Healthy Child Healthy World: From the Pain a Passion for Change

Colette Chuda 1989 photo credit Irene Born Newton-John

"When a parent loses a child, there really are no words. There are no words to describe this grief, and there are no words to mend the broken heart that remains forever after. But my husband and I chose to try to make a difference. We said, let us take the remains of what would have been her life and in her memory, establish something that would give benefit to countless millions. It fueled our passion. It was our pain that carried us through -- from pain to passion -- in building the charity." For Colette: The Flower That Shattered The Stone

Wednesday's Moms, Denise Truscello photo credit (Suzanne LaCock Browning, Nancy Chuda, Colette Ament, Linda Grey Heitz, Marcy Hamilton, Cindra Ladd, Olivia Newton-John, Rebecca Foster and Lindy Willingham)

It all began with a group of very committed friends,Wednesday's Moms. My best friend, Olivia Newton-John, and I had shared the joys of motherhood together. We conceived our girls within weeks of one another, and they were born six weeks apart. Like us, Chloe and Colette had a very unique bond. They were glued at the hip.

Olivia and Chloe Rose Lattanzi and Jim and me with Colette in 1986 photo credit Irena Newton-John

On Wednesdays, we would meet in special places with a group of friends and their kids. The William O. Douglas Outdoor Classroom is a beautiful park, filled with old-growth redwood trees and a duck pond with coots and mallards. It was the perfect place. It captured our children's attention and inspired us moms to protect them and the environment. We sensed then that the fragile ecosystems that supported all life -- air, food, and water -- were becoming tainted with chemicals. Nature herself was beckoning, "Protect me."

Chloe and Colette 1989

As mothers, we were sensitive to this calamity. We knew we had to defend our children. And we had to speak out against the use of pesticides and other chemicals that were invading our environment. Yet, in many ways, we felt helpless. When Colette was born in 1986, I was a television journalist. Prior to working for the network, I had hosted my own public affairs morning talk show Sunnyside, in Los Angeles on (KNXT) now KCBS.

For me, at that time, trying to balance motherhood and help my husband Jim support our family was a very big challenge. I didn't want to miss being with Colette. Working seemed to pull at my heart strings but I had hoped to find a part time job that enabled me to stay in Los Angeles where we called home. I had been breast feeding Colette and storing my milk in the freezer in case I had to be away during her scheduled feeding times. As luck would have it, I was offered a job as a reporter for The Home Show, an ABC network daytime talk program, a predecessor to programs like The View, where topical subjects became a platform for discussion. I was fortunate to obtain an interview with Meryl Streep, whom I had gotten to know as a volunteer member of an organization she co-founded with Wendy Gordon Rockefeller, called Mothers and Others for a Liveable Planet. Meryl Streep and Wendy Gordon Rockefeller founders of Mothers and Others for a Liveable Planet. Nancy Chuda ABC Home Show interview 1989-pictured with Janet Hathaway Attorney On the heels of a startling NRDC report, Intolerable Risk: Pesticide and our Children's Food, Meryl had graced the cover of Time, Newsweek, and was the focus of other national media outlets to defend the rights of children whose food supply -- mainly apples -- had become tainted with Alar (daminozide). This agricultural spray, a pesticide, was causing worldwide concern. Meryl had testified before Congress, demanding its removal. The controversy became the centerpiece for the Children's Environmental Health movement. It gave birth to the need for greater science and investigation in terms of children's vulnerabilities. Meryl's determination to awaken others to the misuse of pesticides gave me an opportunity to take a stand.


I rallied many of my influential friends in the entertainment community to support the passage of an all-inclusive environmental measure, California's Big Green initiative. To get national attention and raise awareness in support of this initiative -- which would provide clean air, water, and food in California, as well as what I believed would be a template or model for other state initiatives -- I produced an ABC television variety special called An Evening with Friends for the Environment, with Meryl Streep, Olivia Newton-John, Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, Cher, Lilly Tomlin, and Robin Williams.

All of my work as an advocate became distilled in what I call an "infinitesimal moment of disbelief" the day I learned Colette had cancer. On May 23, 1990, our lives changed forever. Colette was given an 80 percent chance of survival, but the odds changed when her cancer metastasized. She lived briefly, only five years. But she lived long enough to experience what she had always felt and believed as a child -- something that is intuitive to all children -- that animals and humans share a precious habitat, Earth. Nature had gone awry, and we had a mission to protect and defend life against the threat of man-made chemicals, many of which would cause illness and life-threatening disease.

Two weeks before she died in 1991, Colette wrote a short story called, "Inga Binga and Whitepaw on an Easter Day." We sat on her bed, propped up against her favorite stuffed animals and pillows, and she recited, word for word, her dream for what she described as "the best day ever ": a world in which her loving animals, cats, birds, horses, dogs, chickens, zebras, monkeys all lived in harmony with nature -- not against it. At a very early age, Colette developed a respect for life and living things, and, as a child stricken with cancer, she sensed her own vulnerability.

Elizabeth Hauge Sword photo credit

Even while undergoing chemo and losing all of her hair, she refused to wear a hat. Instead, she insisted on leading "babe walks" in the park she dearly loved. She wanted to teach other children how to protect the environment. This was her mission. In our darkest hours, days before she passed, we made a promise that we would keep her memory alive. Like her favorite color, we would make the word "green" and children's environmental health a global educational platform for all parents worldwide. On April 21, 1991, on the eve of Earth Day, we held her in our arms for the last time. But when morning came, her spirit took hold. Within a few short months, and with the help of our dear friend, Olivia Newton-John, and a small group of committed friends and family, we established The Colette Chuda Environmental Fund, to conduct research into the causes of childhood cancer in relation to the environment. We knew that millions of dollars -- now billions -- had been spent trying to find cures for cancer, but very little effort was placed toward prevention.

In November 1994, three years after Colette had passed, my cousin Betty Ann Gaynor approached her friend Shari Roan, a Los Angeles Times Health Writer who wrote an article about our story; From the Pain a Passion. We conducted many research studies, which led to major scientific epidemiological results. We proved that carcinogenic substances trapped in airborne particulates could traverse the blood barrier of pregnant women and affect the developing fetus in the womb environment. Dr. Frederica Perera, a leading scientist at Columbia University, was one of the first recipients of a grant from The Colette Chuda Environmental Fund.