📸: A visit cancelation letter from Carson to Chatham’s president in 1964. Photo courtesy of Chatham archives.
Carson cited “arthritic difficulties” in a letter she sent to Eddy canceling a planned 1964 visit to Chatham. Sadly, her true ailment was much more serious.
Eddy wrote back, “There will be another day and another year when you can come to Chatham.”
But there wouldn’t be.
A year earlier in June 1963, Carson delivered a statement before Congress raising awareness of the environmental hazards of pesticides as well as their link to diseases like cancer. Below is an excerpt from her speech:
“The contamination of the environment with harmful substances is one of the major problems of modern life. The world of air and water and soil supports not only the hundreds of thousands of species of animals and plants, it supports man himself. In the past we have often chosen to ignore this fact. Now we are receiving sharp reminders that our heedless and destructive acts enter into the vast cycles of the earth and in time return to bring hazard to ourselves.”
Photographs taken during her speech show that Carson was wearing a wig to conceal her ill health. She had breast cancer, and was dying of the very disease she was fighting to prove could be traced back to these harmful chemicals.
But even she wasn’t aware how dire her diagnosis was. She’d previously had a breast tumor removed in 1950, and there was no further treatment suggested at the time.
“Because she was a woman and wasn’t married, her doctors wouldn’t talk to her about it,” DeMarco said. “She learned too late. She already had stage 4 metastatic cancer.”
Not only did Carson square off against the industrial economic powers of the time, but she had to fight medical professionals simply to learn the truth about her illness. But it’s not a mystery why she kept this information secret from the public — if the chemical industry found out, they would use her illness to question her scientific objectivity. In the hopes of manifesting a better tomorrow for others, she kept her own battles at bay.
And a better tomorrow did come: Because of Carson, generations of scientists, environmentalists, and writers were inspired to advocate for Mother Earth — much like Patricia DeMarco.
“I would like to see Pittsburgh recognize her ethic of care for the next generation. She was so inclusive in her love and understanding that we are all connected and our livelihood depends on the living Earth,” DeMarco said. “We have so much to learn from her.”
Missed yesterday’s edition? Read part 1 and 2 of Rachel Carson’s Earth Day feature here.