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Leukemia & Pesticides: Is there a correlation? My doctor says YES

About five years ago I was diagnosed with chronic Leukemia also known as CMML. Since then much of my time has been spent at blood labs, hospitals and doctor’s offices. My spleen has been removed and there have been numerous tests to check and double check all my organs. All the various components of my blood are either too high or too low. When the platelets are low I bruise and bleed prolifically and when the hemoglobin is low I tire easily. I have become part of a study that monitors my condition at a prominent Toronto hospital.

In spite of the above I have remained active in my daily life. I bicycle often on my 21-gear hybrid touring bike. I also play golf at least twice a week, do my stretching exercises and lift modest weights to keep up my strength. Just the same, I am often exhausted and take frequent naps.

During my latest consultation I got up the nerve to ask the doctor what the chances were of the chronic stage becoming acute. Without hesitation she answered: “30%.” I was not dismayed by those odds because chances are that I will die of some other cause during the next decade. I am now 75 years old.

I then asked if there was correlation between my condition and my lifelong exposure to pesticides. “Absolutely,” she replied.

I then asked if there was correlation between my condition and my lifelong exposure to pesticides. “Absolutely,” she replied. Her quick response took me off guard and it has been on my mind ever since. I have yet to come to terms with it. On the one hand, I have always believed that the prudent application of pesticides was beneficial. Now I am on the other side of the equation and am not so sure about the benefits of pesticides. I wish I had been more careful.

7 Responses to “Leukemia & Pesticides: Is there a correlation? My doctor says YES”

  • Hi Gordon,

    Great to see you expressing yourself again. You have never been shy. Fortunately, times have changed in how we apply and use pesticides. I remember applying lead arsenate at the Board of Trade by dusting it through an old work sock to kill any small patches of chickweed that had encroached on the greens.

  • Chuck Barber:

    What evidence does your doctor present correlating pesticide usage and your condition? Specifically, what elementals or synthetic pesticides does your doctor point to as absolutely correlating your condition. Not just “pesticides”, but active ingredients or elements. What other habits in your life could have contributed to a complex involving lifestyle, work-related exposures and CMML? I think it’s unfair of your doctor to make that diagnosis or for you to print this blog without discussing not only specifics but also the larger picture of the way you or any other golf course superintendent leads their lives. I have seen drinking, smoking, poor diet and excercise habits (all of which I am guilty of as well) take their life-long toll on golf course superintendents and I am unconvinced that long-term pesticide exposure has been THE factor in conditions such as yours.

  • Gordon Witteveen:

    Chuck – I appreciate your well thought out comments and I am sure most superintendents would agree with you and to a degree, so do I. As I said, I wish I had been more careful.

    My doctor is a hematologist and an oncologist. As such she sees a lot of sick people and very few healthy ones. I am sure she has drawn her conclusions on the basis of her professional observations and I respect her opinion. In addition, the Canadian Cancer Society has taken a strong stand in supporting the ban of pesticides used for cosmetic purposes. It is an emotional issue often not based on scientific evidence but I believe we are not going to win this one.

    I am one of seven siblings and we all have common genetically related characteristics and health conditions. I am the only one suffering from Leukemia. As I said before, I wish I had been more careful.

  • David:


    You must be in denial if you don’t believe pesticides play a major role in causing cancer. What decade are you living in?

  • In our industry we have been led to believe that pesticides are non-carginogenic. I am certainly having my doubts about that as a result of my medical condition and my frequent visits to the Cancer Clinic.

    I wish you good health.


  • Chuck Barber:

    David, I’m not in denial of anything and more importantly I live in the decade where we DON’T use mercury, lead arsenate, ddt, agent orange etc. I also never said there’s no correlation between cancer and pesticides but I did question the blanket “Yes” that CMML is directly correlated to pesticide usage. Go back and read what I wrote again and think about it. It’s unwise to add credence to the “pesticides are deadly” ad campaign on a blog written by professionals. Some newspaper picks it up and all of a sudden there’s a story involving us as industry professionals openly condemning the products we use to do our jobs without any scientific evidence. The important part is lifestyle, work-related exposures (which may have been avoidable to begin with) and the medical condition. ALL are factors.


  • edward marculewicz:

    Mr. Witteveen, I appreciate your articles because of your candor and your views on life and politics. In my Polish culture we have a saying Sto Lat which means “100 years”. Some men may live 70 or 80 and yet have not understood, embraced and lived life, but you are an inspiration to me. May the Lord grant you many more years so we may all learn something from your example.
    sto lat sto lat