Cancer and Mining Suck (the Joy Out of You)

Self-described wilderness warrior Joseph Goldstein (left) with fellow pandomaniacs standing in front of restricted area leading to proposed mining operations in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

Cancer and Mining Suck (the Joy Out of You)

By   |  Nov. 16, 2015

Editor’s Note: When my young cousin Joseph Goldstein was diagnosed with cancer, the Make A Wish Foundation contacted him to see how they could help. MAW typically sends kids and their families to Disneyland or arranges a meet-up with a Hollywood superstar. Joseph had another idea for MAW in mind: to help him save America’s pristine Boundary Waters from the threat of copper mining. It was an awkward request, given MAW’s non-political status, but they brainstormed to find ways to support him in his mission. Meanwhile, working with his friends at Save The Boundary Waters, Joseph travelled to Washington D.C. this past March to meet with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Senator Al Franken, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tidwell, and others. Today, he’s continuing his fight — both against leukemia and the mining industry. You may read the speech he gave in Washington, here; read his letter to President Obama, here. After a canoe trip last month to re-supply National Geographic researchers in the area, he sat down and wrote this post for fellow pandomaniacs. — Eugene Shirley

Cancer can suck the joy and the energy right out of you (my mom won’t let me open with “Cancer Sucks”). It’s as simple as that. That’s why when I was diagnosed with leukemia, I decided to use it to do something good.

I had known for some time that my favorite place in the world, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), was under serious threat from sulfide mining, but until the Make A Wish foundation approached me, I didn’t really know what I could do to help fight the mining threat.

After they left, I thought for a long time (chemo feels like it takes forever) about what I would wish for. On my way home that night, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. What better way to bring light out of a bad situation than to use it to save the place I love most!

The BWCA is one of the largest remaining, untouched wilderness areas in the United States. It is vast, unspoiled, quiet, challenging, peaceful, wild…all the things we need. Every moment of every day is adventure, whether it’s setting up camp, searching for firewood, catching and cleaning dinner, finding the perfect rock to jump from into the water, telling stories around the fire, or just watching the sun rise and then set over pristine water.

The first time I went to the BWCA I was six years old and had never gone camping (unless you count the backyard). Since then, my family and I have taken trips up there every summer and winter-camping dogsledding trips in the winter.

When you’re in the BWCA you get this feeling of inner peace, like nothing can go wrong. It allows you to just be yourself and forget about everything else that’s going on in your life. This is what makes people fall in love with the area and come back year after year after year.

All of this beauty and water and peace is currently threatened. A mining company based in South America is fighting hard for the right to use a very toxic, sulfide-ore copper mining practice that will permanently pollute the lakes and streams.

The groundwater in this region listens to no laws and knows no boundaries, and there’s no doubt that acidic runoff from the mines will make its way through the Boundary Waters, eventually hitting Voyageurs National Park and even making its way down to Lake Superior. The waters of this area would be ruined, the wildlife damaged or killed. The entire region would be spoiled for hundreds of years, if not forever.

I am not alone in understanding the need to save this area. Last week I read a series of blogs from Armed Service Veterans who have found peace and healing in the BWCA.

When, after a year on “chemo-lockdown,” I finally had the chance to return to the Boundary Waters in October, I was run down and relatively out of shape. But throughout a week of canoeing and camping I could feel strength returning to me with each stroke of the paddle and step of the portage. The challenges of the Boundary waters strengthen and heal.

A year ago, I made it my Wish and my Mission to permanently protect the BWCA, not just for myself, but for all of us. We all deserve a place of quiet and beauty, of unscarred landscape and uninterrupted silence. We all deserve pristine waters and crisp, clean air.

Even on my worst chemo days, my memories of the BWCA kept me happy and the work I get to do to protect them gave me purpose. I’ve travelled to D.C. to meet with many of our leaders about the need to protect this space, and I will continue to travel to, and write about, and to advocate for the BWCA in the months and years to come.

Joseph Goldstein is the Founder and President of Kids For The Boundary Waters. He is a student at Glenwood High School, and lives on a farm in Springfield, Illinois with his parents, three brothers, three dogs, 10 cats, 12 sheep, and a variety of chickens, ducks and other farm critters. He plays the guitar and trombone (marginally), and skis and mountain bikes (awesomely).

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