It blew up early, but I’m forever grateful the military told me upon my first menses at 12 years old that I should plan to never reproduce and why. The Chief, my father, had been repeatedly exposed to ionized radiation in the Pacific Proving Grounds on the U.S.S. Estes from 1951-60, and active with the ship until she decomissioned in . He had been told not to have children, and I was the result of an accident on a three-day pass, but at least I was given a choice that day, a choice my mother never got. Pictures of two headed pigs reinforced their point. Her guilt for my health challenges were monumentally overshadowed by the consequences The Chief and our family would endure.
Over time I’ve learned my story is unique. Most veterans were never allowed to share the information with their spouses, or their children. My 6th grade Sex Education class had nothing on what I was learning about ionized radiation reproductive problems since they started early and not just for me. After a decade of pursuing every other possible option, The Chief’s penis and testicles were removed from the impacts of his exposures as another cancer was added to his growing list.
A kaleidoscope of known (diagnosed cancers) would ravage his body over the next 18 years until it was brain lesions that finally took him. The Navy’s Gold Team at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital tracked, manged and treated him throughout, since he could not tell a civilian physician about the condition of his body, or how it came to be so radiated.
The Q Clearnace “Code of Silence” household I was born into suddenly permeated every aspect of life and created bond of health challenges that at times were hidden from my mother, as the mix of guilt and heartbreak were unimaginable. This vibrant couples life and future became an unspeakable nightmare, literally. My older brother would not know the truth for 40 years, 20 years after his died. He wasn’t in a “Need to Know” position until the R.E.C.A. fund was discovered by me in 2008.
I was informed sometime before 18, “Your body will most likely track with similar cancers to his.” By 21 I was thrust into a civilian medical system, still under clearances not to discuss any of it, and with no health insurance since I had ‘aged out” of dependent coverage. Eleven years of reproductive organ challenges mercifully ended with a full hysterectomy at age 23. At 64, I’m fighting my 3rd round of cancer now, with evidently more to come!
For some of us, the Cold War will never end.