Pin It

Cancer – Can You Get it From Your Environment?

by Tiffany in Health & Healing

Mom with Cancer

Cancer to me was mostly an obscure disease… something people get when they get old or perhaps when they are unlucky enough to have genes that carry a predisposition to cancer. It was something mysterious and I felt it was the luck of the draw if you faced it down or not… it was not, in my mind, something I could prevent if I wanted to and it was not something I could get from my environment or my poor choices, save perhaps cancer from tobacco products.

But then cancer hit home for me all within the span of a few years. My Aunt died in her early forties after years of working in a factory and the man who exterminated our house died suddenly. It made me think about our choices, our environment, and the exposure to deadly chemicals that was all around us. The link to cancer wasn’t so mysterious. I was seeing direct links between environment and this deadly disease. These events and the fact that I had almost lost my youngest child to vaccines made be start looking at things with new eyes. Our environment and our choices were making us sick.

This point was of course driven home all the more when I got sick soon after. I thought my third pregnancy was just the gestation period from hell but I would soon be diagnosed with cancer myself. Genetics were ruled out officially by my doctors but I already knew why a 28 year old woman got a type of cancer common to people in their 60s… poor life choices.

Sure I knew that my diet could have adverse effects… like increasing chances for heart disease later, bad skin, diabetes, weight gain, etc. Cancer was never on my radar though. From about age of 19 to age 26 I lay all the groundwork for my own illness. My diet all through those years was deplorable. I worked at a movie theater while I was in college as a projectionist and manager so I had all the free junk food I could want. It was not uncommon for me to go weeks with my meals only consisting of hot dogs, popcorn, and soda. After college I worked 40-60 hours a week in an office and who had time to cook or prepare meals, so my son and I ate exclusively at fast food places.. breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Ironically I turned this around by the time I was diagnosed a couple years later but the damage had been done.

In many ways getting cancer was a blessing because it is a great teacher. I came to see fully just how closely linked our lifestyle and our product and food choices are to bad health and disease. It helped me to see what kind of risks I am taking with my kids when they eat the processed crap that permeates the grocery store. It helped me see everything with new eyes and I wouldn’t say I live in fear… I just have a realistic view of the exposure around us. Our environment matters! Our choices matter!

By calling it a blessing I don’t want to make cancer sound glam either. It wasn’t easy to spend two weeks in the hospital after being cut from groin to belly button. It wasn’t easy to have to stop breastfeeding my son at six months old or worry that my kids wouldn’t have a mother. It wasn’t fun to come home strung out after becoming addicted to the IV pain medicine. It wasn’t fun to have a port-a-cath put in my chest or to have it taken back out. It wasn’t fun to throw in up my purse. It wasn’t fun to get Pancreatitis and need another hospitalization and surgery. And it wasn’t easy to tell my doctor I quit Chemo and that I would rather take my chances with cancer than go through one more minute of torture in his office. You know what would have been easy though? Avoiding it in the first place.

There is risk involved in hiring that exterminator, lawn care expert, or pool guy… for us and for them. There is risk involved when selecting shampoo, mattresses, food, and food storage dishes. The risks may seem to be minimal when you look at the products individually but when you add up all the cumulative exposure the risks aren’t so small anymore. When natural substances are outweighed by initials… BPA, PVC, PET, PFOA, PFOS… you are doubling down on risk.

We cannot rely on industry to make the necessary changes on their own because money is more important than product safety. We see this clearly with the plastic industry, the tobacco industry, and the pharmaceutical companies. The ultimate battle against cancer can be fought in large part by becoming aware of what constitutes risk and educating yourself about where the dangers are coming from. We can choose to vote with our dollars on products that are safe and for companies that take environmental responsibility seriously. By doing so we reduce our own risk and we send a message loud and clear.

We may not be scientists capable of finding a cure for cancer but we are savvy people capable of reducing our risk and protecting our families when industry will not. Follow along as some other green moms expose the environmental links to cancer via the Green Moms Carnival. Enjoy!


Environmental Links to Cancer

Lisa at Retro Housewife Goes Green examines the link between a local cement plant and cancer.

Marie at Project Earth examines the link to cancer that can be found in our personal care products in Phthalates: It’s not Just a Fragrance. It’s a Birth Control!

Deanna at The Crunchy Chicken writes about her husband getting leukemia after working in biotechnology for many years.

Jennifer the Smart Mama highlights many common links to cancer found in the home and two books that motivated her to make changes.

Karen at Best of Mother Earth discusses the term carcinogenic and where we can start in making changes.

Kellie at The Green Phone Booth has some good advice to help us avoid becoming overwhelmed about the C-word.

Amber at examines Environmental Toxins, Breast Milk and Cancer.

Sommer at Green and Clean Mom shares her thoughts on empowering ourselves to beat cancer.

Diane at Big Green Purse talks about how we can take precautions with We Don’t Wait for Our Child to Get Hit By a Car Before We Tell Her to Look Both Ways When Crossing the Street.

Linda at Citizen Green writes about cancer and sunscreens which is timely since warmer weather is around  the corner.

Anna at Green Talk discusses toxic chemicals in furniture and building products.

Jennae at Green and Gorgeous, has a child battling cancer, and she asks the question When it Comes to Cancer, I Say Why Take the Chance?

Micaela at Mindful Mama speaks out about her own cancer wake up call.

