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 share-@-civilianexposure.org.
Twenty Three. Yes, 23 years at Camp Lejeune. Hard to believe but as much as I wish I could go back and relive my life, I now have to live with the consequences.
I joined during the Viet Nam Era, and ended up getting orders to Camp Lejeune in December of 1976. I was stationed at NH-1, proven by ATSDR to be one of the highest recorded findings of TCE in the drinking water. We lived on base where the water was also contaminated. I got out of the military in 1978 and joined the reserves and spent my reserve time right back at building NH-1. I would work my duty weekends and spent my two weeks active duty training at NH-1.
When I got out of the military, I applied for a civilian job, which I got, and you guessed it, right back at building NH-1. That adds up to about 3 years and some odd months working at one of the highest recorded sites for TCE while living on base in a contaminated area.
In 1980, we got orders and went to several other duty stations.
In 1988 new orders sent us back to Camp Lejeune. I was now a civilian and one of the buildings I worked in, 1103, has been torn down and is now a parking lot. A block from 1103 was the old gas station responsible for years of leaking gas into the groundwater. Studies are now being done for vapor intrusion. Throughout the years, I probably worked in 8 other buildings at Camp Lejeune, finally leaving in 2008. It’s pretty much an entire life working at Camp Lejeune and I know the base very well.
I’ve always wondered why I suffer from weird stuff. I ended up with something called aerothema nodosum. I had to lay on my back for weeks with my legs elevated to stop the throbbing. I have a list of about 15 other weird conditions that I believe are autoimmune related caused by toxic water. Pretty sure it’s sarcoidosis as most of the conditions are symptoms of this autoimmune disease.
I dealt with my first cancer in 2000. Several lumpectomies of the right breast. I’ve had so many mammograms I could probably do the test myself and let the tech sit out. Then they started on stereotactic procedures and that was always a blast. Several years go by and several more biopsies and a few surgeries and things start to settle down in the right breast.
Or so I thought.
In 2010 the left breast starts in. Many mammograms, several biopsies and everything comes back normal. The lump keeps growing so in 2012 the doc decides it’s time to just remove the lump. Here comes another brick wall. A rare cancer that was missed for over 2 years. The surgeon had to send off the biopsy to a major facility to read.
They always said the best cure is to catch the cancer early. The boat left without me on that one. In fact, they tied an anchor to my leg and forgot the life preserver. I did learn something.
According to the World Health Organization, I’m the 36th person to have this rare cancer.
It’s physically and mentally traumatic to have 3 oncologists gather in a room and tell you they have never seen, nor treated, your cancer and there isn’t enough literature that provides a proven treatment. Oh, and sorry about missing it for 2 years.
I filed with the VA for PTSD. According to their ‘guide book’ I don’t qualify and they denied my claim. I’m pretty sure this is wrong. I wonder how the VA person deciding my claim would feel if their second cancer was missed for 2 years and discovered that major medical facilities have no idea how to treat it. When biopsies are performed they break open the tumor with about 12 sample collection sites meaning the cancer cells are free to spread by the lymph or blood systems called seeding. In my case no treatment was received for 2 years. I bet that VA person would award themselves 100% for PTSD. It’s time for the VA to update their old guidance books.
War isn’t the only thing that causes PTSD.
My last surgery lasted 9 hours and I spent a week in the ICU and several weeks at home recovering. I’m now on a return CT chest scan routine due to radiation of my chest with never ending lung nodules. Perfect!
This is what it looks like to drink, breathe, shower, and cook with TCE for over 3 years 24 hours a day in one of the top sites tested for TCE at over 1400 ppm.
I can’t wait for the vapor intrusion studies to be finalized to learn the rest of the story. Gee, and I’ve only had cancer twice dealing with it for the last 18 years, so there is still more time for the toxic water to take another stab at me.
My money is on lung cancer.
Note from the Editor: The author currently resides in Florida. The account/editorial is verbatim from the author without edit, with only the omission of their name to preserve anonymity.