The first time I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I was incredulous. “But I eat blueberries–and spinach,” I said in the car on the way home, as if making a habit of ingesting the so-called super foods should have been enough to keep cancer at bay.
It just didn’t add up. Every doctor described me as healthy (even as they gave me a cancer diagnosis, as odd as that seems). I thought I was doing everything right. I made it to the gym semi-regularly. I took fish oil and extra calcium. I didn’t have either of the known risk factors for thyca, exposure to high levels of radiation (think Chernobyl) or an immediate family member who’s had the disease.
But the thyroid is an endocrine gland, affecting and affected by hormones. And so, since November 2007, I’ve had this nagging suspicion that all the blueberries in the world might not have been enough to keep cancer at bay–in fact, that the chemicals with which they had been treated might even have contributed to its development.
The President’s Cancer Panel–a relatively unassuming name for a pretty kickass group of doctors–released a report last week that spoke directly to that suspicion, and fear. Unregulated chemicals in our food, water and air may be causing us “grievous harm,” the panel warned. They recommended that we choose products with fewer endocrine disruptors. (For more on the report, check out Nicholas Kristof’s good op-ed from last week.)
Well, geez. Endocrine disruptors. A cancer of the endocrine system. Thyroid cancer is now the fastest-growing cancer among women, up 6.4 percent between 1996 and 2007, a period during which the incidence rates of most other cancers–thankfully–fell. Unfortunately, that math makes all too much sense.
It seems likely, now, that some combination of chemicals that we thought was innocuous was anything but. This is a pattern the U.S. is good at repeating. Doctors prescribed thalidomide and DES until it was obvious that they caused birth defects. We still allow BPA in our plastics and to line our cans, despite the fact that manufacturers have voluntarily removed it from baby bottles. What will we look back at 25 years from now, with perfect hindsight, and realize we allowed to expose us to danger?
It’s a question I’m determined to get to the bottom of.