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May-04-2013 10:57printcomments

Marine With Prostate Cancer in Pain, Called 911 for Help

An El Toro Marine with prostate cancer was left on his own to drive home after telling a cancer center treatment doctor of severe abdominal pains.

Special thanks to Veterans Today

(SOMERDALE, NJ) - Cancer is not something that anyone would volunteer for or for that matter wish on another human being. The cliché ‘avoid like the plague’ comes immediately to mind. Images of bone thin humans wasting away in a hospice bed flood the mind; unable to eat from the effects of chemotherapy; awaiting death’s call; sedated with drugs to kill the pain; all hope of recovery gone.

For me, cancer is not a vicarious experience. I had bladder cancer in 2005 (no history of bladder cancer in my family and I don’t smoke) and prostate cancer earlier this year. I’ve been through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

I’m an El Toro Marine veteran who worked and slept in a Radium 226 contaminated hangar in the most environmentally contaminated 200 acres at El Toro, once the premier Marine Corps’ jet fighter base and now an EPA Superfund site. It’s not a shock that I developed cancers, small vessel disease of the brain, hyperprolactinemia, sterility at age 44 from prostate surgery, and other medical conditions linked to exposure to radiation and organic solvents used in the hangar and in base’s water supply.

Tim King, founder of and a former El Toro Marine, and I co-authored the story of environmental contamination at El Toro and Camp Lejeune in BETRAYAL: Toxic Exposure of U.S. Marines, Murder and Government Cover-up.

BETRAYAL: Toxic Exposure of U.S. Marines, Murder and Government Cover-up was published as an eBook on Amazon’s Kindle (580 pages) in 2013, tells the story of the thousands of veterans and their families, once stationed at El Toro and Camp Lejeune, NC. Legislation to provide health care for Camp Lejeune veterans and their dependents was passed in the 112th Congress. No veteran compensation was included in the Janey Ensminger Act. None of the veterans that served aboard these two installations were notified of their exposure to deadly contaminants when it was discovered resulting in both bases earning EPA Superfund Cleanup Site status. Many veterans have died without ‘connecting the dots’ between their killing diseases and military service.

BETRAYAL includes the story of the death and murder of Marine Colonel James E. Sabow and other Marines whose deaths are tied to use of El Toro’s assets during the 1980s and 1990s to import South American cocaine into the U.S and to export guns to the Contra Rebel faction of Nicaragua. Demanding a court martial to clear his name of false charges of misuse of government aircraft and threatening to blow the whistle on the use of El Toro’s assets to support narcotrafficing, Colonel Sabow was found dead in his quarters by his wife on January 22, 1991. The circumstances surrounding his death and the forensic evidence from the crime scene support murder by a government assassination team, crime scene tampering and government cover-up at the highest levels, including a ‘doctored autopsy photograph’ submitted in a Defense Department report on the death of Colonel Sabow to Congress in 2004. An affidavit in 2010 to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) by an internationally renowned pathologist reported homicide and crime scene tampering. There was no mention in any government report of the three men who flashed government credentials, forcing Naval Investigative Service (NIS) agents to leave the crime scene. The motive for the murder was to prevent the disclosure of a covert operation to ferry weapons to Central and South America and government sanctioned narcotrafficking on flights into El Toro. Data processing records were purged on the maintenance of unmarked C-130s; a Marine with knowledge to purge the records unexpectedly promoted, transferred and murdered several years later. Other Marines who knew of the illegal drugs would meet violent deaths.

BETRAYAL was written by two former El Toro Marines: Robert O’Dowd, Temple University, Fox ’73, and Tim King, photo/journalist, war correspondent, and Executive News Editor of O’Dowd, a retired Defense Department financial manager, honed his investigative skills as an auditor for The EPA Inspector General. Since retiring from the Defense Department, O’Dowd, a two time cancer survivor, writes for Salem-News and Veterans Today; King, a Los Angeles native, spent the winter of 2006/07 covering the war in Afghanistan, while he was in Iraq over the summer of 2008, reporting from the war while embedded with both the U.S. Army and Marines. King holds numerous awards for reporting, photography, writing and editing, including the Oregon AP Award for Spot News Photographer of the Year (2004), first place Electronic Media Award in Spot News, Las Vegas, (1998), Oregon AP Cooperation Award (1991). Both men were stationed at former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California, once the premier Marine Corps jet fighter base and one of the military most toxic former military installations.


