Gerry Rogers Delivers
Shelagh Dwyer Coinner
On September 26th, 2002, the keynote address at the BCAM annual general meeting was delivered by Gerry Rogers, the Newfoundland film director of "My Left Breast." Her talk, entitled "Putting Your Foot Down... On Shaky Ground: Breast Cancer Activism In A Time Of Uncertainty," was both informative and affirming.
She addressed the situation of escalating breast cancer rates around the world in the general population and specifically in younger women—despite the fact that 92% of these women have no known risk factors. Survival rates, she explained, have not significantly improved in spite of earlier detection. She pointed out that the greatest increase in incidence is in childhood cancers, testicular and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma and brain cancer, both in the elderly and the very young, There are no screening tests for these cancers, nor do they involve the usual risk factors. They therefore represent a very real increase in the incidence of disease. How, she asks, can we explain this?
There is as yet no research explaining why the incidence of cancer is significantly increased in areas where the population is exposed to unusually high levels of pesticides, industrial solvents, electrical fluids, PCBs, dry cleaning fluids, dioxins and furans—substances that now show up in the bodies of most humans on this continent.
In terms of animal life, the incidence of cancer varies depending on the environment. For example, scientists have noted a high rate of cancer in beluga whales inhabiting the St. Lawrence River, as compared to an absence of cancer among belugas in pristine waters. And we cannot blame whale lifestyles!
The answer may lie with the Precautionary Principle, defined as ... "Where an activity raises the threat of harm to human health or environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not established scientifically."
Rogers urges us to to rally and press governments, industry, and the public to action in the face of uncertainty. Everyone must and can do their part to lobby their representatives, to increase public awareness, to push for research and to work within existing groups. Cancer, she emphasized cannot be beaten; it must be stopped. She challenged each of us to inform ourselves, and act. For as she so succinctly pointed out, "to be able to help (act) gives one a sense of hope." The challenge she delivered, in closing was, "Let us live with our hearts closer to the surface as we work together... to be active... even in times of uncertainty...." Our hearts were beating very much together at the conclusion of her address. Thanks to Gerry for sharing her expertise with us and inspiring us to continue to put our collective feet down on what may hopefully become—in the future—firmer ground.