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By Julene Tripp Weaver

Book Review: Breast Cancer? Breast Health! The Wise Woman Way By Susun Weed, Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree Publishing, 1996. ($14.95)

Why should you be concerned with a book on breast cancer? Anyone living with HIV or AIDS has a high risk of developing cancer. Cancers such as lymphoma, cervical cancer, skin cancer, and Kaposi's Sarcoma are commonly associated with AIDS.

Some similarities between cancer and HIV/AIDS: I highly recommend you consider reading Susun Weed's new book. It offers a philosophy as a frame to deal with a chronic condition; it addresses cancer as a chronic condition, and HIV is a chronic condition; it gives information to prevent the onset of acute conditions, to prevent cancer and opportunistic infections that can result from the medications or a compromised immune system. Cancers holds second and third place in the top three opportunistic infections's of people living with AIDS, and women living with HIV/AIDS are especially vulnerable to cancer.

Risa Denenberg, who works primarily with women at the Bronx Lebanon Hospital, addresses the chances of gynecological cancer, "HIV positive women are found to have approximately a 10-fold increase in abnormal cervical cytology...the entire lower genital tract may be affected and at risk of development of squamous cell cancers, and should be examined meticulously."(3) Advise given to women living with HIV is to have a Pap test twice a year.

A major risk factor for cancer are the many viruses that commonly lie dormant in our body and become active only when we are immunocompromised. Viral infections that are prevalent, such as herpes or CMV, can initiate cancers. One example is the relationship between uterine cancer and prior genital herpes infections.

Susun Weed refers to living with cancer as a dance, "...breast cancer is a dance of initiation, for no woman who dances with cancer is ever the same. She has visited the source and tasted the waters of life and death, savored the sweetness and the sharpness of her own mortality, and tasted her desire to survive." Living with HIV provides a similar altered reality.

Here is a summary of the book's three sections:
Section one: For All Women, gives a through synopsis of what our actual risk is for breast cancer and in chapter one explores the question, Can Breast Cancer Be Prevented? She addresses the causes of cancer, giving guidelines for living a cancer-free life.
In chapter two, Can Food Prevent Cancer? her answer is clearly yes. This section outlines nutritive and preventive foods. In chapter three, Taking Our Breasts Into Our Own Hands, we begin a journey using oils and uncovering ways to feel comfortable touching our breasts. It is our familiarity with our breasts that will help us know when our breast tissue feels different, this difference is our best indicator of cancer. Chapter four, Building Powerful Immunity is a full chapter devoted to immunity and ways to strengthen the immune system to avert cancer and its devastating effects, it includes a Journey to the Wise Healer Within. Chapter five, Mammograms-Who Needs Them? looks at a controversial subject and lays out some frightening facts about how mammograms actually increase our risk of cancer. Chapter six,When You've Found A Lump gives detailed information on cancer and its many different forms. It also begins to explore the six steps of healing and gives guidance for that scary first moment.

The chapter on food, Can Food Prevent Cancer? lists anti-cancer foods in alphabetical order. She discusses the studies that show evidence that some foods actively protect cells from undergoing cancerous changes. Did you know that 60% of cancer incidence in women is related to diet? What is it in food that helps prevent cancer? The answer is phytochemicals, these substances found in many foods can neutralize carcinogenic compounds and they are active against cancer initiation. She points out that organic foods work best; eating food with pesticides will promote cancers. To my surprise I learned that our foods naturally contain protease inhibitors! With all the talk of the synthesized protease inhibitors coming out now, perhaps we can get this benefit directly from our food. Examples of such foods that have phytochemicals and specifically the protease inhibitors include: almonds, barley, beans, broccoli, brussel sprouts, chickpeas, corn, cucumbers, lentils, millet, oats, pineapple, potato, radishes, rice, rye, soybeans, spinach. These are among many other foods listed that are active in some way against cancer. Also included is a glossary of the active ingredients in foods, how they work, and their best sources.

Section Two: For Women Dancing with Cancer, chapter seven answers the question, What Is Breast Cancer? did you know there are over two dozen different types of breast cancer that are known? Chapter eight, The Diagnosis Is Cancer examins that first moment of diagnosis, the feelings around the diagnosis, and the choices one is confronted with. Chapter nine, Choosing Breast Surgery? Chapter ten, Preventing Breast Cancer Recurrence. Chapter eleven, Choosing Tamoxifen? or Other Hormonal Therapy is a pertinent chapter for all women, it lists the side effects of hormones and some facts your doctor might not tell you unless you know to ask. Chapter twelve, Choosing Radiation Therapy? Chapter thirteen, Choosing Chemotherapy? Chapter fourteen, titled Off My Chest, is a piece written by Betsy Sandlin, a woman who lived through this cycle. Chapter fifteen, Late Stage Breast Cancer. This section sorts through the different available treatments that are commonly suggested by doctors, gives ways to best help your body survive if you should choose these treatments, and gives alternative treatment information. These chapters use the six steps of healing to lay out a variety of options for each treatment that might be selected. She addresses side effects and alternative ways to prevent or heal them; one example is pneumonia which is a common side effect when undergoing radiation. In the third step of healing, Nourish and Tonify, she gives information on how to prevent pneumonia by using mullein and comfrey leaf infusions, or eating lots of orange or green foods rich with carotenes.

Section Three: Help, contains a Materia Medica (simply a listing and information about plants she recommends throughout the book), a Herbal Pharmacy with recipes, information of how to find herbs, more resources of organizations, and a glossary. There is a Breast Cancer Risk Assessment form that you can fill out to gauge your actual risk of breast cancer.
(1) Kaiser, Jon, Immune Power A Comprehensive Treatment Program for HIV, New York, NY: St. Martin's Press, 1993.
(2) Brown, R.B., AIDS, Cancer & The Medical Establishment, New York, NY: Robert Speller Publishers, 1986. (partial list)
(3) Denenberg, Risa, Gynecological Care Manual For HIV Positive Women, Durant, OK: Essential Medical Information Systems, Inc., 1992. (Ask your doctor to order several, or buy it with friends, purchasing 3 or more gets a discount rate. If your doctor doesn't already have it he or she should get it! For phone orders call: 1-800-225-0694)

Disclaimer: Please be advised this is a sharing of information that is not meant to be used to replace medical treatment and your own intuitive sense of your body and what it needs. Please see your medical provider (Dr., Naturopath, Acupuncturist, etc.) to follow up on suggestions.