Our Stories

 

Ann Cosper

Ann Cosper

Ann Cosper

Huntsville, AL

I’ve never smoked a cigarette, can’t stand to be around them. So, a friend told me a lot of times, when people lose a lung, it’s because they’ve been exposed to radon. That’s why I decided to have my house checked. It tested at 11.7 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L).

The only thing they could attribute to causing my lung cancer is the fact I had radon in my home – and didn’t know it. When I learned that radon likely brought this on I was petrified. I felt so helpless.

There is no way I can stress enough to the public how important it is to have your radon checked. Then you will not have to go through what I’ve had to go through – losing a lung to radon.

Bob Adams

Bob Adams

Bob Adams

Huntsville, AL

My house has a full finished basement that tested three to four times higher than the EPA’s Radon Action Level. Since we had such a high reading and I’ve lived here such a long time, it was reasonable to suspect that radon was the cause of my lung cancer because I hadn’t smoked a cigarette in over 50 years. Fortunately for me they caught it in time making surgery an option.

Leona Brown - 2009

Leona Brown

Leona Brown

Simi Valley, CA
August, 2009

My mother, who was a non-smoking, marathon runner and in the best shape of her life was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung cancer on Oct 7, 2008. Our family was shocked; there was no reason for this. Her oncologist didn’t have any answers; she lost her battle in August 2009. She fought for 10 months.

My mission was to find out WHY. After spending countless hours on the net, I came across an article about Radon Gas and its link to cancer. I didn’t have a clue about Radon. January, this month, is National Radon Action Month. Someone forgot to tell the California residents about this silent killer—radon gas. I ordered a kit from a government site and performed a test on my Mother’s home. The test indicated that her home has a radon level of 19.9 pCi/L. My heart broke all over again last night when I received the results. Now I have a direction to the WHY.

My mother had two lifelong neighbors that passed away with lung cancer during the last year and half. I want to test their home for Radon Levels. I plan on calling the newspapers and television stations to inform them of Radon and it’s link to lung cancer. Radon tests are available to California residents during January—National Radon Action Month. I must get involved and tell others that they can protect themselves against this deadly radioactive gas. It is easy to test; and if the level is between 2 and 4 or higher, it is not difficult to fix.

Keri Nelson, Leona’s daughter

Glenn Wong

Glenn Wong

Glenn Wong

Sherman Oaks, CA

Glenn Wong is a 49 year-old, lifetime non-smoker, with no prior exposure to second-hand smoke. In June 2009, he was diagnosed with an advanced case of lung cancer. Through research, we learned that radon is the leading cause of cancer among non-smokers. So, we tested and found levels in our home ~2x the actionable level recommended by the EPA. Further research revealed that our entire neighborhood is, in fact, in a zone that was deemed to have high potential for indoor radon levels above 4.0 pCi/l., as per a 2005 study by the CA Geological Survey.

Although we do not know for certain that high levels of radon exposure caused Glenn’s cancer, living with radon is a risk that no one should have to take. We have found testing and even mitigation are relatively inexpensive, easy, and effective. So, radon is not the crime – lack of knowledge and disclosure is.

Not surprisingly, we are now trying to spread the word about the dangers of radon. Many neighbors have been shocked and dismayed to live in such a high-risk area, yet be completely ill-informed. We will do everything we can to continue to raise awareness locally by word-of-mouth, through papers, homeowners associations, and the like. However, we applaud the greater efforts of organizations such as CANSAR who are taking this to a higher level. Based on such efforts, we hope that radon will soon be eliminated as a cause of cancer so that not another life will be adversely and needlessly affected in this way.

Steve Dugan – 2009

Faye & Steve Dugan

Faye & Steve Dugan

Castle Rock, CO
April, 2009

My husband, Steve, worked an average of 10 hours a day in our basement for the past seven years. Recently lung cancer took his life. It was very quick; he was diagnosed at the end of January; and by the end of April, Steve died. His only symptom was coughing, and he was given antibiotics for bronchitis. Only when that didn’t work, did the physicians request a chest X-ray and begin to wonder what could be wrong. He only completed two chemo treatments, and then so many complications impeded his treatment.

