Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Protect Our Breasts holds Earth Day Yogathon

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Protect Our Breasts will be holding its first annual Earth Day Yogathon, an outdoors event on the Fine Arts Terrace, to promote awareness of environmental toxins and their contribution to breast cancer on Tuesday from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m.

Protect Our Breasts, an interdisciplinary project of marketing and biology, began at the University of Massachusetts in fall 2011 to educate young women about safer alternatives when purchasing everyday consumer products.

After UMass marketing professor Cynthia Barstow, the founder of this initiative, was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2010, she learned about the environment’s large role in different cancers from a report in the President’s Cancer Panel. While only 30 percent of breast cancers have to do with lifestyle and heredity, she discovered the other 70 percent is unrelated, leaving many researchers pointing to environmental toxins as the cause.

From writing her book, “The Eco-Foods Guide,” Barstow developed her background with health and the consumer’s role in the environment, later contributing to her research with environmental toxins for Protect Our Breasts. After this organization’s launch, UMass students started working on this cause as well, developing an executive board.

Some of these students include Yogathon Director Riki Adams, Promotion Researcher on Personal Care Ariel Urban, Chapter Expansionist Researcher on Cosmetics Alexis Bermingham, Chapter Expansionist Researcher on Plastics and Water Alysse Foley and Researcher on GMO’s and Packaging Natasha Merchant, who is also doing design and promotion for the Yogathon.

Other board members and organizers include Yuliana Motyl, a senior who researches toxins found in fruits and vegetables for Protect Our Breasts and Lia Delaney, a junior who does research on breast cancer science for the organization.

Within three months of the launch of Protect Our Breasts, The Institute of Medicine came out with a report stating that women are most susceptible to environmental toxins up through their first pregnancies. Barstow found this information confusing as women are usually not diagnosed with breast cancer until later on in life, often around 50 years old.

She learned that during menstruation, breasts go through change and development, causing the mammary glands to be more prone to environmental toxins until pregnancy or nursing. Even if a woman does not have children, her breasts will still stop changing at that time.

However, Barstow noted, “Not everybody wants to talk about breast cancer in their twenties. It’s up to these young women to share about these issues in ways that they know their peers will listen. So that’s why we have Protect Our Breasts.”

Starting with only 300 followers, the organization now has 6,000 followers and almost 400 people attending the Earth Day Yogathon event on Facebook.

With the first class starting at 8 a.m., the Yogathon will comprise of nine yoga sessions throughout the day, ending with a musical performance by Three Guys & A Box.

The event will feature world-renowned yoga instructors, as well as local yoga instructors from Amherst Yoga Center, the UMass Rec Center and other studios. It will also feature 10 safer alternative products from organic companies such as Stonyfield, Badger, Late July and Seventh Generation – all vetted by the organization’s Science & Standards Advisory Board.

On this advisory board is biology professor R. Thomas Zoeller, an endocrinologist who studies endocrine disruptors, chemicals that interfere with the hormone system in mammals. As an advisor, Zoeller works very closely with student group, actively helping and contributing with research.

By attending the Natural Products Expo every year, the board of Protect Our Breasts has established relationships with companies that give them products for events such as tabling, Equal Exchange programs and the Yogathon.

Although the planning for this event has been hectic, senior Riki Adams, director of the Yogathon, views the organizing process as a “good busy,” something all of the board members are excited about seeing play out.

Bermingham has been a part of the organization for two years and has noticed the immense change that Protect Our Breasts has undergone.

“I’ve watched it grow from seven girls into now an executive board, national headquarters and five chapters,” she said. These other chapters include Trinity College, Bay Path College, Bates College and Syracuse University.

“It’s incredible because it’s a completely different experience and it just keeps growing and growing and we’re affecting more women every single day,” she continued.

Merchant, a public health major, is excited about the event, noting that educating others about toxins is one of the main goals.

“It’s a move to prevent breast cancer and prevention’s really important,” she said. She hopes that marketing these safer alternatives to students will help them make better choices in the future.

Urban hopes that ultimately there will only be safer products and no longer a need for the organization.

“We eventually hope that there will be enough public knowledge and in turn the public will want to do something about it and change legislation,” she said.

Education about this issue brings awareness to personal health, which is another way that Protect Our Breasts impacts individuals. In regards to the Facebook group, Bartsow notes, “With every like is a potential life saved.”

Accordingly, Adams feels that every registration to the Yogathon is another life saved, as the event will showcase many products that are safer alternatives, educating students about these toxins.

With “Cleaner Earth, Cleaner You” as their slogan, the Yogathon will bring in funds to grow and expand Protect Our Breasts to other campuses in order to further educate young women about environmental toxins.

Every guest that attends the Yogathon will receive a $30 value bag full of free organic products. At the event, registered guests can attend as many classes as they like throughout the day. Although Protect Our Breasts will provide some yoga mats, it is recommended that participants bring their own.

More information about Protect Our Breasts or about the Earth Day Yogathon can be found at the website www.protectourbreasts.org.

Julia McLaughlin can be reached at [email protected]

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