Thursday, July 28, 2011

Seeing Green through the Cancer Lens

SustainaMom reflects on how quickly life can change…

My dad has cancer.

It is a “good” kind of cancer: Diffuse Large B Cell Lymphoma, which is “very treatable.” Ironically, the oncologist explained that this is an aggressive lymphoma but that also means it absorbs the chemo drugs and reacts quickly. So the aggressive nature of this disease makes it easier to treat.

Daddy’s first chemo treatment went well and the mass in his abdomen shrank immediately. It no longer interferes with his breathing when is lying down to sleep. Tests have revealed that the cancer has not spread, and the bone marrow test showed no trace of lymphoma. In short, my daddy’s prognosis is very good.

At the end of June, we just knew that my 61-year-old father had a mass on his stomach or pancreas, and we were so worried. We thought he might not even live to see his fourth grandchild (my nephew) who is due in mid-August. Now we believe life will be back to normal by Thanksgiving. We are planning to walk in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Light the Night Walk on October 21st — the day of Daddy’s last chemo treatment.

My life continues. My parents don’t need my help, and my energetic son is a bit too much for long visits with Grandpa. And so I continue to work, and I’ve even taken my son on a short vacation. Everything is the same except that I make more frequent calls to check on my parents.

But my thoughts are all jumbled up. How does this happen? What is the trigger? Of course, I’m grateful that my daddy’s treatment appears to be going well. Of course, I’m amazed by what medical research provides. (My sister and I hope to raise $2000 to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and its dedication to cancer research — which helps blood cancer patients as well as those with other types of cancer.)

But it brings more sharply into focus the question: while we’re all raising money to treat these diseases, who is studying how to prevent these diseases? And just as importantly, how do we tell our friends and neighbors who don’t know about the things we're already concerned about? I certainly wish someone had told me about soaps and cleaners and pesticides long before I had my son, which led to my becoming eco-crazy. Would my son have sensory issues if I had done something differently while I was pregnant?

Would my dad have lymphoma if he’d been more careful about __________? What if my mom had learned about triclosan soap before I told her? Would that have made a difference? What if my dad had eaten organic foods all of his life? What if ....

There are so many variables and so many unknowns, but I do think that if we can eliminate toxic chemicals, then maybe we can eliminate some cancer from our futures.

We know about some concerns: pesticides, cleaning products, personal care products. But how do we share this information with family and friends who haven't come across the information? My dad's diagnosis increases the urgency for me.

I tend to overwhelm friends and family who show a little interest. For example, I recently spent an hour writing an email to explain to my cousin why she shouldn't buy soap with triclosan. My email was complete with links to 12-page reports. I'd much rather say, "Here's a great book that explains why you need to take a close look at your cosmetics drawer, your cleaners, and everything in your shower and fridge."

What is the single best basic "green your life" book or documentary you've read/seen?


Eco Yogini said...

I'm sorry to hear your family is going through a difficult time. Sending you and your family Strength and Healing.

My favourite alltime ever book for this, very easy to read and well organized is: Ecoholic by Adria Vasil.
She has an american version out too.

need one all inclusive guidebook that's easy to read, backed by science and is actually funny and entertaining? this is it :) (wow, i sound like a PR lady)

Diane said...

I was having this same conversation with my mother yesterday. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer 10 years ago and still has it, but managed with medication. She said that when she was young people just didn't get cancer the way it is now. Only the old and it was still few and far between. It has to be what we are eating, breathing, putting on our skin and cleaning our homes with. I too wish I had learned all of this earlier in life before I ahd my children.

Betsy (Eco-Novice) said...

That is a really good question. I have never seen a non-overwhelming book about the toxins issue. In fact, a friend just told me how she checked out a book by 7th generation on the topic from the library and had to return it within a week b/c it was making her feel crazy like she was poisoning her family.

I actually think it's preferable to find a blog you like, and follow topics as they are covered there. Or, if you have the discipline, get a book, but only look at one chapter per month -- giving yourself ample time to make changes before freaking yourself out about the next thing. Good encyclopedic books, I would say, are by Healthy Child Healthy World and Smart Mama's book -- but they both are really overwhelming, even for me, when I have already heard most of what's in there. You have to be really disciplined and NOT skim the whole thing unless you are a very even-keeled person.

I also wonder how to let folks know about green issues without freaking them out -- how can you get them to sign petitions to change toxics regulation w/o overwhelming them with the scariness of our current situation? It's a real conundrum b/c parents are so overwhelmed already. I sometimes refer people to my blog if they seem interested in these issues, and hope that the bite-size posts of info are manageable.

Good luck to your dad.

Anonymous said...

I would recommend the book Slow Death by Rubber Duck: The secret danger of everyday things by Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie. It is a wonderful book written by two Canadian environmentalists who use themselves as guinea pigs tell about the effects of pollution and toxins in our world. It is both realistic and hopeful about how to protect yourself against harmful toxins.

SustainaMom said...

Thank you, everyone. I will check out all of these books! Betsy, I've been meaning to buy Smart Mama's book for a while. I do like learning via blogs myself, but I feel books might work better for the people I really want to reach out to now.

I also came across another book while looking for "Slow Death by Rubber Duck": " Living Downstream: An Ecologist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment" and I think I'll try to read it as well.

Wellspring Community School said...

I had this conversation with my grandfather shortly before he died of colon cancer, thirteen years ago. He kept asking what he had done wrong - he never smoked, he ate well, he took good care of himself - and I tried to get him to understand that there are so many things in the food, the air, the water, it wasn't anything he had done. He had lived 85 good, healthy years and that was something to be thankful for.

BTW, my grandmother had lymphoma at 76 and is now an eight year survivor - it wasn't easy but now she is well. So good luck to you and your father and keep the faith!


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