This week, ABC news correspondent Amy Robach announced her breast cancer diagnosis on Good Morning America. Can celebrity diagnoses be a catapult into real conversation about dietary and environmental causes and prevention?
I’m not sure they can. In the last decade or so, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Ethridge, Christina Applegate, Robin Robertson, Guiliana Rancic, and now Amy Robach have all been diagnosed with breast cancer. Angelina Jolie had a preventative bilateral mastectomy after learning she carries the BRCA1 gene mutation.
If Angelina can have her breasts removed preventatively, without a cancer diagnosis, and be hailed by the public for her bravery, it seems that real conversations addressing environmental causes or using diet as prevention are pretty far off. After all, traumatic, mutilating surgeries make for better headlines and news stories than vegetables and clean living, don’t they?
When Robin Roberts showed her chemo-induced bald head to the world on Good Morning America, she too was revered for her strength and her bravery! Would a clip of her eating kale or drinking green juice have produced the same ratings and reaction from the world? I sincerely doubt it.
Before you get angry and flame me in the comments, realize that I have room to talk about this. I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 32 years old. I had a bilateral mastectomy to treat my cancer. I carry the BRCA2 gene mutation. I lost my mother, aunt, and grandmothers to cancer. I have spent about half of my life watching a close family member go through chemo and radiation, and then eventually die from the disease anyway.
So when I was diagnosed with cancer and told by three different sets of doctors that I would be a fool to do anything aside from pursuing a bilateral mastectomy, I listened. I did what the doctors told me. I felt completely helpless and terrified.
Never once did any doctor suggest that I might have some power over my situation. That I could take control of my health with a daily decision to eat clean food and live in a clean environment. They treated me like a victim. And I felt like a victim.
I would guess celebrities receive roughly the same information that I did from doctors. Doctors tell you about chemo regimens, radiation schedules, and types of surgeries, but they say next to nothing about environment or diet.
I would also guess a celebrity feels roughly the same way the rest of us do when we were told we had cancer. Helpless. Afraid. Panic-stricken. Terrified. Celebrities aren’t brave or strong any more than I was brave or strong. Celebrities, just like anyone else with cancer, are grasping for anything they can possibly do to prevent the cancer in their bodies from killing them.
The only difference with celebrities is the whole world is right there waiting to watch their life-and-death drama play out. And humans love watching a good drama play out, don’t they? Humans love not knowing how the story will end, and they love seeing just how much one of their fellow humans will endure to stay alive.
I have heard a million times how brave and strong I am for having my mastectomies. How amazing it is that I can hold my head up and lead a happy life in spite of losing all the women in my family to cancer.
It’s exceedingly rare for anyone to call me brave or strong for sticking firmly to a plant-based diet and a weekly exercise regimen of running, strength training, and yoga. I have found that I’m far more likely to hear that I’m crazy, stupid, unhealthy, or all of the above for eating and exercising the way I do.
And the funny thing is, I don’t feel brave or strong for enduring my mastectomies. I don’t feel brave or strong for slogging through the grief of watching my family members die, one after the other. Those parts of my life are simply me doing what I felt I had to do in order to deal with events that were beyond my control.
Eating a plant-based diet and exercising makes me feel brave and strong. It’s empowering to know I get up every morning with the intention of making the healthiest choices I can, and that I go to bed every night knowing I did everything I could to make choices that will keep cancer out of my body.
I’m no celebrity, but I’ve found that people get more excited about my scars than they do my dinner. They’d rather hear about whether I still have nipples or not than they would about my yummy green smoothies or how I clean my house with baking soda and vinegar. Until the world decides to sensationalize and celebrate prevention, clean eating, and clean environments more than the drama of mastectomies and chemotherapy, celebrity diagnoses aren’t going to do a damn thing to help spark conversations about prevention.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.