Cancer Comes to Fridley

I am concerned about what is going on in Fridley, Minnesota. We have gotten a lot of attention in the media about “Fridley Cancer Clusters” recently, which has got me worried.

Cancer /ˈkænsər/ known medically as a malignant neoplasm, is a broad group of various diseases, all involving unregulated cell growth. In cancer, cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumors, and invade nearby parts of the body.

This is a very big departure from the topics I would normally write about.  Living in such a close knit community as Fridley, I didn’t intend to (ever) publicly state my personal views on controversial subjects. But I find it difficult to be quiet in our current struggle.  So I begin.

I am concerned about what is going on in Fridley, Minnesota. We have gotten a lot of attention in the media about “Fridley Cancer Clusters” recently, which has got me worried.

Cancer came to Fridley with the voice of one person, Jason McCarty, whose mom, a friend and several neighbors were diagnosed with cancer, all living in Fridley.  He became suspicious and started a Facebook page with an important question that needed to be answered: Does Fridley have higher cancer rates?  The answer was yes—10 percent higher. 

This led to questions of why we have a 10 percent higher cancer rate.  Suddenly, numerous people had, or knew of someone who had cancer. With the tools of Social Media, this small group soon grew to be a powerhouse of concern, getting the ear of Erin Brokovich and her team, the Star Tribune, WCCO, KARE11, MPR Radio, Fridley Patch and many others. Information about Superfunds came to light along with the sickening possibility that the City and corporations from the past have knowingly poisoned our water.

This happened less than a month ago.

Cancer has been a part of my life since 2010 when I started as a volunteer at the Virginia Piper Cancer Institute at Unity.  I have been gifted the opportunity of seeing people of all different walks of life and ages in various places of health and illness.  Sometimes there are happy endings of remission and long lives lived.  Sometimes, there are no happy endings at all.


But as anyone who has gone through cancer will tell you, it is very different to go through the process, than to observe it.


As many people have been doing, I have been following this story pretty closely.  For about three days I became somewhat obsessed with it. I poured over the Fridley Cancer Cluster page, and I was moved.  So many stories, so much struggle ...  The sheer volume of ‘fans’ alone was overwhelming.  The quote from the Mayor to “be calm and open minded” while he “searched for scientific answers” seemed absurd in the midst of all these voices.

I started to question if I should continue to remain silent about my own stories.  In my extended family alone, I have had cases of uterine cancer, kidney cancer, two cases of breast cancer, lupus, and a very young relative who just had a growth removed—thankfully it was benign (but the child’s parents were in the same house for 20 years). 

An additional case of a friend has hit me particularly hard, a young woman, barely 30 with stage IV breast cancer.  She’s a single mother, her son not yet in kindergarten and we still don’t have a sense, which way it will go.  And my mother-in-law recently died from a specific kind of dementia, with no family history of brain disease in sight. 

All these cases of cancer of mine span different ages, sexes and types.  But the commonality is that they all have lived in the same house, or general location anywhere from 15 – 40 years.  But none of them have ever lived in Fridley. 


Maybe cancer just doesn’t care who we are, how much we’re loved, or where we live.


Part of what I do for a living is work with The Media.  The Media is an interesting industry.  Like all industries, it is based on supply and demand.  But what makes it unique is that no one ever really knows who is feeding who. 

From Media’s earliest forms, it has held the power to change the world.  From Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which influenced the action needed to end slavery, to The Diary of Anne Frank, which shed light to the dark horrors of Holocaust, it’s clear, The Media is able to sway the masses.

This power hasn’t been diminished in our current times.  If anything, it has increased, with information available 24/7 adding to the ability to reach out to—literally—a worldwide audience. The Media is HUGE.  

Whether it is in print, radio, web, or film/video form, it fulfills a universal human longing, our simple desire that we are heard, that our stories matter. We can only achieve this through being witnessed and what better eye to see us, than that of The Media?

I have come to think of The Media as a good friend.  A good friend that is very popular and charismatic.  Like any popular friend, I try and woo her as often as possible, in hopes she will give me some attention.  I seek her attention because I know how influential she is, which also means I want to stay on her good side.

Ironically, The Media wants your attention just as badly, and will do much to get it.  It is your attention that keeps her powerful, and so the question arises, who is feeding who?

