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Camp Lejeune and Breast Cancer: Not Just a Male Problem AnymoreTim King Salem-News.com
The Camp Lejeune water supply's smorgasbord of toxins have led to 64 male breast cancer cases; now we learn there is at least one female case also.
(CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C.) - As a nurse in the US Navy during the 1970's, Nancy (Neale) Brown was stationed at the Camp Lejeune Marine base in North Carolina.
Nancy has enjoyed a successful life, but she is lucky; for at a young age, Nancy became a breast cancer survivor. Her place in this story is unique; even though this disease primarily affects women.
Women in the U.S. have a 1 in 8 lifetime chance of developing invasive breast cancer and a 1 in 33 chance that it will cause their death. The American Cancer Society (ACS) says approximately 40,000 women die each year from breast cancer.
The same group estimates that in 2010, about 390 men died from breast cancer. They reveal that breast cancer is about 100 times less common among men than women.
A man's lifetime risk of breast cancer is one in a thousand. It's widely reported by the ACS and others that the number of breast cancer cases in men relative to the population has been fairly stable over the last 30 years.
That may be true unless you are talking about Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; an active Marine Corps base; increasingly known as a site of severe water contamination, at least 64 men previously connected to this place have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
The Marines did what they could to keep this from public view over the years, but The AP discovered last year that the Marines had been changing the numbers regarding the benzene levels for years.
They were caught, the cat came out of the bag and the cards are on the table today.
Salem-News.com happens to have several writers who were US Marines at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in California which is also heavily contaminated, and at Camp Lejeune.
Along with writers like Robert O'Dowd, John Uldrich and Dave Bedworth, we have written a great deal about the contamination of these two bases. Our rewards are raising awareness and hearing from people whose lives have been impacted by this dangerous toxic Marine Corps reality. Nancy Brown is one of the few female breast cancer survivors that we have know of.
Benzene and Hadnot Point
Nancy lived in the barracks next to the Naval Hospital on Hadnot Point; Camp Lejeune's most notorious 'hot spot' which has been revealed to be among other things, a location where alarming levels of benzene contamination are present.
Recalling her first summer there Nancy said, "It was so hot and humid that I took a shower three times a day, just trying to stay cool. Of course, I also drank a lot of water just to keep up with all the sweat that was pouring out of my body. I also ate food on base which was prepared with the same well water."
The Marines were offered no warnings and on a similar note, Navy personnel sailed through their days aboard this base in the informational darkness. Any clues of the danger were off the radar, Nancy said.
"Funny how it always seems that when you move to a new geographic area, the water tends to taste bad, or at least different. I would have never guessed that it was due to toxic chemicals in it."
Camp Lejune's Toxins:
Mike Partain is a breast cancer survivor who lived at Camp Lejeune. Working with former Marine Jerry Ensminger who lost a daughter to cancer while serving at the base, he has been on an endless campaign of awareness for male breast cancer.
He explains that from the 1950’s through 1987, "The US Military improperly disposed of chemical degreasers and other toxic substances that ultimately contaminated the drinking water at Camp Lejeune."
These substances have posed multiple health risks to countless military personnel, their families, and private individuals living and working near the vicinity of the base, Partain explains.
These risks include:
These problems have affected a great number of Marines and civilians who were at Camp Lejeune, but the most surprising to many of us has been the male breast cancer cases like Mike Partain's.
Those of us who pay close attention have been shocked to see the numbers go from fewer than 20, to the 30's and continually upward to the current count of 64.
While introducing Nancy to Jerry Ensminger, I mentioned that there was a proportionately smaller number of women on any Marine base.
Jerry's response opened my eyes to a somewhat different picture.
"Tim, while you are correct in the sense that there weren't many female service members at Camp Lejeune during those years, there were a lot of female civilian employees and dependents."
Not long ago, Nancy says, she searched Google to see if she could locate other Camp Lejeune females with breast cancer, but ran into a dead end.
"I have been watching the internet news about the Camp Lejeune story with an interest because I always wondered why I got breast cancer at a young age. No one in my family had ever had it. When I was diagnosed with breast Cancer, both my sisters and my Mom said, 'Of all of us, why You? You are the one in our family who always exercised, ate healthy foods and took care of your body. It does not make sense!'"
A Toxic Relationship
When she later heard about the toxic drinking water at Camp Lejeune, Nancy recalls being a bit skeptical about it as a possible cause of her breast cancer, as many woman without any family history at all can certainly get breast cancer.
"At the time, I felt like I had been cured of breast cancer because I had been feeling well and the cancer had been surgically removed. End of story. I don't have to worry any more."
But then Nancy learned of the benzene found in the water and this led to another Google search, this time to see if there was a direct medical connection.
"The results alerted me to numerous experimental studies showing a direct relationship between benzene and breast cancer in rats. There were also stories about clusters of woman who developed breast cancer after being exposed to benzene in various settings."
Now Nancy was suspicious, and her new doctor suggested that she go see the cancer specialist again, just to be sure that none of the scar tissue he was feeling was a cancer recurrence.
The cancer doctor referred Nancy for more testing and suggested that she have the genetic blood testing done, as these results would determine a treatment plan of care if she had to consider more surgery or go into high surveillance screening.
"It was then that I thought of Camp Lejeune's drinking water and asked the cancer specialist what she thought about a possible connection between the toxic drinking water and my breast cancer. She replied, 'if I were you, I would not be as worried about the breast cancer. I would be a lot more worried about all of the other cancers you might get!' Soon after, my genetic tests came back negative and I am now convinced that my sisters and Mom were right. The water that I drank at Camp Lejeune was the cause of my breast cancer and I have a Nexus letter stating this to be highly probable from a reputable doctor."
Fortunately, Nancy has a job with health insurance, but the yearly costs of high surveillance cancer screening can be quite expensive.
"I plan to apply for a service connected disability, not because I feel that the government owes me anything, but because I want to be cared for if I develop a cancer recurrence or any other toxic water related condition down the road. I am hopeful that veterans affected by Camp Lejeune's toxic drinking water will someday soon be recognized and treated much like the veterans who were exposed to the toxin, Agent Orange."
The battles fought by this nation's military do not all take place in a combat zone. The Agent Orange saga is an immense American and Vietnamese tragedy and to this day large numbers of people in both countries suffer.
Like most of the contaminants on the Marine bases, the effects are residual; gifts that keep on giving. I should know, two of my sons born at MCAS El Toro had serious problems which are almost impossibly not connected to the base's contaminated water.
Both almost died in their first year.
Nancy's story is unique, and we all hope that as few women as possible had to deal with breast cancer. At the same time, we hope that this leads to the discovery and consequent education of other women who were aboard Camp Lejeune who suffered breast cancer.
My thought is that Nancy and Mike and all of the breast cancer survivors of Camp Lejeune who speak out are heroes in the purest sense. No doubt they inspire others to rally for the truth, and to help others who may be suffering health issues tied an invisible enemy.
As a parting thought, Nancy commented on something that always gives me pause; a calendar featuring the Marines of Camp Lejeune who suffer from breast cancer.
She said, "I appreciate all the brave men who told their stories and posed for the Art beCAUSE calendar, 'MEN, Breast Cancer, and the Environment: A photographic Journey'. It took a lot of courage to do so! I would love to thank each of them." And in turn Nancy, I know they would enjoy thanking you for maintaining the best qualities of a Naval officer; honor, encouragement and justice.
Article source references:
Salem-News.com articles about Camp Lejeune and male breast cancer:
Articles for January 19, 2011 | Articles for January 20, 2011 | Articles for January 21, 2011