The Lives of Historic Women Demonstrate a Link between Mental Health and Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is the most prevalent kind of cancer in the world, and medical practitioners are keen to stress the role diet, exercise, and environmental pollution play in its development. However, there is an increasingly popular theory that anxiety, depression, and stress also contribute to breast cancer. Traumatic life events can lead to depression, which in turn increases the risk of developing breast cancer. This is the central premise of Foiled Creative Fire by Heather Goodare.

Inspired by the author’s own experience with breast cancer, this book explores the connection between depression, anxiety, and breast cancer through the lives of twelve women in history. These portraits, from Anne of Austria (1601-1666) to Audre Lorde (1934-1992), depict prominent historic women with difficult lives, who were later diagnosed with breast cancer. An undercurrent of feminism runs through the book, emphasizing the collective problem of patriarchal oppression, and how it adds to the struggle of all women, historical and modern. With its focus on artists, this book also speaks to the ill effects of stifled creativity on mental health.

Finally, the book references current research on the links between depression, anxiety, and breast cancer, concluding with a call for improved access to mental health care for all.

Why is it important

Medical research has established a link between depression, anxiety, and cancer. This makes it clear that any approach to cancer prevention must be a holistic one. By looking at the lives of historical women, the author not only confirms the connection between depression, anxiety, and cancer, she also speaks to how these women were failed by the times they lived in. Mental health care is still thought of as supplementary, not integral to overall health. The author concludes that by listening to patients and providing them with mental support, breast cancer and other kinds of cancer can be avoided. Learn more about the book here.

Heather Goodare was the first chair of the UK Breast Cancer Coalition’s Research Committee, which later became Breast UK and then reinvented to become Breast Cancer UK chaired by From Pink to Prevention’s Diana Ward. Learn more about this and other breast cancer activism in the UK here.