This summer my neighbor was selling her house and was requested to have a radon test performed. The results were over 9 pCi/L. I had never heard of radon or anything about it, so I did research. When I got my home tested, the level was 10.1! If I had only known of the potential danger, perhaps . . .. I truly believe that the level of radon in our home accelerated Steve’s onset of lung cancer even though he smoked. Smokers or former smokers are at a much higher risk of lung cancer when exposed to high levels of radon gas.

Now I live with the “what ifs.” What effects may the radon levels have on my son or me? Every time I cough, I wonder, “Am I next.” For 17 years I have lived in Colorado, purchased two homes one old and one new and had home inspections. Not once did anyone mention “radon.” I can’t understand why there aren’t laws to require radon testing or mitigation like the ones that require smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.

Faye Dugan

Julia Harris – 2004

Julia Harris - 2004

Julia Harris - 2004

Interville, GA

Video message from radon victim Julia Harris

Julia was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in September of 2003. She had never smoked a cigarette in her life, but she found out too late she and her husband Jack had been living in elevated radon concentrations for nearly 19 years.

In March of 2004, lung cancer took her life. It didn’t have to. If testing her home for radon were required for a mortgage, chances are Julia would still be with us.

A wife, a mother and a grandmother she is sorely missed. Says Jack, her husband of 43 years, “Who’s going to be there when I wake up every morning? The reality is it’s something you gotta live with. You can’t make it go away because you wish it to.”

Every year 20,000-30,000 Americans die from exposure to radon. Says oncologist Doctor Lane Price, “Thirty thousand deaths is a drop in the bucket unless your loved one is one of those thirty thousand. Then it’s your whole bucket.”

On behalf of Julia and the 59 other Americans who die each day from radon-induced lung cancer, CanSAR asks for your leadership with the battle against this silent, invisible killer.

Barbara Sorgatz

Glen Ellyn, IL

I have lived in my home in Glen Ellyn, IL, a western suburb of Chicago,

Barb Sorgatz

for 23 years. I was recently diagnosed with Stage 1B lung cancer and had the upper lobe of my left lung removed this past February (2007). Thank God the cancer was caught early, but only by accident on a CT scan when I went to the emergency room last June for a gall bladder attack. The doctors have told me over and over how lucky I was to have had that attack. Otherwise, by the time I would have developed any symptoms, the cancer would have advanced to Stage IV and it would have been too late for treatment.

Having never smoked nor been exposed to a significant amount of second hand smoke, I was puzzled as to how I developed lung cancer with no family history of it. Upon doing some research on the internet, I discovered that radon is estimated to be the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. today, and a leading cause of lung cancer in healthy people who have never smoked.

Certain areas of DuPage County, where I live, are known for high levels of radon. My subdivision, Valley View, is one of those areas. I knew there was radon in the Valley, but was not aware of the long term effects of it. I purchased a home test kit (short term), conducted the test, and sent it to the lab. The results revealed that the radon levels in my home were 5 times the recommended EPA levels. I subsequently hired a licensed contractor to install a radon mitigation system that lowered the radon levels in my house to well below the EPA 4.0 pCi/L Action Level.

DonnaLee Caringella

Highland Park, IL

DonnaLee Caringella

Being a physically fit 46-year old non-smoker with no family history of lung cancer, I don’t fit the profile for lung cancer by any measure.  I am lucky though.  After whole brain radiation and oral doses of Tarceva, a targeted biological drug, I received the good news that my April 5, 2011 PET scan and brain MRI showed the brain lesions had disappeared and the lung tumor was “inactive” (showed no uptake of the glucose from the PET scan, which means it is essentially dead in the water).  So I am now NED (no evidence of disease).  I still had focused lung radiation earlier this month to zap the place where the lung tumor was and make sure it doesn’t come back.

