The following is a personal story submitted to Civilian Exposure and published as part of our new series: “Contamination Chronicles: Personal Stories of Exposure”. If you would like to submit your story, you may fill out our form here or send directly via email to [email protected]
From 1985 to 1987, my new bride and children lived on Bougainville Drive, in Tarawa Terrace II, in Jacksonville, North Carolina. It was nice to live on Base. It was a safe, quiet, convenient and inexpensive abode. I looked forward to coming home to our ranch style home, especially after a deployment or field training exercise.
I PT’d everyday and showered in our home. I did not smoke, dip or chew tobacco. I lived as clean a lifestyle as I could. My wife made the children’s bottles and food from the water. I made my coffee and tea, evening meals and more using the ground water; never knowing the danger that it presented to me and my family.
I retired from the Marines in 2001 and eleven years before that I was divorced; too many deployments is not good for a young family. I settled in Norfolk, Virginia. I would easily find employment here and began my civilian life.
In 2012 my voice started to become raspy. My throat did not hurt. I did not have a cold or postnasal drip, but the condition was noticeably worsening. By the time I was scheduled to see an ENT doctor at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, my voice was like that of a person with laryngitis. The doctor discovered a polyp on my left vocal cord. A few weeks later the polyp was removed and biopsied. Initially and to my relief, I was told it was benign. One week later, I was contacted and told there was a mistake; the polyp was indeed malignant.
I was diagnosed with Stage IV squamous cell carcinoma head and neck (throat) cancer. I underwent nine weeks of chemo and six weeks of radiation. The doctors were able to cure me but, in the process, I had to have my left vocal cord removed. This left me with a defective voice and prevented me from keeping my job as a city cop.
In March 2016, I discovered that I had Stage III-B Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC). There was a 7 cm tumor on my right lung; wrapped around a blood vessel and 60% invasive into my bronchial tube. This explained the blood that I was coughing up after my morning runs.
Once again, I underwent chemo and radiation. It was just as brutal as the first time. Just like the first time, I worked during the entire treatment. I went to radiation and chemo from work and returned to work the same day. This disease saps your strength. It eats up your savings, takes away valuable time from your family, and forces you to face your own mortality everyday. I was too broke to miss work and with no leave left, staying home to rest was not an option.
It was in August that I received the news that the tumor was gone and there were no active cells detected. Finally, it was all over.
In late September I got a bump on my bottom lip. I thought it must be an ingrown hair; no, it was a tumor. It grew to the size of a walnut. The recommended treatment was chemo; three different types. Carboplatin, Fluorouracil and Cetuximab. Aside from the skin rash, acne, hair loss, toxicity and uncontrollable nausea; it seemed to work, but not for long. The tumors returned with a vengeance a few months later. The only chance for a cure was a lip resection (this is a nice way of saying, cut off entire bottom lip) and removal of my lymph nodes under my chin.
On May 8, 2017, I was wheeled into an operating room at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, where my bottom lip was removed; a graft was taken from my left radial forearm along with a muscle and an artery; which would be used to reconstruct my lip. Additionally, I am being treated with radiation, as a preventative measure and should complete that treatment in August 2017.
I sit now, at my job, and type out my story. I have submitted for several claims seeking service connected disability; all have been denied. I have ZERO history of cancer in my family. I never used tobacco. I was tested for all known syndromes and likely causes for my cancers; all of which were negative. I have missed very little work and use my days off for all my appointments.
I am submitting another claim/appeal to the Veterans Administration for compensation, or service-connected disability.
You’d think this should be easy for me.
After all…my employer IS the Veterans Administration.
Note from the Editor: The author lives in Virginia. The account/editorial is verbatim from the author without edit, with only the omission of the author’s name to preserve anonymity.