Biking for cancer research is uphill climb
Shouldn't we also focus on stopping carcinogens at the source
I RODE FOR THE FIRST TIME in the Pan Mass Challenge fundraiser for cancer research this year. The weather was perfect, and it was a glorious experience. Thousands lined the roads to cheer and thank us. Many held signs indicating that they survived cancer, or held up photos of loved ones who did not. During the toughest part of the ride, I felt particularly inspired by the image of a little boy with a sign that said “I’m here thanks to you.”
Facing the headwinds going uphill on Route 6, I wondered about the headwinds faced in the fight against cancer. We raise money for treatment, but why is cancer still so prevalent?
I contemplated the efforts of the 6,000 riders and 3,500 volunteers; the rows of tents and teeming tables of food at the overnight rest area in Bourne; the names and pictures of cancer survivors and victims on bike shirts, ribbons and signs; my own loved ones who have fought against cancer and those who have died; myriad research groups represented on team jerseys; the thousands who cheered us on. I considered the Pan Mass Challenge’s goal for its riders to raise $48 million this year.
As another hill rose before me, I wondered: How long does a chemical company take to make $48 million of profits? Days? Hours?
Countless other companies pump thousands of untested chemicals into the environment every year. What are they selling? Some sell chemicals that enhance our lives. Some of the chemicals are known to cause cancer, other illnesses, and birth defects. And many chemicals have unknown short and long term effects on us, our children, and our grandchildren. Which will be the next DDT or asbestos?
For the foreseeable future, we will ride to raise funds to cure cancers caused by chemicals distributed for enormous profits today. These companies thrive even as more and more of us get sick.
Our current system allows thousands of chemicals into our air, food, furniture, cosmetics, cleaners, toys, and water each year without being tested to determine how they impact our health.
According to federal law, industrial chemicals do not have to be tested before they are put on the market. Only a tiny fraction of the over 80,000 chemicals registered today have been tested. Many suspected carcinogens such as BPA are still widely distributed. Under the current administration, whatever slight protections consumers have are under fire.
Manufactured chemicals are not the only cause of cancer, and research for the cure will remain vital. But why aren’t we also fighting harder to stop carcinogenic chemicals at the source? What if we put the same amount of energy, money and human capital into riding and advocating that chemicals be rigorously tested for safety before they are introduced into the environment?The Pan Mass Challenge is an extraordinary event which highlights the generosity and dedication of many. Funds raised save lives. I hope to participate until the need for it is obsolete. That day will require not just creative and well-funded research, but corporate responsibility and thoughtful, stringent regulation to limit our exposure to carcinogens altogether.
Annie C. Weiss is a licensed clinical social worker practicing in Newton and Brookline.