The Centers for Disease Control has identified a “cancer cluster” in Fallon, Nevada. In the last five years, at least 16 children there have been diagnosed with the deadly disease. “Today’s” Ann Curry recently journeyed to the town outside Reno for a first-hand look.
“I DIDN’T WANNA DIE. And I was about to die.”
8-year-old Anastacia Warnecke was scared when she first found out she had leukemia.
“I thought I’ve never had cancer before, but why do I have it now?”
Her father Matt couldn’t answer that question. He remembers how helpless he felt when she underwent chemotherapy.
“We prepared her for when she was gonna lose her hair. We told her, when she started losing her hair, that we’d cut it so it wouldn’t make a mess on the pillow, so she wouldn’t get depressed. I came home from school one day and she came up to me and told me, ‘Daddy, it’s time to cut my hair.’ I told her, okay, you go wash it and then we’ll see. She came back into the living room and told me, ‘that’s okay, daddy. We don’t need to cut it. I’ll just pull it out.’ And she sat down next to me and she pulled every strand of hair out of her head.”
Anastacia and her father aren’t alone. It turns out Anastasia is just one of at least 16 children diagnosed with cancer in five years, in a rural county in Nevada, where statistically, there should be just one case. The Centers for Disease Control has identified it as a cancer cluster. So far, three children have died.
Floyd Sands’ daughter Stephanie is one of them. Diagnosed at age 19, she died two years later, leaving a baby son behind.
“She didn’t complain. She just fought... and fought. She never asked why me. She just asked why. So she never quit so we’re not going to quit,” says Floyd.
Their pain, now turned to anger. These parents are demanding answers.
“We want every rock overturned. We want things looked at. I can’t look at my son here and say I didn’t try because I have big worries that my son here, six months old, is another child that’s going to come down with it. I’m scared,” says Jeff Braccini.
Jeff’s wife Debbie is more blunt: “How many trees do you have to bark up to get them to know how many sick kids you have?”
Victim Michelle Cohee agrees with the parents taking action: “I just want to find the answer. I just want to know what caused this and hopefully no more kids will get it. Chemotherapy is not fun. Yes, I did lose my hair and I did get it on my eighteenth birthday, found out I had cancer.”
Says Matt Warnecke: “I’m beyond angry. It’s been over two years since my daughter’s been diagnosed. We’ve learned to live with it. We can accept their answers after we know they’ve done their tests and investigations to get those answers.”
The state of Nevada says it has looked at a number of potential environmental causes: naturally occurring arsenic in the water supply, jet fuel from a nearby military base, pesticides used in local farming.
But Randall Todd, the state epidemiologist, says he’s found no conclusive evidence any are to blame.
“We have done what science has to offer on this. Whether we’re going to be able to find out definitely from one cluster investigation and one community, the odds of that are not good,” says Randall. “I can’t apply science that I don’t have. I would challenge anybody to find me an example of a cluster that has been investigated with more urgency.”
But these parents disagree. Desperate, they are now going door to door using their own money to finance a survey that, against all odds, they hope will find some clue to stop the cancer that is killing their kids.
To learn more about the Fallon “cancer cluster” you can visit their Web site at:
Families In Search of Truth (FIST):
www.falloncancercrisis.org and www.cancercrisis.org.
Their mailing address is:
Families In Search of Truth (FIST)
P. O. Box 5245
Fallon, Nevada 89407