I was born and raised in this house, but moved out on my own when I was 18.  Thirteen years ago, my husband and I bought the house from my parents and I’ve been back here ever since.  We had a sump pump and trench put in around 10 years ago and the radon mitigation specialists thinks that may have caused or contributed to a higher radon level in the house.

I wish to do all I can to prevent any reoccurrence of cancer, which includes ridding or reducing the radon exposure in the house.

Joe Linnertz – 2006 

Waterloo, IL

Joe Linnertz

On Nov. 2, 2005, my husband, Joe had a blood test that showed his liver enzymes where elevated. After more tests on Dec 27, we found that he had lung cancer that had spread to his liver and bones. We asked the doctor what causes lung cancer and he said smoking and radon gas. We didn’t know what radon was and Joe hadn’t smoked for 27 years. Joe died on February 8, 2006.

I checked the Internet and saw I could buy a radon test kit at the hardware store. Our home tested 11.2 and 17.6 pCi/L, and we have lived in this house for 18 years. The house has now been mitigated and tests at 1.1 pCi/L.

If we had just known about this silent killer and if someone had told us of its deadly power and how easy it is to test and mitigate, we would have done it. Only a test can determine if you are living in a high level radon environment, and-often-only a test can determine if you are living with early stage cancer.

Joe was a gentle, brave, faithful and courageous man and decided he didn’t want the chemotherapy and would let God take him when He was ready. Joe was my light and my strength.

About 2 or 3 weeks after Joe died, I prayed to God to give me a purpose for my life. I got my answer very quickly. I will dedicate the rest of my life to radon reform and education.

Gloria Linnertz

Jill Johnson

Freeport, IL

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I found out I had non-small cell lung cancer in December of 2008. The irony of my diagnosis was stunning. You see, up to that point in my life, I was immersed in the world of ballet and modern dance. I graduated from Julliard in 1977, performed professionally for many years, and began teaching in 1983. In 2002, at the age of 48, I received my masters degree in dance from the University of Illinois, and a year later became a certified Palates instructor. Everything I did required strength, agility, stamina and good health. I had them all.

Jill Johnson

Jill Johnson

In July of 2008, however, I started slowing down a little. My energy level wasn’t what it used to be and I had developed a dry cough I couldn’t seem to shake, even with antibiotics. Foolishly, I ignoredmy symptoms. A few months later, I called the local Health Department thinking my cough was due to allergies I had developed, perhaps, because of mold in my circa 1932 house, and would they do an inspection. It was during that conversation that I first learned about radon gas and its dangers.

I had the house mitigated after discovering a 19.0 radon level. Three weeks later, to my dismay, the level had gone up to 19.3. In late February, however, it was down to 7.9, and now after coming back a third time, the mitigator says it should be under control. To his credit he has worked hard and has been extremely cooperative.

During surgery in January to remove my lower right lobe, where we thought the cancer was contained, my surgeon discovered the cancer had spread to my middle and upper lobes, and to 7 lymph nodes in the mediastinal and hilar regions of my chest. What had started out as Stage IB before the surgery was now Stage IV. What a blow! At that point, the thoracic surgeon and my oncologist thought it best to close me up and hit me with chemo as soon as I was well enough. I have now had two treatments and it seems like the chemo is helping. According to my oncologist, radiation is next. Whew! Unfortunately, my prognosis is not good.

Since my diagnosis, I have discovered that most people I talk with about radon gas know little or nothing about it; and those who are aware of its dangers (including my doctors) under play it as a possible cause for lung cancer. For that reason, I am grateful to Gloria Linnertz and others like her who are telling their stories on the CanSar website, as well as promoting new legislation at both the state and national levels to protect people from this harmful and deadly gas. To all of them I offer my heartfelt thanks.

Steph Langstraat

Newton, IA

Steph Langstraat

It is a scary thought to know that something is out there—radioactive radon gas.  As a middle school principal and teacher, one of my greatest passions, aside from students, is the learning environment at Prairie City-Monroe Middle School–a safe place to breathe and a safe place in general for students and teachers to spend most of their day.  I have something very terrible, but I’m going to do something very positive with it.”

