Woman breaks silence among Fukushima thyroid cancer patients
Published 9:50 am Tuesday, June 7, 2016
KORIYAMA, Japan — She’s 21, has thyroid cancer, and wants people in her prefecture in northeastern Japan to get screened for it. That statement might not seem provocative, but her prefecture is Fukushima, and of the 173 young people with confirmed or suspected cases since the 2011 nuclear meltdowns there, she is the first to speak out.
That near-silence highlights the fear Fukushima thyroid-cancer patients have about being the “nail that sticks out,” and thus gets hammered.
The thyroid-cancer rate in the northern Japanese prefecture is many times higher than what is generally found, particularly among children, but the Japanese government says more cases are popping up because of rigorous screening, not the radiation that spewed from Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant.
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To be seen as challenging that view carries consequences in this rigidly harmony-oriented society. Even just having cancer that might be related to radiation carries a stigma in the only country to be hit with atomic bombs.
“There aren’t many people like me who will openly speak out,” said the young woman, who requested anonymity because of fears about harassment. “That’s why I’m speaking out so others can feel the same. I can speak out because I’m the kind of person who believes things will be OK.”
She has a quick disarming smile and silky black hair. She wears flip-flops. She speaks passionately about her new job as a nursery school teacher. But she also has deep fears: Will she be able to get married? Will her children be healthy?