Information from the California Department of Public Health in late 2012 revealed that Hangar 296 is sealed and shuttered today.  The state refused to accept the Navy’s request for release of the hangar from its radiologically restricted category.  The upper North mezzanine (my former work place and sleeping quarters on duty watch for two years) was contaminated with radiation from a former Radium 226 paint room that was dismantled and converted into administrative work space by the 1960s and remained in use until the base in July 1999.  No attempts were made by the government to alert Marine veterans who worked the contaminated space that they may have been exposed to radiation.

A peek inside the hangar in 2009 showed a possible reason for the state’s refusal to release the hangar.  The pumping under the heads (bathrooms in civilian speak) were cut.  The basins in the head may have been used to clean contaminated brushes and dump Ra 226 waste paint containers. The half-life of Ra 226 is 1,601 years. The state directed the Navy to redo a radiological survey, digging up the sewer line in the hangar and test for radiations contamination.  That’s not an inexpensive cost.  Even more costly, would be a finding of radiation in the sewer line. The expense associated with remediation of Ra 226 contaminated sewer lines could  easily run into the millions of dollars.


As a Marine veteran who was exposed to organic solvents and radiation on active duty at former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, California in the 1960s, I’ve been seriously ill with multiple medical conditions since 1986.  I have a VA disability for the bladder cancer and have filed VA claims with medical nexus opinions for a number of other medical conditions.

The VA denied all of these claims; an appeal to the VA is pending.

When my urologist told me I had prostate cancer, I wasn’t taken by surprise. I had three prior surgeries to remove prostate growth. In 1987, I had urinary retention driving home from work on I-95. Try finding a doctor or nurse to insert a Foley catheter into your bladder is not easy, especially when you’re on I-95 North. I managed to make it to an ER and told the clerk who asked for my insurance cards, I needed a catheter NOW! I must have gotten the message across . Within minutes, an ex-Navy nurse did the job. I was kept overnight for surgery. This was my second prostate resection. I would have another one until a good urologist wanted to know what was causing the growth and had me go for a hormone blood test. I had hyperprolactinemia with no tumor. My prolactin levels were very high. In a male elevated prolactin will cause prostate growth.


My trust in medical doctors has gradually faded over the years. A former primary care physician in the 1990s prescribed a dosage of 1,000 mg of Cipro to treat chronic prostatitis. My pharmacist questioned the high dosage. I didn’t have a clue. I had HMO coverage at the time and in retrospect, it’s apparent that this doctor was trying to keep the cost of medical care down. Instead of referring me to a specialist, he opted to treat my prostatitis with a strong antibiotic, Cipro. At one point, he told me that the Cipro would either cure the prostate infection or cause serious stomach problems. I thought he wasn’t serious. That should have been my first clue to look elsewhere for medical care. Cipro (ciprofloxacin) is an effective antibiotic but a daily dosage of 1,000 mg for weeks can cause serious side effects. I don’t like to shop for doctors, but, in this case, I should have dropped this guy like a lead balloon.

After weeks on a very high dosage of Cipro, I found myself in the hospital with a badly inflamed stomach. The gastroenterologist who looked into my stomach told me that I had a serious case of gastritis and that the high dosage of antibiotics was the likely cause. Gastritis is an inflammation of the lining of the stomach and prolonged use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (also known as NSAIDs) such as Advil, a or ibuprofen have to be avoided. There are not words to describe the daily pain from this condition. It took weeks to get the inflammation under control. There are foods I still can eat and forget about having a social drink during the holidays.


There’s a great deal of money that goes to medical professionals in both research and treatment; some of these ‘professionals’ lack the ethics of even the worst kind of Wall Street brokers.

Options are not always shared with the sick. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation. This is not a menu without health side effects. It’s a little like pick your poison. Again, money seems to be a factor as some doctors recommend treatments that will personally benefit their pocketbooks. Billions are spend annually on cancer research and treatment. With one out of four deaths due to cancer, the money spent on cancer research and treatment is in the billions.

The statistics for cancer are not good.  Dr. Margaret Cuomo (sister of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo) wrote about her perspective on this in her recent book,  A World Without Cancer.

On the amount spent on cancer research:
“More than 40 years after the war on cancer was declared, we have spent billions fighting the good fight. The National Cancer Institute has spent some $90 billion on research and treatment during that time. Some 260 nonprofit organizations in the United States have dedicated themselves to cancer — more than the number established for heart disease, AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke combined. Together, these 260 organizations have budgets that top $2.2 billion.”