Born and raised in Iowa I am 33 years old, have a healthy lifestyle, never smoking, very athletic, no lung cancer in my family, never sick except back in May. I thought I had sinus infection and went to my family doctor after a couple of days; he listened to my lungs and treated me for bronchitis.  A month later I returned to the doctor since I was tired ALL of the time, tight chested and short of breath at times which just wasn’t normal for me. THANK GOD I went back. My physician’s assistant insisted on a chest X-ray checking for pneumonia—my saving grace. After unending tests, IV’s, pokes, prods, CT’s, two needle biopsies of my liver, one of my lung, MRI’s, and nonstop waiting for results, on July 20, 2012, I’m told it is lung cancer Stage 4.

The doctor had a hard time understanding why a 33-year old non-smoker was in this position. The doctors told me the first thing that comes to mind is radioactive radon gas exposure which makes me one of the thousands of U.S. lung cancer patients each year whose carcinoma can be traced back to radon.  I refused to let Cancer win or get the best of me.  I carry near my chest a New Testament Bible given to me by my mother, a breast cancer survivor, for comfort and inspiration.

After having a portion of my lung removed, I’m enduring 13 rounds of chemo–two drugs, Cistplatin and Gemzar.  I am now Staged at 3b. The reality is, I have lung cancer and no matter what stage I am in, it’s still cancer.  The pain, the uneasiness, and an entire gamut of emotions have been a regular part of my life during these last six months.  However, I am thankful that this life challenge of mine is strengthening my faith; God always wins that battle because no matter what thoughts flow through my head I always circle back to “HE is in control.” 

My journey so far has also been filled with unbelievable kindness and rewards.  My wonderful “Team Steph” consisting of friends, family, and students walked in the 2nd annual Free to Breath Walk, which raises awareness for lung cancer. My life and perception of life has changed. I appreciate colors, aromas, nature’s blessings, and the words, hugs, and smiles of people more deeply. The words “I love you” are much more powerful. I wonder what God has planned for me and why he picks the people he does to go through some of the roughest things? I quickly realize that it’s not for me to question; then I realize how much stronger my faith has grown.  I am extremely thankful for my family, my friends both old and new including my doctors and nurses. There are no words to express how deeply I love all of them.

I am excited about the new radon mitigation system installed in my school to keep the hazardous and potentially deadly radon gas from seeping through the foundation into the classrooms and halls.  I will proudly support federal and state legislation to protect all of our nation’s schools from this silent killer. I can help bring awareness to this danger.  It makes some type of sense as to why I was a chosen one. Lawmakers and parents haven’t made it a priority. I have a tough fight ahead of me, but I admire the words of the inspirational leader of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, “It’s not whether you get knocked down or not, it’s whether you get back up.” 

Gail Orcutt

Pleasant Hill, IA 

Gail Orcutt

It all began with wheezing and a nonproductive cough in mid-March 2010. I attributed my illness to the allergy season. When it didn’t improve, I saw my family doctor, who ordered an x-ray. This led to a chest CT that found a mass “compatible with a malignancy.”

Needless to say we were totally shocked; many, many tears. I was then referred to a pulmonologist who ordered a PET scan and then a transbronchial evaluation and biopsy. We were relieved when the report from that came back—aspergillus (a fungus), but I think the doctor knew exactly what he was looking at when he did the bronchoscopy, so he ordered a CT assisted needle biopsy.

This time the report came back as cancer: non-small cell adenocarcinoma lung cancer. We know now that this is the most common kind of lung cancer (much better to have than small cell) and that 10% of people with this cancer are actually non-smokers.

My entire left lung was removed on May 17. Right now I’m halfway through chemo: three week cycle – cisplatin and navelbine week 1, navelbine week 2, and off on week three. Four rounds total. Chemo should be done Sept. 2.

