Picture of Diana Campbell

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The Mystery of Cancer in Alaska

Jennifer Probert poses in her home Tuesday evening, August 19, 2003. Probert has been compiling informal cancer statistics from Tok. (for Diana’s cancer series) Eric Engman/News-Miner Jennifer Probert has been wondering for several years now why she knows so many people with cancer. The 28-year-old mother grew up in Tok, Alaska, a small community of 1,500 people, on the Alaska Highway, about 200 miles southeast of Fairbanks. “What really made me curious is that really healthy people were getting sick,” she said. “People that don’t smoke, don’t drink, lead very healthy lives.” She relayed her concerns to her mother and sister and together they made a list of cancer patients and tried to see what they had in common. The list had over 50 people on it with such cancers as lung, stomach, kidney and bladder. A link emerged. Many had either worked in the operation and maintenance of part of a now disbanded 626-mile military petroleum pipeline that began in Haines, Alaska and ended in Fairbanks, with about half the pipeline in Canada. Probert,

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The Curse of Cancer

Kevin Webster couldn’t go outside to play in the snow, his favorite thing to do. A fever and lung congestion kept the active two-year old inside. Cathy Webster, who admits she is overprotective, thought it was just a routine January cold as her eight-year old daughter Chloe was sick, too. But when Kevin didn’t get any better after Cathy gave him children’s cold medicine and pain reliever, she took him to the health clinic. The doctors said asthma, and while prescribed medicine eased his breathing, he still didn’t seem right. “My sister and I were noticing his hands were really white,” she said of the little boy. “He kept running a fever.” Cathy Webster pressed the doctors for answers and within days, Kevin, his parents, grandmother and sister were at Childrens Hospital and Regional Center in Seattle, about 1,200 miles away the family’s hometown of Fairbanks, Alaska. Leukemia, the doctors said this time, and immediately they put the cooperative little boy on an aggressive regimen of powerful drugs and tests. He will survive, doctors predict,

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