I’ve been thinking a lot about Breast Cancer Awareness Month. 1 in 8 women are being diagnosed with Breast Cancer in America today, and sadly, the numbers of women receiving this diagnosis is not falling in any significant way.
Breast Cancer has likely touched all of us in some way — through our families, extended families, friends, or perhaps friends of friends.
It touched me in 2018.
There’s so much I’ve learned this past year. One thing that keeps surfacing in my consciousness is a need to evolve conversations and actions about breast cancer towards a more holistic and integrated model.
But what does that mean exactly?
I’ve always been a bridge of many worlds, so it came as no surprise to me that standard of care treatments for women diagnosed with breast cancer (surgery, chemotherapy radiation and drugs) is often a unilateral, linear path.
It’s been this way for decades and it’s both saved and not saved lives. When you receive a diagnosis like this, you are immediately pulled into the vortex of fear.
Fear of an untimely end, fear that you don’t know which way to go except to trust the guidance and good faith of doctors who have been down this road many times before with so many women.
You touch a hospital system and hopefully are guided by top doctors who move you through the most difficult of days. But as I did that, I kept wondering why we aren’t seeing more complementary and alternative treatments mainstreaming into the conventional world of treatments, otherwise known as, standard of care?
I dove into complementary and alternative treatments, exploring everything from energy healing — going deep into what’s happening from physical, emotional, spiritual and energetic levels, to discovering what women who added natural approaches did to augment treatment or choose another path entirely.
Sure, there are mind-body centers where patients receive everything from nutritional advice to massage, acupuncture, reiki and meditation. But’s it’s still bifurcated from most conversations about treatment — and there are reasons for it. Cancer treatment is a multi-billion-dollar industry, while complementary treatment has always been viewed with skepticism, an outlier to science, and something not taught in medical school.
This is still true despite people like western-trained Dr. William Li who published Eat to Beat in 2018, which points to evidence on how the right nutritional approaches can stem the tide of disease including cancer progression, even reverse some of its brutal effects or stop it entirely.
Many remain skeptical because they want evidence-based data and outcomes from large, statistically significant populations, ones that have been studied for decades, well before touting any complementary or alternative approach to breast cancer treatment.
And some question the idea or notion that a major change in how we eat can make a difference in the runaway train wreck known as cancer. Better to attack it with the big guns. For some or many, this aphorism may be true given an aggressive type of cancer, despite good intentions for complementary treatment or changes in diet.
But for the vast majority of women who do not have a genetic mutation or the most aggressive subtypes — and that’s nearly 80% of women diagnosed with breast cancer — we must start asking why.
Why are women increasingly being diagnosed? What’s going on?
Is it our environment — the level of toxicity in our soil, what we consume in the standard American diet?
Is the way we configure our lives, to work endlessly causing unyielding stress and increased cortisol levels changing DNA?
Is it endocrine-disruptors in everything from products we put on our bodies to chemicals in our furniture, our fleece jackets and fertilizers in lawns?
Is it EMFs from cell phones, TV’s, computers and sitting all day in offices, or endless commutes?
Or on a deeper level, is it lack of knowing who we are and going after what makes us happy, prioritizing everyone else but ourselves?
Is it stuck energy in our cells and tissues that calcify or harden as we turn away from needs, hopes, desires and passions while juggling many responsibilities as caregivers of growing children and aging parents?
I believe it can be all of this. And I also believe we need to start talking about it a whole lot more during October, the month of pink ribbons, walking, raising awareness and money for research.
Yes, we need far more funding for medical research, to find a cure, to have vaccines so the next generation of women will end run breast cancer as we know it — or at its worst, be a chronic condition that could be managed throughout a lifetime.
We need those vaccines now.
But we also need to recognize that pink ribbons may not be enough anymore — just as funding more research for a cure may not be enough anymore.
And we need to be willing to marry traditional standard of care treatments with complementary and alternative treatments. Some of this exists in integrative oncology practices, a step in the right direction, but we’ve still got a long way to go.
The diagnosis of breast cancer, or any cancer, is devastating. It’s a thief ready to steal the most precious things you hold closest to your heart, deep in the darkness of night or light of day.
But, it’s also an opportunity to wake up and help others awaken as well.
My hope is that by next October 2020, major breakthroughs will have been made — from research to vaccines; from broadening the way we treat breast cancer to broadening the way we talk about breast cancer.
From shining a big spotlight on what’s going on for women in our societies today — unrealistic expectations and challenging experiences — to tackling the degradation we know is happening in our environment.
To get to the next evolution of breast cancer awareness and action is a tall order, a tall mountain to climb.
But the climb is one we must do together and one we can.