RANCHO SANTA FE — The controversy over whether cell phones cause cancer is heating up again with the release of the iPhone 4. There is even speculation that Steve Jobs is finally acknowledging the health risks of radiation by designing a cell phone that works best when it is not held by hand.
The story unfolded last week as Ellie Marks visited Rancho Santa Fe to collaborate on a book about cell phone-related cancer victims with medical social worker and writer Susan Foster. Marks and at least two doctors are willing to go on record saying they believe her husband Alan’s brain tumor diagnosis can be attributed to 20 years of cell phone use as a real estate investor and broker. Marks has appeared on “Larry King Live,” “Dr. Oz Show” and “The FOX Report with Shepard Smith.”
Ellie and Alan Marks made news again June 15 when their activism culminated in San Francisco becoming the first city in the nation to require that retailers post cell phone radiation levels.
It was on May 6, 2008, that Ellie Marks’ life as a wife and mother and part-time realtor changed when Alan suffered a grand mal seizure while getting ready to leave for their daughter, Mandy’s, graduation at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He was 56. Although this was his first seizure, Ellie Marks recalls personality changes that began years earlier.
“I was ready to leave him in 2004 and 2005 and saw a divorce attorney,” she said. “He was willing to get help and saw a psychiatrist for years. You’d think the doctor would have sent him for an MRI.”
Alan Marks was rushed to the emergency room at John Muir Hospital. A CT scan revealed a large tumor in the right frontal lobe, the area that affects empathy for loved ones, logic and hyperactivity. The neurosurgeon explained that the tumor had been growing for a number of years and advised against surgery. Instead he told Alan Marks to go home and live out the remainder of his life, which he estimated would be about five years.
Ellie Marks contacted Dr. Mitchel S. Berger, chair of neurological surgery at the University of California San Francisco, a nationally recognized expert in treating brain and spinal cord tumors and tumor-related epilepsy in adults and children.
On June 16, 2008, Alan Marks underwent a seven-hour craniotomy at UCSF for what was called a glioma, a tumor that starts in the brain or spine.
“Afterwards I thought I’d have my husband back,” Ellie Marks said. “He went through hell. The steroids made him violent. What they don’t tell you is that you’ll have cognitive and behavioral issues again.”
Today Alan Marks is in remission although the tumor is expected to return.
“My oldest son came to me later,” she said. “Zack was an intern for Sen. Ted Kennedy who suffered a grand mal seizure 11 days after Alan’s that was also the result of a glioma. My son said, ‘You know, Mom, Sen. Kennedy was on the cell phone all the time and so was Dad.’”
Ellie Marks remembers dropping a dinner plate after hearing the remark.
“I thought to myself, ‘Do you know what the ramifications of this could be?’”
That was the defining moment when Ellie Marks, the wife and mother, became Ellie Marks, the activist.
“I began by getting on the Internet and contacting medical researchers and scientists,” she said. “They got back to me and wanted me to send MRIs, cell phone bills and medical records.
“Later they referred to Alan as the ‘poster boy for cell phone glioma.’”
After watching “Larry King Live,” she approached Dr. Devra Davis, epidemiologist, cancer researcher and founder of the Environmental Health Trust, which provides basic research and education about environmental health hazards locally, nationally and internationally. She is also author of the book, “Disconnect: The Truth about Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Is Doing to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family.”
“Dr. Davis returned my call,” Ellie Marks recalled. “She told me about the implications of cell phone use. She promised, ‘I am not going to let this die.’”
Last September Davis delivered on her promise by convening the “Expert Conference on Cell Phones and Health: Science and Public Policy Questions” in Washington, D.C.
“There was no doubt the problem was with cell phones,” Ellie Marks said. “They found that people who put cell phones up against their ears got brain tumors, those who put them in their bras got breast cancer; and those who put them in their back pockets got rectal cancer.”
In February Ellie Marks met Susan Foster on an international wireless watchdog forum on the Internet.
Foster suggested Marks contact consumer advocate Erin Brockovich for a recommendation for an attorney. Marks e-mailed Brockovich and received a return phone call.
