Graveyard Shift? No Thank You!
Suburbia, CA

Wednesday, October 17, 2001


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:

Associated 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 result?

That would be me.  

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 her head. 

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 !  

Cancer is 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.

The 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 measures: 

  • 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 properties.

  • 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 post-menopausal hormones. 

Maybe you'd like to join me? My life is a God-given gift and I'm taking care of it.

Thank you, Grandma.  I'm paying attention.



"Life is a Gift."

Author Unknown


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This web journal was created on a September Morn, September 29, 2001.
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