Why don’t they just ban it then?

Water: free, clean and safe - 'let's take back the tap'

One day last summer I was shopping in a camping shop. I find the product I want and go to pay. At the till I am offered a special deal – a half price product from a selected range of items which include a very attractive clear plastic drinks bottle. I express interest in it and the assistant hands it to me. You see, I’m interested in drinking bottles because I  replaced our refillable aluminium water bottles for lightweight stainless steel ones. Why did I do that?

Well, the previous bottles we used, the aluminium ones, are lined with a coating to ‘ensure a fresh, clean taste and no metallic aftertaste’. And the manufacturer of those bottles reassuringly say that the chemicals that make this coating are now ‘non toxic and fully compliant with all EU and FDA regulations.’  Although given the slow rate of legislation I wouldn’t be convinced that means they’re completely safe.

More importantly though the lining of the new bottles don’t contain the chemical BPA or Bisphenol-A. I’ve written about BPA before. It’s widely used in plastics that come into contact with food and is implicated in breast cancer and other diseases. Throughout Europe it is being banned for use in baby bottles, because of concern that the heating of the bottle makes the chemical more harmful. Amongst the campaigners I know there is a general concensus that the baby bottle ban is just the start, and that a total ban on BPA will follow. Continue reading

It all comes back

November 2007, picking Sarah up from hospital after her oopherectomy

Today’s guest blog, from guest Editor, Ronnie, picks up on Barbara Ehrenreich’s classic article ‘Welcome to Cancerland’. This one’s about ‘Carerland.’ It’s right next door.

So, it’s Monday evening, this week. Sarah’s just gone out boxing and the phone goes. It’s the hospital, offering Sarah a cancellation slot for her next surgery, this Thursday. ‘Do you think she’ll take it?’ I’m asked. ‘Well, I think she’ll hit the roof, blame me for the short notice, stomp around the house for a few minutes, and then agree it’s probably best to get it done now,’ I tell her. And an hour or so later, this scenario plays out, more or less precisely. Sarah takes the appointment, and immediately begins her blog about it, published on Tuesday.

Tuesday morning for me, I’m out on what’s becoming my regular run. From our house, ten minutes down to Sefton Park, once round the park, twenty minutes or so, then back up to our house – bit more than ten minutes, mostly uphill. Monday morning I’d skipped round this. But Tuesday’s different. In the end, my times are pretty much the same. But there’s a heaviness in my legs and in my heart. Skipping it isn’t. And half way round I realise I’m running through previous preparations for surgery, previous waiting rooms. And it all comes back. Welcome to Carerland. Continue reading

Remembering Iris

Iris Berg

Today’s post is written by a friend of ours, Hilary Berg. Hilary’s mother died of breast cancer on 22 October 1994, 17 years ago today. I first met Hilary after she’d read Being Sarah, and she was completely bowled over by it and I delighted in her praise. She went on to tell me some of her mother’s story and I could see it was incredibly painful for her. So when I asked her to write for my blog I wasn’t sure if she would want to. But I’m really glad she has and this is a very moving and emotional piece. I cried when I read this. And I don’t mean my eyes filled with tears, I mean my face was streaming with hot, burning tears of anger as I read about the shoddy medical treatment Iris received, and another life ‘cancelled by breast cancer.’

Hilary Berg, daughter of Iris

I have to admit that when I was diagnosed in 2007, one of my initial reactions was feeling worried about the level of care I might be about to receive on the NHS. All my previous encounters for minor medical conditions were really mostly very average and consistently patronising. However, my care from 2007 onwards was excellent, not always, but the majority of my medical care has been given with dignity and respect for the patient; and I do know that it has not always been the case in the NHS. But I now know that in the late 1990s health advocates caused a shift in how the NHS treated patients, and the ‘patient experience’ has become core to how the NHS deliver their services. Not always perfect I know, but certainly improved from the time that Iris received her treatment. 

In my head I carry the names of women who have died from breast cancer, and sometimes I recite them and I remember why I do all this. Why I still write, why I still get angry, why I still talk about breast cancer. Because I want things to change. That’s why. 

So, get a tissue ready, and please read this beautiful tribute to a wonderful woman. Iris. Thank you Hilary.

“Seventeen years ago today I found myself holding a worn pair of spectacles in my hand, with smudged fingerprints and flecks of compost on the lenses. I found them on the table in the greenhouse just after the funeral director’s men had left, taking our mum, Iris with them.

And there I was, silently holding on to her gardening glasses – cocooned in the warmth of the greenhouse – surrounded by her trays and pots,  balls of string, gardening gloves, scribbled lists on scraps of paper.  Completely unable to grasp the fact that this full, warm, joyful life had, quite suddenly, been cancelled by breast cancer.

The greenhouse was always one of her favourite places. Continue reading

I just didn’t know…

Fiona Shaw

Fiona Shaw at the BMA Medical Book Awards in September 2011

 “I was 34; I knew people who’d had breast cancer – some who’d died. Some who’d lived. I read about it – hell, I’d even done a Run for Life. Turns out I didn’t have a clue. Working on ‘Being Sarah’ changed my life.”

says Fiona Shaw, editor and publisher of ‘Being Sarah’.

“But the messages surrounding breast cancer are so complex and contradictory I just don’t know what to do about it…”

Today’s post is by Fiona Shaw who runs her own publishing company – Wordscapes. Since working together on the book Fiona’s become our friend and she often turns up in my posts, you know doing stuff like going to Buckingham Palace and swanky book awards in London. She’s a super-smart fun person, her zest for life is infectious and I love the time we spend together. She can also spell better than anyone I know. And yup, she’s even done a Race for Life!

This is Fiona’s post:

“And so October heralds Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), and – this year – a Being Sarah blog every day. Each and every one of which, I hope, will inform, challenge or add something to breast cancer awareness – in its widest sense. Because I can honestly say that, before I started work on Being Sarah, I didn’t have a clue about breast cancer, and the issues, debates and controversies surrounding it. They are, I guess, out there. If you’re looking. But they’re just not questions and debates that are covered by the mainstream media. If I now know just a fraction of the things I didn’t know before, then it’s down to Being Sarah. Continue reading

‘The enormity of our task.’

Audre Lorde

I’ve recently finished reading The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde for the sixth or seventh time. It’s such a deep and inspiring read. Every time I read it I find I am touched again on many levels by Audre Lorde’s insightful and skilfully expressed emotions – anger, loss, fear – they jump off the page.

I bought this book over four years ago newly diagnosed with breast cancer having recently had a mastectomy in March 2007. At that time I hung around in the cancer sections of bookshops looking for, well, looking for what? I’m not sure  – answers maybe to all the ‘whys?’ I had:

Why me? Why so young? Why so little choice? Why do I feel so alone?

And did Audre Lorde answer my questions? I think, actually, now looking back through the years which I see now as layers, I see there are shards of answers to all the ‘big’ important connections I’ve started to piece together, and they have all started from seeds in this book:

  • the links between the causes of breast cancer and the environment;
  • the sense of a ‘bigger’ industry, Cancer Inc.;
  • and particularly about how women are encouraged to treat breast cancer so, ‘nobody will know the difference’.

Audre Lorde writes The Cancer Journals in 1980. That’s 30 years ago. 30 years. Wow – that’s a long time. For so little change. Continue reading