Barium for Breakfast
By Ann LaGoy, Guest Contributor
In December 2010 my doctor informed me cancer cells were found on my cervix. I think she was a bit uncertain by my calm receipt of this news. I am not one to panic. I am aware that everyone has cancer; the danger comes when our body cannot eliminate it, as in my case. There were no other details available at that time, and further testing needed to be done.
Next step was a biopsy. No problem. We scheduled. The biopsy divulged that I had a relatively rare form of the rare cancer of the cervix – adenocarcenoma. It was described to me that what makes this cancer such a bugger is that it is glandular; it kind of jumps around by taking the local road (glands) through the organs. My cancer’s breadth could not be detected for certain from the tests performed to that point. More tests needed to be conducted to see exactly where the cancer was lurking.
The scheduled tests were a CT scan and a PET scan, and this is where things got dicey. So far in my journey the procedures had definitive boundaries that existed within my own body. Tissue was taken and examined under a microscope. My only job was to heal from the procedure and remain calm.
For the CT scan I was instructed to arrive at the hospital with a completely empty stomach at 10am. Upon my arrival, I was fed a breakfast of barium. I choked it down; not because of the taste (which wasn’t bad), but because of the knowledge there had been millions of animals tested on to get me to this place. The gravity of my situation, and its affect on other beings, began to hit me.
Three days later I was at the hospital for the PET scan. The nurse informed me a technician would be in shortly to inject me with radioactive material. The technician did arrive, injected me with radioactive material, and advised against holding any young children for the rest of the day. These are not statements one wants to hear who has been speaking out for a decade on the dangers of chemicals, and the horror of animal testing. It was at this point, as I sat in the tiny closet sized room while the chemicals worked their way through my body that I cried. Not only for myself, but for the countless animals that had endured days, weeks, even years of tests so my doctors might have a clue how to treat my cancer. I sat there also knowing that many millions of those animals suffered for not because animal testing is not particularly accurate for human disease. Even if it was, I have never been one to say “better them than me”. I do not accept animal testing in research as collateral damage.
Science has made huge advancements in research. We know better. There are many alternatives to animal testing that are more accurate and can reflect the value at which we hold all animals including humans.
A trend away from animal testing methods is beginning, which will help not only the animals but people, too, particularly in the area of cancer research. Not only are non-animal methods cutting a new path in the testing of cancer-causing chemicals, they are also revolutionizing the search for cancer cures. For years, scientists have used massive numbers of mice, about a million per year, to screen potential anti-cancer drugs. Investigators at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) became concerned that the reason for the general failure of the system is that mice and humans have very different kinds of cancer—and very different ways of reacting to it physiologically. – Neal D. Barnard, M.D., Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
I am happy, and relieved, that surgery was my cure. I know that I am incredibly fortunate. My lifestyle does play a part in that fortune. I’ve been vegan for 5 years, don’t smoke, exercise and do body work. There was no need for further treatment. The question still plays in my head, though – what would I have said if there was?
Photo: Yale Rosen