“You’re my hero, I’ve got an attorney for you,’” Brockovich told her.
The referral was to Louisiana attorney and author Hunter Lundy. Currently, Lundy is preparing a suit against the Cellular Telephone Industry Association, or CTIA, for personal injury, failure to warn and product liability.
Marks is frustrated that objective research about the effects of wireless radiation is coming out of Europe and that research in the United States is being done by the wireless industry itself.
“A month ago there was a 13-nation study on cell phones and brains tumors,” Ellie Marks said. “The U.S. didn’t participate.”
The research, called the Interphone Study, reported that after 10 years of cell phone use, 30 minutes a day, a person’s risk of developing a glioma increases by 40 percent.
“Research scientist Lloyd Morgan said this is the largest human health experiment without written consent,” Ellie Marks explained. “He said there will be 500 million brain tumors in the world in the next 10 to 15 years.”
A few days before the San Francisco board of supervisors vote on the issue to require that retailers post cell phone radiation levels prominently in their stores, Ellie and Alan Marks traveled from their home in Lafayette, Calif. to San Francisco to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.
On Sunday evening, June 13, they dined at Sam’s Grill in downtown San Francisco.
“I saw Mayor Gavin Newsom at another table,” Ellie Marks remembers. “I introduced myself to which he replied, ‘I know who you are.’ I said, ‘That’s my husband … he’s dying of a brain tumor.’ The mayor took my hand and said, “‘This is going to be OK.’”
The following day Ellie Marks opened the San Francisco Chronicle to find a full-page ad taken by the CTIA, the wireless lobby, showing a nurse with a cell phone at her ear. She went out and bought 12 more copies of the newspaper. Then the couple bought red magic markers, which they used to write health statistics on the ad.
Ellie Marks and her husband then set out to visit each supervisor’s office prior to the vote. She told legislative aides from each supervisor’s office, “I’m here in the city with my husband, Alan, celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary and I don’t know if he will be alive for our 31st because he is dying of a cell phone-related brain tumor. If only he had known the dangers cell phones posed I wouldn’t be losing my husband.”
After passage of the right-to-know legislation by a 10-to-1 vote the next day, some of the same aides approached Ellie Marks tearfully to congratulate her.
Ellie Marks’ work continues as she balances caring for her husband and children with activism, which takes her to Capitol Hill and throughout the country advocating for warning labels for cell phone packaging.
“What Ellie is doing is heroic,” Foster said. “She and Alan met when they were just 15. A glioma brain tumor is not just a killer. It commits emotional torture. Before one’s life is ended it robs the victim of their impulse control, cognition, compassion and the ability to control one’s temper. It can be devastating for family members. Ellie has taken her family’s personal tragedy and turned it into a crusade for humanity.”
The Rancho Santa Fe News can exclusively report that as a result of her activism, Ellie Marks has been appointed director of Governmental & Public Affairs for the Environmental Health Trust by Dr. Devra Davis.
In two weeks, The Rancho Santa Fe News will profile medical social worker and writer Susan Foster. Several years ago Foster led a successful neighborhood movement to defeat Nextel’s proposed 104 tower planned for what is now the Morgan Run Golf Course. After seeing Foster on the news, Capt. Marvin Currier at Station 24 in Carmel Valley approached her with health complaints firefighters were reporting after a cell tower was placed on their fire station roof. Foster organized a medical study of firefighters exposed to cell towers on their stations, authored the original version of a resolution to call for a moratorium of cell tower placement on fire stations in the U.S. and Canada which was passed by the International Association of Firefighters in Boston in August 2004. For that she received a Leadership Award for Protecting the Life & Safety of Firefighters by the San Diego Fire Department. Both Susan Foster and her son Jason Ambrose, a graduate of Torrey Pines ‘05 and UC Berkeley ‘09, who joined Susan in her efforts to protect the firefighters, were bestowed with the lifetime rank of Honorary Firefighter by the San Diego Fire Department. Currently Foster is collaborating with Ellie Marks on a book dedicated to the struggle of cell phone victims and their loved ones.