Ed Hughes and Peter Devereaux are former Marines living in Massachusetts. Not much of a coincidence considering thousands of Bay State residents served at one time or another in the Marines. But it doesn’t end there. Both were stationed at Camp Lejeune when chemicals such as Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE) were found in the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point water system. Hundreds of thousands of Marines, dependents and civilians were exposed to the toxic water over a 30-year period.

Editor’s note: The author was stationed at Camp Lejeune and will be filing a claim for his exposure to toxic water with the Department of Veterans Affairs. The documentary, “Semper Fi” will be aired at 10 p.m., Friday, Feb. 24, on MSNBC.


Ed Hughes and Peter Devereaux are former Marines living in Massachusetts. Not much of a coincidence considering thousands of Bay State residents served at one time or another in the Marines.


But it doesn’t end there. Both were stationed at Camp Lejeune when chemicals such as Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) and trichloroethylene (TCE) were found in the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point water system. Hundreds of thousands of Marines, dependents and civilians were exposed to the toxic water over a 30-year period.


It’s likely that Hughes, 67, a Winchester, Mass., native now living in Woburn, Mass., and Devereaux, 50, of North Andover, Mass., would never have known each other’s names were they not linked by one fact: Both have been diagnosed with male breast cancer as a result of exposure to toxins in the water at Camp Lejeune.


According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer among men is so rare that “for men, the lifetime risk of getting breast cancer is about 1 in 1,000.”


But among those living at Lejeune during that 30-year period, 73 cases of male breast cancer have been reported, and, according to transcripts of a meeting of the Camp Lejeune Community Assistance Panel (CAP) held last November, that number could climb to as many as 200.


Hughes was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, not long after finding a lump in his right breast.


“I had an itch on my right nipple. It would go away and come back,” he said.


He eventually discovered the lump, but didn’t give it a thought.


“I acted like every other guy and ignored it,” he said.


Hughes filed a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for male breast cancer in September 2010. After a year of routine letters apologizing for the delays in his case, he received a letter from the VA asking him to resend his medical files within 30 days, or his application for compensation would be decided without the documentation.


Hughes said he tried to get copies of his medical records from the VA on four occasions.


“Each time they sent me partial records,” he said. 


Eventually, the VA produced all of his medical records – except for those during the seven-month period he was stationed at Lejeune.


Hughes said he felt alone after his diagnosis until he heard about Devereaux, who has become a somewhat of a public face in Massachusetts for the disease and Camp Lejeune.


Hughes considers himself fortunate because he has good health insurance and because his cancer is in remission. But he isn’t happy with the actions of Navy and Marine Corps officials, who have consistently denied any link between the toxins in the water and the any of the illnesses suffered by thousands of people that lived at Lejeune from 1957-1987.


“People had to know back in ’66 that the water was contaminated. We were poisoned. We were lied to,” said Hughes.


Hughes’s case is on appeal with the VA. He has not heard from the VA since he delivered his medical records to them.


Pete Devereaux


Devereaux was 45 when he diagnosed with Stage 3B male breast cancer in January 2008. Doctors found 22 cancerous lymph nodes.


The cancer spread to his spine and hip. Now 50, he is being treated at Dana Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI) in Boston. Devereaux has metastatic breast cancer, for which he said there is no cure.


“Doctors are trying to extend my life,” he said, adding his life expectancy is two-to-three years.


Devereaux discovered the lump one morning and thought it was a bruise, or perhaps a cyst.


“It was the size of a bite-sized candy bar,” he said.


Taking no chances, he underwent a mammogram and ultrasound and learned he had breast cancer.


Initially, he didn’t believe it.


“I really thought my doctor was looking at someone else’s record,” he said.


He sought a second opinion at Dana Farber and his cancer was confirmed. On Jan. 28, 2008, Devereaux had a mastectomy and started chemotherapy the following month.


“That first chemo kicked my butt,” he said.


In August 2008, he received a letter from the Marine Corps, telling him of the toxic water issues at Lejeune


“When I got that paper, I felt like 100 percent that that was where I got it,” he said.


Not long after that, Deveraux said he spoke with Mike Partain, who was born on Camp Lejeune and is a survivor of male breast cancer, and learned he was the seventh person to develop the disease.


“Within a year, we did a story on CNN. There was then 21 [cases] and within a week to 10 days of that show airing 42 cases of breast cancer were related to the water at Lejeune,” he said.


Devereaux said he’s fortunate to be receiving compensation from the VA and credits the man at the forefront of the investigation, Jerry Ensminger.


 “If it wasn’t for Jerry Ensminger, my family wouldn’t have gotten any benefits,” he said.


Ensminger’s daughter, Janey, was diagnosed with leukemia in 1983 while he was stationed at Camp Lejeune. She died in 1986.


Four years after undergoing a mastectomy, Devereaux still receives chemotherapy treatment once a week at Dana Farber.


He said doctors have found treatments that keep his cancer in check that work for varying periods of time. In 2011, he had three different treatments, but none that worked well.


“Right now I’m on a treatment that seems to be working. My goal is to get a year out of it and hope something new will be out,” he said.


For now, Devereaux remains realistic and optimistic.


“Eventually you run out of options. My goal is to not run out of options,” he said.


For more information, visit tftptf.com.


Bruce Coulter is a retired, disabled veteran. He may be reached at bcoulter@wickedlocal.com or 978-371-5775.