By Marleen M. Quint
Health Advocate & Environmental Activist



As I write this, it is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) -- yet, again. Advocating breast cancer awareness at this time in our society is like teaching a malnutrition class in a concentration camp.

The truth is, NBCAM provides an opportunity to hawk anything and everything in a plethora of pink. In the process, we are hopeful, but not altogether sure, that a significant percentage of donations will get to the research arena and then sincerely believe the research being done is to cure the disease. So many are ignorant to the fact that much of the research money is a funding pool being siphoned for drug development to manage breast cancer, not find its cure.

As a veteran of breast cancer, I was interviewed and photographed by the National Geographic for an article addressing the body burden of chemicals we all have been accumulating since before we were born. Let me begin by saying the photograph used in the article of me and two other women was beautifully done and very powerful. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be a participant in getting the larger story out to the general public.

I was pleased with the photograph but not as pleased with the context in which it was presented. I wrote the following editorial addressing what I perceived as critical omissions within the article. I have submitted this editorial as a response to the National Geographic coverage on chemical pollution and as a follow-up to my most recent piece, titled, Race for the Cure? Run for the Money!


I just received a copy of the October 2006 issue of the National Geographic. The title of the issue is Places We Must Save. There's a specific article titled, The Chemicals Within Us (The Pollution Within). One of the first photos is of three breast cancer veterans standing in front of the Richmond Industrial area -- I am one of those cancer veterans.

The article is fairly in-depth and addresses the extensive body burden of known harmful and potentially harmful chemicals that each of us carries within us like a geographic marker of where we've been, what we've touched and breathed and what we've ingested.

The article clearly sends up a warning flag, but offers no real answers, solutions or a sense of empowerment. This is particularly disappointing to me since all three women in the photo, Wanna Wright, Etta Lundy and myself, were each given half-hour interviews yet none of our input was quoted except for one offhanded comment I made.

When they were interviewed, I know Wanna and Etta probably talked about the politics of poverty and racism which plays an integral part in predicting who has the greatest exposures to well known toxic chemicals. Most will never know for sure because Wanna and Etta's input was never printed.

The potential harm of trace chemicals was discounted and the phrase "endocrine disruption" was never mentioned. There was also no reference to ionization radiation being persistent in our environment. Radiation may not be considered a chemical but it is certainly a life-threatening poison that endangers the health of each and every one of us.

They did, however, manage to quote a medical toxicologist who says, "Chemicals are not all bad ... While we have seen some cancer rates rise, we also have seen a doubling of the human life span." Not exactly a scientifically targeted comment since it's more likely that improved urban hygiene and sanitation may have had more to do with our longevity than the introduction of chemicals; many intended to end life rather than save it.

I guess I expected too much. I should be glad the subject is being addressed at all in such a prestigious magazine. I just hope it's not too late when the American public finally demands the right to a cleaner and safer environment. If we don't practice the democratic process, we run the risk of losing it and all the safeguards that go with it.

You can read the article online at the link below. To see the photo of the three breast cancer veterans, just click "Photo Gallery" at the top of the same page as the article.

Marleen M. Quint

Originally from Hawaii, Marleen was also raised in Japan and Guam. Her background is extremely eclectic and ranges from working in the field of cartography to performing as a singer, dancer and actress.

In 1990, Marleen was diagnosed with thyroid disease followed by breast cancer less than two years later. She lost both breasts and her thyroid with no family history that would predispose her to either disease. After much research, Marleen is convinced that environmental pollution played a significant role in the development of her life-threatening diseases.

Since 1995, Marleen has dedicated herself as a women's health advocate. She has served as a consultant for several health organizations including the National Cancer Institute in Washington, DC and UCSF Mt. Zion Cancer Center in San Francisco.

Marleen has combined her skills to develop a women's health presentation which delves into the connections between the politics of gender bias and the level of morbidity suffered by women. Marleen is an active speaker in the San Francisco Bay Area.