The other day I came across an article titled “Thyroid Test as a ‘Fight,’” featuring a group of thyroid specialists who volunteer to test children of Fukushima for thyroid cancer. Written by a man named Shinya Fujisawa, it was printed on the back of a small magazine that came with a frozen food delivery. It called my attention, not only because my family lives in Fukushima – some of them with their young children and babies, but also because the third anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake (東日本大震災) is approaching on March 11.
“Tarachine” is a non-profit organization in Iwaki city of Fukushima. Thyroid specialists from all over the country have been coming to Fukushima to offer a thyroid cancer testing since November 2011. The test is free for children, and adults can be tested for 1000 yen (approximately $10). Their services are urgently needed, because there are growing concerns about the rise of thyroid cancer in children of Fukushima.
Recently researchers in Fukushima have found higher than expected rates of thyroid cancer in children. According to the article by Asahi shinbun, fifteen more children in Fukushima have received definitive or suspected diagnoses of thyroid cancer, which raises to 59 the total number of children who have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having thyroid cancer.
What’s even more surprising is that there is an ongoing debate among experts as to whether or not this recent finding is related to the radiation exposure from the nuclear disaster. As it was the case after Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and Chernobyl, it’s difficult to prove the relationship between the occurrence of cancer and radiation exposure, because people who are not exposed to radiation also get cancer, and because we don’t know exactly how cancer occurs. But our common sense tells us what science may take years to prove: The high thyroid cancer rate among Fukushima children is most likely linked to the nuclear accident.
There is one thing that all experts agree. It’s crucial to detect thyroid cancer at the early stage, because if found early it can be successfully treated. The prefecture government has been offering a thyroid test to children, but the data is not open to public. And parents are not allowed to be with their children during the testing, nor can they bring home the test results. This refusal to share data has raised suspicions, concerns, and anger among parents and specialists alike. That is why Tarachine has been testing children for thyroid cancer independently. During the testing parents can stay with their children and are allowed to take the results with them afterward. If necessary, Tarachine makes the data public as well.
Fujiwara made an interesting observation in his article. He had visited Fukushima many times since the disaster, and on each visit he was puzzled by how normal peoples’ lives seemed to be. He didn’t find any anxious faces on the street, so he thought that despite the radiation problems people’s hearts weren’t as broken as he had thought. But when he accompanied a mother and a child to the thyroid testing offered by Tarachine, he observed something completely different. The child was lying on a bed with a device placed on his throat while the mother stood next to him and anxiously stared at the monitor. When Fujiwara saw the frightened face of the mother, he realized that for the first time he saw the real face of Fukushima.
The problems surrounding the nuclear disaster are so overwhelming, and what we can do alone is small. But imagine what we can do together if each of us plays a part . That is exactly what Tarachine has been doing. They have decided to do what they can to help children of Fukushima, one child at a time. I’m reminded of what a writer, Ryunosuke Satoro, once said: Individually, we are a drop. Together, we’re an ocean.
*** For more information, click here to visit the Tarachine website. Donations are always needed and very much appreciated. Please see the information below.
In Japanese Yen:
Japan Post Bank 02240-5-126296 いわき放射能市民測定室（Iwaki Radioactivity Measuring Center）
The Toho Bank Branch Number: 604 Account Number: 788355 Iwaki Radiation Measuring Center NPO
The Toho Bank Branch Number: 604 Account Number: 3589 Iwaki Radiation Measuring Center NPO
The Toho Bank Branch Number: 604 Account Number: 3590 Iwaki Radiation Measuring Center NPO
The Toho Bank Branch Number: 604 Account Number: 3591 Iwaki Radiation Measuring Center NPO
Send money via wire transfer, postal remittance, or remittance check to
Yucho Bank 02240-5-126296 Iwaki Radiation Measuring Center
- Thyroid Test as a ‘Fight by Shinya Fujisawa, Seikatsu to Jichi, Seikatsu Club