A Messy Life Musings

Ray Died. I Got Breast Cancer. Ethylene Oxide. Medical Mayhem.

Covington Georgia Courthouse

In 2001, Ray and I bought a house in a neighborhood not far from a plant that uses ethylene oxide, a chemical used to sterilize medical equipment. It is a mutagen, meaning that it alters genetic material in cells, and is known by the EPA to cause cancer.

Ray and I didn’t know all that stuff when we moved into our 100-year-old mill house. Didn’t know that we needed to. We were excited about the creative venture of remodeling our new home, and looked forward to experiencing what life had to offer in Covington, Georgia, a small bedroom community east of Atlanta.

March 26, 2017, Ray died of cancer, found too late. Stage IV metastatic. In his liver, lungs, spine, and brain. Just 3 months after he died, I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer, invasive lobular carcinoma. The medical devices and supplies used in Ray’s final days at Emory Hospital, and used for my mastectomy at Piedmont/Rockdale Hospital, might very well have come from this medical equipment plant. A plant now on the radar for emissions that could have caused the cancer that took Ray and my breast.

With documented leakages, and questionable self-reporting of the emissions leaving their facilities, I guess we needed to know all that stuff after all. The watchdogs entrusted to do their jobs were sleeping, it seems. Or looking the other way.

Does anybody else see the irony here? A company that makes its money supplying hospitals and doctors with medical equipment also supplying hospitals and doctors with patients?

I can only label this as “full circle medical mayhem.”

I’m mad—and I’d hoped to never have reason to say that on a blog, again. My frustration and anger with the medical model that let Ray down (Read: Dear Doctors, While you diagnosed stress, he died of cancer.) now encompasses elected officials and public servants who were sleeping—or sweeping—on the job.

“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.” ― Thomas Paine

I made the decision to go for a mastectomy, and my breast surgeon supported me though it seemed a bit radical given what the MRI and ultrasound showed. Turns out it was the right call. A second tumor was hiding in the dense tissue.

Then I made the difficult decision — against my doctors’ advisement for a standard practice, a societal norm — to refuse chemo and radiation because I knew of their toxicity in the body. Coupled with my grief for the loss of my husband, I knew that wasn’t the right route for me. Instead, I changed my diet and did all I could to strengthen my immune system.

I said no to cancer treatment with known toxins, even for their better purpose, only to find out that the air I’ve been breathing is dirty with a known toxin (used for a better purpose)?

I cannot say no to breathing. None of us can. But I can advocate for clean air, for accountability on the part of a billion dollar corporation and a multi-billion dollar medical industry that buys their products, for the integrity of our elected officials and public servants to rebuild trust with leadership and action that matters, for the volunteers who are stepping up and gathering together to focus on what is needed to resolve this so it doesn’t get swept under the rug — again.

We are more than social security numbers and birth dates, more than street addresses and zip codes. We are people with lives and loved ones, projects and passions, hopes and dreams — and some of us are working very hard to rise up from the ashes after others have died.

The discovery about ethylene oxide in our community has uncovered a whole new layer of grief and “what ifs” for me. I struggle with that. But I also know that one’s immune system entails more than just physical. It’s also spiritual and emotional, and so I am still focusing on the choices I can make.

There’s a lot that is wrong in this world — and there’s a lot that is right.

What is wrong hangs in the shadows with each of us, with fear that leads to victim mindsets, judgment, violence, greed, complacency . . . and, in my little town, bad air.

What is right lies in the heart of each of us, waiting to be called out. That’s when we get to see what love-in-action looks like. Wherever you are, whatever your battle, little things do matter. Don’t let anyone tell you they don’t.

dEAr hEArTs, make your choices with love. Make every day matter. And, if you are local, be counted for more than your zip code. Let this billion-dollar corporation and our leaders see your face. Let them hear your story. This is mine.  XO Bernadette

Don’t be shy. Share your story or thoughts below. This is one place where you will be heard. I intend to circulate this post and invite you to do the same! Thanks!



7 thoughts on “Ray Died. I Got Breast Cancer. Ethylene Oxide. Medical Mayhem.”

  1. Billion dollar companies bring major economic impact to small communities and to the states in which they locate; hence, there does not ever seem to be any compelling reason for the local or state governments to feel the need to monitor that which has the potential to bring great harm to the lives of their citizenry, especially when the Billion dollar company assures the governing authorities their self monitoring results are valid. There is too much money at stake. Better to leave the Billion dollar company alone to do its own monitoring than to require intermittent verification by outside sources. Until, that is, it begins to appear there may be evidence that someone should have cared more about the local citizenry to ensure the integrity of the results of this self monitoring. At this point, whatever the cost of outside independent testing on the levels of ethylene oxide in the local environment, there is no price too great to pay to offer peace of mind to the community and to get to the truth of what may, or may not, be happening. The local and state governments owe this to their citizens.

    God be with you, Bernadette, as you continue in your efforts to bring important information to us regarding cancer, the good and the bad of the medical community, and on how the things we expose ourselves to – whether it be toxic thoughts or toxic food – in our daily lives have the capacity to help or hinder how we care for these precious bodies we have been blessed with.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very well said, Debra. Thank you. Being mindful of what we expose ourselves to, in the choices we make for body, mind, and spirit, is so important. I am approaching this latest discovery in much the same way as I have the breast cancer. Careful and deliberate, remembering to love and smile along the way. And I am praying that all concerned here maintain their balance and focus as we move forward. ❤


  2. Thank you for sharing. What a point of view you have. The irony, the black and white, the loss, and most of all the courage. None of us know what will happen with the poisonous air we are all living in in Covington. But I know it won’t be stopped unless we all find a great deal of courage.


    1. I believe we are witnessing that courage, Michael. I also take comfort knowing that “… weakness cannot persist in a power-evolving universe.” And, indeed, this is a power-evolving universe that answers to a much Higher Power than this factory is answering to. Regardless of how this plays out, once known, courage is ours — and the wisdom that comes through its expression will prevail. Am stocking up on my dark chocolate. 🙂

      *Quote from James Allen, As a Man Thinketh


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