I’m not sure why, but we thought to check for radon a few weeks ago. The test results came back 6.9! There are six doctors who know about my case, and not ONE of them ever mentioned radon. They all know I’m a non-smoker.

Our home is being mitigated for radon this week. We’ve been living here for 18 years and never knew to check for radon. Now I’m telling everyone who will listen to check his or her home for radon gas. If I can keep just one person from gong through this, I’d feel it was all worth something–not to mention the tremendous spiritual journey I’m on!

I learned about CanSAR through the Iowa Public Health Department; and when I am finished with chemo, I will definitely be active in this effort.

Walt Staiert

Elk Horn, IA

Walt Staiert

It all started with what appeared to be a chest cold.  My dad, Walt Staiert, had just finished cleaning out a couple of grain bins and started coughing.  This wasn’t anything unusual because Dad tended to get a cold whenever he cleaned out the bins so he didn’t think anything of it.  After a week it did not get better so he went to the doctor for an antibiotic.  The doctor prescribed a strong cough medicine that would stop my dad’s coughing within a day.  Unfortunately that did not happen so my dad went back into the doctor for more testing.On April 9, 2012, my dad was diagnosed with Stage 4 Lung Cancer.  He was not a smoker so the diagnoses came as a huge surprise to us.  Dad only went through one round of radiation and one dose of chemotherapy before the cancer became so aggressive there was nothing the doctors could do.  My dad died on May 12, 2012, at the age of 60, only four weeks and five days after his diagnosis. 

Shortly after Dad died, a friend suggested that we test our homes for radon.  There are two houses on the family farm, my parents live in one and my husband and I live in the other.  Both homes tested well above the EPA recommended levels.  My dad has lived in either of the two houses since he was 14 years old.  Had we known sooner about the risks associated with radon, my dad may still be with us today.  I now have become an advocate to help people become aware of the dangers of radon-induced lung cancer.
Krista Allen, daughter

Lori Tassin

Des Moines, IA

Twelve years ago in November 2001, inside the science center planetarium, Craig Tassin proposed me. It was the same location where we had first met, only eleven short months before. Craig was the father of two young boys, and I a single working woman. Neither of us was looking for love, but it found us in the most unlikely of places.

Fast forward to 2010, adding two more boys to our family, great jobs and a fairytale love story. Life couldn’t have been more perfect until in June, I began having abnormal back pain. Finally, in September, after various tests, including an MRI and PET scan, I was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic non-small cell lung cancer, primary site unknown. There was good news and bad news with this diagnosis. There was no cancer found in the lungs, but it had metastasized to the bones. This meant more scans, radiation and lifetime of chemo. “The Goal,” I was told “isn’t to cure this cancer, but to keep it from spreading, maintaining.”

In November 2011, the scans showed even more progression of the cancer to the liver, ovaries, adrenal gland, lymph node and hilum. For most, this diagnosis would have been a life sentence, but for me it’s been an opportunity to transform, and live a more meaningful life. I am a fighter with strong faith, outgoing nature and a tremendous love for life. I am not ready to give up, and going to do everything in my human power to not only beat this, but to touch and change the lives of those around me along this journey.

Diane Mayer

Weston, MA

Diane Mayer

In early 2010, I was diagnosed with “reactive airways”– a fancy term doctors to describe the beginning signs of asthma. Periodic attacks continued through the spring of 2011; however at that time my breathing never improved. In June 2011, the doctor prescribed steroids and set up an appointment with an ENT which took five weeks.  He diagnosed my problem as reflux and put me on medicine for 8 weeks. 

By week 6, I still couldn’t breathe right. On October 18th, my PCP finally sent me in for a chest x-ray. It showed a collapsed lung. The next day, I had a CT scan which showed a mass. Two days later, I had PET scan which showed cancer in my lung, my lymph nodes and possibly my spine. After having a biopsy, I was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma lung cancer, stage 4.

