Breast cancer issues come close to home

May 29, 2009
By

When I think of Susan and Esther, I picture them on Centre Street in JP walking their beloved canines. Or I picture Esther cooking, while Susan reads a book with several more stacked next to her. I revisit images of their wedding. Thirty years after falling in love, they walked down the aisle. On a perfect summer day, surrounded by friends and no fewer than 50 family members, Esther confided, “I wish my mother were here.” Her words stayed with me. Losing a mother, friend, sister, or daughter to breast cancer leaves a nagging sadness with tinges of worry.

Esther’s mother died before her 70th birthday in 1989. At the time, Esther recalls, Rhode Island had one of the highest rates of breast cancer nationwide possibly due to local industries’ pollution. Susan harbors simi-lar suspicions about the cause of her own mother’s breast cancer.

In 2006, Susan and Esther decided to forego wedding presents. Instead they selected a few charities and asked their guests to make donations in lieu of gifts. To honor the memory of their mothers, they included the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC) on their list. This June will be the couple’s second year participating in Against the Tide, an event that mobilizes breast cancer survivors, their friends and family of all ages in raising money for breast cancer research—particularly research on potential environmental causes of breast cancer. This is one act in Esther and Susan’s series of life-affirming choices. They compost; they belong to a Community Supported Agriculture group; they are a one-car family.

Yet individual choices aren’t always enough. Sometimes we need collective action. The Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition (MBCC) gives a voice to individual concerns. It shapes those worries and priorities into a research and policy agenda.

This year presents a special opportunity. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is gath-ering input on the new Massachusetts Solid Waste Master Plan. Given that some 80,000 chemicals are in everyday household products and most have never been tested in combination with others, it could be dangerous to dis-pose of them in landfills or incinerators where the chemicals react and their residue ultimately finds its way into our drinking water and air. Incinerating municipal solid waste adds dioxins and volatile organic com-pounds to the air. These are known carcinogens. Unfortunately, there is pressure to lift a 20-year moratorium on new incinerators.

These are the kinds of issues MBCC and other non-profits are paying attention to. Members of the public can lift a finger to help by lifting a kayak paddle, swimming or walking on June 20 at Hopkinton State Park. [See JP Agenda.] They can also contact state officials, asking them to keep the moratorium against new incinerators in place and to adopt a zero waste policy for Massachusetts. See mbcc.org/swim for more information.

Martha Merson
Jamaica Plain