Thursday, February 18, 2010

Do You Remember Me?

One of the reasons I set up this blog (and also why I link it to facebook), has to do with my students.  I hate to see them go.  I hate the limitations of a semester at a large university—you get to know these wonderful people for 15 weeks, and then most of them disappear into the university machine, never to be heard from again.  Facebook, my blog, and other internet connections have changed all that.  I can keep the connection going indefinitely (as long as students are interested). 

My ecofeminism and mothering blog and facebook profile are important platforms for extended teaching.  My students send me information about their activities and/or interests in environmentalism, and I post what I find interesting and important on the topic as well.  Rather than communicating solely through email—these more public venues allow for the communication to flow back and forth between many. 

It just tickles me when I hear from someone like Damion who writes, “I don’t know if you remember me, but can you help me find material on how toxics cause cancer?”

Damion is a gorgeous, ambitious and academically passionate young man.  No, I have not forgotten you, Damion.  Nor have I forgotten Sonia, who worked in the organic garden last spring.  She also wrote to me this morning. I distinctly remember her sunny face, and the splash of blonde hair tucked neatly behind her ears.  She had such an earnest interest in environmentalism and the ties to cancer.  After Sonia spent several days helping to establish a relocated organic garden last spring, she announced to the class, “I had no idea how much fun it could be to dig ditches!”

I rarely forget my students from my ecofeminism classes—probably because these courses break out of a traditional format and these kids are so engaged. Students create their own projects, bring in outside materials, and give powerful audio-visual presentations. The texts we read and view are complicated and emotionally wrenching. Many students have strong first hand and personal connections to the topic.  Unfortunately, all too many of them have known cancer in their lives, and they share those stories.  

These are unforgettable experiences for me as a professor.  

So, no, Damion, I have not forgotten you. 

Here are the links I recommend that you look at:

Here is the website that our 2009 ecofeminism class created:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Interviewing Patti Wood in January, 2010

Patti Woods and her husband Doug Wood are extraordinary people---I will write about them again here and elsewhere in more detail. They fight every day for what they believe in as they try to save our earth and the health of all living things.

In Patti's view (and I agree with her), it is clear that corporations and their ceaseless quest for profit (at any cost) are destroying the earth and making us sick. All living beings have a fundamental right to clean air, clean water, and unpolluted soil, and yet that right has been stripped from us. Our land, air, rivers and oceans are polluted; our children are dying/suffering from cancer and other diseases; our genes are damaged; and so much more. Most of us, understandably, don't want to think about the polluted world we live in because it is too frightening to contemplate.

Patti and I agreed that our politicians and political system have been corrupted by corporate greed. One major way to undo this corruption is through campaign finance reform. Without this, even the best intentioned politicians cannot act. I believe this is our only hope of real change and real protection. Otherwise, we will continue to live in a world dominated and controlled by corporate interests. In a world dominated by corporate power, our right to safe and clean water, air and soil will remain stripped from us.

At the end of our discussion, Patti talked about her daughter and the CT scan she was once given (unnecessarily) for abdominal pain. Patti described the shockingly high rate of radiation that her daughter received (unnecessarily) from that one test.

Suddenly, I found myself growing uneasy.  My stomach churned.

I told her I had been given many CT scans during and after my cancer treatment.

She grew quiet, for a moment.

"Where on your body?" She asked.
"Everywhere," I answered. "From the pelvis through the neck."
 (Hodgkin's is a cancer of the blood, so grows it everywhere.)
"How many CT scans tests did you have?" She asked.
"Too many to count," I replied. "Maybe nine times, maybe more. Before, during and after treatment."

I found myself growing quiet inside. Still.

After I said goodbye to Patti at the end of the interview, I panicked a bit.   I tried to forget what she'd said about the amount of radiation in a CT scan, but it didn't work.

So, a few hours later, I googled, "how much radiation from CT scans."

Here is what the 12/14/ 2009 USA Today newspaper article says:

CT scans deliver far more radiation than has been believed and may contribute to 29,000 new cancers each year, along with 14,500 deaths, suggest two studies in today's Archives of Internal Medicine. One study, led by the National Cancer Institute's Amy Berrington de Gonzalez, used existing exposure data to estimate how many cancers might be caused by CT scans.

Another study in the journal suggests the problem may even be worse. In that study, researchers found that people may be exposed to up to four times as much radiation as estimated by earlier studies.....

Young people are at highest risk from excess radiation, partly because they have many years ahead of them in which cancers could develop, Smith-Bindman says. Among 20-year-old women who get one coronary angiogram, a CT scan of the heart, one in 150 will develop cancer related to the procedure.

