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!