One of our reporters for Civilian Exposure, Terri L. Pace, continues sharing her personal experience with her own TCE exposure. Plus, Terri will share her ongoing work and research into the origins, uses and health impacts of TCE in upcoming research and reporting. In case you missed them, here are prior installments in the series: TCE & Me, TCE & Me Part II, and TCE & Me Part III.
Years later, my youngest son turned 18. He was doing very well in school and was the football captain, president of the student body, and the homecoming king, attending a school in the small town where my parents resided. I had enrolled in classes at a university, but he wanted to stay with my parents and finish school.
He got into a football accident and I received a call. I must admit that I broke the speeding laws that evening and when I arrived at the hospital he was in tremendous pain. His pain was on the right-hand side near his ribs. I calmed him down and went with the emergency room doctor to look at his x-rays. The doctor showed me the film and stated that his rib was not broken but that it could be fractured.
I noticed a gray area on the left-hand side lower region of the x-ray and asked what it was. He admitted that he did not know. I used an analogy and asked the doctor if I had a bad tooth on the left side of my mouth, I might feel it on the opposite side and asked if it were possible for the gray area to be causing the pain. He said yes and told me that they would find out what it was.
My son was released from the hospital and went to his primary care doctor. They found a cyst on his kidney. The report included that the cyst had no blood or fat and they decided to leave it alone because it was probably nothing. I could not accept their decision and as an uneducated, but passionate, woman who loved her child, I researched in the only way that I knew…via the internet over a period of two weeks.
I found article after article that pointed in one direction and that was to Renal Cell Carcinoma. I called his urologist and stated my findings. The doctor argued with me and said that kids that age did not get that kind of cancer and that it doesn’t usually show up until someone is in their 50’s or 60’s. I told him that I understood that but that he had the symptoms, including blood in his urine. I also told him not to worry about it because I would be calling the health sciences center and would take my son to see them. I got off the phone and was looking up the phone number to do just that when I received a call back from the doctor. He said that he had looked at my son’s cat scan again and that he believed that I might be right. Since my son was over 18, he would have to ask him if he would agree to a biopsy. My son agreed and so it began.
I had just moved into a campus apartment and was getting ready to attend classes when the results came in from my son’s biopsy. Like everyone else, I enjoy it when I am right about some things but on this occasion, I prayed that I was wrong. When a parent hears that their child has cancer the emotional reaction is indescribable. At first, you are brave, take charge, and ready to fight until reality hits you.
For me, it was a combination of denial, fear, sorrow, anxiety, bravery and then I did it all over again and again and again, not allowing anyone to know, but I remember sliding down a wall into a pool of tears on my kitchen floor, alone in my apartment, until I could travel to be by his side. I pulled myself together and arrived at my parents’ home.
Soon after, we went to the hospital where my son handed me his cowboy hat to keep safe for him as they rolled his gurney into the operating room. His father had arrived and was with my parents, myself, and our pastor in the waiting room when soon after my father had a heart attack while waiting to find out if his grandson would be alright.
It is interesting how a situation like the one I am describing can lead to various problems. The stress was immense for all of us. However, the surgeons came through. They were just about to close my son up after removing half of his kidney, a partial nephrectomy, when a pathologist came back from the cafeteria, sat at his desk while eating a sandwich, and decided to take another look at my sons cat scan. He frantically called surgery and told them to take another tiny part out. Had he not done this, my son would have continued to grow cancer at that time.
In my Sophomore year, I had no idea of what it was that I wanted to study and thought that they might suggest that I become a basket weaver or learn how to teach Zumba, but a professor liked the way that I wrote and persuaded me to look at Political Science as my major. I did that along with joining Honors college and becoming a McNair Scholar. This helped with funding for a tight budget. McNair’s scholars must complete scholarly research for a thesis on a subject of their own choice.
As I sat in my home office, I was, as always, pondering why my son had gotten Renal Cell Carcinoma (Kidney Cancer). Evidently, this is common for parents of children who come down with deadly diseases. I was wondering if there was something that I had done to have caused this deadly disease. Didn’t I feed him nutritious foods? Didn’t I lovingly put him to bed each night in a child safe room and tuck him in each night safe and sound? I didn’t use too many household cleaners, but was that what I had done?
Then it hit me…right after I said a prayer. I envisioned a letter that I was holding while he sat in his highchair playing with cheerios. I concentrated on the letter that I remembered and recalled the letters TCE and Mattel Corporation. I remembered that Mattel had sent my mother and I letters to have our kidneys checked at their expense. They had taken over the View Master plant (GAF) where I had worked and were now responsible for the trichloroethylene (TCE) that had seeped into the drinking water and exposed some 25 thousand employees.
Later, I would ask my biology professor that if a woman were exposed to TCE for a year in their drinking water, could it affect her offspring if she were not yet pregnant with them. His answer was astounding to me. He stated that toxins like this can wrap around DNA and be transferred into offspring. This answer would send me on a nine-year journey. One that I have not yet completed with two years left on my PhD and a future dissertation on toxic chemicals causing what I call “The Silent Massacre”.
To Be Continued…