Faces of Lung Cancer


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After going to the emergency room for an unrelated cause, a CT scan revealed a spot on Barb’s left lung. The doctor said “We found a tiny, tiny, spot. It’s probably nothing.” Barb will never forget those words.

Barb did just that. Final test results revealed she did have lung cancer. Since she had the option, she did her homework on the disease and got more than one opinion. In fact, she got three. “I am so fortunate to live in the Chicago area with so many medical schools,” she said.

Since Barb was a never-smoker, she was puzzled as to how she developed lung cancer with no family history of it. Upon doing research on the Internet, she was surprised to discover that radon is estimated to be the second leading cause of lung cancer in healthy people who have never smoked. Radon is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that is produced by decaying uranium and radium in soil and rock. Radon gas is inhaled and absorbed into the lungs, causing lung cell damage. Barb tested her home for radon. The results revealed that the levels of radon were five times the EPA recommended level. Barb then had a radon mitigation system installed in her home to lower the radon levels to within the acceptable EPA range.

Several of the homes in Barb’s neighborhood also had high levels of radon and each of those homes now have a radon mitigation system installed. Barb’s education campaign with her neighbors convinced them to test their homes for radon. Since then, Barb has joined Lung Cancer Heroes to promote one simple message: test your home for radon. She has joined with the American Lung Association to educate people on lung cancer and advocate for more funding for research. Barb is also a member of CANSAR, Cancer Survivors Against Radon, an organization dedicated to promoting radon awareness and education and saving lives from radon induced lung cancer.

Whenever Barb tells people that she had lung cancer, they immediately judge her as a smoker. She has felt the stigma attached to the disease and feels that the stigma is the reason that there is a huge funding disparity between lung cancer and other cancers. So she’s doing something about it by advocating for more lung cancer research funding and radon legislation by working with organizations such as Lung Cancer Heroes, CANSAR, and the American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists.

Barb’s experience has given her the opportunity to work with a network of people, both at the state and federal levels, dedicated to working together to save lives from radon induced lung cancer. She considers herself lucky for not getting depressed about her situation and instead embracing it to spread radon awareness to everyone she encounters.

“If I can save even one life, then I feel that this lung cancer has been worth getting,” Barb said. “Do your homework on lung cancer and research the disease. Don’t settle for one opinion. If you are diagnosed with lung cancer, you should test your home for radon, regardless if you are a smoker or not.”