Lloyd Blair joined the Marine Corps as an 18-year-old itching for a fight after hijacked planes rocketed into the World Trade Center towers and set the world on fire. He pulled two tours in Iraq. The first landed him in the hell of Fallujah where some of the bloodiest fighting took place.
There he was, not long out of high school, fighting in the desert, ducking bullets while carrying 40, 50 pounds of full battle rattle on his back.
The stench of human feces flowing out of Fallujah in shallow creeks suffocated the air. There was smoke everywhere. "I mean, there was stuff burning all the time in Fallujah," says Blair, who is 35.
He didn't give a second thought to the smoke billowing from the burn pits where the military torched its own trash, not until he was diagnosed with testicular cancer after he came home.
Cancer doesn't run in his family, said Blair, who lives in Lee's Summit. So he was confused about why the cancer that befell Lance Armstrong had found him. Looking for answers online, he came across hundreds of other worried veterans with the same diagnosis.
A McClatchy investigation of cancer among veterans during nearly two decades of war shows a significant increase in cancer cases —like Blair's — treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system.