OPINION:  The cancer battle

By Martha Sánchez

imageTourists taking pictures in front of the White House that it is illuminated pink in honor of cancer victims. Official White House Photo by Sonya N. Herbert. Oct 1, 2012

“Think Pink Young Americans” says the electronic message that I received from the White House to commemorate the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month to honor all women and men affected by such terrible disease. Through this message, United States President Barack Obama proclaims October as the National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, emphasizing that this year “tens of thousands are expected to lose their lives to the disease.” In addition to that, he highlights more than 200,000 women that will be diagnosed with breast cancer the upcoming year. (The White House Office of the Press Secretary, Presidential Proclamation—National Breast Cancer Awareness Month 2012. October 1, 2012. However, those numbers are just a small representation from the total of people diagnosed with cancer.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the term “cancer” refers not to one disease but many diseases that are grouped in many categories. (National Cancer Institute. Cancer Trends Progress Report – 2011/2012 Update, National Cancer Institute, NIH, DHHS, Bethesda, MD, August 2012) Actually, there are more than one-hundred types of cancer, and despite the significant progress achieved by research institutions, the exact causes of breast cancer remain unknown. For that reason, the Obama Administration stands with the mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, and friends affected by such terrible disease. And there is no reason to doubt his words, considering that his mom lost the battle against ovarian cancer.

imageMartha Sánchez with her children, Gonzalo and Catherine Romero.

Although I openly acknowledge his positive remarks and his personal commitment to eradicate this “social epidemic” through his well-known “Affordable Care Act,” in my humble opinion, I truly believe that his plan only addresses one branch of the problem while ignoring its roots. In other words, honoring those who we have lost to cancer, lending our strength and praying for them is never enough and it doesn’t address the roots of the problem. Frankly, educating people and providing psychological intervention programs for cancer victims, only insults my intelligence.

Sincerely, I don’t feel compelled by looking at this picture. In fact, I feel upset with most cancer campaigns. And why I shouldn’t be upset if that picture represents another well-coordinated effort to encourage citizens, governmental agencies, private businesses, nonprofit organizations, and all other interested groups to join in activities that will basically increase “awareness” of what Americans can do to prevent breast cancer without addressing the real problem. Technically, what I’m getting from this “Official Pink House” picture is a friendly invitation to comply with the system rules and ignore the external forces that are killing us softly. Through this new campaign, the government wants me to be peaceful and conventional while embracing with honor my predesigned destiny that is always sponsored it by neighborly corporations.

Please don’t get my message wrong: I do officially stand with all cancer victims. In reality, I empathize with them because both of my grandmothers died of cancer. My mom had a hysterectomy several years ago and my educational background is related with such disease. Indeed, I supposed to be working in a lab identifying cancerous cells in Mexico, but greater forces brought me to the United States where my real battle against cancer took place when I moved with my own family to South Los Angeles, the poorest neighborhood of Los Angeles City.

imagePalace Plating plant at South San Pedro Street and E. 30th Street.

In 2003, the Air Quality Management District hosted a public meeting at my children’s school to let us know that Palace Plating, a chrome-plating company located across the street from my children’s elementary school, was using chemicals identified by the State of California as carcinogens. I never thought that there was something wrong until I started learning the stories of those living in our community.

Over the past ten years, I was able to record information about children suffering from mental retardation, autism, birth defects, neurological damage, and many other symptoms such as asthma, abdominal pain, vomiting, dizziness, vision problems, nose hemorrhaging, and more—the list goes on and on. More than ten teachers and former school workers died of cancer and many more are cancer survivors. As I fought for the permanent closure of the company, I was able to collect dozens of people’s testimonies that helped me to prove my claims and to achieve my demands of permanently closing that company last December.

Those personal narratives certainly directed me to the actual responsible of this cancer crisis—the Environmental Protection Agency and the lower rank agencies sheltered under its umbrella. After recording people’s testimonies, I concluded that the war on cancer is a multi-billion dollar industry that makes money not to cure cancer but to address the cost of its treatments. I discovered as well that media have contributed to the problem by turning the “guilty into innocent” and the victim into a “proud survivor.” Ten years of work led me to conclude that the American Cancer Society and its allies—the corporate supporters and politicians helped by the media—have betrayed and exploited the public with their “bogus campaigns against cancer.”

Let me explain why I don’t feel sympathy, not even grateful for having so many generous “cancer supporters.” Through this “Pink House” campaign, President Obama has stated that “the exact causes of breast cancer remain unknown, but understanding its risk factors is essential to prevention.” Certainly there is plenty of evidence against those “huge corporate-sponsors.” Those companies have been targeted by the National Environmental Protection Agency as “toxic polluters” and accused by environmentalists as directly responsible for producing environmental carcinogens. With so much evidence at hand, then why it is that the national regulatory agencies are not doing their part by prosecuting them? Well, they have successfully avoided public responsibility by donating a portion of their sales to the cancer research and by drawing the attention to our “bad health, live and eating habits” instead.

