By Alanna Kennedy
A survivor wonders if environmental exposure contributed to her cancer
By Alanna Kennedy
Like other cancer survivors, Ronni Gordon of South Hadley, Mass., was shocked when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in April 2003. At 48, she was an avid runner and tennis player. “Aside from eating too much sugar,” she says, “I [was] the picture of doing the right things.” After four stem cell transplants and two relapses, Gordon is now in remission.
With so much research about cancer risk in the news, it’s no surprise that Gordon and other survivors contemplate what might have caused their disease. Says Gordon, “You just wonder, ‘Did I do something wrong or did I not do something right?’ ”
A controversial report issued in May by the President’s Cancer Panel brought up more questions for Gordon. In a May entry from her blog, Gordon talks about the panel’s findings and trying to find a balance when it comes to health and lowering cancer risk.
Confusing Reports on Cancer Causes
May 9, 2010
It was one of those reports that made you want to crawl under the covers.
On Thursday, the President’s Cancer Panel released a report saying the number of cancer cases caused by environmental exposures has been “grossly underestimated.” The panel advising the president said that Americans are facing “grievous harm” from chemicals in the air, food and water that have largely gone unregulated and ignored.
The report noted unexplained rising rates of some cancers in children. ... “To a disturbing extent, babies are born ‘pre-polluted,’ ” the panel wrote.
It suggested filtering tap water and storing water in stainless steel or glass to avoid exposure to BPA [bisphenol-A] and other plastics and also avoid microwaving in plastic; buying produce grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers; buying meat free of antibiotics and added hormones and avoiding processed or well-done meat.
Some of this we already knew. Some of it rules out most of what is in the supermarket. And some goes against what doctors have told me. ...
The next day, the American Cancer Society criticized the government panel for overstating its case, writing online that the report was unbalanced “by its implication that pollution is the major cause of cancer” and had presented an unproven theory, that environmentally caused cases are grossly underestimated, as if it were a fact. The author of the statement … continued that there are much larger causes of cancer, such as smoking, poor nutrition, obesity and lack of exercise, although he agreed with the panel’s concerns about people’s exposure to so many chemicals.
But, but, but ...
Someone like me had none of the risk factors, except, of course, a lifetime of exposure to a range of chemicals. When I asked my local hematologist upon diagnosis how I even got leukemia, he said, frankly, that if I had gotten massive exposure at a place like Love Canal, I could attribute it to environmental factors, but, otherwise, they just don’t know. …
[W]hen these reports come out … you wonder if you exposed yourself and kids, how you can stop doing it. Within reason, you can pick and choose and do what’s possible. You could get everything organic (for a higher price). It’s easier in summer, with the availability of local produce. Still, some things are hard to give up.
You could drive yourself crazy. Or you could do what my father, who lived to a nice old age, preached, “Everything in moderation.”
To read more of Gordon’s blog, Running for My Life: Fighting cancer one step at a time, visit runnerwrites.blogspot.com.
To recommend a blog for CR’s Cancerblog column, send an e-mail to Kennedy@CRmagazine.org.
(photo: Katryn Gabrielson)