Another piece of information I found on the FDA Government website, which explains the amount of radiation in a CT test says:

Radiation Dose:
The effective doses from diagnostic CT procedures are typically estimated to be in the range of 1 to 10 mSv. This range is not much less than the lowest doses of 5 to 20 mSv received by some of the Japanese survivors of the atomic bombs. (my Italics)

In my own case, from what I can glean, it would have been more than 8 mSv because of the locations of my tests; the abdomen x-ray is in the higher range and I received radiation from my abdomen to my neck. If what I have quoted is correct, then, I received the same or more radiation on a regular basis for several years (at least nine times), than survivors of atomic bombs in Japan.

And here I thought I was in the clear.  I've been cancer free for fifteen years.  For ten years after my chemotherapy treatment, there was the possibility that the chemo could cause leukemia.  I've passed the ten year mark for that.  I've also passed the ten year mark for my the Hodgkin's to come back, so I'm supposedly "cured."  Now her I've coming across this dispiriting news about the dangers of CT scans causing cancer.  Now the clock ticks again.  Hey, the clock ticks for us all, but I'm not happy about this news.   I'm not happy at all.

Wasn't there another way to test for my cancer? As lay people, we do not decide what kinds of tests our doctors use, or what our insurance will cover. One pharmaceutical or medical company elbows their way into the medical profession and their product becomes "protocol". The protocol may kill us in the end, and thus we, the terrified patients, do what our doctors tell us to. Meanwhile, our doctors, like our politicians and government, are controlled by big business.  I know my oncologist meant well.  He saved my life 15 years ago.

So, I'll say a personal prayer, yet again, for my daughter. I will try to believe that another cancer will not kill me, that I'll live long enough to watch my daughter graduate from college, get married, and  have healthy children of her own.  My own daughter lost three of her grandparents to cancer before her birth. May things look brighter for my and all of our future generations.

We can hope.

We can act. Vote. Petition. Write. Protest. Question.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Nuclear Movies, Morality and A Cautionary Tale

Watching nuclear bomb films has a strange effect.  The topic is so heavy, the issues are so profound, that I find myself unable to think clearly.  The depth of the problems and questions raised are so vast, dense and intense.

I am often too shaken to write.

As I began my film watching on this topic, the list grew and grew.  The list is now at about 70 films. I can’t watch a lot of these films at once.  It is too much to take in.

What I’m finding is that the films made in the 1950s and early sixties are enormously powerful and really well made.  I’m not sure how these films have been buried and forgotten—it must be that the topic is just too hard to deal with.  The moral questions they raise are really scary—but also deeply thought provoking.  They require us to remember that we are (still) living in a perilous nuclear age, and to consider enormous questions around nuclear war, illness, death, and the competition for national power—in a world where we have far more weapons than necessary to destroy the earth many times over.  The issues and questions about why we possess these weapons, who this serves, how it endangers us, and the risks involved, are things most of us don’t want to consider.  We’re worried about Global Warming now—at last some people are aware of that—but what about a nuclear winter and radiation poisoning?  Nuclear winter could very well result in the end of the human race. What about the incredible rise in cancer and other diseases, as well as the long term genetic mutations (passed down through untold generations) from radiation poisoning?  The latter is happening right now, and it will escalate if we continue on our current path.  Yet it is rarely spoken of.

The films from the 1980s are also incredibly strong—and they, too, ask politically pointed positions.  They take aim at the Pentagon and the US government. They also raise profound ethical questions about the right to possess, build and use weapons of mass destruction, and the dangers of such complicated technologies.

Imagining a world after a nuclear holocaust is something most of us do not want to consider.  Most of these films ask us to think about it.   It is hard to do.

Many of the films from the start of the 1990s onward are less focused on the morality and ethics of nuclear war—they tend to be distracting action films with hunky muscular male heartthrobs fighting their way through a dusty world.  They are macho fighter films—not so different from any other crash and bang ‘em up flicks with high-tech weapons.  Does this shift in nuclear war films speak to the general malaise and lack of concern or awareness in our culture about the dangers of nuclear radiation and disaster?

No one talks about the danger of nuclear war anymore.  It seems like everyone thinks it has gone way.  Probably this is because the Cold War is over.  The two countries have reduced their arsenals, but not by enough.  Now there are many other countries that possess nuclear bombs—India, Israel, France, England, and more—accidents happen, even if wars don’t break out (on purpose).   Who is to say that a war won’t break out and some unexpected country won’t use their nuclear weapons?  What then?  What about the DU weapons currently in use in Iraq (these were used in Kuwait was well); these are poisoning and causing cancer and genetic alterations in our own soldiers as well as in the innocent people and lands we are and have been at war with.  Our own military doesn’t acknowledge or take responsibility for any of this.

