Kids May Be Getting Cancer From Military Housing, Says Mom of Diagnosed 8-Year-Old

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Finding out your child has cancer is terrible enough -- but discovering the cause of that cancer might have something to do with where your family lives adds another level of horror to an already devastating diagnosis. That's why military mom Amanda Whatley recently posted a video to YouTube warning families who live (or lived) in the Laurel Bay Military Housing community in Beaufort, South Carolina, that their children could be at risk -- because she believes contaminants at the base are the reason her daughter Katie, now 8, has leukemia.


The Whatley family (who now live in Norfolk, Virginia) lived in the community from July 2007 to November 2010, while Amanda's husband Joshua was stationed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island. Katie was diagnosed with cancer in 2015, at the age of 6. After learning about her daughter's leukemia, Amanda got in touch with another military mom who lived at Laurel Bay, Melany Stawnyczyj, because her son, Roman, had also been diagnosed with leukemia (in September 2012, at the age of 4).

It was Katie's doctor who initially made the connection between the two cases, theorizing that perhaps the identical diagnoses were more than a mere coincidence. When the girl's oncology team looked into the matter, they found that many more children who lived at Laurel Bay had been diagnosed with cancer between 2012 and 2015. Initially, seven cases were identified; that number has since grown to 13 (not including at least 20 adults). At the time of this video, Whatley only knew of about eight kids:

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Considering that fewer than 6,000 people live in the Laurel Bay community -- and that childhood cancer is relatively rare -- those numbers seem awfully high. Too high to ignore, apparently, as the military appears to be taking this issue very seriously. Joshua Whatley and Marko Stawnyczyj (Melany's husband, also an active duty marine) met with senior members of the Marine Corps in March of 2015 to share their findings and request that all current and former residents of Laurel Bay be made aware of potential risks.

Capt. Clayton Groover, the public affairs officer for Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, said in a statement to that in June of 2015, the marines initiated a study to "determine if an exposure pathway exists for potential health hazards aboard Laurel Bay, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, and Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort."

He further wrote that the findings will be released to the families and the public at the conclusion of the study, and that the goal was "to remain as transparent as possible throughout the process."

Unfortunately, that process is turning out to be a rather long one. There are still no official answers about what's causing this cancer cluster, though according to Melany Stawnyczyj, the investigation is focusing on possible contamination from underground oil tanks. (According to the military, more than 1,000 of those tanks have been removed, but there were more tanks under the homes than they expected -- sometimes two or three under one house -- and they "have not stated how the area has been cleaned out.")

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In the meantime, kids are getting sick -- and, according to Melany Stawnyczyj, many Laurel Bay residents and previous residents were apparently uninformed. And that's a big problem, because the sooner parents know what signs to look for, the better their children's chances for survival. 

"This is not an angry video," Whatley told "My husband is still on active duty. This is our lifeblood. The motivating factor is how many children have been diagnosed with cancer .... I don't want someone to die or get sick. I want people to know the signs of cancer, so if they see them, their child can get treated."

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The situation is just so tragic. These families deserve protection and a safe and healthy place for their children to grow up. Now 8 years old, Katie Whatley recently received a bone marrow transplant from her younger sister, but as her mother says, "We don't have a clear future for Katie." (Roman Stawnyczyj completed his chemotherapy treatments in November 2015 but will need to see a doctor for the rest of his life.)

At least the military seems to be cooperating and, perhaps even more importantly, showing compassion for these families. Instead of reacting defensively, Groover was understanding about Whatley's video, saying: 

"We feel for any family when their child is diagnosed with a disease. Our thoughts and prayers are with these children and their families .... It took real courage for this mom to tell her story in such a candid and sincere way, and for her to remain so strong for her daughter."

Agreed. Here's hoping that all the families affected find hope and healing, and that no one else gets sick.

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