Never underestimate the power of a few to change the world – because, as Margaret Mead said, that is the only thing that ever has. Cancer hits one in two American men, and one in three American women. Those are mere stats – until the diagnosis hits you or your family. May is National Brain Tumor Awareness Month. I encourage you to be aware. But don’t stop there.
Many know of 5-year-old Ben Sauer’s cancer battle. Ben unfortunately died on May 13 from brain cancer. Even from afar, I know his life was way too short.
Ben’s battle brought out the best of Western New Yorkers’ spirit – including through the Blue4Ben and Blue Light for Ben campaigns. After news of his passing, thousands responded with prayers. Remembering Ben and praying for his family is important. But don’t stop there.
Dick Vitale isn’t stopping there. “Dickie V” created a cancer research grant in Lacey Holsworth’s name. Lacey was an 8-year-old girl from Michigan who died of brain cancer in April. Though most cannot do what he has, we all can – and must – do something.
Cancer researchers have found many of the major environmental factors that contribute to cancer, including smoking (lung cancer) and sunlight (skin cancer). Discovering more subtle cancer risks is harder. Yet many have concluded that evidence shows that our environment has a bigger role in cancer than previously thought. Consider this:
• President Richard M. Nixon declared the “war on cancer” in 1971. But childhood cancer has steadily increased since 1975. Cancers among teenagers and young adults are also more prevalent.
• Of the 80,000 synthetic chemicals now used, about 2 percent have been tested for having a carcinogen. Since 1976, five have been banned. So 98 percent have not even been tested. To state the obvious, you can’t regulate what you don’t test.
• A 2007 study by the American Cancer Society identified 216 chemicals known to cause breast cancer in animals: 73 are in food or things we buy, 35 are air pollutants and 29 are produced in large amounts annually.
• Our country’s main law governing chemical policy is the Toxic Substances Control Act. To say that it is flawed would be a compliment. The law’s hidden secret: It does not require a showing that a product is safe before being sold. That is nonsensical. So the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency often lack information about chemicals used in products, including foods.
• Since its 1976 enactment, the TSCA has not been significantly amended. Two bills – the Chemical Safety Improvement Act and the Safe Chemicals Act – were recently introduced to amend the TSCA to require industries to prove a chemical will not harm human health before it is used in a product.
We can’t all do what “Dickie V” did. But we can all push to change an ineffective chemical policy and help fight cancer at its core. Please encourage your representatives to amend the TSCA and monitor their votes. We owe it to Ben, Lacey, their families, ourselves and our kids.
Ronald D. Richards, a Western New York native who graduated from Lewiston-Porter High School and Fredonia State College, now practices law in Okemos, Mich. For his 40th birthday, he received a diagnosis of incurable brain cancer.