The Tan that Does Not Fade
From the moment I first heard the word “hemochromatosis” and began to understand that my adored husband’s many years of suffering and remarkable skin pigmentation (which I still describe as a “tan that does not fade”) were the result of “too much iron,” I could only refer to the disease I regarded as the enemy as “the bronze killer.” It is thus not surprising that 32-year-old letterheads of the Canadian Hemochromatosis Society bear the slogan “Fight the bronze killer!”—which did not sit well with one of the physicians whom I had been fortunate to recruit as an ally. “Too melodramatic!” was his pronouncement.
When he stated categorically that he could not work with me unless I changed the slogan, rather than lose the indispensable cooperation of someone I so greatly respected, I removed all mention of the "bronze killer" from the society’s literature—but not from my heart or my mind. With some bitterness—and still mistakenly adhering to the belief that hemochromatosis was purely the technical name for "bronze diabetes" and nothing else—I had taken to referring to hemochromatosis as "the bronze killer" and I had already decided that if I ever finished the book I had started, this would be the title. This must have been uppermost in my mind when I was interviewed by a reporter from the Vancouver Sun in 1982.
The term so intrigued the Sun reporter that his story carried the heading “Victoria Couple Fight Bronze Killer.” Whether this suggested a bizarre crime of some sort, I don’t know, but it certainly caught the attention of his readers and be that as it may, it got me an interview on the CBC radio program As It Happens which could be heard internationally ... and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
A Condition Called Hemochromatosis
For so long we had associated a deep tan with Tom that we had taken his skin color for granted. Because we lived in one of the sunniest places on earth, I certainly could not tell if there was much difference. However, in addition to the bronzing, there were many factors (not least among them the rapid advance of maturity-onset diabetes and the decreasing response to insulin) which pointed to a condition called hemochromatosis which, I was told, was more commonly known in North America as “bronze diabetes.”
Some people, it seems, accumulate an overload through ingesting too much iron—as is the case with many African tribes who cook and brew beer in rusty iron pots—but there was much to indicate that Tom’s hemochromatosis was hereditary. As there was not even one of his uncles alive to testify, it could only be surmised that one or all of those handsome, “tanned” men who had died so young were victims of the same killer—even if the method of attack had varied. Possibly Tom’s father, whose death had been ascribed to “heart failure” at 50, had died as a result of the same condition.