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Climbing Mt. Shasta to combat cancer

Sarah Haden of Truckee suspects that environmental factors had something to do with her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis.

Now she’s aiming to raise $10,000 and summit a mountain in the name of eradicating the disease.

Haden, 34, is preparing to climb Mount Shasta in July with the Breast Cancer Fund, a nonprofit group working to eliminate the environmental causes of breast cancer.



“Climb Against the Odds” at Shasta is one of many events the organization has planned to raise money as well as awareness about the role the environment plays in cancers.

Haden’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2005 and underwent a partial mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. Just weeks before she received the bad news, she was joking with Haden about growing up in Ohio and riding bikes behind the trucks that sprayed DDT, a pesticide once used to kill mosquitoes that has since been banned in the United States as a suspected cancer-causing agent.



Haden said cancer does not run in her family.

“I really just feel that the environment has an impact on her getting cancer,” Haden said.

Her mother was fortunate enough to have successful treatment, and has since had clear mammograms. But the family scare piqued Haden’s interest in the possible connection between industrial chemicals and an increase in cancer diagnoses.

“What’s really cool to me is [the Breast Cancer Fund] is more focused on preventing the disease to begin with, than just killing it,” Haden said.

On average, just one in 10 breast cancer cases is caused by genetic factors, asserts Breast Cancer Fund communications director Dana Oshiro.

“As an organization we focus specifically on environmental causes. We’re talking about chemicals and radiation,” Oshiro said.

Money raised from events such as “Climb Against the Odds” helps fund legislative efforts, public education and consumer outreach, Oshiro said.

According to the Breast Cancer Fund, only 10 percent of the 100,000 chemicals in use in the United States are safety-tested for consumers. Materials used in some shampoos, cosmetics and even baby bottles, among other consumer products, have been found to cause cancer in rats, and scientists suspect these same compounds may contribute to human cancer rates.

“Scientists increasingly believe that the environment and chemicals and radiation and different levels of exposure is something that actually affects your risk,” Oshiro said. “At this point it’s difficult to say breast cancer can be eradicated completely, but we’re looking at the environmental causes.”

The goal of both the organization and the climb is to raise awareness about the relationship between environmental toxins and breast cancer.

“The Breast Cancer Fund embraces mountain climbing as a metaphor for the critical work we are doing to prevent the environmental causes of this devastating epidemic,” said Executive Director Jeanne Rizzo of the Breast Cancer Fund in an e-mail. “We climb like we face cancer ” one step at a time, celebrating our courage and our strength.”

Haden has already raised more than $3,200 from friends and family, but must raise at least $5,000 of her goal of $10,000 to join the Shasta expedition, and hopes to receive the help she needs before the July 10 climb.


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