Tom Pflaumer clearly remembers the moment he learned his 14-year-old daughter Breanna had cancer.
“ It was very emotional,” Pflaumer said. “It was like someone took my heart out, stomped on it and put it back into my chest.
Breanna, now 22, is one of at least 11 Moorpark residents to have developed a brain tumor in the past 10 years.
It’s unknown if the number of brain tumor diagnoses is high for Moorpark— assuming no other local families are affected by the disease—but Pflaumer and other Moorpark parents want to find out.
Since she was diagnosed with pilocytic astrocytoma, a form of cancer common in children and young adults, Breanna has undergone more than a dozen surgeries.
Multiple strokes brought on by her tumor have caused paralysis on the left side of her body.
“The normal reaction is to play the blame game,” Pflaumer said. “But over the nine years (since she was diagnosed) there’s no one thing I can pinpoint my daughter’s cancer on.”
Eager to find out if there’s a common cause for these 11 diagnoses and to help cancer patients throughout the nation, Pflaumer and two other Moorpark parents voiced support for U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer’s bill S. 50— Strengthening Protections for Children and Communities From Disease Clusters Act—on a local CBS segment earlier this month.
Erin Brockovich, a wellknown consumer advocate, was also interviewed on the segment about the bill to help communities determine whether or not there is a connection between cancer clusters—geographic areas with a greater-than-expected number of cancer cases—and contaminants in the surrounding environment.
The bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, would likely include a national database where the public can report diseases.
“ When the same disease impacts a family, neighborhood, or community, people have a right to know if there is a common factor or related cause,” Boxer said in a press release. “I am pleased to introduce this bipartisan legislation that will help our communities investigate and address devastating disease clusters as quickly as possible.”
Pflaumer said the bill, if passed, could ultimately provide doctors and scientists with data needed to help find a cure for cancer.
“I love what Barbara Boxer is doing,” he said. “I think we’re all working for the same cause.”
Moorpark resident Julie Miller initially contacted Brockovich in 2011 after her son Austin Munoz was diagnosed with two inoperable, malignant germ cell tumors in his brain.
Miller, a real estate agent, said the numerous instances of brain tumors in Moorpark seemed “too common” to be a coincidence.
“It’s a problem,” said Miller, who began collecting the names, phone numbers and diagnoses of Moorpark residents with brain tumors. “I want to bring awareness to the community and bring national cluster research scientists to evaluate our area.”
Moorpark Mayor Janice Parvin said she has had about a half-dozen phone calls from concerned citizens since the CBS segment aired.
Parvin said any updates the city receives will be posted on the city’s website.
“We’ve taken (the possibility if a cancer cluster) very seriously,” Parvin said. “We will be a conduit of information we receive from organizations that might confirm or deny that information.”
But the verdict is still out.
Paul Miller for Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center, said it is unclear whether or not Moorpark is a cancer cluster.
“You have to sort through the data,” Miller said. “ The emotional side is extremely gutwrenching but you still need to step back and figure out whether this is a tragic coincidence or if there is a common thread tying these cases together.”
The oncologist said a system that could document cancer cases in the area would be helpful in determining whether the number of brain tumors in Moorpark is out of the ordinary.
“If they live close together and they all have the same kind of cancer, the suspicion level goes way up,” Miller said. “There are still some questions that need to be answered.”
Moorpark resident Mary Leyden said the bill could save lives.
Leyden lost her son Patrick in 2009 to a malignant, nonhereditary form of astrocytoma.
“I don’t want my son’s death to have been in vain,” Leydon said. “I’m not going to get my son back, but if I can be instrumental in helping science, I will be.”
So will Pflaumer.
The father of two said the bill’s passage will be a “baby step” in finding a cure for cancer.
“We need to work together,” Pflaumer said. “We can’t change the past but we can change the future.”
By: Stephanie Sumell