Mike Partain

Breast Cancer Survivor Born at Camp Lejeune


For the first 39 years of my life, Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base in North Carolina meant nothing more to me than a long name on my birth certificate. That all changed as I watched retired Marine Master Sergeant Jerry Ensminger’s testimony on CNN. He testified in congress about children of Marines born at Camp Lejeune between January 1968 and December 1985. They were being studied for toxic chemicals in the drinking water aboard Marine Base. Those exposures were to tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride, and benzene.

My birth month is January 1968. Instantly I knew and nearly passed out. I knew right there, then, and there what happened. Everything snapped into focus. Not many people can know why they got cancer, but now I could and wanted answers. I called the Congressman who chaired the hearing, hoping to find the Master Sergeant I saw testifying on CNN. I spoke to the Congressman’s chief of staff and informed him I was born at Camp Lejeune and had just been diagnosed with male breast cancer. I left my information with him and requested it is passed to Jerry Ensminger.

They knew I was born at the base. They knew I was exposed, but no one ever bothered to tell me. Why?

I spoke with Jerry for the first time a few days later. It was just before my first chemo session. He told me he didn’t know anyone else with male breast cancer. I told him I was headed for my first infusion. He told me to get well and to stay in touch.

I believe cancer is the plague of our lifetime. Breast cancer is a scourge brought on by our inability to manage our modern lifestyle safely. It’s something we’re doing to ourselves. In our case, synthetic (man-made) organic chemicals were used to clean everything from uniforms to vehicles aboard the base and dumped into the ground. The base’s drinking water supply was derived from that same ground. An estimated one million Marines, the Navy, and their families were exposed to the base’s contaminated drinking water from 1953-1987. Male breast cancer is just one example of cancer we have seen at Camp Lejeune. It garnered the attention of the media because it was unusual. Camp Lejeune represents one of the worst drinking water contamination events in this country’s history. The documentary Semper Fi: Always Faithful captures our early struggle to uncover the truth and further our fight for justice. In early 2017, the government announced that they created a new presumptive service connection for the Marines and Navy personnel aboard the base. The service connection did not include male breast cancer because there were not enough studies to show whether or not the chemicals found in our water were linked to the disease. The service connections also do not include the dependents nor base employees who were also exposed along with the Marines and Sailors aboard the base. There is still much work to be done.