic, either in their original form or as by-products. In the decades following their inception, cancer rates in the general population have exploded. Cancers were once most exclusively linked to workers’ exposure to carcinogens in their jobs. These chemicals have now spread through our air, water supply, and through our use of consumer goods. In addition, cancer-causing radiation from technologies – such as television, nuclear power, microwave ovens, and cellular phones – is present now when it was nonexistent in the recent past. It is assumed that these levels of radiation are safe. Yet even if the levels are safe in isolation, there is absolutely no research that exists to qualify their cumulative safety effects. Most notably, radiation exposure is highest through medical care itself. According to the proceedings of the 2001 international joint conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the European Commission, The Pan American Health Organization, and the World Health Organization, medical procedures - X-rays, CT Scans, radiation therapy – are the most significant source of human-made radiation exposure to the public by far. Clearly, cancer is a result of industrial pollution of the biosphere and of industrial technology, not of unlucky inheritance. It is quite convenient that we are being blamed for the misfortune of our own cancer via heredity while none of the carcinogen-producing industries is indicted at all.

As for cancer therapy, little has changed since Richard Nixon declared a war on cancer near the time of my birth. Three main remedies exist – surgery, radiation treatment, and chemotherapy. The latter two cause cancer themselves. Moreover, many of the major diagnostic tools for detecting cancer, such as mammography, CT scans, and fluoroscopy expose patients to extremely high levels of radiation. Their safety is increasingly coming into question as evidenced by articles in major media outlets such as CBS, ABC, MSNBC, US News and World Report, and Time magazine, based on peer-reviewed scientific research. The futile quest for an elusive singular cure to a complex but preventable set of illnesses is a waste of time and money. This search has been conducted for at least half a century now, to little or no avail. But does that mean we just have to live with cancer? Solutions exist. Prevention exists. However, prevention does not mean early detection. Prevention means elimination of carcinogens.

Two years ago, I underwent a barium enema to attempt to discover the source of some digestive trouble. Barium enemas do not necessarily detect cancer, but they do discover growths of any size. They also consist of a series of x-rays of the colon – in my case over a dozen. At the time, I joked to my partner, “If I don’t have cancer now, I will after all of this.” I did not have cancer then. The x-rays showed no signs of any growths large or small. Now, two years after that enormous radiation exposure, I am no longer laughing. That same month, an acquaintance of mine from my childhood died from metastatic cancer at the age of 31; also, a close friend of mine died of (originally) ovarian cancer at the age of 38. My friend’s cancer story began with benign cysts. Two years later, cancer was detected. Her therapy consisted of aggressive treatment – including pinpointed radiation to an area of her body where she later developed bone tumors from which she died. Her doctors were surprised at the way in which her cancer had jumped to her bones. It was so rare, indeed, that they wrote journal articles about her case. They never thought to question their own radioactive therapy.

We need to be open to changing our lives. We ought to adopt policies that favor human and environmental health over economic health (i.e. growth) – the Precautionary Principle, for example. We must gain the wisdom to value natural living things such as ourselves, otherwise the artificial economy upon which we choose to base our entire existence is liable to outlive us all.

The term cancer “survivor” offends me. It disrespects my fit and healthy friend who did not survive. It discounts the millions of those who have not survived. I live now, but for how long? How much longer will my body tolerate all of its exposure to carcinogenic agents? Unfortunately, as a biotic organism, I must continue to breathe (polluted) air and drink (polluted) water as a necessity to survive. My impeccable diet and healthy lifestyle – and those of so many others – do not immunize us from toxic poisoning. We will surely not even come close to suffering from diabetes or heart disease, but until carcinogens are eliminated, we will always be at risk for cancer.

I am not a cancer survivor. I am a cancer victim. I am a victim of industry. After 36 years with not a single medical event, my body has now undergone manipulation and mutilation as the result of cancer surgery. I have an eight-inch scar on my abdomen. My formerly robust abdominal muscles are trying to be of use again. My intestines are attempting to discover their new function as a result of being in a new location in my gastrointestinal tract – sometimes unsuccessfully. I am annoyed with everyone clinging to false hope and not dealing with reality. I am disgusted with telethons such as “Stand up 2 Cancer” that feed money into the same medical industry that irradiates us, but does not touch upon the causes of this preventable epidemic. We cannot tolerate this toxic, carcinogenic world that we have created to satisfy our needs for useless and wasteful consumer technologies – our bodies cannot tolerate it. If we do not stop allowing “acceptable levels” of carcinogenic agents, if we do not stop choosing economic growth over public health, if we do not stop feeding our insatiable hunger for unnecessary products and production of “goods’ (I prefer to call them “bads”), if we do not stop enduring incredible harm from industry, if we do not stop depending on experts alone rather than relying on common sense grounded in well-informed education, and if we do not stop seeking a single, reductionist scientific solution to a complex problem that is too cumulative and aggregate in nature for science to deal with, then we are doomed.

About Paris

At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) marked the first inter...