Monday, June 27, 2011

Poverty As Carcinogen

Proboscis Monkey.  He has enough to eat.
25% of America's children don't.
Last night my sister and I added another narrative layer to our lives -- we started to text each other while watching NATURE on PBS, she from her living room across town, I from mine. 
        The particular episode that sent us into into peals of laughter was the "World's Ugliest Animals," of which the unusually endowed proboscis monkey (left) was one example. Our goofy texting and commentary was in stark relief to this earlier exchange of messages:   

        R u watching 60 Minutes?
        Yes.  Crying
        Me too
        Feel so selfish.
        I know.  I felt the same way. And I keep thinking about all those wall st. types with all their billions and I think, really?  It wouldn't take so much would it?
        No. The change on their bureau would do.

        We were talking about a Scott Pelley's story about a country where almost 25% of the children are in poverty. That country is America.
        To add to the irony, or more accurately, the heartbreak, Pelley's interviews were conducted in Seminole County, Florida, adjacent to the 25,000 acres Walt Disney World occupies. Even Dickens couldn't have cooked that one up.
        The social and ethical ramifications of hungry, homeless children is enough to take in.  But there's more. There's always more.
        More than twenty years ago, Samuel Broder, MD, one of the physicians who developed some of the first effective AIDS treatements (AZT) and former head of the National Cancer Institute, said, "Poverty is a carcinogen."  This was pointed out in a moving and powerful post by J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society and known simply as @DrLen. 
        Yes, being poor, hungry, un- or undereducated puts one at significant risk for cancer. While the largely well-educated (yes, WASPS like me) professional classes can afford the luxury of debating whether drinking out of a styrofoam cup or using cosmetics will up my risk for cancer - we are simultaneously living in a society where the largest number of children since the Great Depression are growing up hungry; many homeless.  There are some things the greatest cancer advances ever imagined can never fix, and this is one of them. Only we can help fix this, by advocating for not just equitable health care, but a more equitable society where children don't have to worry that they are costing their parents too much money, or about not wanting their friends to know that their father stood on the street corner holding a sign.
        Cancer is social. Cancer is economic.  Cancer is political.
        As Dr. Len wrote,  "If we are serious about reducing the burden and suffering from cancer, why aren't we paying attention to those most in need?"
        Why indeed.  Last night these two separate stories -- the 60 Minutes feature and Dr. Len's blog -- ran through my thoughts and eventually had a head-on collision.  
         And I can't let it go.  


Annemieke said...

Dear Jody,

It is something to think about: 25% in a country like the US is a lot and frankly that suprises me. And if these kids are hungry now what will the rest of their life be like, health wise? No kid should grow up hungry and wondering where there next meal is coming from. You once again showed me what is really important in life and I thank you for that. Big hug, Annemieke P.s.: that is one ugly monkey!

Jody said...

The economy has supposedly "recovered" yet this piece by 60 Minutes originally aired in March then was updated last week. Hungry children can not perform well in school, and to make matters worse, school districts all across the county are experiencing budget cuts. My hope is to bring attention to the issue.

I thank you as always for reading and commenting so quickly. You are the best.

CancerCultureChronicles said...

Indeed Jodyms indeed. Your posts always make me think. And sometimes get mad. I'm mad today. 25% of children hungry? This is a national disgrace. And don't get me started on the healthcare inequities......another national disgrace......I'm really mad now.

Jody said...

I know exactly what you mean. Steam was coming out of my ears as I was writing! I was angry, and dismayed, and shocked.

But getting mad, and getting these thoughts and information out there, into a larger conversation and consensus one of the best ways to move forward.

And besides, no one gets mad like you do:) Thanks so much for your comment,

Sally Church said...

25% of American kids are hungry? That is so sad and indeed a disgrace!

It reminds me how sad to the point of distress I felt in Austin at the LBJ library, where on the video, he talked about his life as a teacher in Central Texas before entering politics. He wished he could do more for his schoolkids who often went to class hungry. Decades on this is still a problem in the USA.

And then we remember on the other side of the coin how many obese children there are these days.

There's something completely wrong about both ends of that spectrum.

Beth L. Gainer said...


It's infuriating that with such a wealthy country as ours, people are allowed to go hungry, especially children.

Really heartbreaking.

Yes, and our medical system really stinks, too.

Nancy's Point said...

Maybe you should run for political office, Jody. Seriously. We need more voices like yours speaking out on things like this. Our country needs to get its priorities straight and sadly I don't see that happening any time soon. In my opinion, another area we neglect is education. All kids deserve a decent building to attend school in. All kids deserve basic materials and supplies. All kids deserve a quality education. All kids certainly deserve health care! Wish I had seen the 60 Minutes show. Thanks for the great post!

prajeshc said...

