77ºF

Causes of breast cancer remain a mystery unsolved

Who is the culprit? Is it genetic mutations, man-made chemicals, genetic modified foods, alcohol, cigarettes or a combination of them all?

MIAMI – I still don't know what caused the cancerous tumor that was in my left breast.

Back in 2011 when I was diagnosed, I was in shock. No one could tell me why I got sick and I couldn't let go of the question. I exercised every day. I didn't eat red meat.

The breast cancer tumor in my body depended on estrogen and progesterone. That was a clue. Bu the focus was not on answering my question. It was on saving my life.

"You are going to fight it," Jelle Prins, a friend, said. "We are going to have you here for a long time."

Carcinogens are everywhere. They are in cleaning products, adhesives, paints and pesticides. Toxic materials hide behind walls in air conditioner ducts. There are also chemicals that disrupt the body's hormonal balance.

On Thursday a group of researchers in Boston said they were going to be studying if man-made chemicals are responsible for the disease. They have a three-year, $5 million grant from the Art Because Foundation. The body of knowledge is growing.

I could tell that the issue was also affecting my family. When I was undergoing chemotherapy, my mom was keeping me company. I woke up one morning and my microwave was gone. When she came back, I protested.

"Radiation causes cancer," she said. "You have to reduce your exposure."

I wanted to tell her it happens over time, and that the move to get rid of it was irrational and radical. But I knew that she was having trouble with all of the things that she couldn't control. I was going to let her control that one.

Any plastics that contained BPA were also out. All of my vegetables were organic to avoid genetic modified organisms.  Mom also changed my deodorant. And the soaps with methylparaben, propylparaben, isoparaben or butylparaben were also out. The chemicals are known to disrupt hormones.

There were identifiable factors that increased my risk. I had dense breast tissue. Having many pregnancies and becoming pregnant at a young age reduces the risk. I had never been pregnant. I had drank alcohol in excess my early 20s and smoked cigarettes on occasion. But so had my friends.

About a month after the diagnosis, I learned that I had inherited a genetic mutation that increased my risk. About 45 percent of the women who inherit the mutation develop breast cancer by age 70, according to the National Cancer Institute.

I didn't cry with the diagnosis. But I cried when I learned of the genetic mutation, because I felt so powerless. Prins recently said  that the last three years would have been avoidable if I had found out about the genetic mutation earlier.

"But that wasn't my story. I will never know with certainty why or how I got sick, so young [33]. And I can live with that."