Posted by: Chloe Schwabe | February 17, 2012

Guest Blog: Toxics,Cancer, and My Fight For Us All

*Teresa Eickel is the Interim Executive Director of the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network. IREJN is one of our key faith partners in our Environmental Health Initiative. Please enjoy this special guest blog she wrote on her experience as a woman of faith fighting cancer and the upcoming activities IREJN has for people of faith to make Connecticut healthier and toxic-free . Teresa and Reverend Tom Carr, one of our NCC Eco-Justice Working Group members, are two founders of IREJN.To learn more about IREJN’s work visit

Teresa Eickel, Interim IREJN Executive Director

Teresa Eickel, Interim IREJN Executive Director

The date was Thursday, November 18, 2010. Six days earlier, I was flying high – I was an opera singer who had just made her solo recital debut at one of the most prestigious performing organizations in the world, the Ravinia Festival. It had gone so well that the concert’s sponsor called the Festival President on Monday morning to tell him how great the recital was. Now, however, I was sitting in the doctor’s office with my mom, listening to a nice young oncologist tell me that I had cancer.

I was 37 and a self-described health nut with a minimal family history. I didn’t drink or smoke and I exercised and ate broccoli every single day. I meditated, practiced yoga, and went to church. I wasn’t supposed to get cancer. And despite the conventional wisdom that young women don’t get breast cancer, there I was. I had a 5cm tumor and lymph node involvement, which meant automatic chemo, surgery, and radiation. Over the next five days, I called my friends and family and told them the news. They were as shocked as I was. My brother-in-law told my 6 year old niece that I was sick and the medicine was going to make me lose my hair. Listening to her cry broke my heart.

I was determined to enter treatment in top physical and emotional condition, so did everything I could think of to get ready for chemo over the next two weeks – I read about side effects and supplements and I stocked up on organic foods. I upped my yoga practice and started seeing a therapist who specialized in guided imagery. It was like preparing for a really crummy marathon.

terri in chemotherapyI started chemo on Dec. 14 and lost all my hair on New Year’s Eve. For four months, I went every two weeks to get pumped full of the chemicals that would kill the cancer. Throughout that time, I kept exercising, kept eating right, kept meditating and praying. Some days were harder than others, but I always got up and got going. I finished chemo on March 22 and had surgery on April 14, one day after my niece’s 7th birthday. It was a long, nine hour surgery with a long six week recovery. I got back to walking as soon as I was released from the hospital and I got clearance to go back to yoga five weeks after surgery. It was so freeing to get back to a semblance of normal Terri.

I wasn’t done yet, though – at the end of May, it was onto radiation. I went to radiation every day for five and half weeks. A combination of emu oil and aloe vera kept me from burning too badly and my hair started to grow back, albeit grayer than before! It was around that time that IREJN offered me the position of Interim Director and I jumped at the chance. I had been working for non-profits for a while, but always had a special place in my heart for IREJN and our work. I also firmly believed that environmental factors played a large part in my cancer and I was eager to join the fight and help keep this from happening to other people.

This belief in the role of toxins and cancer has been reinforced time and again, no more recently than last night as I sat on a panel with the esteemed Mary Evelyn Tucker who made the salient point that climate change, the destruction of biodiversity, and toxins are inextricably linked. We can’t afford to choose one issue as more pressing or important over the other because each one is playing its own, extremely important role in the environmental devastation that we are experiencing. We need action and we need it now.

I am proud that IREJN is working with the Coalition for a Safe and Healthy Connecticut and the National Council of Churches on the ban on BPA and other toxins. It’s important legislation that is coming up during this session and I urge you to support it. I will definitely keep you posted.

TeresaIREJN (and our work on toxics) is one of the beneficiaries of an upcoming benefit concert, scheduled for Friday, February 24 at 8:00 at the Asylum Hill Congregational Church. Sponsored by Opera Noire, the concert was initially created to raise funds that would help me and another breast cancer survivor, Jolie Rocke Brown, pay some of our medical expenses not covered by insurance. However, Jolie and I both wanted to give back, so we each chose a non-profit – Jolie chose the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Research Foundation and I chose IREJN, to support our work to ban toxins and other known carcinogens. Both the TNBRCF and IREJN will receive a portion of the proceeds from that concert. I hope that you will be able to attend – the concert will be fabulous and will feature opera, music theatre, and spirituals. A free-will offering will be collected and all donations are fully tax deductible. We will also be distributing information on upcoming toxics legislation, so there are lots of reasons to come!

I still have some treatments in front of me – I get a drug called Herceptin every three weeks until May. But my recent scans showed that I am cancer-free and I pray every day to stay that way. My determination to raise awareness about the impact of toxins on public health remains unchanged. Even though I have had a very personal experience with breast cancer, it’s not just about me and it’s not just about breast cancer. We all deserve to be safe and healthy.


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