August 16, 2010

Judy Bonds: Fighting For Her Life

Last October I spent an afternoon with Judy Bonds at her home along the Coal River in Boone County, West Virginia. Many of you are well acquainted with Judy, her environmental activism, and her passion for the people, culture, and ecology of Appalachia. Judy, who in the last decade has become one of the leading voices in the fight against mountaintop removal, explained to me how she became an activist:
"It was the fish I witnessed with my grandson in Marfork when he was six years old. One day we found ourselves standing in a river full of dead fish, so we started to pay close attention to the river to see what was going on. We noticed black water spills were happening almost every week on our river. Then we found out it was coming from the sludge dam above our home. And it wasn’t just affecting us--these black water spills were poisoning the whole town of Whitesville. I know the chemicals and the heavy metals coming from this coal waste are making local people very sick. A lot of folks in Prenter have well’s that are contaminated by the coal sludge that's been injected underground by the coal companies. These people have brain tumors. They have kidney and liver cancer. These people are dying from coal sludge."
Sadly, Judy is now the one facing that reality. Beth Wellington posted the following on her thoughtful blog The Writing Corner:
Vernon Haltom, Judy Bond's co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch, just sent me the bad news that Judy has found out that she is battling stage three cancer. Vernon wrote: "Judy said that some people have asked her, 'What do you want us to do if anything ever happens to you?' Her answer was 'fight harder.' She repeated that today--to fight harder."
I'm sharing this by permission. When I asked to what extent I should share the news, Vernon answered, "I asked how much of that she wanted me to let folks know, and she said there's no point in keeping it from people." Treatment will take at least 3 months, and she doesn't expect to be back at work for several months. Judy had been sick for several weeks when her doctor sent her to the hospital in Charleston, after antibiotics didn't work on what had been diagnosed as pneumonia.
"Judy has always been a fighter," Vernon wrote, "never giving up. This is her big fight now; the only one she's able to do right now. Please keep her in your prayers."
Here is a great talk Judy gave at the Institute at the Golden Gate last April.

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