Saturday, October 14, 2006


The front page headline on the October 6, 2006 edition of The Los Angeles Times reads: Study Says Lab Meltdown Caused Cancer. The story mentions a 1959 nuclear incident at a research lab near Simi Valley called Rocketdyne, a facility owned by the Boeing Company, in which radioactive emissions from a nuclear meltdown are suspected of causing “between 260 and 1,800 cases of cancer over a period of many decades.” News of the meltdown had been kept from the public for twenty years. Then in 1979 the U. S. Department of Energy and the Boeing Company “did not provide key information”, according to an impartial study released on October 5. “This lack of candor...makes characterization of the potential health impacts of past accidents and releases extremely difficult,” says the report.

Boeing officials vigorously dispute the findings. Their own internal studies indicated that overall cancer deaths among Rocketdyne employees were lower than in the general population.

Critics chided Boeing officials for failing to provide information for a new study. “The pattern of secrecy and misrepresentation that began at the time of the accident continues to this day, where sloppy practices are done under a cover of darkness.”

Why is this report significant to me? My wife showed me the headline without comment. I looked at it, scanned the story briefly, raised my eyes, and asked, “What am I supposed to see?” She was surprised I couldn’t connect the dots. “Your mother...,” she began. BAM!

My family seems to be almost immortal. We don’t get sick very often or very severely. Other than alcoholism, I don’t know of anyone in the family tree who had a major disease. We just seem to wear out slowly. My mother’s family is long-lived. My father is 83 and acts about 40. His mother, my grandmother, reached 100 effortlessly and lived alone and independently until a few weeks before her death. Her husband had died 66 years earlier after carrying damaged lungs for sixteen years after World War I, in which he had been gassed. Other than my mother’s parents who died when I was out of the country, he was the last person in the family to die...

...until my mother died in 1999. She died of cancer. She had worked at Rocketdyne.

What do I do now? Only one thing: grieve. There is no indisputable proof available that a nuclear meltdown caused her cancer. Apparently there is proof that the U. S. government and the Boeing Company covered up, and are still covering up, the facts—but does proof of the cover-up do anything helpful? There is no benefit in my becoming angry or seeking some sort of redress. This is just an imperfect world, comprised of sinners—of whom I am one. Ever since someone said, “It wasn’t my fault. The woman You gave me made me eat it,” human beings have tried to paper over their sins and avoid blame for them.

My mother lived to be 76 and was happy nearly all her days. In her last months, she was the most joy-filled terminally ill person I have known, and I have known many. She drew her last breath in the predawn hours of October 14—seven years ago today.

Grieving her death has been hard for me. Showing emotion of any kind is hard for me. So I am grateful for the L. A. Times story. It has helped me to grieve a little more, a little better. If I were to get angry, and then become frustrated because I couldn’t do anything about it and carried rage, it could make me sick inside. Maybe even give me...cancer. I guess that could be called second-hand cancer.

But it won’t happen. I am not even tempted to get angry. I am just sad. And that’s good.

Because deep inside, where it always resides, is the invincible joy of Jesus who has conquered the world, conquered death, and wipes away every tear—who is the Light that came into a world of darkness, where the darkness could not overcome it.

Now, maybe, I have a reason for my mother’s cancer. But it doesn’t mean anything—really and truly, it means nothing at all.


Hannah Jolene said...

I'm sorry to hear this news.

What a shock.

This news runs really close to home because my step father works for the Boeing company near LAX. I am surprised that they were able to keep this information hidden for so long!

May God comfort you during this time of grieving. Again, I am sorry.

Jon Cooper said...

The Lord has an amazing way of bringing hidden things to light, and of giving peace that is beyond understanding. The sins and failures of mankind causes so much pain and destruction and loss; life would be a living horror if it was not for the mercy and grace of the Lord. I am constantly amazed at the sinfulness of men and even more amazed as the gracefulness and love of God.

I am sorry, David.