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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Breast Cancer and Your Career

May 01, 2024 06:00AM ● By Toni Galardi, PhD
[Excerpted from BreastQuake: Ten Proven Steps to Healing and Preventing Breast Cancer Without Surgery, Radiation, or Chemotherapy by Toni Galardi, PhD. Reprinted with permission. Lightly edited for placement.]

A woman reached out to me for coaching whom we’ll call Ginger. Ginger is a petite redhead, age 49, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. In the initial session, she made it clear that she only wanted information on what herbs and supplements she should take to augment her scheduled lumpectomy and radiation treatments. When I inquired about her work, she disclosed in exasperation that she was burned out with her job as an executive administrator at the major software company where she worked. I became curious and pressed her to share more. She burst into tears and revealed that she didn’t know how long she could keep pace with younger peers and the responsibilities she had at the company and juggle her home life with two teenagers. Although I did give her a protocol for detoxification of her liver, underneath the tears, she was holding a lot of anger, so we needed to work with her body and the old trauma that both the job and her recent diagnosis were bringing to the surface. 

In Chinese medicine, the liver is key in healing cancer because it is believed that it is the organ that holds our anger. When we took a deep dive into her emotional body, eventually, it became evident that she needed to address her angst about her job and look at either moving into another department, taking a leave of absence, or beginning a discovery process for what else outside the company might provide more meaning and purpose for her. 

She did take a leave for her surgery and recuperation and then decided, through our work, to move completely out of the traditional corporate environment. She then started her own business making legacy videos for the families of people who were in the final stage of life. What I found unfortunate about Ginger was that she waited so long to address her unhappiness and lack of fulfillment. Like so many women, she believed that she had to work in a job with benefits until her kids were out of college, no matter how she felt about going to the job every day. 

When many people receive a cancer diagnosis, they do not connect career satisfaction with their health challenge. Their approach is to follow their doctors’ orders and get back to the life they had as quickly as possible. 

Women and Their Career Choices 

I’m going to throw some stats at you on who is most at risk occupationally before we get into the possible solutions because the data is fascinating. Women in professional and managerial occupations have a 1.4-2.0 times greater risk of breast cancer diagnosis than women in lower-status occupations. Moreover, the effect of higher-status occupations on breast cancer risk is only partly explained by reproductive histories, a toxic environment, health behaviors, and socioeconomic differences in screening mammography. 

Furthermore, there is an elevated risk for teachers, a three-fold risk for orthopedic surgeons, double the risk among physicians in general, and a 40% increased risk among medical and health personnel. According to Dr. Kristen Fuller in Psychology Today, dated June 17, 2022, “Physician burnout is an epidemic in the United States, and it has a drastic negative effect on all aspects of medical care, including career satisfaction.” Breast cancer risk appears to be elevated among women with workplace exposures to night-shift work, ionizing radiation, solvents, pesticides, and other chemicals. Job strain and sedentary work are also linked to elevated breast cancer risk, while workplace physical activity reduces risk. Perhaps this is why the data shows no link between farming and/or agriculture and breast cancer. In fact, all jobs studied that involved being outside appeared to be protective against developing breast cancer. Given that studies have shown a prevalence of women with breast cancer being vitamin D3 deficient and we manufacture D3 naturally through exposure to the sun, this makes sense. 

Individual studies suggest breast cancer risk is associated with a longer duration of night-shift work, working into the night, shift timing and patterns, and occupation. Women who worked night shifts before their first pregnancy had a higher risk for breast cancer. Studies have also found differential risks for different tumor receptor subtypes of breast cancer: one study found a twofold higher risk of ER+/PR+ (estrogen-positive and progesterone-positive) breast cancer among women who worked frequent night shifts for five or more years. We also know that night shift work puts both men and women at risk for other kinds of cancer. 

