When I think of cancer and the pain that it causes, I usually think of a single person, or that person’s family. But what about when it seems to be afflicting a whole community? Last winter, I came to know of a community just 90 minutes northeast of Indianapolis where anecdotes seemed to suggest something of an epidemic of cancer. And the cancer statistics seem to back up that something is going on in Blackford County, with cancer rates more than 20% higher than the state average, making the community the second highest, of all Indiana counties, in cancer. No one knows what’s driving this high cancer rate – it could be a number of factors – but some worry that it might be arising from toxic exposure related to either industrial sites (existing or abandoned) or chemically-intensive agriculture.
HEC is now more than six months into a partnership with a local grassroots group, Blackford County Concerned Citizens (BCCC), in trying to raise awareness of the cancer data, the possible causes of cancer, and what environmentally-minded precautionary steps the community can take. I had the opportunity to meet with about fifty people from the community a few weeks ago at a workshop that was co-sponsored by HEC and BCCC in Blackford County. I was pained to see that not only was every attendee touched in someway by cancer, but – in many cases – many family members were struck by cancer in a given family. People were handling the pain facing their families with quiet strength, and a willingness to tackle this community challenge not in anger but with determination to overcome.
For its part, HEC has developed a public health survey, with input from researchers at the IU Department of Public Health, and we’re now working on a developing a partnership with researchers at IU to carry out study to begin to determine the drivers of this cancer rate. Our hope is that we can help BCCC and the broader community get to the bottom of this suffering, and forge a comprehensive solution. Learn more about BCCC and their work.
-Jesse Kharbanda, HEC Executive Director