Friday, January 14, 2011

I'm in the "Army of Women" Now

Me? The Army? The Dr. Susan Love “Army of Women,” that is--a national online effort to find the causes of breast cancer and help in its prevention. But let me backtrack a bit.                                  
          Five years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer: This week I had my annual mammogram, and am “good to go,” as they say, for another year. True cause for celebration! But is there any guarantee that I’ll never get breast cancer again? Not really. We don’t even know for sure why some women get breast cancer and others don’t. After all, I didn’t have any of the “risk factors.” No one in my family had had breast cancer, I wasn’t overweight (ahem!), I didn’t carry the gene, and I'd nursed my three babies seemingly forever (a supposed safeguard).
          So, I wondered, where did this come from? Was it the result of my own negative thinking over the years (nothing like blaming the victim)? Was it something about the water or air? Was it because I tended to "burn the midnight oil" a lot?
          I’ll probably never know. But I did decide, on the day of my diagnosis, to change my lifestyle. Formerly an occasional smoker, I quit cold turkey. I began practicing yoga two or three times a week, working up to a daily practice. I scoured the health food stores for antioxidants and other supplements, began to eat only organic meat and vegetables (eventually going whole-hog vegetarian), cut sugar almost completely from my diet, began walking daily to get a natural dose of vitamin D, bought a low electric magnetic field hair dryer, stopped wearing a bra except when absolutely required (yes, I know that one's a stretch, but I'm happy to be rid of it anyway), began meditating and using affirmations and visualization, cut way back on wine, started going to bed earlier and getting up earlier, practiced gratitude and living "in the now," and researched, researched, researched on my own to find out what I could do--if anything--to ensure that I would never have to re-live this experience.
          With all of this, is it one hundred percent certain that I will never get breast cancer again?
          Unfortunately not, because there is no definitive answer to the question of what causes the disease. Enter Dr. Susan Love’s Army of Women, for which I am now an approved blogger. I’ll occasionally be posting their research calls on this site. The Love/Avon Army of Women (AOW) is a unique program of the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, a 501 (c) 3 non-profit breast cancer research organization funded through a grant from the Avon Foundation for Women. The AOW provides an opportunity for men and women to take part in breast cancer research studies aimed at determining the causes of breast cancer–and how to prevent it. You need not have had cancer to participate—many of the studies call for help from those who are cancer-free. Check out
          This internet-based effort to help researchers pinpoint the cause of breast cancer costs participants nothing and is completely voluntary. When a research study is looking for folks, AOW sends out an email and anyone who fits the criteria can sign up. Some current examples include a study at Stanford University to determine if too much stress and not enough sleep are linked to breast cancer. Another study in Chicago, the BEAM (Breast Estrogen and Methylation) study, is looking into finding a better way to predict a woman’s breast cancer risk. In the past, it could take researchers as many as five years to recruit for studies. The AOW has been able to expedite the process, using the internet to provide researchers with subjects in less than 48 hours. 
        In the past five years, several of my friends have been diagnosed with breast cancer: one--a talented musician and brand new grandma--didn’t make it. This is a disease that is not going to go away without relentless effort. The cause of breast cancer is a mystery that must be solved (if only that fearless investigator in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo were a real person!). The AOW’s goal is to sign one million women (and men) to help researchers find the cause of breast cancer. (In the relatively short period that this effort has been in motion, nearly 350,000 have signed on.)  Determining the cause will aid in finding the path to prevention.
            Though there is no guarantee,  “knowledge is power,” and power fuels hope. I’m hoping for the best! I invite you to join me in the AOW’s quest.

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