Home Entertainment Mysterious cancer cluster among Roanoke College alumni prompts investigation

Mysterious cancer cluster among Roanoke College alumni prompts investigation

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A mysterious cancer surge among a Virginia college’s young alumni has prompted an investigation.

More than a dozen alumni who graduated from Roanoke College in Salem between 2011 and 2019 have been diagnosed with cancer, according to an investigation by Air Mail

On May 13, Ida Peterson Hardon became the fifth Roanoke alumnus to die from cancer over the last three years – and one of at least 16 to be diagnosed since 2010. 

That makes the cancer rate among the alumni pool five times higher than that of 20- to 29-year-olds in the country.  It also makes the mortality rate 15 times higher. 

According to Air Mail’s reporting, there is a 1.5 chance in 100 million that this rate of cancer would occur naturally. While cancer among young Americans is rising at large, the analysis accounted for the national rise. 

On May 13, Ida Peterson Hardon became the fifth Roanoke alumnus to die from cancer over the last three years - and one of at least 16 to be diagnosed since 2010

On May 13, Ida Peterson Hardon became the fifth Roanoke alumnus to die from cancer over the last three years – and one of at least 16 to be diagnosed since 2010

More than a dozen alumni who graduated from Roanoke College in Salem between 2011 and 2019 have been diagnosed with cancer

More than a dozen alumni who graduated from Roanoke College in Salem between 2011 and 2019 have been diagnosed with cancer

‘There is a strange anomaly in cancer occurrence among Roanoke students,’ said Boris Reva, associate professor of the Department of Genetics and Genomic Sciences at Mount Sinai.

Following the article’s release, the school has assured students it’s safe but added that it will work with an environmental services company to look into the claims out of an abundance of caution. 

Peterson died after a years-long battle with acute myleloid leukemia, a form of cancer usually found in people in their 70s.

Before passing, she wrote: ‘I’ve fought like hell but nothing worked and unfortunately I’m out of options… 33 years young, I am headed to hospice care…. Thank you all for your friendship – see you on the other side.’

Chloe Svolos Baldwin, of the class of 2015, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2019.

Peterson died after a years-long battle with acute myleloid leukemia, a cancer usually found in people in their 70s. She is seen with her college sweetheart husband while on remission

Peterson died after a years-long battle with acute myleloid leukemia, a cancer usually found in people in their 70s. She is seen with her college sweetheart husband while on remission

By then, she had already seen her former classmate Kalee Perry and Kelsey Palmer of the class of 2016 battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Wilms’ tumor, a rare pediatric cancer.

‘At first we were like, this must be a coincidence,’ Baldwin told AirMail.

But then she began to think there was  ‘something happening here… it was just weird that three girls from Roanoke who were all a year apart were … diagnosed.’

Multiple professors including Sandee McGlaun have also been diagnosed with cancer over the last years; she died in 2021 from breast cancer.

She was the second English teacher in a 15-or-so-person department to have been diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer – which accounts for just 10 to 15 percent of all breast cancers.

After learning of additional cancer diagnoses among alumni, Baldwin reached out to the Virginia Department of Health in 2021 to request a cancer-cluster investigation, but her request was denied.

Chloe Svolos Baldwin, of the class of 2015, was diagnosed with Hodgkin¿s lymphoma in 2019

Chloe Svolos Baldwin, of the class of 2015, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2019

By then, Baldwin had already seen several of her former classmates battle with rare cancers

By then, Baldwin had already seen several of her former classmates battle with rare cancers

Since then, Baldwin, now in remission, has embarked on a mission to ring the alarm about what she says is a concerning situation

Since then, Baldwin, now in remission, has embarked on a mission to ring the alarm about what she says is a concerning situation

The VDH said the cases would not qualify as a cancer cluster because they were not the same time of cancer. 

Since then, Baldwin, now in remission, has embarked on a mission to ring the alarm about what she says is a concerning situation.

‘We were all healthy twentysomethings who were all diagnosed with cancer,’ she said in a viral TikTok video last year.

‘What about all these other kids that are at this college and are potentially exposed? Does nobody care? I care.’

Roanoke’s vice president of marketing and communications Rita Farlow told AirMail: ‘The VDH, the official investigating body in such cases, communicated to Roanoke College that there is no evidence for concern about increased cancer rates or a cancer cluster in our college community.’

Farlow denied the existence of any environment concern affecting the school, but said Roanoke is aware of a mold issue.

However, she added that ‘tests have never found toxic mold and have never revealed a mold-spore quantity indoors that was higher than the quantity detected in the air outside the building.’

In a statement to students, the school said: ‘After many conversations with public health professionals, epidemiologists, and physicians about cancer incidence rates, we have absolutely no evidence to show that Roanoke College is anything but a safe place to live, work, and learn. 

‘We also believe the evidence indicates that the incidence of cancer among our graduates is no greater than the overall population.

Kelsey Palmer of the class of 2016 died after being diagnosed with Wilms¿ tumor, a rare pediatric cancer

Kelsey Palmer of the class of 2016 died after being diagnosed with Wilms’ tumor, a rare pediatric cancer

Marie Adams, of the class of 2018, was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer five days before her wedding in 2022

Marie Adams, of the class of 2018, was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer five days before her wedding in 2022

‘However, since the reporter of the article insinuates causation between Roanoke College and cancer, I can understand how that may leave one to ask: “Is Roanoke College safe?” 

‘The health and safety of all those who call Roanoke College home has always been the single most important priority of this community; it remains so today. Still, I recognize that an article like this one causes the sort of anxiety and concern that deserves more concrete evaluation. 

‘It is for this reason, and out of an abundance of caution, that Roanoke College has contracted with an independent, national, and esteemed environmental services company who will assist us in approaching this topic in a data-informed and scientific manner. 

‘The company will soon begin its work, which may involve collaboration with an independent epidemiologist and scientists at the Virginia Department of Health to gather additional information. Our consultants are experts in their field, and they will help us determine our next steps.’



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