Lance Kuhns fought for 24 years against the tumor in his brain – a tumor that he blamed in court on pollution from a nearby chemical plant.
Kuhns, one of the plaintiffs in the McCullom Lake brain cancer lawsuits, lost his battle and died last Wednesday in the comfort of his Crystal Lake home, surrounded by family. He was 61.
“Lance wanted to die in his own condo, in his own bed. He got his wish, his prayer,” said Ann Kuhns, his mother.
Lance Kuhns, the oldest of six children, grew up in the Lakeland Park subdivision on the McHenry side of the lake. He was one of 33 people who sued the Rohm and Haas specialty chemical plant in neighboring Ringwood, alleging that decades of air and groundwater contamination from the plant caused a cluster of brain and pituitary tumors in the McCullom Lake area.
He was an only child for years before his two brothers and three sisters joined him in quick succession. He was a good son who helped take in the groceries and change diapers, his mother said.
Lance Kuhns was extremely artistically inclined, and his home reflected it, said his sister, Wendy. His arts and crafts projects were sought-after gifts.
“He was very artistic and creative. He would buy me paint sets for Christmas – he wanted me to get into it. I never really did because he was so much better at it. He could have opened his own craft store, all the crafts he made,” she said.
Doctors diagnosed him in 1993 with oligodendroglioma, a brain tumor so rare that it should appear only once in a population of 300,000 like McHenry County. He had his first of three surgeries at age 39.
The first three lawsuits were filed in April 2006 by three McCullom Lake next-door neighbors who contracted brain cancer within a short period of time. Two of them had the same rare tumor. Lance’s sister, Holly Furst, called him, told him about the lawsuits and advised him to get involved.
Rohm and Haas, now owned by Dow Chemical Co., has acknowledged that decades of dumping into an unlined pit by the plant’s former owners created a plume of groundwater contaminated with volatile organic compounds.
But the company steadfastly has denied that contaminated water or air reached or sickened residents. Past and present owners of the plant have been working for the past two decades to clean up the contamination plume.
Lance Kuhns relapsed in 2007 and required a second surgery – one that left a softball-sized dent in his head that he would cover up with a toupee and a hat.
Eldest sister Holly Furst said even then he thought of other people first. When he would go to his chemotherapy appointments, he always would insist that people who appeared in worse shape go before him.
Kuhns lived to see Dow settle the case out of court in 2014 for undisclosed amounts, but his condition worsened. He suffered another relapse in 2013, requiring his third and final surgery.
This relapse cost him his mobility, and his brother, Todd, moved in with him to help take care of him. Every brother and sister chipped in with specific tasks assigned by Lance – always playing the role of eldest brother, sister Jill Kuhns said. He had been bedridden since last Christmas.
Furst said her brother’s deep faith helped him through.
“He just had faith in God for everything he was going through, and put it in God’s hands. He never asked, ‘God, why me?’ He just accepted,” Furst said.
At least 14 of the McCullom Lake brain cancer plaintiffs are deceased.
About this series
“Coincidence or Cluster” is the Northwest Herald’s ongoing coverage of the McCullom Lake brain cancer cases.