“I believe that people have the right to a healthy environment. And I believe that people have the right to know if their environment is healthy.”
I lived in Nobel in the summer of 2012. It was at that time that I became close friends with local residents in the surrounding area and fell in love with Georgian Bay. I was already familiar with the area and Parry Sound growing up, as my family had a cottage on Lake Joseph.
When I lived in Nobel I found it striking when, in casual conversation, so many people would mention friends or family that had been diagnosed with cancer, passed away, were beginning a new round of chemotherapy or organizing another fundraiser to pay for cancer treatment and therapy.
I had lived in many small towns and large cities and this was the first time I ever heard of so many cancer cases in a small, isolated area, especially in people under the age of 30 and sometimes under the age of 10.
It was about 18 months later that the lightbulb went off and I realized that it could be caused by the environment – Nobel’s explosive past. Only then did I begin putting pieces of the puzzle together. When I started asking questions and making connections, people began to see the big picture – clusters of cancer and chronic disease.
When connections started to be made, people began to question why this hadn’t been put together before, especially in a small town where most people know each other. Was it because it was so common they didn’t realize it was uncommon?
My heart would plummet every time I would hear another cancer story (e.g. brain, liver, thyroid, testicular), the death of someone so young, or of a mother that buried their child, crying and distraught trying to understand why their children had tumours, or far worse, blaming themselves during sleepless nights. Families that would pay for testing yet find no genetic link to explain the abnormal cancers among their children.
Over the years, I would hear my friends and newlyweds talk about how they would be trying to begin a family, but were unable to, due to fertility issues, or a number of miscarriages.
Teachers at the local elementary schools were really dismayed by the number of children with autism or attention deficit disorders. Veterinarians were perplexed by the number of pets with tumours and skin diseases. Other health issues appeared to be common in the area, such as endometriosis or Crohn’s disease. The more I visited friends and acquaintances during their regular hospital visits, the more disheartened, dismayed, angry and determined I would become.
It was after living in Nobel that I was diagnosed with Raynaud’s disease, a rare disorder of the blood vessels, usually in the fingers and toes. It causes the blood vessels to narrow when you are cold or feeling stressed, which turns the affected areas white and blue and can be quite painful. I had never heard of this phenomenon before living in Parry Sound, but when I showed my white fingers to my girlfriends they told me not to worry, that it was “just” Raynaud’s, and “a bunch of people have it”.
Over the years I discovered that others had similar experiences. One person, 1-2 years after moving to Nobel in good health, found a tumour in the top of their mouth.
I will keep the anonymity of these individuals who shared their stories of health and testimony private. However, I encourage those that shared their story with me to do so once again, and this time online, publicly. I believe that, through the sharing of your stories, community members will be empowered and encouraged to speak out and demand answers to the questions that so many have been longing for.
Nobel/Parry Sound is a resilient and loving community. It is a community that has demonstrated a passion for protecting the lives and health of future generations and local environments.
One local family created the RACH (Rallying Against Cancer Hardcore) baseball tournament and made it into an annual event, raising over $860,000 since 2004 for cancer research at The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation and the West Parry Sound Health Centre Foundation. The goal: conquer cancer in our lifetime.
Another impressive effort, related to health and the environment, is the “Parry Sounders for Progressive Water Management”, where, through direct-action and petitioning, fluoride was successfully removed from the town’s water supply.
I look forward to seeing what comes from this research and offer my support in whatever way possible to those who wish to pursue this further.
As Erin Brockovich once said to me, I now say to you: “Believe in You!”
All it takes is gumption.