On how ineffective the research has been for end results:
“It’s true there have been small declines in some common cancers since the early 1990s, including male lung cancer and colon and rectal cancer in both men and women. And the fall in the cancer death rate — by approximately 1 percent a year since 1990 — has been slightly more impressive. Still, that’s hardly cause for celebration. Cancer’s role in one out of every four deaths in this country remains a haunting statistic.”


I had been seen by two urologists since 1999 at Delaware Valley Urology (DVU). If there’s such a thing as a medical monopoly, DVU would appear to at or near the top of the list in the Philadelphia Metropolitan area. In late 2012, my DVU urologist recommended that I undergo my fourth prostate biopsy. He found a hard spot on my prostate during a Digital Rectal Examination (DRE) in December 2012. I reluctantly agreed to my fourth biopsy. The biopsy was positive. The urologist’s quick call saved my life. I had prostate cancer. It was in the early stage. But, at 70, surgery was not an option. I was given a list of facilities that used direct beam radiation to treat prostate radiation.

My urologist made it clear that he had a financial interest in the cancer center (I’ve withheld his name). Obviously, referring patients to a cancer treatment center owned by DVU helps the medical group’s balance sheet but gives at the very least the appearance of a conflict of interest. The urologist was careful not to recommend their cancer treatment center over any of the others on his list. The final decision was left up to me. In my rush to rid my body of the cancer, I made a fatal error: the cancer patient must be his own advocate. Check out all options before making any decision.

Before the treatment, I met with the center’s oncologist/radiologist—just steps from the urologist’s office, who made it clear that the outcome from center’s direct beam radiation and surgery were comparable to surgery and that for someone at age 70, surgery wasn’t an option.

To a cancer patient who had just been told by his urologist that surgery was not a option, why not take the direct beam radiation? No mention was made of the outcome and side effects of proton therapy available at the University of Pennsylvania in comparison to the center’s direct beam radiation or even that proton therapy had fewer side effects or that once you had either radiation treatments, future prostate surgery was not an option. If the prostate cancer came back, then only option was more radiation. But, I learned too late that direct beam radiation was not the only option.


The University of Pennsylvania’s proton radiation therapy wasn’t on my list. I didn’t know about this option until too late. I did call the University but only after another doctor told me of this option but only after direct beam prostate implants had been inserted into my prostate. It too late. My implants, which are permanent, were not compatible with the proton radiation therapy implants.

Surgery may have been an option, despite the initial denials but I was on my own to find a urologist to do the surgery.

Later I learn from another doctor that no surgery was possible after I started direct beam radiation. If you have a sense that this something like dealing with a used car dealer, you’re not far off the mark.

Why the big deal about proton radiation? Proton radiation is an alternative to direct beam radiation with fewer side effects. If surgery is ruled out as a option for you, look into proton radiation.

According to the University of Pennsylvania website site:

“Proton therapy is a cancer treatment that directs a focused beam of subatomic particles at a tumor. Because of the accuracy of the beam, proton therapy delivers a higher dose of treatment directly to the cancer, while sparing healthy tissue, which can lead to benefits such as: Improved outcomes, and fewer side effects; the ability to treat cancerous tumors close to critical organs; a greater quality of life during treatment and ability to offer new treatment options for patients whose cancer has recurred.”

In fairness, my urologist made it clear that he had a financial interest in the cancer center (I’ve withheld his name). Obviously, referring patients to a cancer treatment center owned by DVU helps the medical group’s balance sheet but gives the appearance of a conflict of interest. The urologist did not recommend their cancer treatment center over any of the others on his list. But, the treatment center was only a short walk down the corridor from the urologist’s office.

At the end of April 2013, I completed the requisite 44 radiation treatments. My urologist caught the cancer early and the outlook for cure is excellent. At the cancer center, I saw a doctor weekly. Not the same doctor each week.

It looked something like ‘musical chairs.’ These had to be per diem medical doctors; paid to spend a few minutes each week with each patient. The meetings lasted a minute or two at the most. None of the men undergoing treatment with me thought that the weekly meetings were worthwhile. I provided written notes to the cancer center’s nurses and doctors of my symptoms. Everyone should have known of my history or gastritis.

The center’s handout included the use of Advil and Aleve to control the burnings in the urinary track from radiation and my concerns about the gastritis from using these over the counter drugs were ignored. Was anyone really listening? As far as cancer center was concerned, it was okay for me to take NSAIDs during the treatment. I didn’t keep a record but I probably used the NSAIDs for several weeks. I was given a script for Phenazopyridine, 200 mg, to control the burning. The Phenazopyridine worked faster so at one point I stopped the NSAIDSs entirely. It prescription drug worked.


