Komen Alabama Race for the Cure

Posted on October 16, 2011


Yesterday, I ran the Komen Alabama Race for the Cure 5K in Birmingham.


This week’s Sunday Sign on The Ben Franklin Follies  is dedicated to the Komen Race for the Cure.
More than 16,000 people ran or walked in the Komen Alabama Race for the Cure this year. I ran my first Komen Alabama 5K in 2002. I’ve also previously done the 2009 and 2010 Komen Alabama 5Ks. It’s amazing and inspirational, so see so many breast cancer survivors, fights and supporters come out to raise money and awareness. The level of volunteer support is also amazing.

I always get a teary-eyed several times before, during and after the run itself because I really, really hate cancer and what it does to people.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer 13 years ago, when she was 52 years old. I am so blessed that the treatments were successful and she’s been cancer-free for many years.  She had to go through the full regimen of lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. The treatments lasted for more than 18 months. Mom had an estrogen-receptor negative form of breast cancer, so the Tamoxifen regimen (which was just coming into use at the time) was of no benefit to her.

Mom scheduled her radiation treatments on Thursday afternoons so the worst nausea would hit on the weekend—she did that so she wouldn’t have to miss school. She was a teacher and she was dedicated.

Mom stayed active and shifted her healthy eating habits into high gear. She ate fresh fruit all the time, especially grapes and strawberries. Mom is the only person I’ve ever known to go through a full regimen of chemo and never lose her hair.

I lost my beloved grandmother to cancer in July 1982. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in the late 1960s, when treatments were less sophisticated. Mastectomy and radiation were the main options then. I’m not sure if she was given chemotherapy in the 1960s.

Just before Thanksgiving 1978 my grandmother was told her cancer had returned. She’d found a lump in her neck, just above the shoulder area. Her prognosis wasn’t good. The doctors spoke in weeks or months, not years. She was placed on an intensive chemotherapy regimen this time, followed by radiation. Mema lived almost four years. She had good days and bad days. She stayed active and lived at home until the last couple of days. I spent the night with her every chance I had, even after I left for college. I learned so much from my mema, from the beginning until the end—She could do anything. Lillian Aycock is probably the wisest person I’ve ever known. Cancer took her life away in her 60th year.

I hate cancer. I’m proud to support efforts to find cures for breast cancer and every other form of cancer.

But I want more than a cure.

I want to prevent cancer because I think cancer should be rare, not a common occurrence.

It seems to me that cancer has proliferated since the 1950s. I blame a combination of environmental contamination, the proliferation of chemicals in our environment (including our food and water), a shift to industrially-produced, processed foods, physical inactivity and excessive weight.

The pervasiveness of chemicals is probably the main contributor. If a person has a healthy immune system, our bodies can fight off a lot of diseases. But we are exposed to so many chemicals from so many sources that our bodies simply can’t keep up.

Chemicals are tested for safety in isolation, rather than in terms of interactions with other chemicals and other environmental factors. Safety is based on short-term exposure, not lifelong chronic exposure.

This approach to human health must change.

I can’t avoid exposure to all chemicals but I try. And I try to keep my body in a condition that it can repair damage due to chemical exposure.

In the meantime, I’ll keep doing what I can to support research for a cure. And keep fighting to retain (and expand) environmental rules and regulations that do something to protect us from the onslaught of chemical exposure.

And I want to say thanks to Ford Motor Company and other businesses that support the Komen Race for the Cure and other cancer research and prevention causes.