Hi Jody,

Thank you making me aware of your posting.

It is very thought provoking. I don't find it surprising about the 25% figure. I think what many people forget that in every nation, be it rich or poor there are the haves and the have nots, there are people all around the world that fall below the poverty line.

It is so easy to get caught up with focusing on other countries before actually looking at what is happening in ones own country. One thing I always think about when I see adverts for World Vision etc. is yes people can help children and communities in developing nations, but I fall back at the old adage "charity begins at home", yes lets help kids across the world but also lets look at kids in our community and how can we help them, lets not wait for NGOS and governments to do something, we can all do something, even if its one child, one family....

Poverty is Carcinogen totally agree, but it is one that each and everyone one of us can help in a small way.

Cancer is social, cancer is economic, cancer is political - Yes.. Yes... Yes... and as you and I both know it is every single humans beings right to have a life where they can enjoy good health irrespective of their own wealth...


Jody said...

Sally, Nancy, Beth, Prajesh - you all offer up more for all of us to think about.

I started writing a list of five things we can all do but I think we all know what they are.

Every good thing begins at home. Today I looked up my local food bank, in Montgomery County, Texas, to see what the situation on hunger is in my own neighborhood. It isn't good.

I have my work to do. We all have work to do: to look at each individual as if he/she is the world. And act accordingly.

Thanks for the opportunity to think and talk about this today.

katie ford hall said...

Thanks for posting this Jody. What a sad, sad reality. Our country has been becoming more and more have/have nots for decades now, and it seems that pace is accelerating. I need to do some homework about my own neighborhood too.


Anonymous said...

wow - epic post, Jody. Thank you for pointing out that a new risk factor for cancer is poverty. It's a disgrace that our country is in this state. In our country's collective quest for "MORE, MORE, MORE," we've left behind our friends, our neighbors, our country men and women. How did this happen? And what will bring about change?!

Thank you for shedding light on this incredibly sad issue......


elizabeth said...

Love this: Cancer is social. Cancer is economic. Cancer is political.

Dr. Len's blog hit me hard, too. On one hand, I was excited--poverty we can fix, we can do something about it--it's not some unknown tangled mess of mutations and unstoppable cellular growth pathways. We can actively do something to prevent at least a third of cancers.

On the other hand, I'm furious. ARE we talking about it as a society? ARE we going to do something about it? Have we done anything about it?

Thanks for "talking" about it, Jody. It's a big first step.

The Accidental Amazon said...

This is such a great topic & I'm so glad you wrote this post. One of the reasons I am sick with weariness from the last two weeks is because of the financial straits that one of my friends finds herself in. She just had a bilateral mast, she is on disability, Medicare, Medicaid, and you would not believe how much of her measley monthly check she has to shell out for Medicare premiums, copays, etc., etc. Even the so-called safety nets we have are shamefully inadequate. There are so many people struggling in this country to keep a roof of some sort over their heads. And these nitwits in Congress think the way to fix the budget deficit is to take resources away from some of these folks. I get so angry, I could implode. Oh, don't get me know what I'm talking about, Jody.


Jody said...

Thanks to all of you for your thoughts.

It is confounding; the frustration we have at trying to stem the tide of cancer incidence is one thing; then to see this gut-wrenching scenario of 1/4 of the country's children growing up hungry?

We should be enraged. And we must keep this conversation going, in our own communities, with our local political representatives, in the halls of Congress that we have a chance. We CAN make a difference.

Please stay engaged.

MightyCaseyMedia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MightyCaseyMedia said...

Poverty IS a carcinogen: on society, by leaching strength from our developing generations; on individuals who live in poverty, since there's a direct connection between stress and cancer, hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. Not to mention addiction.

We do, as a country, need to decide to actually DO something about hungry children living in poverty. Here in the US of A. Within miles of K Street in DC, which actually runs our country, in spite of what the election process might have led you to believe.

When I was a kid, hunger in America was a big topic, leading to the creation of a War on Poverty.

So far, no win...

Real change only comes with consistent, long-term effort.

Debbie said...

Great eye-opening, thought provoking post Jody, as usual, making us use our brains and reminding us we have a heart. A caring, compassionate heart and a great mind can do wonders, thanks for all you do.

Julie Goodale said...

This is such a sad and infuriating topic, but thank you for writing about it. It's so easy for us to get wrapped in our own worlds that we don't pay attention to really basic issues like this. So much of our political discussion in this country ignores basics like this - largely because poor children don't vote or contribute to campaigns. But we have the power to make it a political issue. It's up to all of us to keep talking about this with friends, family, co-workers. And we all have the power to help. No, we can't fix the problem, but we can make things just a little better for someone. Thanks again for writing this.

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