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From the Left

Tuesday January 15, 2002
Guelph Tribune, From The Left, By Alan Pickersgill

What if Sue Richards had taken a different approach to the calendar she produced last year? The calendar would raise awareness about breast cancer and, she hoped, a little money for research into the disease. The approach she took, and it seemed reasonable at the time, was to use images to show that healthy breasts provide us with benefits well beyond their common use as commercial props. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation thought the project was too close to the edge, too controversial to be associated with.

Without their support, Richards was left scrambling for avenues to distribute the calendar and is worried that the time has passed for people to buy it. Local photographer Melanie Gillis provided pictures of normal breasts, not at all similar to the silicone peaks of the annual Toronto Sun calendars that generate far more cash for that newspaper than Richards ever dreamed of raising for the Cancer Foundation.

What other approach could Richards have taken? Maybe she and Gillis could have run the photos through a computer graphics program and deleted the breasts. Would nice, breast-less women feeding their babies be less controversial? If nothing else, it would draw attention to the growing frequency with which women are undergoing mastectomies. A couple of years ago, the New England Journal of Medicine published a report on the benefits of total breast removal. I'm not making this up. The report said: "for women with a high risk of getting cancer, performing mastectomies while they're still healthy dramatically reduces their chances of getting breast cancer."

Now I'm no rocket scientist, but it seems to me that a mastectomy dramatically reduces the chances of a healthy woman having breasts. It makes as much sense as removing the lungs from smokers to reduce their chances of getting lung cancer.

What is most impressive about the Breast of Canada project has little to do with how financially successful it was or was not. The important thing is that it was planned and carried through by a dedicated individual who cares about the health of her community. We can contrast this with the recent attitude of our local international trade representative. It appears that Gloria Kovach still doesnít understand what was wrong with signing off an agreement, in China, for a friend who once chaired her election campaign. I donít think the problem was the use of public money to benefit a private corporation. We do that all the time when we provide waste collection and other services, and when we promote Guelph as a good place in which to live and work. As I see it, the problem was in the way Kovach acted surreptitiously, keeping the mayor in the dark, and in the friendship she has with the businessman involved.

In many ways, Kovach is doing nothing that politicians at other levels of government donít do. We saw this last week with Public Works Minister Alfonso Gagliano and his patronage gifts to friends. The only difference between the two is in degree. The higher you are, the better the perks you can hand out. Kovach and Gagliano are cut from the same cloth. Itís just that Gaglianoís cut is much bigger.

The measure of a communityís health is not just taken from the level of services it provides. It also comes from the level of commitment of citizens, and their motives for becoming involved. Most volunteers are doing so because they care, not because they want some personal gain. We are lucky to have so many of them in Guelph. They are a welcome counter balance to the few who act purely from self-interest. If youíll pardon the expression, Richards could lose her shirt on this project. She needs to sell 4,000 more calendars, and theyíre going for half price. All she needs is four per cent of the Guelph population to buy one. 

Itís an easy way to say thanks.