A Sick Town on the Space Coast of Florida

One Cancer Diagnosis After Another

I had a strong and unexplainable desire to share my personal cancer journey publicly. My diagnosis came three months after my little brothers. We were diagnosed with the same exact cancer, Hodgkin's Lymphoma (a few months after our unrelated uncle passed). It was hard to believe that a family being diagnosed within the same year was normal.

My curiosity grew every time a nurse or doctor would ask, "Where did you grow up?" There were specialists and medical professionals who would elaborate on the question and begin the possibility that my cancer was caused by something environmental.

People I grew up with began to privately reach out to tell me that they either have cancer or an autoimmune disease. That's when I realized my calling in life dramatically changed. We are all in our 20's and grew up on the space coast of Florida. I began crowdsourcing medical information and created a Facebook group called "Florida Health Connection" (now called Fight For Zero).

People connected over similar locations and illnesses and the list started getting so long that we had to break it up into different areas. As it grew, we started piecing together a puzzle we never knew existed.

There were moments that I wanted to go back to living my "normal" life. I tried too, but it was fighting an uphill battle. I couldn't stop thinking about the people, the stories, the families, the children...all who endured the same torment that this disease brings.

I not only went through it myself, but I watched my father deteriorate as his cancer ravaged his bones. His incurable disease was diagnosed after mine.

How many other people watched their mother, father, son, daughter, husband, or wife go through this tragedy? How many other people had to be caregivers and patients at the same time? Countless names also fought, and those names mean something to me. We find that a majority on the list don't have a history of cancer, and genetic testing shows that they have no mutating genes.

For instance, from 2013-2014:

  • Julie was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 13 in 2013. 
  • A family friend, Samantha, was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27 with no family history. 
  • Michelle was diagnosed with brain cancer at the age of 30. 
  • Candace was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30. 
  • Joshua was diagnosed with testicular cancer at 27. 
  • Paige was diagnosed with stage 3 kidney failure at 21. 
  • Bri was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at 26. 
  • David was diagnosed with kidney cancer at 27. 
  • Cory was diagnosed with testicular cancer at 27. 
  • My brother was diagnosed with Hodgkin's at the age of 21 & I at the age of 27. 

The list goes on.

Is it a coincidence that there are so many cases? The cancer registry shows that Brevard County, FL, has a higher than usual rate of certain cancers. There are also significant polluters to take into consideration. As much as I love the space industry, I wonder how much they affect the environment. Not to mention the other major polluters such as Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Harris Corporation, along with a series of water quality issues here in the state of Florida. Is it possible that years of environmental neglect caught up?

I'm sharing this and continuing to learn and find resources because it could save a family like mine from heartache one day.

*2018 update: Do you know someone in Florida battling a sickness or cancer? Someone who lost their battle? Visit http:/www.fight4zero.org to learn more.

To reach the writer Stel Bailey, please email stelbailey@gmail.com

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