I was watching a Swedish electronic pop band perform at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami’s Bayfront park. I didn’t feel like a breast cancer patient. I was not in pain. The crowd was dancing and singing: “Thinking of my 81st birthday, every day this body goes to waste.” The lights were shining bright. There were many smiles. I was happy to be alive.
About 165,000 people from around the globe attended the three-day annual event. Not everyone was sober. It was a playground for the young and wild. There was alcohol for sale. There were hundreds of smokers. Police made arrests for selling and possession of ecstasy, LSD and crystal meth. Miami Fire-Rescue reported dozens of narcotics-related incidents, including drug overdoses.
The northeastern corner of the park was more relaxing. There were two small tents that were eye-catching. One had a table with “I Love Boobies” T-shirts for $15 to $20 and bright multi-colored wrist bands for $4. The campaign focuses on early detection of breast cancer.
A group of about five teenage boys stopped to look at the “I Love Boobies” merchandise. Oswaldo Villalobos, 16, purchased two wrist bands because they were “really sick,” as in cool.
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Standing behind the merchandise was Erica Leite, 30, a voluptuous blond with tattoos in several parts of her body.
She is the youth outreach director for the Keep A Breast Foundation, a nonprofit organization working to increase breast cancer awareness among young people. She said her friend, electronic music producer and DJ Skrillex, suggested that she bring the foundation’s traveling education booth to Miami from California.
“I used to tour with Skrillex. We met in the skateboarding scene,” Leite said. “He knows that we want every one to be aware that no one is too young for breast cancer.”
Another table had “Non Toxic Revolution” branded items in black, white and red. Illustrator Shepard Fairey, who gained fame for President Barack Obama’s portrait, designed the campaign, intended to alert people about chemicals in the food supply.
Casey Cochran, 30, was one of the campaign managers. .Cochran said the mission is a personal one; a few months after joining the foundation, his mother was diagnosed with cancer of the uterus.
“Cancer can happen to any one, and the toxic threats are everywhere, but there are very simple lifestyle changes that people can make to reduce their risk,” Cochran said. “Avoid exposure to pesticides in vegetables, hormones in meats and dairy, avoid smoking, eat less sugar, and avoid stress.”
Other “smart choices” include: Never microwave your food in a plastic container or plastic wrap. Never re-use a plastic water or soda bottle that is intended for one time use. Use stainless steel, glass or aluminum water bottles. Avoid products with Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in hard plastic bottles and can linings. It can particularly affect infants and children.
In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration conducted a review of toxicology research and information on BPA, and, at that time, judged food-related materials containing BPA on the market to be safe.
But recent studies have reported subtle effects of low doses of BPA in laboratory animals.
As a result, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention are conducting more studies.
Cochran, meanwhile, greeted Rebecca Benson, 22, from the United Kingdom. She was browsing with a friend. As Benson was holding one of several small round pillows that resembled a breast, she asked, “What are these for?”
Cochran explained they were to demonstrate how a self-exam is done. One of the pillows had a piece of plastic that felt a little stiffer than the cancerous lump I found in my breast about eight months ago.
“You never get told what to look for exactly. Now I know how it feels,” Benson said. “People don’t really like talking about breast cancer in specifics. I don’t understand it. It can save lives.”
Part 8: Facing my fears after mastectomy
Part 11: Radiation therapy gives her hope
Part 12: Finding strength from others
Part 14: A new outlook on 2012
Part 17: After radiation therapy ends
Part 21: Too much fear, too little trust
From the Editor: Journalist confronts cancer, takes readers along