Nuclear Weapons Testing, and 40 Years Later, a Lethal Blood Cancer
by Martinique Davis
Sep 20, 2012 | 2690 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DOWNWINDER – Doug Glasscock with his malamute, Blazer, outside his home in Telluride Mountain Village. (Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
DOWNWINDER – Doug Glasscock with his malamute, Blazer, outside his home in Telluride Mountain Village. (Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
Battling the Rare Cancer That Killed His Parents, ‘Downwinder’ Advocates for Other Victims

On a summer day in the early 1960s, a young Doug Glasscock was playing in the desert sand outside of his home in Page, Ariz. Though he doesn’t remember it, his mother watched in amazement as a silvery substance floated down from the sky – like Christmas tree tinsel caught in the wind, she would remember, settling like ash across the landscape.

More than forty years later, Glasscock tells the story, sitting on a sunny bench outside his home in Mountain Village. His mother’s recollection of the then-unexplained events of that sunny August morning are especially meaningful to him now, as he fights to stave off the cancer that killed both his mother and father.

Glasscock and his family will take part in the Friday, Sept. 27 Light the Night Walk, in Denver’s Washington Park, 5:30-7:30 p.m., sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“We have formed Team Telluride to raise funds to make a difference in the lives of people touched by blood cancers,” he explains.

Glasscock is a “downwinder,” one of many people  exposed to nuclear fallout from atmospheric nuclear weapons testing in the 1950s and 60s, during his childhood. Like his mother, who died from leukemia in 2009, Glasscock’s rare form of cancer has been linked to the aboveground nuclear testing that took place from 1951 to 1962 at the Nevada Test Site in south central Nevada. Those tests, numbering, he says,  well over 80, released significant amounts of radioactive material into the atmosphere that then drifted downwind to Page and the Navajo Nation, where Glasscock was born and raised.

Glasscock is one of many in that area who have been diagnosed with cancers linked to radioactive contamination from nuclear fallout. He was healthy until August of last year, when he started experiencing flu-like symptoms after a hike around Telluride. Days later he was diagnosed with leukemia, and airlifted via Flight for Life from Montrose Memorial Hospital to the University of Colorado hospital, in Denver. He was in and out of the hospital for the next six months.

Glasscock strokes his malamute, Blazer, between the ears, remarking on his luck at being able to tell his story at all.

“There are a lot of less lucky people,” he says, referring to his neighbors in the University of Colorado Bone Marrow Transplant Unit in Denver, where he spent four weeks last August and September, isolated in a neutropenic room – essentially becoming “the boy in the bubble,” he says, as doctors fought to keep him alive despite his poor odds of surviving erythroleukemia, a rare form of leukemia.

Six months later, thanks to an intense cocktail of chemotherapy treatments and blood and platelet transfusions, doctors pronounced Glasscock in remission, making him one of the rare 10 percent  of people diagnosed with this deadly disease who survive it.

Even though he won’t be considered “cured” for seven years, Glasscock acknowledges his good fortune at being able to return to his life, including his wife, Tana; children Brandon and Dana; his grandson, Ryan; and his beloved dog, and it’s because of this second chance at life that Glasscock has focused his attention on helping others with these dangerous forms of blood cancers.

“I made it, and I’m really optimistic that I’m going to continue making it,” he says. “But it’s all those other people, and all of those kids who are now fighting against leukemia that I’m most concerned about.”

The long torturous hours Glasscock spent in hospital rooms during his six-month Denver treatment offered him a new perspective, he says, and his subsequent return to health inspired him to help other downwinders and those affected by blood cancers only strengthens it.

The Glasscock family is currently raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and its annual Light the Night Walk, which takes place Thursday, September 27 at Denver’s Washington Park.

September is Leukemia, Lymphoma and Myeloma Awareness Month, and the Glasscocks will be in Denver, with Team Telluride, in an effort to raise funds to provide services for individuals and families affected by blood cancers.

“Imagine if we took all the money we’re spending now on the war machine, and we put it towards education and medicine,” Glasscock muses, “so we can train doctors and find cures for diseases?” He says that the hours he spent TV channel-flipping through news shows during his time in the hospital helped him decide to become an advocate for medical research – and for the end of nuclear warfare.

“This is something I’m passionate about, because I’m living the consequences of nuclear weapons testing,” he says, referring to his fight for survival against cancers that killed both of his parents. “Now, I just want people to kick in and help do something positive,” he adds of the Light the Night fundraiser.

For more information about Light the Night, visit; to donate to the Glasscock’s effort, contact Tana Glasscock at 970/708-4059 or Doug Glasscock at 970/729-1152, or visit or Donations can also be sent to Team Telluride, PO BOX 361, Telluride, CO 81435 (make checks payable to Light the Night).
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