MOORPARK (CBSLA.com) — Tom Pflaumer’s daughter, Breanna, was getting checked by a doctor when she was given a diagnosis no parent wants to hear.
“He comes out and he says, ‘There’s a mass, a very large mass in your daughter’s brain,'” Pflaumer said of the day he found out his daughter was suffering from a brain tumor.
But what he soon discovered was even more startling — other children his family knew had been given the same diagnosis. The connection has a group of parents in Moorpark wondering if the bond their children share is a fluke or indicates a bigger problem.
“My heart felt like it was tightening up. It felt like it left my body, somebody threw it on the ground, stomped on it, and then shoved it back in my chest. The pain was just overwhelming,” Pflaumer told CBS2 anchor Paul Magers.
“What is this doctor talking about? This is the wrong kid, the wrong test, the wrong diagnosis,” said Julie Miller, a Moorpark resident who was also told her son had a brain tumor.
“Am I going to die from it? That was my number one question,” said Breanna Pflaumer, who was 14 when she was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor.
Breanna was given three months to live. Since then, she’s undergone 12 surgeries and years of treatments. At 22, she’s paralyzed on her left side.
Her friend Austin Munoz also suffers from a brain tumor, specifically a mixed malignant germinoma.
Munoz was a football player at Moorpark High School when he was diagnosed at 16 years old with two brain tumors. He underwent months of chemotherapy, stem cell transplants and radiation treatments. Now, at 18, he’s in remission, but no longer plays football.
“It’s painful, but if it means living, I’ll give it up,” Munoz said.
Patrick and Mary Leyden lost their son Patrick, who also grew up in Moorpark, after a five-year battle. Leyden had just graduated from college with a degree in computer engineering when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
“And then, all of a sudden, I find out Breanna, Tom’s daughter, had a brain tumor as well six months after we found out about Patrick,” said Mary Leyden.
“I knew about three or four more people in addition to Patrick and Austin,” Tom Pflaumer said.
“I just collected names, numbers and addresses and they kind of were in the same proximity, even though Moorpark’s a small town,” Miller said.
These parents know of seven other residents in their community who are battling malignant and benign brain tumors or who have died from them.
“Do you feel the county and city public health officials are they paying attention to this? Are they aware of it?” asked Magers.
“I don’t even know if they are aware of it, honestly,” Mary Leyden said.
Consumer advocate Erin Brockovich, known for helping obtain the largest medical settlement lawsuit in history from Pacific Gas & Electric Co., has been contacted by the parents in Moorpark and hundreds of other communities with health concerns.
“It’s hair-pulling for most families because they don’t get their phone calls returned. They get the usual ‘statistically it doesn’t matter.’ They get the usual, ‘statistically it falls into the cancer statistics and we can’t give you any more information than that,'” Brockovich said.
Brockovich says she knows thousands of parents with valid health questions that don’t statistically stand out when compared to national brain tumor statistics, but she says she doesn’t get into statistics early on in an investigation, as there is still missing information.
“Did you look up obituaries and did you look up how they died and if it was cancer? Did you track people who moved?” she explained.
The real problem, she says, is there’s no national database where people can report their diseases, cancers or brain tumors.
In 2011, Brockovich testified before a Senate environmental committee headed by Sen. Barbara Boxer about the need for a national reporting system. Brockovich revealed a map of 350 communities she’s identified that may have cancer clusters or other health issues.
Boxer has since co-authored Senate bill S-50 which, if passed, would enforce a specific state and federal protocol for reporting and investigating potential cancer clusters.
“I think we need to get in the business of taking a look at a national reporting center, so we can begin to look at science, look at stats … help science help doctors, so doctors can help their patients, so we can have better health,” Brockovich said.
Since Brockovich’s first report, the number of communities reporting illnesses has grown from 350 to 3,000.
“Yeah, I would like to know if there is a common denominator that caused our kids to get the cancer,” Leyden said.
So would Pflaumer. “Somewhere down the road, we can pinpoint it, we can find a cure or we can find the cause and eliminate this in the future for other families,” he said.
Until then, the cancer battle continues for these Moorpark parents and their children.
Breanna Pflaumer remains optimistic.
“…Keep fighting ’cause the silver lining is that day that will eventually come that you hear the words that you are cancer-free. That’s what I’m living for.”
To report health concerns in your community, visit Erin Brockovich’s site at www.brockovich.com. She also recommends writing a letter to your city and state and requesting records from the water board or Department of Toxic Substances. Families battling cancer can visit www.trevorstrek.org for resources and support.