Originally published in icon Issue 4 2006
Eileen O´Connor is a trustee of the EM Radiation Research Trust (www.radiationresearch.org) and founder of SCRAM (www.scram.uk.com). She now works with hese-uk (http://www.hese-project.org/). This is her own story of how she became so very involved
I was 38 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, which was the biggest shock of my life. We have no history of breast cancer in my family and I was living a healthy life. Strangely the thought of dying didn’t frighten me; it was the thought of leaving my husband, two children, family and friends and I still have a lot to do and see. I’m sure this is the immediate feeling that most people have when they hear those awful words “I’m sorry, its cancer.”
At the time when I was diagnosed, I was running a successful family photographic business with my husband Paul, bringing up my two young children and renovating my home.
I visited my doctor on 5th November 2001 covered in a horrific skin rash from head to toe and with a lump in my breast. The lump was removed on 13th November and I was diagnosed on 20th November 2001. This was followed with six months of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and reconstruction; I am still taking tamoxifen, which I am due to finish soon. I have also had the usual mammograms, ultrasound scans, bone scans and MRI scans in order to monitor my progress.
Chemo was difficult as I was suffering with low immunity I must admit the chemo was difficult as I was suffering with low immunity before they even started. I only managed to get through the six months treatment by receiving neutropen injections, which forced the white blood cells out of my bone marrow. However, on three occasions I left the area where I lived and, much to my surprise, my white blood cell count shot up, which enabled me to receive the chemo without needing the neutropen injections.
I began to suspect an environmental cause for my cancer when I started bumping into neighbours in the hospital. I decided to do a health survey and unearthed a horrendous can of worms; I discovered a catalogue of serious illnesses. I began to suspect an environmental cause for my cancer when I started bumping into neighbours in the hospital
In our little hamlet of Wishaw, alone:
Five women developed breast cancer; one young man had prostate cancer; there was a case of bladder cancer and one of lung cancer; then three of pre-cancer cervical cells and one of motor neurone disease age 51, who also had a massive tumour removed from the top of his spine. And we are only a tiny hamlet!!
Even more strangely, people have developed benign lumps, electro-sensitivity, three cases of severe skin rashes and many villagers suffered with sleep problems, headaches, dizziness and low immune system problems.
We even had a horse with blood problems, requiring continuous treatment from the vet!
All this led me to start questioning the presence of a very large mobile phone mast – not least because of my white blood cell improvement when I moved away from it to stay with my sister in a radiation-free area.
Out of the eighteen houses surrounding the mast at up to a range of 500 metres, 77 per cent have major health related illnesses, which we believe to be as a result of radiation from the mast. The outbreak of illnesses occurred in 2001, after seven years of exposure to the radiation emitted by the mast.
Now we are in communication with many people who claim to be suffering from this form of radiation throughout the UK and, indeed, the world.
since the Wishaw Mast was removed many of the residents are reporting a restored feeling of well-beingOne other important fact is that since the Wishaw Mast was removed - on November 2003 - many of the residents are reporting a restored feeling of well-being, improvement in sleep patterns and increased energy levels. Simple things like the headaches and dizzy symptoms have disappeared. There has been a baby boom in the village. We have seen a return of wildlife in the area with woodpeckers, nuthatches and sparrows that simply weren’t there before and even the horse has since recovered and is now strong and healthy and no longer needs treatment.
If only I´d known about the research in connection with Electro Magnetic Fields (EMFs), I might have realised that it might not be a good idea to live 100 metres from a 22.5 metre phone mast. I might have realised that the years of suffering with sleep problems, headaches, vertigo, skin rashes, heart palpitations and low white blood cells had all been connected to radiation from the phone mast. I now realise that these symptoms are recognised as a condition in Sweden known as electro-sensitivity. Dr Robert O. Becker, twice nominated for the Nobel Prize, said several years ago, ”I have no doubt in my mind that at the present time, the greatest polluting element in the earth’s environment is the proliferation of electromagnetic fields. I consider that to be far greater on a global scale, than warming, and the increase in chemical elements in the environment.’’ I am convinced he is right.I now realise that these symptoms are recognised as a condition in Sweden known as electro-sensitivity.
So now I have a new life. I am a founder member of Seriously Concerned Residents Against Masts (SCRAM), the EM Radiation Research Trust (RRT) and Human Ecological Social Economic (h.e.s.e.) UK. I have campaigned against EMF’s and am now a member of the Electro Magnetic Fields Discussion Group, which is chaired by Sir William Stewart, Chairman for the Health Protection Agency UK. The HPA are advisors to the UK Government. I was recently invited to give a presentation on mobile phone masts and health concerns at the Health Protection Agency, London on 16th October, 2006 (you can view my presentation on the front page of the EM Radiation Research Trust website www.radiationresearch.org).
I have even taken this fight to Westminster, and visited Director Generals in Brussels. I have given evidence to Birmingham and Liverpool City Councils, met with Merseyside Fire Authority and given presentations to hundreds of packed meetings throughout the UK. I have also met with many MPs including Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, Solicitor General QC MP Mike O’Brien, David Davis Shadow Home Secretary and have received tremendous support from our MP Andrew Mitchell and fellow trustees.
In 2005 I appeared on a political reality TV show on ITV called “vote for me” on the single issue of “phone masts” and came an incredible second place after receiving thousands of votes from the public. I have appeared on Tonight with Trevor McDonald, BBC News, Sky News, GMTV and ITV’s This Morning and given many local news reports for TV and radio. I am amazed that I have developed such a strong voice. If someone had told me before my breast cancer that I would be presenting at this level I would never have believed them. However, when you feel so passionate about a subject and you are convinced you are right, after having cancer you realise nothing in the world can be worse than facing up to losing your life, it helps to put life into perspective.
I do have periods when I want to stop the world and get off and go back to a normal life; I really enjoyed the six weeks Summer holidays off with my family and thought I never wanted to return to the campaign ever again ‘if only’. However, here I am, back in the thick of it as I realise how important this issue is.
I am due to attend the European Parliament on 20th November for a two-day conference on Mobile communications “Health, Environment and Society”. The first day will be hosted by the leader for World Health Organisation (WHO); it seems strange that 20th November is actually the 5th anniversary from the day I was originally diagnosed with breast cancer. Who would have believed that exactly 5 years later I would be attending a conference on a search for answers from the leader for the EMF project for the World Health Organisation!?
I’m delighted that CANCERactive have organised a proper Cancer Prevention ConferenceBreast cancer rates are now at an all time high. The Daily Mail reported on 30/9/2006 that 37,000 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in England and Wales in 2004 - a 10 per cent increase on the previous year, so something must be done and clearly there is little thought given to the wider possible causes of cancer prevention in the UK! It cannot be simply a case of ‘less smoking and sunshine, more fruit and vegetables’. I’m delighted that CANCERactive have organised a proper Cancer Prevention Conference, a Cancer Prevention Fortnight and started the long haul of trying to get the UK Government and the major cancer charities out of their sloth and torpor. The people of Great Britain need all the help they can get! They simply deserve better. We are falling behind other countries, who seem well aware of other possible causes, while we stick our heads in the sand.
Thankfully I’m nearly 5 years on from diagnosis of breast cancer. My eyes are now open to the harsh realities of life and I now realise how short life is and how easily it can be taken from you.
We must fight for our rights to make the world cleaner and safer. Cancer has helped to create this raw awareness and I am happy to have been given a chance to make a difference.