Breast Cancer, Auto Emissions And Why I Ride A Bike

BY ON January 23, 2012

 Jenny Confer LinnA recent study linking breast cancer to environmental factors confirmed many of the already well known links to breast cancer. It shows a “possible association” between breast cancer and exhaust fumes. As a three year breast cancer survivor, I am haunted by this new connection. I can’t help but think about how many times I have been on my bike at a light, both alone and with my family, behind a car sucking in exhaust fumes. It makes me feel frustrated to learn that  the very activities that I do to stay healthy might be putting my family at a greater risk.

I prefer riding my bike over driving a car. Even on mornings when I pull back the curtain to find it gray and snowing, I pack my messenger bag, get bundled up and ride ten miles to my downtown office. If I hook a trailer to the back of my bike, I can also go grocery shopping, or drop my son off at school. Pedaling through the beautiful early morning dawn fills my spirit; it makes me feel awake and alive. For our family, biking is one way we create a healthy and sustainable life for ourselves.

The more I learn about Ohio’s poor air quality, the more I realize that a blue sky does not mean we have clean air. Why does Ohio have some of the most toxic air in the country? Why did we allow it to get this bad? When we have the technology to reduce emissions, why is that car in front of me still releasing chemicals that, among other things, potentially cause cancer? For those of us who suffer the daily health effects of air pollution, government regulations are coming too slowly. I don’t want to teach my son that he should settle for poor air quality and all the health issues that are associated with it.

My husband and I believe that being good parents means we need to teach our child the importance of conservation as well as making healthy sustainable choices–that is why we bike. What if other people in our community made a greater effort to use a bike rather than a car even just once a week? When we pedal instead of drive, we show the next generation that there are alternatives to consuming fossil fuels or contributing more CO2 to our environment.

I know that there are people who can’t ride bikes. But even getting more organized to conserve energy–like making thorough shopping lists so that we drive for errands once rather than three times a day–makes a difference not only in our air, but in our wallets. Conserving energy–using those resources like the precious things they are–saves money! Our actions will teach them that riding our bikes and spending time outdoors makes us stronger and healthier both mentally and physically. I know when my little boy asks me why we are riding bikes, we have conversations about why everyone should care about their health as well as the health of our environment.

I realize that I live in a state that has some terrible air quality issues and within that state, I am living in an urban area where there are even higher concentrations of air pollution. In spite of all of this, each day, I will continue to ride my bike and make other sustainable choices because I love my son and I want him to see how the actions of one person can make a difference. As more people allow simple changes like riding a bike to become part of daily life, big changes really could happen in our environment.


TOPICS: Asthma, Cancer, Motherhood, Ohio, Pollution

  • We appreciate this study very much. We love working with Susan G Komen and are now organizing an event dedicated to breast cancer survivors in support of Susan G Komen.
    A special song has been written too and you can hear it on our web site We hope you will share this with others and hopefully join us on May 5th!

  • Jenny Confer Linn

    Judie – I will be there on May 5th. Each year, I try to volunteer at the finish line. With tears in my eyes and proudly wearing my survivor shirt I tell my fellow survivors how happy I am that they are here. Nobody wants to go through cancer, but now that I have, I take every opportunity to use my experience to make a positive impact. I am so grateful that Susan G. Komen did this study and look forward to further reasearch they plan to do as a result of it. Thanks for the song! I will pass it along!

  • Christina Jones

    Great writing! So nice to see involved, proactive parenting. Until others can be as accountable for their own pollution, we are fortunate that there are Moms who will keep up the good fight. Thank you for pointing out that it’s important not only to help correct our own generation, but to raise the next generation with awareness.

    • Jenny Linn

      Moms (and dads!) can make so many simple choices that have such a huge impact on how our children will look at the world and its resources when the become adults. Thank you so much for pointing this out. I am conscious of every decision I make now that I have my little guy watching me. Just having him with me serves as a reminder that we need so little to be happy. All that really matters is that we stay healthy and that we try to appreciate every moment during this very special time in our lives.

  • mollyrauch

    You inspire me! Thanks for your commitment to clean air. Now I need to get that Trail-A-Bike working again…

    • Jenny Linn

      mollyraunch! Thank you! That means so much to me. Happy riding!

  • That’s a great article! I can’t ride a bike but I do consolidate my errands as often as possible.

  • Planning to invest in a trailer this summer! I miss my bike since having kids!

  • First of all, as an 18-year survivor of breast cancer, Jenny, I wish you continued good health. Once we have been hit by that proverbial bus, we are much more careful about crossing the street. I understand your concerns and the horrible conundrum you are faced with every time you get on your bike. But I think living life as you want to is an important part of survival.

    And I do think it is important that we all do our part as individuals. But I also think it is crucial that we as citizens push for more, greener, and reliable public transportation. Even rural areas could have better public transportation into nearby cities.

    While this piece reminds me that I should get on my bike more often, I would be very happy to have little or no need for a car at all.

  • Diesel Exhaust Causes Cancer.
    Links to read about the ruling from the World Health Organization that diesel petroleum pollution as dangerous to human health as asbestos, eg, Group 1 “Dangerous to Humans” carcinogenity:
    1. World Health Organization: 2. Bloomberg News:
    3. BBC News:
    4. New York Times:
    5. Map of the USA showing some of the highest cancer rates in the worst affected cities using data from the Clean Air Task Force: