Plaintiffs’ lawyer raises specter of 'chemo brain' at Johnson& Johnson talc trial

By John Sammon | Jun 21, 2018

ST. LOUIS – The lawyer for 22 women suing Johnson & Johnson for the baby powder they alleged gave them ovarian cancer noted a side effect from treatments to fight the disease he called “chemo brain,” or the forgetfulness that comes after chemotherapy treatments. 

During the June 19 session in St. Louis Circuit Court, Mark Lanier a Houston-based attorney presented the plaintiffs to tell their harrowing stories and testify they had not been warned by Johnson & Johnson about the alleged dangers of ovarian cancer from talc powder use.

“It’s horrible,” Janis Oxford from Scranton, North Dakota, the mother of six children and operator of a small grocery store, said of the chemo brain condition. “You can turn around and not remember what you turned around for.”

Oxford was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in December 2011 after she went to a doctor to have a pap smear performed and complained of pain in her right side. Instead, she was found to have ovarian cancer and during a surgery in January 2012 had an 8-pound tumor removed, the suit says.

“That was bigger than any baby I ever had,” she told a jury.

Trial coverage is being streamed courtesy of Courtroom View Network.  

Attorneys for the defense including Lisa Simpson of San Francisco-based Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe questioned the plaintiffs about the prior cancer history of their families unrelated to baby powder use. The defense also drew attention to television advertisements run by law firms that many of the women testified made them first aware of an alleged relationship between talc powder and ovarian cancer.

The defense sought to demonstrate that such ads formed opinions not based on expert medical advice or adequate prior research by the plaintiffs.

Oxford said she had used J&J baby powder on her back, breasts and under her arms daily going back to the days when she was a high school cheerleader.

She said chemotherapy treatments had left her with hair loss, nausea, sleeplessness, fatigue and weight loss.

“I’m 5-foot-1 and I was down to 86 pounds,” she said. “I also suffered from seizures that have lasted to this day,” Oxford said. 

Her cancer is currently in remission.

“Most days I do pretty well, other than my memory loss,” Oxford said. “That drives me crazy.”

Oxford told the jury that her father had prostate cancer and a sister suffered rom cervical cancer. She stated that a television ad run by a law firm made her aware of the alleged link between baby powder and cancer, even though none of her doctors had voiced a similar opinion.

Olga Salazar’s forgetfulness from chemotherapy treatments caused Lanier to say, “You may be the ‘poster child’ for chemo brain," and noted that on a fact sheet filled out prior to the trial the Arizona woman and mother of five children had forgotten and put down the wrong cancer diagnosis date and home town.

“But did you do the best you could?” Lanier asked.

“I did,” Salazar responded.

She was diagnosed with stage III C ovarian cancer in 2011 after going to a doctor for a routine exam.

Under cross examination by Simpson, Salazar agreed that her opinion of baby powder being allegedly dangerous had also been shaped by a television advertisement run by a law firm.

“You never told your doctors you believed talc was related to your ovarian cancer did you?" Simpson asked.

“No,” Salazar answered.

“The doctors didn’t tell you it was related, right?"

“Yeah they didn’t tell me,” Salazar said.

Marvin Walker of Kansas City, testifying on behalf of his wife Eleita Walker who passed away in December 2017, recounted her struggle against ovarian cancer after a diagnosis was made in 2012. In 2013 she was told she was in remission, but a later CT scan revealed “increasing adenopathy” or swollen lymph nodes, a condition leading to lymphoma.

“Did doctors tell you lymphoma is a common way ovarian cancer reoccurs?” Lanier asked.

“Yes,” Walker said.   



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