Lynn at Organic Mania talks about the Hypocrisy of Cancer.

  • Anna @Green Talk

    Tiffany, people should learn from your story and make the changes now. I think Jennae hit the nail on the head. Why take the chance now?

  • Lisa @Retro Housewife Goes Green

    Thanks for sharing your story and hosting such a powerful carnival!

  • Sarah @ Semi-Sweet

    Great post, and I couldn’t agree more . . . but I think you need to ease up on yourself re your diet pre-cancer – there are plenty of us who ate pretty darn well, hardly drank, never smoked, etc. who were diagnosed at a young age w/cancer (me, breast @ 32). And no one knows which exposures trigger which cancers, and in which people. I think it’s important to eat very well and to seek to control exposures where we can, but some exposures are inevitable (car exhaust, air pollution, etc.). Awareness is so much greater than it was even 9 years ago when I was diagnosed . . . more posts like this, more people caring . . . eventually some changes will be made. Thanks for speaking up!

  • Classically stated Tiffany – money IS more important than safety. What a profound example your personal story with cancer is. Thank you for hosting this month’s carnival

  • Reut

    Tiffany, Thank you for sharing your story with us, it’s a great post! I agree with you, I think we should do the best we can to live a healthy life, to raise healthy kids, and to stay close to the nuture as much as we can. Thanks again!

  • Thank you for all the important info!

  • Thanks for sharing your story! Cancer and heart disease run in my family, and learning about the cause is what prompted me to make my own body products and cleaning supplies for my family. I was shocked to learn that the American Cancer Society was funded mainly by companies whose products cause cancer and their board members are invested in companies whose products cause cancer. All about money for sure and very very sad indeed. I’m glad you made it through such a difficult time and sorry about the loss of your aunt. Hopefully if we all ban together we can make a difference in this area.

  • Janelle Sorensen

    Superb! Thank you so much for raising awareness about the environmental connections to cancer.

  • Lynn from

    Tiffany, thank you for sharing your story. Knowing you as the green veggie queen of smoothies, it is incredible for me to even think that you were such a fast food junkie. I had no idea. I am so sorry that it took that horrible battle with cancer to lead you to a greener path. Thank you for sharing your story, thank you for hosting the carnival, and thank you for all you do to help others!

    (And by the way, my carnival post was not included. I sent it last night. It is here: )

  • Wow – what a roundup! Thanks for pulling all of this great information together Tiffany. I agree with Lynn – it’s hard to imagine you as a fast food junkie. :)

  • Shena

    I feel exactly the same way and I feel so validated reading your words. I also feel like it is the environmental toxins that cause this huge boom in our children’s neurological issue such as autism and ADD. I know for a fact that it affects my daughter because, like you, we completely changed our lifestyle in an effort to cut out the environmental toxins, and you can’t even tell she has autism anymore unless you already know. Now that I know that, I think it is nuts that people buy and eat food sprayed with poisons.
    During my pregnancy with my daughter with autism, I ate McDonalds fish sandwiches all the time. I knew they were gross but I let myself off the hook because I was “craving” them. I also let her dr give her a flu shot with thimerasol in it, even though she was showing some signs of autism and then I had to watch her sudden steep regression after the shot.
    Anyway. I really just wanted to say thank you for your post. You manage to put into words what I feel and don’t know how to put into words.

  • As a cancer survivor myself, I would never minimize what you said or feel about your health—and I too have taken very strong measures to clean up my habits since I had cancer. I believe there are connections between the prevalence of cancer today and the chemicals we all ingest.
    On the other hand, Linda McCartney got cancer around the same time I did; and she was a lifelong vegetarian who I’m sure never ate at McDonald’s and had access to the best medical care. Yet she is gone and I’m here.
    There are still too many unknowns, So I applaud the changes you have made and your commitment to educate others –but hope you will also ease up on blaming yourself for something you might have done.

    • Darryle, very good points! If had gotten breast cancer, or lung cancer, or even brain cancer I think I would not be so tough on myself. I got colon cancer though and unless it is genetic, diet is usually the culprit. So I think it is the type of cancer in this case, coupled with the lifestyle.

  • Tammy McLeod

    I was so sad to hear about your cancer for more than one reason. First, as a breast cancer survivor, I would not wish it on anyone else. But second, I’ve followed you on twitter for more than a year and had no idea – it made me feel selfish. I’m sorry about this but can see that it has made you stronger and that you have become an incredible resource for others. You’ve unwrapped the gift.

  • Thanks for sharing your story. Very powerful, and definitely gives us all something to think about!

  • Thank you so much for hosting this carnival! It is an important one, for sure. As is sharing your story – I am sorry that you had to go through that experience.

    I like to know that I can vote for a better world with my dollars. These problems can feel so overwhelming, but making small changes is not. Deciding to buy organic and sustainable products, avoiding fast food, and choosing safer toys for my kids might seem like small actions, but when many of us do them they all add up.

  • Amanda

    I love this article :)

    Our food is poisoned, and we have allowed this to occur. We unceremoniously dump this garbage down our throats and expect our bodies to react well.

    As has been said by the father of modern medicine, “…Let thy food be thy medicine, and thy medicine be thy food…” Hippocrates

    And, how often does your doctor stop before he or she prescribes you some pills and actually take a hard look at your life and lifestyle (without invading your privacy to do it, of course)?