I am an 18-year survivor of congenital pediatric brain cancer. I was given six months to live when I was a 21-year-old college senior. I lost most of my friends. I lost my career as a concert pianist. I lost my fertility. I lost my dignity. I lost my identity. And I struggled for almost a decade to find a place for myself in this world.
This is an experience that is unique to those facing cancer in their 20s and 30s. And while many young adult cancer survivors face similar challenges, we also have the added challenge of worrying about whether our food, air, water and couches will kill us and our children because they contain cancer-causing chemicals.
Under our current — and ridiculous — federal laws on toxic chemicals, it is somehow still perfectly legal for baby products and carpet to contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. Also, toxic flame retardants in our car seats, recliners and couches are linked to cancer as well.
Are we truly safe anywhere?
Some research indicates that toxic chemicals are one of many contributing factors to developing cancer. Meanwhile, we know there is a disproportionate increase in the incidence of cancer (20- 30 percent) in younger populations. From my standpoint, this outlines a huge opportunity for cancer prevention.
As a concerned citizen, parent and registered voter, I have the right to know whether my dry cleaning will give my child leukemia. This is not an issue of “prove to me it causes cancer,” it is an issue of “prove to me it does not.” This is a human rights issue and nothing more.
In the last few years there have been discussions on how to best reform our toxic chemical laws. The public health community has lauded some of the proposals put forth, and more recent attempts have not gained our support. Simply put, the two proposals before Congress to address harmful chemicals are more of a gift to the chemical industry than protective of public health.
You know that movie “Thank You For Smoking”? Well, those people are REAL and they’re working for industry lobby groups like the American Chemistry Council who are committed to spending as much money as possible to ensure nothing ever changes. Representative Shimkus’ seems intent on pleasing ACC lobbyists because his Chemicals in Commerce Act would do nothing to protect children, adolescents and young adults, whether they have had cancer or not. What the bill would do is protect the chemical industry from being held accountable for the safety of the chemicals they make.
The two proposals before Congress make it clear they aren’t serious about meaningful toxic chemical reform.
For a chemical reform bill to win the support of the cancer advocacy community, it will have to reflect the recommendations of the mainstream medical community. The American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Nurses Association, The National Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, all of these institutions have outlined what responsible chemical reform looks like.
Only until a bill reflects those recommendations, will it get a stamp of approval from Stupid Cancer and our millions of voting constituents.
Matthew Zachary, CEO of Stupid Cancer, which serves more than 3 million individuals who are affected by young adult cancer each year.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.