Link sought in Castalia cancers

CASTALIA Most families have some experience with cancer, but Holly Miller's has been hit especially
May 24, 2010



Most families have some experience with cancer, but Holly Miller's has been hit especially hard.

Her grandfather survived bladder cancer. Her grandmother was diagnosed with kidney and colon cancers in 2007. Miller's father, David, died of prostate cancer in 2006 at the age of 45, and his sister recently underwent treatment for thyroid cancer.

Miller, 29, acknowledges there could be a hereditary link, something in the family's genes.

"I wonder if it's not, though," she said.

Like some other residents of Margaretta Township and Castalia, Miller wonders if her hometown could be the center of a cancer cluster like the one health authorities have identified in Clyde.

"More and more people are just passing away of cancer," Miller said.

A cancer cluster is a higher-than-expected number of cases among a group of people in a particular place and time period.

When Joyce Hemmer learned about cancer clusters through college coursework a few years ago, she thought of Lester Street, where she lived for nearly three decades before moving to Sandusky in the mid-1990s.

"Just on our street and the next street that was attached to ours, it was like every other house had someone with cancer," she said.

Hemmer's mother had colon cancer and died from leukemia. Hemmer, 55, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999.

The next street over from Lester is Adams, where Rhoda Friend lives.

Friend, 77, had breast cancer 14 years ago.

The woman who lived in the house behind her died of breast cancer several years ago, and the woman in the house across the street is a survivor.

Friend can also list several other residents of Adams and Lester streets who died of cancer. Most of them were elderly when they died, but some were in their 40s or younger.

Despite these concerns, no one has brought any inquiries to the Erie County Health Department, said Sharon Schaeffer, the director of community health.

If there were questions about a potential cancer cluster, Schaeffer said, the county health department would work with the Ohio Department of Health to determine if there are more cancer cases in Castalia than one would expect for the community's size and other characteristics.

Health officials are already looking into one cancer cluster in the area. From 2001 to 2006, there were 18 cases of childhood cancer in Clyde and the nearby village of Green Springs.

The number of cancer cases in Clyde is higher than the national average and the Ohio EPA and Ohio Health Department are investigating, looking for anything in the environment or common link between the children that could have caused the cluster.

Ohio Health Department spokesman Kristopher Weiss said there have been other places in Ohio with a high number of cancer cases without an environmental factor. He said that about 3 percent of cancer cases are a result of environmental factors.

Not everyone in Castalia is concerned that their village could be another cluster. Mayor Wolf Brandt said he's heard about a handful of people dying from cancer, but it never seemed unusual to him.

"That's news to me," he said. "Cancer seems to be normal."