DA candidate’s life colored by Agent Orange

Thousands of Vietnam vets have contracted cancer for their country, but only one is running for district attorney.

On the campaign trail, Robert Brewer, 67, has been advised to talk about his decorated tour as an Army Ranger in Vietnam.

What’s more complicated to bring up, at least as an up-tempo talking point, is that Brewer was grievously wounded 27 years after leaving the battlefield. His purple heart, you might say, came late.

The growth on the back of his head was first spotted by Blue Fogg, a legendary downtown barber. Then an opposing attorney walked by Brewer in court and said, “What the hell is that on your head?”

Brewer was lucky. He had never been hit by the Viet Cong. In 1997, however, a malignant mine, planted by U.S. planes, exploded on his skull.

After a battery of tests, he received chemo on Fridays, recuperating over the weekend at the family’s Julian cabin before returning to work as the managing partner of a law firm. He would lose all his hair and turn yellow.

During his second round of chemo, his oncologist, Dr. William Stanton, asked him to tell the story of his life. When Brewer got to Vietnam, Stanton revealed that he’d served in a large field hospital near Saigon.

Suddenly, this rare manifestation of non-Hodgkin lymphoma made sense.

Had Brewer fought in zones defoliated by Agent Orange? All the time, Brewer answered. Despite the “stench of death,” it’s where troops felt safe.

“Now I know where you got it,” Stanton said.

While Brewer was training Vietnamese airborne forces, a fragment of Agent Orange had entered his head and lain dormant for 27 years, Stanton surmised. And then, bam!

Brewer was lucky again. The tumor had not metastasized. After chemo and radiation treatments, his hair grew back. His normal complexion returned. He was a survivor and grateful cheerleader for the American Cancer Society.

About a year ago, Brewer decided he wanted to run against incumbent DA Bonnie Dumanis. He went to Stanton and asked him what he thought.

This was the doctor who at one point had said that, if he were in Brewer’s surgical gown, “I’d put my affairs in order.”

Beaming with pleasure, Stanton said Brewer was good to run — and pledged a donation.

This is going to be a tough DA race, the kind of meat-grinder we’ve seen every decade or so. Once the San Diego oxygen-sucking mayoral sprint is over, attention will shift to the countywide cage fight.

For one candidate, his youthful role in the losing fight against the VC may get a spotlight, but his defeat of the Big Orange C, and the humility it naturally brought, strikes me as a greater talking point.