After their lives were so altered by cancer, three McDuffie women are searching for a cause in hopes of preventing others from suffering the same misfortune. Peggy Willis, who lost an aunt to cancer on Valentines Day in 2001, Sonya Strong, whose 7-year-old daughter, Sky, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive brain tumor in 2004, and Judy Hobbs, whose son, Ethan, was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2002, are conducting a study to chart cancer cases in the county and see if there is a correlation.
As she has been sitting in waiting rooms talking with other parents, Mrs. Strong said it appeared to her that a large number of children diagnosed with cancer seemed to be from McDuffie County. Then she learned that McDuffie County was listed in the top 10 counties in the state for deaths from breast cancer.
As a result of her conversation with others, Mrs. Strong said she was contacted by Jane Perry, the director of the Chemical Hazards Program of the Environmental Health and Injury Prevention Branch of the Georgia Division of Public Health. Ms. Perry has agreed to help Mrs. Strong chart the cases.
"We are not looking to blame parents, health care providers, soil or water," Mrs. Strong said. "I don't know how true it is that the levels are higher here. ... I just want to see if there is a correlation."
Mrs. Strong is asking anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer while living in McDuffie or Warren counties, or who has a family member who lived in the counties and died from cancer within the past 10 years to send in their information. The information may be sent directly to Ms. Perry at the EPA at 2 Peachtree St. NW, 13th Floor, Atlanta, GA 30303-3142, by calling 404-657-6534, by fax 404-657-6533 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling Mrs. Strong at 478-494-3539.
Mrs. Strong said they are also interested in any remarkable birth defects, physical handicaps or medical conditions.
The information to be sent is the name of the patient, the age when diagnosed, the date of diagnosis, the type of cancer and the address at the time the cancer was discovered.
"My child has a grim prognosis right now," Mrs. Strong said with tears in her eyes. "I don't know why things are given to certain people. If we discover any link in any way, I feel we owe it to people to let them know. I think I owe it to Sky to do anything I can to protect everybody. This is where I was born and grew up. ... I am surrounded by people I love. ... Maybe there is no correlation, maybe it was just going to happen. But if there is a correlation, I owe it to my baby, to find out."
Mrs. Strong said she has talked with other parents who told her for years they have wanted a study like this, but didn't know where to start.
"We owe it to our community not to stick our heads in the sand," she said. "When I look at my baby and I know where we were, then I have to do it."