Overall though, I do believe The Media is a very good thing.  It gives voice to the meek, brings justice to those wronged, and gives witness to our lives.

I have had the luxury, until now, to be a spectator about any Big News in the media.  Be it geography or a lifestyle that is so foreign to me I can’t relate, I have had a comfortable space to observe and criticize in comfort, far from the story at hand.  Now, like many of you, I am in the middle of it all.  Word has spread and friends and relatives from far away, have been asking me, what is going on in Fridley? What is Fridley doing about it?


I met the Mayor of Fridley, Scott Lund, a few years ago, before Cancer came to Fridley.  He struck me as a genuine guy who was not only experienced in City procedures; he was more involved with our community than any politician I had ever met before.  

We never became friends per say, which is, I have never spent time with him socially, but I was impressed.  Impressed enough to join his campaign team several months ago (in the City of Fridley, this means a small group of volunteers who help him out with various tasks. I have not, do not, or will not receive payment for any of my services) to help him with his re-election efforts.

My opinion of Scott Lund through all this, is that he really is, a good Mayor.  Does he try to manage The Media?  Certainly. He is also still living in the same house he has been (here in Fridley) for over 30 years, and continues to work hard dealing with this very important issue, while  also remaining as involved in our community as he always has been.  Scott hasn’t changed much, but the perception of him by others has.


Any good PR person will tell you, in order to have a good story, you must have something that has a good angle, something that will engage the reader, perhaps create some action, or at the very least, a reaction.  From our politics to our employers, what has historically created the best stories, has been the best source of inspiration for people, has been one thing: A shared common enemy. In this case, I see it, hear it and feel it; our common enemy has become the City of Fridley itself.

Overnight it seems, we have gone from “Friendly Fridley” to “Cancer Central”.  In this syndication alone I have read 13 stories covering this topic, and counting. Professionally, I understand this.  This is what people want to hear about. 

Personally though, I am saddened to see our City whose old-fashioned charms and sentiments I have come to think of as part of which we are, has been replaced by on an onslaught of fear followed by its loud and vocal twin, anger.  

In an ocean of more “breaking news” about Cancer in Fridley, other stories about our High School productions, fundraisers for our hungry, or how our athletic teams have played now suddenly seem diminutive.  Ridiculous even.   This is not the City I know.   And certainly not the City I want others to think we are.


Don’t misunderstand me. I applaud the actions of this movement. I too am a resident here, and if there are hazardous elements lurking around, causing us to become sick, believe me, I want to know about it.  I am open-minded to the possibility that there is truth to these terrible suspicions.  Because of the hard work of others, I have no doubt this will be investigated thoroughly, and I am thankful.  Regardless of whose campaign team I am on, I still have a family living here, and I still care about my neighbors.

I don’t fault The Media either.  Not really. They have a job to do and we as their consumers, dictate what that job is. 

These important questions about cancer, which should be answered, will take time if we want it done right because the fact is this is extremely difficult data to figure out.  The true complexities of what we are asking are above and beyond my googling capabilities.  I want the answers, but I want to be intelligent about getting them.

The momentum has been established.  Cancer in Fridley is here, and it’s not going away.  We now collectively have a lot of power, but what will we choose to do with it?


So besides my criticisms, I propose a few solutions too, an alternate action plan
while we are on hold. 

Can we take the 2,500+ members of our Fridley Cancer Cluster Page and start helping one another?  Can it be a place to share our stories of grief AND a resource for healing and recovery? Can those who are now connected, through cancer, create personal networks of meals, social gatherings for those who are going through cancer, maybe start fundraising efforts for one another?

Is it possible, to work with the City AND reputable third parties to find the answers?  At the very least, can we presume our City wants to help us, instead of presuming they are harming us (I’m pretty sure none of the executives at PG&E lived in Hinckley during the years of contamination in Erin Brockovich’s famous case, as many of our City Officials have been)? Is it possible the only real great enemy, is simply the random acts of disease that have been increasing over time due to early detection, poor lifestyle choices, living longer, and the simple and plain unfairness of life?


Is it possible for us as a community to come together to be part of the cancer, and part the cure? 