I had got sick on Easter Sunday. Our family went to a restaurant for Easter dinner, but I couldn’t eat. My stomach pain was bad so I asked my son to drive me to the nearest hospital’s ER. Morphine drip stopped the pain; a CT scan showed no blockage; the attending physician advised me to follow-up with my family doctor and a gastroenterologist.

I followed-up with a gastroenterologist who scheduled a endoscopy of my stomach. The scope showed gastritis. Five biopsies were taken; all turned out to be negative. I was given scripts for pain medication and the need to reduce the fiber in my diet. The endoscopy cost me a treatment day and follow-up with family doctor cost another treatment day. The center’s direct beam radiation equipment was down for two days. In total, four treatment days were lost. I told one doctor that if necessary, I would belly craw into the center to finish the radiation treatments. It almost came to that.


After my 43rd treatment, I had to go to another ER with severe stomach pain. I had just finished the treatment when I told the nurses and the center’s oncologist/radiologist that my stomach pain was really hurting, I was in serious pain. I have relatively high threshold for pain. When I tell you that I’m hurting, I’m not just blowing hot air. The center’s doctor spent all of 30 seconds to tell me the pain was likely constipation and offered nothing but a smile. This was not a good call.

I had to drive home. I sat in my car for at least 10 minutes to try to ease the pain. My pain medication for gastritis was at home. Before pulling out of the parking lot, I called my primary care’s office to see, if could see one of their doctors. The receptionist promised to pass the message to one of the doctors.

I drove several blocks doubled over in pain, pulled off the road, drove back to the center, called 911 from my cell phone in the car and was transported by a rescue unit to a hospital’s ER. Morphine drip reduced the pain and the CT scan again showed no blockage. The ER’s physician thought I had diverticulitis and offered a script of Cipro. I declined the antibiotic. My family doctor provided a script for Augmentin (another antibiotic), which I filled and are now taking twice a day. I followed up with my gastroenterologist who prescribed more pain mediation and low fiber diet.

My hope is that the direct beam radiation treatment works as well as the center’s processing of insurance claims. I have a stack of weekly processed insurance claims. My insurance coverage (Medicare and BC/BS) paid their claims. I haven’t added up the cost, but it looks like something over $60,000 for 44 treatments. Each month, all patients had to present their insurance cards to the staff who handled payments. I don’t know for sure but my guess is that the staff confirmed coverage directly with the insurance companies. Their internal control over billings is excellent. I’m sure their CPA is happy with the results. But, it sure as hell left an impression that we need to know you’re not a ‘deadbeat.’

Cancer from El Toro’s toxic chemicals and radiation may kill me in the end. But, I’m determined it will not kill my spirit or my immortal soul.


Bob O’Dowd is a former U.S. Marine with thirty years of experience on the east coast as an auditor, accountant, and financial manager with the Federal government. Half of that time was spent with the Defense Logistics Agency in Philadelphia. Originally from Pennsylvania, he enlisted in the Marine Corps at age 19, served in the 1st, 3rd, and 4th Marine Aircraft Wings in 52 months of active duty in the 1960s. A graduate of Temple University, Bob has been married to Grace for 31 years. He is the father of two adult children and the grandfather of two boys. Bob has a blog site on former MCAS El Toro at This subject is where Bob intersected with Bob served in the exact same Marine Aviation Squadron that Salem-News founder Tim King served in, twenty years earlier. With their combined on-site knowledge and research ability, Bob and Tim and a handful of other ex-Marines, have put the contamination of MCAS El Toro on the map. The base is highly contaminated with TCE, trichloroethelyne

You can email Bob O’Dowd, Environmental and Military Reporter, at this address:


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Tim King May 5, 2013 12:38 pm (Pacific time)

Bob O'Dowd is back in the ER again as I write this, he says to all Marines and others facing cancer, don't take DIRECT BEAM radiation, you are going to have big side effects.

This is the second time Bob has been in the ER for terrible pain since his radiation therapy began.

He says surgery or proton radiation, which do not have the same side effects. Every Marine who served at El Toro or Camp Lejeune needs to have a bladder check, it costs about $26, you are looking for a protein, if it is present then you need a scope, the doctor will look for a tumor in your bladder. The Marines who served at the two aforementioned bases which are afflicted with toxic contamination

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