By Patricia Kearns
It’s mid October, a time of gratitude and giving thanks.
I’m grateful for many things. Last week I had my annual mammogram and appointment with my breast surgeon. It’s six years since my lumpectomy, or partial mastectomy that preceded weeks of chemo and radiation, treatments for Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, the most common form of breast cancer.
The waiting room is full of anxious looking women of various ages wearing blue hospital gowns. I pull out my book and settle in for a good few chapters. Some women scroll through their phones, others watch YouTube and some just stare blankly ahead. I remember when that was me, unable to do anything but inwardly panic, waiting for the results of the biopsy, to hear the news of whether or not it was cancer. Or two years later, to see if the treatments had worked.
Waiting for the radiation technician to call me in for my mammogram, it dawns on me that I forgot to take a Tylenol. Damn! That was a good tip my pivot nurse gave me way back, “Take it before you leave the house”.
The technician is friendly and yes, she’s had mammograms before and yes they hurt. She apologizes when I let out my cries. I’ve never been a silent sufferer and I have a high tolerance for pain. Seriously.
Back to the waiting room, the blue smocked gals and my book, a trusted distraction. After a while, I hear my name. Don’t you hate it when the technician calls you back in for more pictures because the radiologist - the doctor who reads and interprets the pictures for the surgeon - saw something that needs further investigation /magnification?
The sweet technician beckons me to look at my mammogram and points to little white clusters. “Probably just calcification,” she says breezily, then, “This is going to hurt more than the first ones because we need more compression…” OUCH!
Now the wait is really stressful; it’s not easy to wave off the white clusters but thankfully it’s not too long before I’m told to go sit in office #3.
My lanky new surgeon swishes in. She replaced my adored surgeon when he retired last year, and I have met her once. “Your mammograms are good” and I breathe a big sigh of relief. Smiling, she pats the examining table which I hop up on. She does a thorough breast exam and says, “You are perfect.”.
I am so thankful that I am NED or No Evidence of Disease. It means that I am in remission but not cured as there is always a chance of recurrence. That’s why doctors treating breast cancer patients never say you’re cured as it's possible for breast cancers, especially estrogen-receptor positive tumors, the most common, like mine, to recur years or decades later.
But for now, I am home free, and I count my blessings.
I am also thankful that the CIBC Run for the Cure is over for one more year. I was inundated starting in September with Facebook posts selling pink socks etc. but the ones from The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), advertising their CIBC Run for the Cure, serving me up women’s stories of positivity and hope, enraged me.
The CIBC run is the biggest single day event that raises money for breast cancer in Canada. This year, well meaning Canadians raised over $9 million by participating. The event is now inextricably linked to the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS). How much of that money will go to studies that examine the environmental links to breast cancer? Considering how little attention the CCS has paid to environmental questions in the past, a minimum I’d say.
There is a troubling contradiction that I’m bothered by. How is it o.k. for the CCS to have the CIBC as their main “visionary” partner when the CCS’s mission is to improve and save lives? Recent reports have shown how Canada’s largest five banks, including the CIBC, are some of the biggest contributors in the world to fossil fuel industries.
How can a banking institution - the CIBC - profess to care about breast cancer as it is one of the worst offenders when it comes to financing the climate crisis and in turn the breast cancer crisis?
It is no longer news that fossil fuels are cancer causing; they are linked to our health in a myriad of ways, for example, by exposing us to harmful chemicals such as benzene, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins, and PFAS, all involved in the chain of fossil fuel production from extraction to the manufacture of by-products such as plastics. All involved in breast cancer risk.
And lastly, I am so thankful that Breast Cancer Action Quebec is connecting the dots between breast cancer and fossil fuels and building a movement of people who act together for change. We need it fast.