I cannot get myself out of this story. I’ve dug myself in very deeply.  I have read so many books on uranium and the building of the atom bomb, as well as so many recent articles on the pros and cons of retaining, maintaining, modernizing and reducing/expanding our nuclear arsenal, and the pros and cons of nuclear power.  While the President claims he’s committed to reducing our nuclear arsenal, some articles I read say the opposite is true.  Only last week our President announced his commitment to give loan guarantees to the nuclear power industry in the amount of 54 billion dollars to build 100 new plants (if you paid close attention, before the 54 billion announcement-- just a few weeks earlier-- the number was 5 billion).  In a short time, the loan guarantees will grow, that is for sure.  The President will have to guarantee at least 100 billion and probably more in order to accomplish this goal.  As far as I’m concerned, this is a huge mistake, and from everything I read, the cost far exceeds the benefit.  Even if you look at it purely in economic terms, it doesn’t make sense.  In terms of safety—the industry says it is safe.  This is absolutely not true.  There are constant leaks from our present plants (though the press doesn’t report this, and countries like France--the supposedly model nuclear country--are dumping their radioactive waste into oceans. Also, France and other European countries have other problems with their plants, and this is downplayed or ignored by the mainstream press).  So, while we still don’t know what to do with the dangerous radioactive waste we’ve accumulated so far, taxpayers are about to mortgage this country to build more plants and create yet more poison that cannot be disposed with safely (and which lasts thousands of years).  There are plans to make plants that don't create much waste, but we are not there yet, and the story is never that simple.  The nuclear industry lobbyists are behind the plan (surprise, surprise), and even Democrat politicians who typically don’t support nuclear power—are behind it.  The President is behind it.  What are they thinking?  I don’t see any vocal opposition.  Where is everyone?  In Long Island, in 1989, we refused such a thing.  What has changed in twenty years that no one seems to be taking notice about 100 new nuclear plants?  

Our current situation reminds me a bit of the moral tale in  the movie Fail Safe.  In Fail Safe the men in charge of government and the military industrial complex are all so proud of the power of our nuclear arsenal and the advanced technology used to oversee the war machine.  The movie asks, who is really in power here (we the people?), who makes the decisions about our political and military stance, and shouldn’t we be afraid that giving over more and more of our human control and will to technology puts us at great risk?  It also suggests that while military technology is seductive and thrilling we must be careful to harness this unheeded passion and exercise caution. We must be careful not to be like Dr. Frankenstein.  He fell in love with the thrill of his project, but when the monster was born, "man" had lost control.  Mary Shelley was sending out an important  warning.  Many scientists who worked on the atom bomb regretted their accomplishment and saw the making of the bomb as a 'dark day for mankind'.  

These are huge questions.  Most of us are just trying to get by, make a living, pay the bills, and raise our families.  We’re tending to sick parents, sending money to Haiti (that is a very good thing), grumbling about Obama not saving us from the depths of recession, hoping our schools don’t lose more funding , saving for college (if possible) and if we have jobs—feeling very grateful.  Many of us are watching the Superbowl.  Obviously--not all of us are so blessed to have these worries.  Numbers of homeless are escalating and it is cold outside and if we're there, it is got to be all these folks can do to stay alive and making it through another day.

Life needs to be lived.  I just hope we keep living it.

There was almost no such thing as childhood cancer before 1950.  Anyone remember what day Hiroshima was bombed?  Anyone know how many bombs were built and  tested in the US in the 1950s?  Many link the testing of such bombs and the exposure to nuclear radiation from these bombs to the enormous rise in cancer in and after the 1950s.  More and more many have started to think about the connections between DDT and cancer  (DDT and other toxic chemicals also came into use post-WWII and DDT was sprayed across the country for years and years, many other related toxic chemicals remain in use).  After WWII the US and other industrialized countries began the perilous love affair with cancerous chemical pollutants.  We are not free of either environmental problems--radiation or toxins--they plague us today.  Our cancer rates and other terrible environmental and health problems have risen accordingly.

I dream of a world free of their production, and free of these poisons.  I would like to see an end to childhood cancers, birth defects, and disease.

Can we do anything if we do wake up?  I think so!  We deserve a "safety" first environmental and earth policy, because we have the right to have clean air, water, soil, and food.  We, the people,  must wake up and demand that our safety comes first.  Politicians won't listen if we speak up and make our voices heard.

Can we wake up?  Will we wake up?

Science and technology are thrilling and seductive.  Yet, there is a cost if we don't exercise a policy of safety first.

I have felt it myself. The glitter of nuclear weapons. It is irresistible if you come to them as a scientist. To feel it's there in your hands, to release this energy that fuels the stars, to let it do your bidding. To perform these miracles, to lift a million tons of rock into the sky. It is something that gives people an illusion of illimitable power, and it is, in some ways, responsible for all our troubles - this, what you might call technical arrogance, that overcomes people when they see what they can do with their minds.  --Freeman Dyson

Asleep at the wheel?