Studies that defined job stress based upon job authority and the capacity to hire and fire found 57 to 82 percent increased risk of breast cancer among women with professional jobs adjusted for job authority. A second study by the same author found similar elevations in breast cancer risk among women with the ability to hire, fire, and influence pay in 1993. And from what I hear from my clients, the corporate stressors are even greater now. What puts women at a disadvantage to men in the workplace that no one talks about is the fact that women have about 6% of the testosterone that men have, so working long hours puts them at greater risk of adrenal burnout. The adrenal glands are where sex hormones are made. When you overstimulate the adrenals, over time, the immune system is affected, and this depletion can increase the risk of hormone-driven cancers. 

Another study found that working long hours (more than fifty-five hours/week compared to thirty-five to forty hours/week) increased breast cancer risk by 60 percent. A study of African-American women found that the risk of ER-/PR-breast cancer was 70 percent higher among women with the highest total sitting. The results of this study were consistent with another study that found the risk was elevated by 20 to 30 percent among women with more sedentary jobs, and that sedentary jobs before menopause or the age of 55 increased the risk by 54 percent. 

If jobs involving farming and agriculture do not correlate with breast cancer risk, I would extrapolate that jobs that take you outside, like forestry and forest therapy, would also lower your risk, given the pure oxygen you receive from trees. Further, if you are in a sedentary job that you happen to love, do what you can to take breaks and get outside for 20 minutes. Your body will love you for it! 

The Hazards of Suppressed Emotions in the Workplace 

Workplace exposure to passive smoke and occupational exposure to non-ionizing radiation does not appear to affect breast cancer risk, but being in a workplace where a woman must suppress her emotions actually does. “Pettingale, Greer, & Tee followed 160 women over two years before a diagnosis of cancer and subsequently after the diagnosis was made. They found that those with breast cancer (even before the diagnosis was made) who ‘habitually suppressed anger’ had longitudinal patterns of increased serum Immunoglobulin A levels (implicated in some autoimmune diseases) compared to those who did not suppress their anger.” What is telling about this study is that both women physicians and those in managerial positions of authority who have the responsibility for hiring and firing are at greater risk for breast cancer than those who do not. 

I extrapolate from this that the responsibility for the lives of their patients and employees and working long hours may contribute to overall stress. The studies on stress as an etiology for breast cancer have become numerous. As a career and soul purpose coach for the past 15 years and a psychotherapist for 30, what I have witnessed in women who develop breast cancer, other immune system diseases, and heart disease is the prevalence of not just having a stressful job, but a stressful job that they are in for financial reasons. The term “golden handcuffs” was created in 1976 to describe people who work in Corporate America and have great financial incentives to stay with the company while not having their heart in what they are doing. 

Women and men often come to me when they are beginning to develop physical symptoms or a BreastQuake™ has hit them full-on. Outside of exposure to extreme environmental pollution like a mold-infested building, I honestly think that not doing work that gives meaning and purpose to your life over many years is the single biggest toxin one exposes oneself to after the age of 40, even above marital discord. 

The bottom line is that women spend more time at work than they do at home if they are in positions of authority. A colleague of mine, Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, published a very telling book in 2017 on the state of wellness, or lack thereof, in the workplace called Dying for a Paycheck. Where you work, how many hours, and with whom produce a kind of chronic stress that is contributing to the escalation of cancer in the Western world. What we need to do is to create workplace environments that support human sustainability. 

Here is an exercise I give to my coaching clients to begin the process of discovering their new soul purpose. 

Connecting the Dots Exercise

Whether you are in recovery from cancer or you wish to prevent an onset, or if you have outgrown your current line of work and are experiencing burnout, begin your quest for finding greater meaning by first doing this exercise. Do you remember, as a kid, using a crayon in a coloring book that had dots that, when connected, formed a picture of some animal? This process is like that. Allow three weeks for this discovery process. Write down every time you are aware of something that brings your energy up. It could be a particular topic, certain clothes, or certain environments that do that for you. Just collect data for a few weeks. At the end of three weeks, either work with a coach or share the information with a friend for perspective and see if a pattern emerges that could “connect the dots” of your next vocation of destiny. ❧
Dr Toni Galardi is a best-selling author, career coach, psychotherapist, breast cancer thriver and a self-described “soul purpose activator.” Learn more at or contact her at [email protected] or 310-890-6832.
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