Last Wednesday was my 71st birthday, a low-key celebration in these Covid-19 times. Then I heard the news that the pharmaceutical conglomerate Bayer has offered a settlement to resolve several massive class-action lawsuits alleging that the company’s herbicide, Roundup, is dangerous and causes cancer.
I’m one of the thousands of people who filed suit. The news of the settlement ruined my birthday.
Should I have been happy? No. I don’t yet know how the settlement may affect me personally, but I do know it is a slap in the face. Bayer admitted no guilt, will continue to sell Roundup, and refused to label it as carcinogenic. People will continue to get cancer from it.
This is where I am as a result of Roundup: I have non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Every week I slap four needles into my stomach to infuse someone else’s immune system. That’s because my immune system is virtually nonexistent as a result of the massive amounts of cancer treatment I’ve had to endure. Before starting the infusions I was hospitalized twice with pneumonia.
I suffer from the “late-term effects” of chemotherapy. The worst is CIPN (chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy), which causes severe pains in my hands and feet. I take drugs four times a day to keep it bearable, but the underlying ache never goes away. The CIPN sends false signals to my brain telling me my feet are cold or hot when they are not, making me clumsy in walking and affecting my balance. Sometimes my hands can no longer feel to pick up a needle. I use a Tens (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit on my feet for the worst “electric shocks”, and carry an extra in the car. CIPN is a progressive condition that will only get worse.
How did I get here? In 1995 my husband and I bought an abandoned five-acre coffee farm on Hawaii. The weeds were so high that we could hardly wade through them. An agricultural agent at the College of Tropical Agriculture advised us to use a backpack sprayer of Roundup to deal with the weeds. The agent told us it was safe enough to drink. We sprayed it for the next five years.
In 2003, I became ill – extreme fatigue, shortness of breath, night sweats. I thought it was menopause or ageing. But then an ultrasound found numerous enlarged lymph nodes. I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin lymphoma, with a 10% chance of survival.
I immediately started six-hour sessions of chemo every three weeks. My chemo continued for eight months, with multiple visits flying to Honolulu for various scans. The effects were severe. I was unable to work on the farm. We had been completely hands-on with our farm, working 10-hour days and loving it. But my husband could not take on my jobs on the farm as well as his own, and look after me. We decided that the only way I was going to survive was if we sold the farm. It was the hardest thing I had ever done. It was our paradise, our place for the future, and I was devastated at losing my goats, donkeys, dogs, cats and lifestyle.
The chemo had only partially removed the lymphoma, so my oncologist recommended a stem cell transplant. I went to Los Angeles in August 2004 for this severe and arduous treatment, which included high-dose chemo and multiple sessions of full-body radiation. In October we returned to a rented cottage in Hawaii. We could not farm because my immune system was devastated, but we could not leave Hawaii as I would lose my health insurance. Even with health insurance, the high premiums and deductibles drained my 401K account dry. (The Affordable Care Act allowed us to live our lives without going bankrupt, and today we live closer to our daughter in southern Calfornia.)
In December 2004 more lymphomas appeared. This time I was given Zevalin, a new monoclonal antibody radioimmunotherapy injection. It had not previously been given to patients who had had a stem cell transplant, so researchers calculated a dose and I was given it in April 2005. For the next few weeks I had several transfusions of platelets and blood to stabilize me. It ultimately worked: it removed the lymphomas and I have been in remission ever since.
The World Health Organization reported a likely link between Roundup and cancer in 2015. I contacted a lawyer, and filed a civil suit against Monsanto in December 2015. (Monsanto, which first manufactured Roundup, was acquired by Bayer in 2018.) In 2016, I was invited to testify at the Monsanto Tribunal at the international courts of justice in The Hague. I was shocked at the terrible suffering of the other testifiers, who came from all around the world.
This settlement offer by Bayer is a pathetic and insulting PR effort. The company’s attempt to paint themselves as responding to the suffering of thousands of people is so inadequate a response as to make me even more angry. I desperately hope that some of the sufferers from the company’s willful profit-over-safety negligence will feel better about it than I do.
Christine Sheppard was born in Hertfordshire, England, and immigrated to the US in 1980. She is now a retired grandmother living in southern California