An interview with Dr. Devra Davis
NOTE: For the next several months Dr. Ufberg’s column will share interviews with three outstanding women leaders in the Integrative Healthcare community. Each of these remarkable women, Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, Dr. Devra Davis and Dr. Rachel Remen, have made a significant impact in the field of integrative medicine and will be featured presenters at the March Integrative Healthcare Symposium in New York City.
It is always fascinating to learn more about a famous or special person, to hear about what personally motivates or inspires someone you admire, or to have an opportunity to connect deeper with an individual whose work you have respected from afar. This interview with Dr. Devra Davis is no exception. She is a thoughtful and courageous woman and a true leader in safeguarding our public health.
Devra Davis, MPH is the author of the bestselling books, When Smoke Ran Like Water (2002, Basic Books), a National Book Award finalist, and The Secret History of the War on Cancer (2007, Basic Books), a top pick by Newsweek. Her newest book, Disconnect (2010), was selected by TIME magazine as a top pick and provides shocking details about cell phone radiation and your health.
Dr. Devra Davis was the Founding Director of the Center for Environmental Oncology, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, and Professor of Epidemiology at the Graduate School of Public Health (2004-2009). She created the Environmental Health Trust in 2007 in Teton County, Wyoming to conduct basic research and provide education about environmental health hazards and promote constructive policies locally, nationally and internationally. She is an active lecturer at Georgetown University, Harvard University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Her impressive career has spanned all areas of academia, public policy, and scientific research. Dr. Davis has authored more than 190 medical and popular publications in the Lancet to The New York Times and Huffington Post. She is an appointed Global Environmental advisor to Newsweek Magazine and has been honored extensively for her groundbreaking research and public policy work by various national and international groups. She also served as a Lead Author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the group awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with former Vice President Al Gore.
Ufberg: How did you come to be involved in this work of environmental oncology? Why is this work for you? Who were your early role models?
Davis: When I was a little girl growing up in polluted Monongahela Valley, in Southwestern PA, we didn’t see the sunshine for days at a time. I thought all grandmothers were in bed all the time as my own grandmother was bedridden for much of my childhood. However my mother used to tell me that my grandmother was the first woman to drive a car in the town, hand cranking a Model T car. But the grandmother that I knew was always sick in bed. She had so many heart attacks and I remember watching them as a young child. When she finally died after her twenty-fifth heart attack I didn’t believe it as she had survived so many of them. My grandmother, we called her Bubby, always said, “When you have nothing to stand on you can always stand on the truth,” and I learned at an early age that it was important to look for the truth. I began as soon as I went to school to ask whether there was a connection between the environment and health. I have spent my entire professional life working on those connections.
From my mother I got a dose of real world feminism. She was involved in many women-focused non-profits because she believed that women have to help other women because no one else will. My mother was born twenty years too soon. She had her first child at age twenty and raised four children. At forty-four, as her son graduated from law school, she graduated with her degree in women’s studies and education.
Your topic for your presentation at the upcoming 2011 Integrative Health Symposium is titled: "The Environment and Cancer. Observations from the Field." Can you tell us about what you’re hoping to share with the practitioners in March? What are the takeaway points?The first and most important point is that most cancer is not born but made. By that I mean, that only one in ten cases of cancer comes about because you have inherited a defective gene by your mother or father. Nine out of ten cases of breast cancer, colon cancer and even more for brain cancer arise because of something that happens to you after you’re born.
As I have always said, the genes give us the guns and the environment pulls the trigger. My presentation will include a discussion of the work in my three books: the first one, When Smoke Ran Like Water, published in 2002, focusing on air and water pollution, and my second book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer, published in 2007, which talked about asbestos, tobacco, benzene, vinyl fluoride and toxic chemicals and speculated about radiation and cell phones. I will also be discussing my new 2010 book, Disconnect, and talk about the truth about cell phone microwave radiation.
Congratulations on this new book, Disconnect. Would you share a bit about the book with us? How has the cell phone industry responded to your book?I am happy to say that the people in the cell phone industry have been reaching out to me in a positive way. They have expressed support for my work and are encouraging me to continue as I am on to something really important.
What is on the horizon for you? What vision do you have for your work going forward?The cell phone story is going internationally and has become a global movement. The word is spreading that a cell phone is really a two-way radio and should never be held against the brain or body for hours at a time.
If you take samples of sperm from a healthy man and split them in two, you can count how long it takes for the sperm to die. The sperm that are exposed to cell phone microwave radiation from the same man will die three times faster. These sperm also have more markers of damage on them. Many studies have shown that men that keep a phone in their pocket for over four hours per day have half the sperm count as others. Now why is that not a headline story? And what about the effect of cell phone radiation on the prostate, libido and impotence? So these are some of the questions I will be working to answer.
Let me also say this to you, Integrative Medicine saved my life on several different occasions. At the age of twenty-four, I spent two months unable to walk due to a back injury. I was over medicalized, pumped full of drugs and told I had to rest. I became within a hairs breath of having a spinal fusion. That is when I discovered what is now called integrative medicine through a neurologist who was using acupuncture back in 1972 when Nixon had come back from China. Through acupuncture, massage, and meditation, I was able to compensate for my structural defects and just this June 2010, I was the oldest woman in the Washington, DC triathlon. I came in third place in my age group.
Back then I came very close to being crippled by medicine and more recently I have been dealing with another health issue and once again, integrative medicine has kept me from needing fairly drastic surgery. So I am now working on my next book and the working title is Survival Lessons, the transformation of medicine with ancient practices. I am thinking about a series of stories about survivors, and frankly one of them is me. I will be including some amazing people who are so inspiring, friends of mine with diagnoses of stage IV lung and ovarian cancers yet are living full healthy lives. One of the major characters will be a Washington, DC area acupuncturist who does herbal medicine and has had extraordinary results.”
Hear more from Dr. Davis at the 2011 Integrative Health Symposium on Friday March 4th at 5:00 PM.