ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — Local concern over glioblastoma in St. Lucie County is still high, and a St. Lucie County wife is taking more action to get to the bottom of any potential local causes for the deadly form of brain cancer.
Stephanie Cunningham’s husband, Mark Cunningham, has been battling glioblastoma for more than 3 years. He has surpassed the life-expectancy for glioblastoma, but Cunningham says the cancer has already claimed too many lives in the county.
Now, she has formed a non-profit organization that she hopes will help raise money to support families going to the costly cancer fight. Her biggest goal, however, is to use the non-profit to collect more local cancer information and create a self-reporting cancer database.
“I believe in this area, brain tumors themselves are through the roof. We need self reporting to prove that.”
Information collected by WPTV showed more than 60 cases of glioblastoma within a seven- to eight-year time frame. Cunningham believes there are potential clusters in the county because three people on her husband’s childhood street were diagnosed with glioblastoma.
Two people who lived in the same house at different times were also diagnosed with glioblastoma.
Cunningham's organization is called the B.R.A.I.N Cancer Foundation of the Treasure Coast, with a mission of "Bringing Resources and Information Now."
Access the website here: http://www.braincancertc.org
“Are there hot spots in Florida? Are there hot spots in St. Lucie County? I think once people start self reporting, it might be an eye opener for quite a few people,” Cunningham said.
The Florida Department of Health keeps track of the number of cancer cases statewide through its own cancer registry. However, Cunningham hopes keeping a database for the Treasure Coast could provide a more visual representation of local cancer cases, more thorough information and information that can be more quickly obtained.
“I believe the cancer registry might be a little understaffed or there might be communication errors with the providers reporting those cancers, so any type of help we can give each other, I think that everybody will benefit from this,” Cunningham said.
In addition to creating the non-profit organization, Cunningham continues to work with Attorney Mara Hatfield to get more answers for her husband.
Hatfield has reviewed the Florida Department of Health’s glioblastoma assessment, released in February, which in summary found no concerning increase in the number of glioblastoma cases in select zip codes in the county.
In a letter sent to the Florida Governor’s office, and the Florida Department of Health, Hatfield said there were "grave errors in scope” in the state’s report.
She states in part:
The most recent report, finding no increase in glioblastoma, while reassuring, raises more questions than It answers.
• First, The report does not include Mark ... nor several of his neighbors and fellow support group members appear to be counted in the report. This is obvious because the report breaks down the diagnosis incidents within each zip codes studied by age.
• Second, the report is arbitrary and ignores the diagnoses associated with radiation. The report acknowledges that the primary environmental contaminant linked with brain tumors is radiation; but the report considers only original diagnoses of glioblastomas when all forms of glioma tumors and indeed all forms of meningioma tumors are caused by radiation—and it is unclear what the parameters were in determining the classification of glioblastoma.
• Third, the report is anonymous and apparently unauthorized. The report came out in February 2019, at which time there appeared to be no State Surgeon General, no Deputy Secretary of Health, and no Chief of Staff...The lone person we can identify as possibly being responsible for its content is the 2017 appointed State Epidemiologist and veterinarian Dr. Blackmore, whose experience is most significantly sourced from her work with outbreaks such as rabies and other communicable diseases unrelated to human neuroscience.
Cunningham says she hopes to see the health department release more information or do a deeper study.
“We’re exploring every avenue. The other thing is we want to see more than just glioblastoma. We want to see some of the other brain cancers included.”
Hatfield says they have not yet received a response to the letter from the Governor’s office or from the Florida Department of Health. The letter is dated April 1, 2019.