State Rep. Robert F. Gilligan's father, a railroad man, died of leukemia. Ovarian cancer killed his mother. His brother succumbed to lung cancer.
Gilligan also revealed publicly for the first time last week that he has suffered from thyroid cancer, waging a two-year battle with the disease before his physician gave him a clean bill of health last summer.
The House minority leader's disclosure came during an interview about last week's announcement by public health officials that eight areas in Delaware had cancer clusters -- abnormally high rates of the state's second-leading killer. The study drew no conclusions about the causes behind the high cancer rates.
One cluster zone is centered in the industrial Newport-Marshallton area represented by Gilligan, a Democrat from Sherwood Park.
Though cancer can be caused by multiple factors, such as tobacco, poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle -- Gilligan is convinced pollution has played a major role in people contracting cancer at high rates -- in his family and across Delaware.
"The next step we need to take is, first of all, make polluters clean up what needs to be cleaned up," Gilligan said. "God only knows what is buried here. People also have to be alerted about this so they can be tested. In some cases, they may even want to move. You aren't going to raise kids here if you think they're at risk."
That's bold talk from a powerful legislator -- one echoed by colleagues who, in addition to calling for increased analysis of cancer records, want to see further studies to determine the clusters' causes.
Such studies cost money, a touchy prospect in a year when the state faces a $62.4 million budget shortfall in the year ending June 30. No legislators so far have announced a commitment to spending on a study of the causes of the cancer clusters.
Minner has no plans for clusters
Sen. Karen Peterson, a Stanton Democrat whose district includes the Newport area, said that despite the cancer revelations, lawmakers and Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's administration are more focused on closing that budget and one of more than $200 million next year than finding money to study the causes.