I have been wondering about cancer lately, specifically breast cancer.
According to www.komen.org, “An estimated 178,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to occur among women in the United States during 2007. An estimated 40,460 women will die from breast cancer.” That is an astonishing number of new cases of breast cancer arising this year and a heart-rending number of mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and partners that will be gone by the end of the year. Not only does it hit our women. It hits our men too, “It is estimated that 2,030 men will be diagnosed and 450 men will die of breast cancer during 2007.”
Something has gone seriously wrong.
There is a story about the Hundredth Monkey, the details of which get somewhat muddied, depending on which source one quotes. It is the concept behind the story that relates to what I am talking about today. This story refers to a scientific experiment that took place on an island wherein a group of monkeys had a food source that had been contaminated. The scientists were able to teach one monkey to take the food to a freshwater source to clean it off. That monkey successfully taught another monkey and so forth. Then, as if by magic, as the group of monkeys who knew about washing their food on that island grew to be near a hundred, scientists from a neighboring island witnessed monkeys all of a sudden washing their food for no apparent reason.
The theory behind this story is that when the collective consciousness hits a certain number, it gains a momentum that cannot be contained, or critical mass. It becomes part of what everyone feels and thinks and does.
(Photo courtesy of www.komenslc.org)
As I walked amongst the sixteen thousand participants at Salt Lake City’s Race for the Cure® on Saturday, my team happened to start out in the middle of the crowd. At one point, I could see people – spanning shoulder to shoulder, five lanes wide – three blocks ahead of me, around the corner and passing by, in the opposite direction, on the street a half block east of us while, behind us, the sea of people spanned for a half mile. That is a lot of people. That is a lot of consciousness focused on one specific thing in that moment… finding a cure.
My concern rose because sixteen thousand of us were focused on racing for finding the cure to breast cancer. I began to think about that Hundredth Monkey. That one monkey was the one who picked up on the thought and pushed the awareness into critical mass. While I strived to focus on creating space for healthy breasts, I imagine that many had not thought of focusing their energy there. I was grateful to see that the foundation is beginning to steer their focus in that direction. The volunteers – dressed in fluorescent green shirts emblazoned with, “I AM the cure” – expressed the need for education and awareness for prevention of cancer. Granted, a cure is so needed. However, if our breasts were healthy, there would be no need for a cure.
I was surprised by my experience Saturday. I did not expect to cry. I did not expect to feel a huge lump form in the back of my throat each and every time a lady in pink crossed my line a vision. Pink hat, pink shirt = Breast Cancer Survivor. I did not think I would feel breathless as I read the names on the pink signs of virtually every walker there that day. Names of whom they walked “in Memory of” or “in Celebration of.” I did not expect to have tears stream down my face so suddenly and with surprising poignancy as I looked upon pictures of those who have been lost to the silent predator.
There were families there, honoring generations of women lost and being lost to the battle. There was a group of young men who looked to be seniors in high school and they marched with solemn faces. In the middle, one boy’s sign read, “In Memory of MY MOM – Janine!” and on the backs of six on each side of him were signs reading, “In memory of JANINE!” There was a 30-year survivor flanked on the left by her son and on the right, her daughter who was a two-year veteran, as well.
I made it a point to reach out and touch or hug each survivor whose path I crossed. Each and every time I did so, tears filled their eyes and one survivor said, “Thank you. We survivors need all the touching we can get.”
I had not been at all prepared for the emotional tug-of-war I would go through that day. I felt waves of sadness – so many lives affected by this mean and non-selective killer. I felt anger that it seems to be gaining on us and seems to be reaching a critical mass of its own wherein it will eat us all alive. And then I felt concerned. What is it that is happening in our world these days that we are losing ourselves to cancers, specifically breast cancer?
I tossed around ideas as I walked… could breast cancer be a result of women’s battle to gain equality and be recognized as men? Has our equal-rights-movement chopped up our femininity and caused us to become more man-like? Could we be contaminating our own breasts with hatred and anger in that battle? Could it be in the air we breathe? In the food we eat? Could it be the artificial hormones and various other chemicals we inject into our animal food products? Could it be in the chemicals we imbibe regularly in the popular sodas and diet drinks? Could it be our fast-paced lives? Could it be all the technology we use? Computers? Cell phones? Could it be stuffed and unexpressed emotions?
What is it?!
Sadly enough, I did not land on an answer. Perhaps it is a combination of all of these. Perhaps it is part of human evolution. Perhaps it is something beyond our control. All I know is that the Susan G. Komen foundation has been around for 25 years and we seem to be no closer to the cure, yet the rates of occurrences are climbing at alarming rates and are, currently at 127.8 per 100,000 women around the world as per the National Cancer Institute.
Ummm… yeah… there is no “lesson” or “lightening of mood” at the end of this particular meditation. There is only sadness – and intense worry. I fear we human beings are doing ourselves in. I am sad to watch too many of my loved ones battling with cancer. I am mortified by the numbers I have lost to the battle. I am afraid at times that I will be the one called on next to fight this battle.
Where is our Hundredth Monkey that will push us into critical mass of awareness and overall health and well-being?
©Angie K. Millgate 5/14/07