MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- Call it a cancer mystery or a rare coincidence. A new initiative began to find out why so many alumni of the old Bayshore High School in Manatee County have been diagnosed with cancer or other rare illnesses.
What’s making us sick?
It’s been a question in Manatee County for more than 20 years, and the school district has looked into this before conducting soil and water testing in 1990, 1991, 1993, 1995, even 10 years ago in 2007, all to find nothing -- no connection to a cancer-causing agent. Tests of well-water continued a couple months ago, the findings were the same.
Local leaders on Monday announced a new initiative to study medical records to determine if the rate of cancer is higher than expected.
As traffic bustles and students mill around Bayshore High School, former students say this is the place where their problems began.
Cheryl Jozsa, a Bayshore High alumna said, “We have 25 cases and most of those are not with us.”
Cheryl Jozsa is counting 25 cases of leukemia alone that she knows of found in former students, faculty, and staff of what’s now known as the old Bayshore High School.
“We’re still finding people that didn’t know. We just found somebody that posted on our Facebook page that just got diagnosed with Leukemia," Jozsa added.
Demolished in 1999, it’s the same year Jozsa’s sister died of Leukemia. Since her sister’s death and the ironically similar ones of other classmates, Jozsa and hundreds of others in this Facebook group are convinced their illnesses are connected in some way to the school.
Mike Ackerman, another Bayshore High Alumni said, “I’ve got no doubt that it is, for the friends just in my graduating class alone that have either died from cancer or have an auto-immune disease."
The Florida Department of Health announced a new initiative to get answers, asking for alumni and faculty, past and present to take part in a cancer study to determine once and for all if this is a cancer cluster.
Dr. Jennifer Bencie with Manatee County Florida Dept. of Health said, “While we have no evidence currently that Bayshore High School is the source of any disease clusters, we also understand the emotions surrounding this matter.”
The study will run through February of 2018. While alumni are thankful for effort there are still concerns that not everyone will be included in the study.
“I feel like the burden is on us and we’re already the victims. So I feel like we are bearing the brunt of the responsibility of contacting people when we’ve already contacted a lot," Josza said.
Gary Adams, a Manatee County resident said, “Manatee County isn’t going to be able to handle this, this is past Manatee County.”
The data collection period will run from Dec. 1 until Feb. 28, 2018. The study is expected to last six months. The findings are set to be released by the Fall of 2018. Those interested in participating in the study are asked to fill out a "patient listing form." Physical copies are also available at the health department in Bradenton, 410 Sixth Ave. E.
According to the CDC a cancer cluster is defined as a greater-than-expected number of cancer cases that occurs within a group of people in a geographic area over a period of time.
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