 I am a never-smoker, and competed as a “weekend” triathlete for years before my diagnosis.  In my early career, I worked in a number of “dirty” factories where metal was processed and space parts were tested with radiation.  In the summer of 2009, we tested our new house for radon and found levels that were too high, (21 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L)), about 4 times the EPA’s recommendation. The radon mitigation system was installed and we assumed it was working properly until my diagnosis. Our electrical outlet for the mitigation fan, however, had tripped and was not working. We lived through two winters (when radon levels in a house are highest), without proper mitigation. Although there is no test that can analyze a lung cancer cell, radioactive radon gas may have been a contributing cause.

 I celebrated my one-year “survivor” anniversary in October 2012. I put survivor in parentheses because I am not cured and am actually in a worse condition than I was in October 2011; however, I have a great team of doctors, and we continue to try new therapies and clinical trials. 

Our hope is that I’m able to continue to have a good quality of life while living with the cancer, but eventually hoping a therapy is developed that will beat it.

 

Barb Neitge – 2010

Barb Neitge

Barb Neitge

Shorewood, MN

The call came in September 2009. The doctor told me you have lung cancer. I was shocked. How could this happen to me? I had very few symptoms, except a little wheezing and a cough when I laughed. I had always been in good health. I didn’t even have a regular medical doctor or take any medications.

Now I have Stage IV lung cancer. My daughter and I immediately thought of radon (it was on my list to get the house tested this fall). The test came back with a reading of 39.9%. My children and I have been living in the house for 16 years. We didn’t spend a lot of time in the basement, but this past summer I was down there a lot cleaning and going through old photos for my daughter’s wedding reception.

Knowing that radon was in my home all these years, is hard to think about. We must pass legislation so that other people and their families do not have to go through the trauma of radon-induced lung cancer.
Barb passed from this life August 6, 2010

 

Debby Rebensdorf  2012

Debby Rebensdorf

Winchester, Ohio

My husband and I moved from the city about 11 years ago to breathe in country air.  Being active, healthy outdoors people, we were ready to enjoy our beautiful dream home surrounded by our friends, horses and lots of four-legged critters and considered our new dwelling to be our haven.

However, in October 2009, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.   Neither my husband nor I ever smoked nor were we around high levels of air pollution from vehicles or factories.  Two physicians suggested that we check our home for radon gas which we did.  The results came back in double digits.  I had no idea that we were living with this silent killer or that it is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers until my diagnosis was made.  Immediately I took action and hired a radon professional to install a radon mitigation system so I could begin to fight for my life.

It’s easy to plan your life; it’s harder to plan not to have one, and so I never dreamed I would be fighting this battle.  Sharing my story with friends, family, co-workers and the news media gives me an opportunity to tell people about the real risk of living with elevated levels of radon gas and to encourage them to test their homes and to hopefully help prevent this from happening to others.

 

Dennie Edwards – 2008

Dennie Edwards

Dennie Edwards

Elyria, OH

In April of 2004, I had a very bad cold, so my doctor performed a chest x-ray to check for pneumonia. I’ve never smoked, so you can imagine how shocked I was that he found a 4.5 centimeter mass in my left lung.

Even though I’ve been a real estate agent for 31 years, I had never bothered to test my house for radon. I always informed my clients that radon testing prior to purchase was an option (to protect my liability), but truthfully, I really didn’t care if they tested or not.

Now I had to wonder whether my lung cancer had been caused by radon exposure. While the doctor scheduled my surgery, I scheduled a radon test. The result was 10 pCi/l, (two and a half times the EPA’s recommended Action Level). I had lived in the home for 12 years. Needless to say, I called a contractor to have a mitigation system installed.

Two days later I had surgery. I thought I was surely going to die. When I woke up choking with tubes in my throat, panic set in. They had removed my entire left lung.

I’m getting better. I can walk up to a mile. But, I can no longer dance, lift things, or exert myself. My clients now get a very personal testimonial about the importance of testing for radon.

I enjoy playing the guitar and cooking for my two sisters.

