I just heard some
provocative and fascinating news that has put new meaning to the
words, "graveyard shift": women who work at night or up during the early
morning hours are at greater risk for breast cancer.
I like to think my
grandmother, who helped to raise me, was making sure it caught my
attention. I thought of her, as I listened.
Artificial light at night is
hypothesized as a type of pollution that contributes to breast
cancer. Night shift work had already been implicated for increased
heart disease and attacks, digestive tract disorders, and
pregnancy complications. These factors may also be contributing to
the higher incidence of prostate cancer in males.
In a nutshell:
Press: Oct. 16, 2001 — Breast cancer risk increases by 8 percent to 60 percent for women who
work the night shift for many years,
according to two studies that suggest the bright light at night diminishes the body’s
supply of melatonin and increases estrogen levels.
Who stays up late to
write? Who is exposed to bright artificial light during
these night hours? Who is constantly exposed to light pollution by
living in a major metropolitan area? Whose pineal gland's
protective melatonin-producing levels may be diminished as a
That would be
So with great
interest, I read the following:
Breast cancer is the second-biggest
cancer killer of women, after lung cancer. Losing three
grandparents, Dad, and two best friends (who smoked) to cancer, I
have vicariously suffered cancer's merciless ravages.
My grandmother -- the
most significant person of my childhood -- died a gruelingly
slow and unimaginably painful death from breast cancer. Back then,
pain management did not exist. I will never forget her
blood-curdling screams. These from a quiet and serene woman
who never complained.
Her diagnosis was not
expected; breast cancer is relatively rare
in her ethnic group. In hindsight, relative to today's reads,
maybe it makes sense. On a nightly basis, Grandma used a
dual-purpose lamp that hooked on to her headboard. She clicked on
the larger bulb for bedtime reading, but before she went to sleep,
she clicked off the reading bulb and clicked on the smaller
night-light bulb, which was left on all night as she slept above
Little did she know
that little light was messing up her melatonin levels, lowering
her immune systems and eventually causing her body to succumb to
breast cancer !
unkind. It is downright macabre. Aspiring to a peaceful
transition out of this life, I wish to spare myself and cancer
caregivers all of its troubles.
Knowledge is power,
and, on the wings of a prayer, I will "Think and Do," by
translating knowledge into action.
God grant me the
Courage to change the things I can change; the Serenity to accept those I
cannot change; the Wisdom to know the difference.
I can't rewrite my
family history, but my artificial light exposure is modifiable.
I increased my chances for healthy lungs by eliminating first- and
second-hand smoke; I've
done it before, I'll do it again.
upshot of all this reading and writing this entry is that I
will do my part. Taking personal responsibility for my
health, I will take the following proactive and preventive
I will get
more sleep, before it gets me. A minimum of 7 1/2
hours of uninterrupted sleep at night, according to Stanford
Sleep Clinic researchers. I'm a night owl. A morning
lark, I'm not. So to bed, before midnight, after a
minimum two-hour wind-down.
I will enhance,
rather than inhibit, my pineal gland's melatonin-producing
abilities. Melatonin, a brain hormone that is made in darkness
during noctural hours, typically peaking between 1am and
2 am. It rivals Vitamin C in its cancer-fighting, antioxidant
I will replace the
white bulbs in the hallway and bathroom night lights with red
ones, which do not affect melatonin production.
Turning on the bright banks of lights to use the bathroom in
the middle of the night is unnecessary.
I will be more
mindful of Circadian
rhythms and optimal windows of time, by working primarily
during daylight hours and writing no later than 10 pm. I will destress
and wind down earlier, at least nine hours before waking
up. I will refrain from indulging my habit of staying up late
into the night. No late-night Oprah reruns.
I will maintain a
healthy, sleeping environment, by keeping our bedroom as dark
as possible. With effective window coverings, I will eliminate
the pall of artificial
metropolitan light, including the street lights that is
reflected off our neighbor's house, right into our bedroom.
I will spend more
time in the mountains where the nights are inky black, except
for natural light sources: the moon and the stars.
I will be mindful
that alcohol consumption disrupts the normal sleep cycle,
decreasing melatonin production. My grandmother's nightly
glass of sherry, her soporific to overcome her insomnia,
likely exacerbated her breast cancer risk.
I will also
continue to be vigilant in my elimination of the following known
breast cancer risk factors from my life: smoking,
excessive alcohol consumption, obesity and the use of
Maybe you'd like to
join me? My life is a God-given gift and I'm taking care of it.
Grandma. I'm paying attention.
"Life is a Gift."
| what | archives