When Taylor Wind first discovered a tiny lump, no bigger than the size of a pea, behind her left ear, she was concerned.
A doctor told the then-14-year-old it was harmless and she didn’t have anything to worry about.
But the lump continued to grow and her mother, Susan, was convinced something was wrong and sought further opinions.
In May 2017, when Taylor was 16, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Susan said that, over the next several months, five people on her street in Mooresville, North Carolina – about 27 miles north of Charlotte – had either thyroid cancer or thyroid tumors.
The mother-of-three has now raised more than $100,000 for research in effort to prove that this is a cancer cluster, reported NBC News.
Taylor Wind, of Mooresville, North Carolina, developed a lump behind her ear but her doctor told her it was harmless. Pictured: Taylor, left, and her mother, Susan
Her mother, Susan, pushed for testing and two years later, Taylor, then 16 (left and right, with her mother), was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in May 2017. She has since had surgery to remove the tumor and is currently in remission
‘[Taylor] developed a lump on the side of her neck, they said it was a swollen gland probably and I shouldn’t even worry about it,’ Susan told WCNC.
‘Later, we got a diagnosis that she had thyroid cancer, and it had spread throughout her whole neck.’
Thyroid cancer affects the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ at the base of the neck that produces hormones.
Women are anywhere from two to three times more likely to develop the rare cancer than men are,
Symptoms include a lump or swelling at the front of the neck, swollen glands, unexplained hoarseness and difficulty swallowing.
According to the American Cancer Society, about 52,000 cases will be diagnosed in 2019 and about 2,200 people will die.
The five-year survival rate for people with thyroid cancer is 98 percent. Taylor had to undergo surgery to remove the tumor and is currently cancer-free.
Susan said that when she began sharing Taylor’s story, friends and neighbors began contacting her with similar tales.
‘Neighbors on my street came to me, and they were like: “We have thyroid cancer,”‘ she told WCNC.
‘Other moms in the area and other neighborhoods were contacting me saying: “My daughter got thyroid cancer.” Kids as young as 13 years old.’
Neighbors started telling the Wind family that they’d also been diagnosed with the cancer, including friends Susan Lunsford (left, with family) and Tricia Edmiston (right, with family)
A study funded by the Winds showed 191 thyroid cancer cases were diagnosed in Mooresville (pictured) between 2012 and 2016, double what is expected
Among them were neighbors Susan Lunsford and Trisha Edmiston.
‘I have a very rare form of cancer and mine is stable now, which I’m very thankful for,’ Lunsford said.
‘But it’s just heartbreaking to hear of all those people, even in my own neighborhood, who have gotten cancer.’
NBC News reports that Susan Wind was referred to a Duke University chemist, who told her she needed at least $50,000 for an investigation.
She organized a 5K fundraiser and raised $110,000.
State data from 2012 to 2016 showed 191 cases of thyroid cancer were diagnosed in Mooresville, a town of only about 40,000 people.
That means the rate of thyroid cancer in the town is two to three times higher than should be expected.
The researchers from Duke University began testing areas around Mooresville and found high levels of radon, a radioactive gas, in the homes of three cancer patients.
That’s when they decided to focus on Marshall Steam Station, which produces coal ash and is owned by Duke Energy.
Almost 17 million tons of the ash sits in an unlined basin, reported NBC News.
Wind believes the cases are linked to coal ash, which contains mercury and arsenic, produced by nearby Marshall Steam Station (pictured) that sits in an unlined basin
The family has since moved to Florida where, Taylor, 19, is studying nursing. Pictured, left to right: Father David Wind, Taylor, the Winds’ youngest daughter, the Winds’ son and Susan
Coal ash contains chemicals such as mercury, arsenic and cadmium. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, ‘without proper management, these contaminants can pollute waterways, ground water, drinking water, and the air.’
A 2015 study from Duke University study found high levels of radioactivity in coal ash samples from basins such as in Illinois and Appalachia.
While radioactivity is linked to future cancer risk, some experts say it would take a great deal of direct exposure for a thyroid tumor to develop.
The researchers funded by Susan are planning to publish a report this year on coal ash and its potential links to cancer cases in Mooresvile.
The Wind family has since moved to Florida, where Taylor, now 19, is studying nursing, reported NBC News.
‘I want to know why everyone is getting cancer, and what do we all have in common,’ Susan told the network.
‘People don’t really see things until it happens to them.’