I will start my own proposed change of tone, and tell you about a local resource,
The Virginia Piper Cancer Institute at Unity, right down the road.  They offer numerous support services for cancer patients, and their families. Often times (but not always) these services can be provided for free. For more information, here is their link: http://www.allina.com/ahs/servicegateway.nsf/page/virginia_piper_cancer_institute 

Another wonderful local resource is One For Joe. This is a man 100% dedicated to organizing, running and managing fundraising events for other non-profits. His most recent event was a Toy Drive for Miracles of Mitch (pediatric cancer).  For more information about his work, go here: www.OneForJoe.com.

I understand the action which started this all, is not just based out fear and anger, but also based out of our love for others. Just as I believe that we can be well balanced and fair in our approach, I also believe it is the goodness in people’s hearts that care about our City that inspired Cancer to come here, in the first place.

I will end by saying this has taken a lot of struggle for me to decide to share my personal thoughts on such an important and passionate issue, in such a public format.  My opinions are not going to be popular ones, and like any person, I am afraid to be booed off the stage.   


Ultimately, I decided that I can’t love The Media only when she’s looking my way favorably.  To be fair, I must be accepting of her in times of disagreement too. 

So instead of sharing these thoughts in the safety of my own home, or being among like-minded people, I am using this vehicle as a “new blogger” to share an unpopular perspective.  Like Jason, I feel if I can persuade even just a few of my fellow neighbors to shift—not our goals, but our tone to reach them, who knows what good may come of it?

On the other hand, I may be flattering myself. My good friend, The Media, is not only popular and charismatic, she is also very fickle.  It’s quite possible the only one who will be reading about this, is me.

cure (kyoor) 1. Restoration of health; recovery from disease. 2. A method
or course of medical treatment used to restore health. 3. An agent, such
as a drug, that restores health; a remedy. 4. Something that corrects or
relieves a harmful or disturbing situation

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Amy Reierson April 06, 2012 at 04:48 PM
No need to be sorry to me at least, I have read all of your posting not feeling steered but respected. I enjoy seeing your thoughts and opinions grateful that you shared. I see how you feel passionate about things but I don't feel as though you are trying to make me see things your way.
Wendy Olson April 06, 2012 at 09:47 PM
No need to apologize to me, either. Just as I appreciated your thoughtful blog, I appreciate the fact that you have been respectful in your responses to all the comments being posted here in response to your blog. I do want to take the opportunity, though, to remind readers of what may have gotten lost in the controversies here: that your main points appear to be to take a well-balanced and fair approach while the issues are being sorted out and to use that time to be helpful and supportive in our community through acts of kindness and volunteering to help people in our community who are dealing with cancer and debilitating illness now. Good advice!
Mandy Meisner April 07, 2012 at 03:30 PM
Wendy, I just peeked at FCC, and at first thought Jason had "cleaned" (deleted) his comments from the page, but remembered you are "blocked" from this. I think I must be too (?). My friend inadvertently asked me to join, which I had then had to "leave". So I assume I must be blocked??? Ah welll... it's probably for the best. Frankly, the tone of a lot of his comments made me nervous.
Wendy Olson April 07, 2012 at 04:04 PM
Yes, you've most likely been blocked. I discovered this when I noticed people specificallly responding to Jason, but could not see that he had made any comments. Then I noticed I couldn't even see anything from him anywhere on the page. I put his name into my Facebook search engine and nothing came up. When you block someone on Facebook, it's as if you don't exist, they can't find you, they can't see anything you post anywhere else on Facebook, so I assume that's what happened. If not, he certainly is free to correct me on this page. The creation of a page like FCC could do a great deal of good for people looking for information; however, when it is restricted only to those who agree with the point of view presented, then it is in danger of doing more harm than good by presenting information that remains unquestioned and unchallenged. Posting information out of context does no good -- for example, we know TCE is a carcinogen; we don't need to be told over and over that it is. But, is there concern for levels of TCE in our drinking water? Apparently not; the water quality reports and reports from the MPA have shown they are in compliance with state and federal standards, so this information has to be reported as well, since many people have questioned whether our water is safe to drink now. I hope that people are not taking this page as gospel and are also looking elsewhere for answers.
Mary Jo Theis May 09, 2012 at 02:43 PM
Jason, bless you for your efforts!!You are the voice of reason and you fly high against the "wind".


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