No mere diet change prevents breast cancer

November 23, 1998|By Gloria West

WHEN I saw the book, "The Breast Cancer Prevention Diet," at the bookstore, I got angry. Later, when I saw it was on a best-seller list, I was outraged.

How dare Dr. Bob Arnot, NBC's chief health correspondent, combine the charged terms of diet and breast cancer to sell a book that will promote guilt, offer false hope and not save one life? The book is an attempt to shame and mislead women, and profit from their fear.

What women do not need is one more man telling us how we need to improve our lives (and diets) to achieve a mythical goal. Haven't we recovered yet from decades of self-improvement writings promising marital bliss, career success and eternal youth and desirability if we women would just change ourselves?

Scary message

What a horrible message. Magic does not exist. These are lies circulated by profit-hungry authors and publishers. Yes, scientists say there's a link between obesity and breast cancer, but beyond that, there's no proven diet-related link to the disease.

I am living proof that healthy eating and rigorous exercise won't prevent the disease. Four years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I chose to undergo a mastectomy and have been taking the drug Tamoxifen since that surgery. The support and expertise of my doctors helped me survive and heal. But none of these professionals -- from surgeon to oncologist -- ever told me what to eat. I am grateful for their help and medical, not magical, guidance. I know I did not cause my cancer.

I've always enjoyed physical activity, from the age of 8 when I played tennis in Druid Hill Park. As a result of vigorous exercise at an early age, I developed into a thin and athletic young woman, who participated in state tennis tournaments and semi-pro play.

In my 20s, I began jogging even before running shoes for women were widely available. I had to get my first pair by mail order from a Massachusetts company. In March 1978, a week after my divorce became final, I actually completed a 10K race. The run from the Inner Harbor to Fort McHenry and back left me exhilarated, and nursing shin splints for the next month.

After recovering from the temporary injury, I returned to daily jogging, and I ate a fairly healthy diet for the next 20 years.

I take after my mother, who was thin and athletic, too. She died of breast cancer at age 65.

Differing fortunes

So, the indicators of who's going to get breast cancer aren't clear. There are overweight women who live long lives and never get breast cancer. Then, there are trim, athletic women, including Olympic skater Peggy Fleming, singer Olivia Newton-John and vegetarian Linda McCartney, who struggle and sometimes lose their battle with this disease.

It is not their fault. If you're battling breast cancer, you should know that one less cookie wouldn't have made any difference.

I am sorry the book is so popular, but I understand why and certainly do not condemn the women who are desperately looking for a way to avoid breast cancer. But I hope and pray our daughters spend more time enjoying their lives than fearing the future. Let them live each day to the fullest, and deal honestly with whatever lies ahead.

Gloria West, a free-lance writer, lives in Columbia.

Pub Date: 11/23/98

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