One of the biggest problems with getting the awareness message over is that noone thinks it will happen to them. Even though my mother had breast cancer when she was 53 I didn't really think that much about it, partly because I haven't really noticed that somehow I have got to be 52 years old - FIFTY TWO. I mean I blinked somewhere about 27 and then I was 47, and I had breast cancer. How the hell did that happen?
Suddenly cancer did have a very real face, and it was my face looking back at me in the mirror each day, only now it is 'The Face Of Metastatic Breast Cancer' with which I have a complete connection of, understanding of and empathy with. I understand the fears, anxiety, depression and hope of this face because I am connected to it and I know that this is my reality. Cold, unforgiving reality.
The problem really is that there are so many messages out there about what you should or should not do. One minute it is right, but then it is wrong. Red wine - yes today; any alcohol - no tomorrow. Maybe the saddest thing of all is that politicians, who are so ready to butt into every part of our lives, don't seem to want to butt into what food producers and manufacturers are doing. When was it that we became all about self-gratification and only eating something that is totally irresistable, well according to the advertising company? Why can't food just be good for you and taste nice? When did the packaging and marketing of food become more important that the actual nutritional value of that food?
I have chosen to take Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine. It tastes yuk, but it is good for me, it is helping my body resist the charms of that cunning creature called cancer, but now it seems that even medicine has to taste nice and be flavoured (probably with a load of artificial E numbers) so that there isn't a hint of yukkiness about it. But, I ask, what is wrong with a mouthful of something that doesn't taste delicious if it is going to help keep 'The Face Of Metastatic Breast Cancer' alive. I know the choice is mine with concern with TCHM, but what is wrong with something more ordinary like eating broccolli if it is good for you, even if it isn't your favourite vegetable?
The thing is that somewhere along the line there is also a little matter of personal responsibility. I know that this is controversial when it is related to a cancer diagnosis but there is some personal responsibility involved. I am not saying that this was necessarily a conscious responsibility. I worked as a cleaner in a college for 20 years and I know that I have been exposed to some fairly strong, concentrated chemicals over the years, which now I think about it might have contributed to my diagnosis. There wasn't even compulsory protective clothing when I started, but maybe I should have been more aware of the environmental factors that can cause cancer ... but then again it wasn't going to happen to me.
When I was diagnosed with Stage IV, Metastatic Breast Cancer I began to look back. All the diet fizzy drinks with aspartame, the plastic bottles that they came in, the chemicals I had used at work and at home, the plastic I kept food in, the carcinogens in personal care products, the list goes on. For instance did you know that according to Dr David Servan-Schrieber one of the most toxic perfumes is called 'Poisin'? I was never a big user of cosmetics or perfume, and I never gave much thought to my shower gel, shampoo, face cream because we are led to believe that they are moisturising, nourishing and cleansing our body, not adding carcinogens to soak through our skin into our bodies. Well think again. Many companies are not using these ingredients because they are the best, they are using them because they are cheap and can maximise company profits - and people and the environment be damned. Worse still the government in this and many other countries know that some of these chemicals are hazardous to health and yet they don't butt in here either to ensure that at least the advertising could at least be honest.
One 'rule of thumb' is that the longer the list of ingredients in food or personal care products the more chemicals it contains. I looked at the ingredients on the packaging of a chocolate croissant a few weeks ago and I could believe how many were listed, and how few I could pronounce. Do you really need an air freshener to make your house smell nice? Try some essential oils, open the windows. After all lets face it, after a very short time none of us notice what out home environment smells like, air freshener or no ... ok there is the exception of the curry from last night and when exactly is that fishy aroma going to go away, but do you really need an artificial fragrance to cover it up?
Our immediate environment, at home at least, is something that we have control over. We can ditch the plastic, the artifical sweetners, the foods with things you can't pronounce and get rid of personal care products that are carcinogenic ... but there again I was never supposed to be 'The Face Of Metastatic Breast Cancer'.