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    Jointly reported by WebMD and Georgia Health News

    Desperate Parents Seek Answers

    Lexi Crawford’s mother has pin-sharp memories of the horrors of the last year’s fight against rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer that springs from the soft tissues of the body. Doctors believe Lexi’s cancer started in the muscles of her upper thigh and quickly spread.

    By the time she was finally diagnosed, her medical records show how completely the disease had engulfed her body.

      lexi crawford

    The cancer was in at least six different places; it had taken over 95% of her bone marrow. Her lungs had so many half-inch spots of cancer that doctors wrote they were “too numerous to count.”

    She was classified as stage IV, grade 4. The worst of the worst.

    For a while, Lexi was getting powerful chemotherapy drugs in her veins to poison the cancer five days a week. It made her very sick.

    Her mom, Cristy Rice, remembers hearing popping sounds as Lexi bent over the toilet to retch. The pops were bones breaking in Lexi’s back.

    For the most part, Lexi, an honors student, has borne these agonies without question.

    But Rice says that on a couple of nights, when Lexi has been startled out of sleep by a deep, stirring panic, she has sought the comfort of her mother’s arms and asked, “Why me? I’m a good girl, and I get good grades.”

    “What do you say to that?” Rice says, throwing up her hands. “I told her ‘I don’t know, but I want to know.’ ”

    “They’ve been able to tell us they don’t think that it is genetic. It’s nothing I did or her father did,” Rice says. “But they can’t rule out environmental causes.”

    Poisoned Places Struggle to Get Attention

    Every year, hundreds of communities across the U.S. find themselves in the same place as Waycross -- worried and full of questions. Almost none get answers.

    Surveys of state health departments have estimated that they get between 1,000 and 2,000 reports of clustered illnesses -- typically cancer -- every year.