Touching the lives of Americans from every background and in every community throughout the nation is very profitable. Let’s think about the amount of things that we can “Shop for the Cure.” Today, we can do anything to find the cure like running, biking, climbing, jumping, cooking, and even organizing mass events, public demonstrations, and you name it—the sky is the limit! But even more importantly, we can feel good and look better if we join America’s cancer movement by buying teddy bears or wearing amulets, talismans, bracelets, and showing out those popular pink ribbon brooches in public.

Let’s be honest, those fashionable “rosy goodies” have only improved the character of cynical merchants such as Revlon, Avon, Tiffany, Pier 1, Estee Lauder, Ralph Lauren, JC Penny and many more… the same ones that are making their consumers sick! What we really need to do is to stop putting on their cosmetics and consuming their costly “beauty” products. The problem is that we have become masters at fooling ourselves into thinking that we are automatically supporting the treatment for a cancer victim any time that we buy those healthy-looking products.

According to HSP-Online.com, in an article named, Processed Food there are over 6,000 synthetic chemicals used in the processed food industry. This industry has deceived the public and governmental health agencies by ensuring that their products are safe for human consumption. Although most information is available to the public, the material is presented in technical language with scientific notations which most people—including me — find intimidating and difficult to understand.

Therefore, as long as we continue ignoring the real causes of cancer, older women and those that are living in close proximity to industrial facilities, regardless their gender and age, will continue to endure the aggressive and obsolete practice of chemotherapy. I strongly believe that it is time for us to elaborate a real plan and an authentic “anti-cancer campaign.” Incidentally, I came out with a better version for your campaign Mr. President; hopefully you could find it more inclusive.

Community celebrates contaminating plant closure

Councilwoman Jan Perry today joined local residents and members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) in a press conference to celebrate the imminent closure of Palace Plating, the chrome plating facility that City officials found responsible for releasing toxic chemicals into the environment surrounding 28th Street Elementary School.

“It’s an industrial use facility that was grandfathered in, that never should’ve been grandfathered in an area where people are actually living or going to school,” says Perry. “We had a cancer cluster here. They were putting people’s health at risk.”

imageMartha Sánchez, middle, with her children, Gonzalo and Catherine Romero.

That’s what Martha Sánchez set out to prove eight years ago, when her children, who were attending 28th Street Elementary School, right across the street from the plant, started getting sick. Parents complained to health officials, city inspectors and their elected officials. Finally, they took their case to court.

It was a lengthy and difficult battle, but now parents, teachers and students are relieved that a judge ordered Palace Plating, which has been in the area for over 40 years, to permanently shut down by December 31.

“We have to change the way companies like this one operate,” declares Martha. “About ten teachers have died from cancer in the past few years.” Among them she points out Adrian Guillén, who died from pancreatic and Leticia Herrera, from lung cancer.

“We should change the cancer awareness pink ribbon to green – so people start using green technology and not allow for companies to use cancer causing toxic chemicals.”

Two of Martha’s children, Gonzalo, 17 and Catherine, 12, were among the 28th Street Elementary students who suffered from the air and ground contamination.

“I would get sick really easily. My nose was bleeding every night and I would vomit almost every day,” remembers Catherine.

Her brother Gonzalo, who says he also experienced a series of health problems, beams with pride about his mom’s accomplishment. “She’s awesome. She’s my role model. She’s an example that if you fight for a cause, anything’s possible.”image

Sánchez is relieved the plant’s closing, but she’s still concerned for her children’s health. “They’re healthy now, but I’m worried about their health in the future. After all, they were exposed to the chemicals.”

Among the hazardous chemicals being released by the plant: chromium, which was found in the City’s sanitary sewer system, tetrachloroethylene, a cleaning solvent that was impacting the air quality in and around the 28th Street Elementary School, and cadmium and chromic acid.

In a settlement with the City of L.A. earlier this month, Palace Plating agreed to remediate all contamination, cease its business operations by December 31, 2011, remove all on-site hazardous waste and pay $750,000 to LAUSD in restitution for costs associated with contamination at the 28th Street Elementary School.

imageNow, Councilwoman Perry says, the community has to focus on the next phase of neighborhood improvements. “We’re building 550 units for rental and housing for sale, retail space and creating open green space. We’re going to transform this area forever.”

Just down the street, construction has recently finished on “The Crossings,” an affordable housing complex built by the Urban Housing Communities, which will have its grand opening in January.