St. Louis Record

Monday, July 22, 2019

Women stricken with cancer testify in talc powder trial


By John Sammon | Jun 22, 2018

ST. LOUIS -- The testimony of women alleging that baby powder produced by Johnson & Johnson and the asbestos it allegedly contained caused their ovarian cancer continued June 18, including a woman who said the diagnosis had dashed her hopes of giving birth.

“We were devastated,” Sherise Sweat, 48 of Georgia, a special education teacher for children pre-school through second grade, told a jury about her reaction when she and her husband of 1-year-old Greg heard in 2009 that she had the disease.

Johnson & Johnson is being sued in St. Louis Circuit Court by 22 women, six of whom have died since the suit was originally filed. The trial coverage is being streamed courtesy of Courtroom View Network.  

Plaintiff attorney Mark Lanier of the Houston-based Lanier Law Firm, asked Sweat how she had used the J&J baby powder?

“I would put it under my arms and on my breasts,” Sweat answered. “I would shake it on my body.” 

“Did you see a dust cloud?” Lanier asked.

Sweat said yes and recalled that as a teenager she would sometimes write her name in the baby powder dust after it settled. She had used the product for years.

“Did you see any Johnson & Johnson advertising?” Lanier asked.

“Yes I remember a [TV] jingle that said, ‘Just a sprinkle a day helps keep odor away…Have you had your sprinkle today?’”  

“Did it reinforce that talc was a good and safe thing to do?” Lanier asked.

“It did,” Sweat answered.

Lanier asked Sweat if she would have used the product had she known it could cause ovarian cancer?

“No,” Sweat responded.

Though unable to give birth, Sweat and her husband adopted two daughters in 2013.

Under cross examination Lisa Simpson with Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe of San Francisco, one of three attorneys for the defense, questioned Sweat’s knowledge of the product.

“The first time you heard about a connection between talc and cancer was through an advertisement for a law firm that you saw on Facebook, correct?”

“Correct,” Sweat answered.

“You never made any attempt at research other than the lawyer ad?” Simpson asked.

“I did not,” Sweat answered.

Sweat also agreed that she had some prior history of cancer in her family. She had been tested for infertility and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), but with a negative finding for a malfunctioning gene. In addition she had been diagnosed with an ovarian cyst in 2000.

However on recross examination Lanier countered that the plaintiffs had differing backgrounds and many had prior medical conditions.

“We have women from all over the spectrum, all kinds of genes,” he said. “If you knew that use of the powder more than doubled your chance for cancer, would you have used it?”

“Never,” Sweat said.

Sweat underwent four rounds of chemotherapy treatments and the side effects included hair loss, nausea, sleeplessness, constipation and extreme fatigue. She said she would get a little stronger as time passed after the dosage but then would have to undergo a new round of chemo and go through it all again.

The plaintiffs were also asked about their use of an additional Johnson & Johnson product, Shower to Shower. 

Further testimony included a daughter Tracee Baxter of New York testifying on behalf of her mother Marcia Hillman, who was diagnosed with stage IV ovarian cancer in 2014 and died Dec. 7, 2016. In addition, a husband Martin Mallard of New Jersey testified on his wife’s use of the J&J product. Annie Groover Mallard was diagnosed with the disease in 2010 and passed away in 2016.

Toni Roberts of Pittsburgh, her hair gone from chemotherapy treatments, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014 after she had complained to a doctor of indigestion.

"I told the doctor you must be confused, I have indigestion," she said. "The doctor said, 'We're not confused.'"

Roberts told the jury she had used the baby powder because the way it was advertised she trusted in it.

“It must be really pure to use on a baby,” she said.

Roberts said she sometimes used the powder to sprinkle on the rug of her home and then vacuum it to give it a nice smell.


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