ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — A St. Lucie County family is taking new steps to get to the bottom of their concerns surrounding the close proximity of cases of glioblastoma.
Stephanie Cunningham has hired attorney Mara Hatfield, with the Searcy Denny Scarola Barnhart and Shipley law firm, to do an independent investigation.
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Cunningham wants to know if something in the environment caused her husband’s glioblastoma diagnosis at a young age.
Mark Cunningham turned 35 years old this week.
“We’re very blessed because we never thought he would actually make it to 35,” Cunningham said.
The years Mark has spent battling the disease have been filled with draining treatments, long trips to the doctor, surgeries, mounting expenses and worry. “I'm trying to prevent other families from going through this similar type of situation if it is preventable,” Cunningham said.
Since WPTV first reported about the growing concern surrounding the local number of cases of glioblastoma in the county, there have been some accomplishments.
U.S. Rep. Brian Mast has taken note of the concerns, mailing fliers to homes in areas where some cases were diagnosed in close proximity to collect more information. He has also worked on finding more funding for testing or research.
Mast also asked the Centers for Disease Control to get involved. The CDC said it is ready to provide technical assistance if requested by the Health Department.
The Florida Department of Health has also hosted informational town halls, collected local information and last week, released a report about the local cancer occurrences.
The report said despite concerns of seemingly high numbers of glioblastoma, what is being seen in three zip codes is ‘expected.’
“There is not an increased incidence of glioblastoma in the zip codes that they looked at, which is extremely relieving and excellent news,” said Hatfield.
Cunningham would like to see a more thorough assessment.
“The three on the same street, the two in the same house, it doesn’t explain. I think we need a better assessment,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham says the work done so far by government agencies just is not enough, and isn’t answering her biggest questions.
“It has nothing to do with not liking the answer that she’s getting. And it isn’t because she thinks that the Department of Health is trying not to answer her questions. But at the end of the day, they’re not answering her question,” Hatfield said.
“Why does there appear to be so much brain cancer, not just glioblastoma, but brain cancer that originates as or develops into glioblastoma in particular places, including particular streets, in particular neighborhoods?” Hatfield said.
Hatfield is planning to do independent soil testing near the home where Mark grew up. Two other people on his street were also diagnosed with glioblastoma over the years.
While St. Lucie County’s glioblastoma concerns have not been established as a cancer cluster, Hatfield has investigated cancer clusters, including a pediatric cancer cluster in The Acreage.
“There are some frightening similarities,” Hatfield said. “The fact that you have multiple kinds of very rare cancers on one street, that’s what we had in the acreage.”
That is why she is confident taking on the task of looking into more cancer concerns, calling the acreage investigation a "blueprint."
“You want to help the community. You want to help your family and you want to be able to sleep better at night,” Hatfield said.
Hatfield is not sure when she will begin collecting soil samples, but says this is not an overnight process. Investigations like these can take years.