(Dennie passed away June 18, 2008)

Susan McCormick – 2010

Susan McCormick

Susan McCormick

Portland, OR

My story began with a dry cough and a bad bike ride. In August, 2008, I took the trip I’d long dreamed of. Two weeks in Peru with nothing more than a cousin, a frame pack and a travel book. To stand at the top of Machu Picchu was a dream come true! Two days before returning to Portland, I developed a dry cough that wouldn’t go away. Since I’m sensitive to mold and mildew, I attributed it to the hostels we were staying in and figured a Benadryl or two and some clean Oregon air would clear up the cough in no time.

As it turns out, my annual physical exam was just a few days after returning from Peru. I mentioned the cough to my doctor at the end of the exam (which I had passed with flying colors) and she said if it didn’t go away in a few days, to call back and get it checked as I had been out of the country. I didn’t give it much thought until a week or so later when a few colleagues and I rode our bikes to work on a sunny Friday morning. What should have been a fairly easy ride was not that at all – I couldn’t draw a deep breath. Fast forward to the diagnosis after X-rays, breathing tests and a biopsy. I had lung cancer and the tumor in my lung was about the size of my loosely clenched fist. Shocked? Beyond words. I’d always been very healthy and even though I’d smoked, it had been over twenty years since I’d quit and the doctors said my cancer didn’t fit a smoker’s profile.

I went to UCSF to get a second opinion and it was the oncologist there that first asked me about Radon, wanting to know if I’d ever had my home tested. I had no idea what Radon even was and told her no. When I returned to Portland, one of the first questions asked of me by my oncologist here was, again, about Radon. My curiosity was piqued, but at that point, I didn’t pursue the issue. It was only when my dog was diagnosed with cancer a month after my diagnosis that it got my full attention. A friend, who happens to be a chemical engineer, told me I needed to get my house tested as there had to be something that was making us both sick. And thus began the Radon trail.

My home was tested and the Radon level was 20.4 – five times higher than the highest limit considered acceptable. Not only did I have extraordinarily high levels, research revealed that I live in a part of Oregon known for extremely high levels of Radon. This was another shock. I’ve lived in my home for 13 years and had absolutely no idea what Radon was, much less that I lived in an area known as “Radon Ridge”. I began to question friends and neighbors and it turns out very few even knew what Radon was, much less the exposure risks.

I’m currently in treatment for the cancers and, yes, the plural was intended. I have lung cancer, which I feel is a direct result of exposure to Radon, but I also have pancreatic cancer. Whether the two are related, I don’t know and there isn’t much data to support Radon and pancreatic cancer. One of the many blessings is that I have had time to “take my message to the street” regarding Radon and the need for awareness, testing and mitigation for areas with high levels of exposure. I’ve written about it in my blog and have had an article published in the Oregonian (our state paper) telling people my story and urging them to get their homes tested, to tell everyone they know and asking them to participate in local neighborhood associations and other arenas to get the word out. The response has been great and overwhelmingly positive and I’m so grateful for that. My hope is to continue my efforts to get legislation passed here in Oregon that will at least require disclosure in all home/commercial real estate transactions.

I’m blessed with an amazing community of family and friends that have been supportive beyond words in this cancer journey. I’m so very grateful to still feel good even at this stage of the cancer, the lung has responded well to treatment but the pancreas has not. God has given me so much to be thankful for and, without Him in my life, well, I just can’t imagine that! He is my strength. I’m still kicking back at this cancer with steel-toed boots and every ounce of energy I have, but am also enjoying each and every day for the gift that it is. I’m a 6th grade middle school teacher and am returning to work next week after an amazing summer break. Carpe Diem!
Susan passed from this life March 7, 2010

Bob MacEwan – 2004

Bob MacEwan - 2004

Bob MacEwan - 2004

Lake Oswego, OR

I want people in Lake Oswego to know radon exposure can cause lung cancer; radon can kill. It took my husband’s life, Bob, in 2004. That is why I am serving as a spokesperson for Radon Awareness Month in January in the Lake Oswego area. People in Lake Oswego need to be aware of radon. If it can happen to us, it can happen to anybody.

Bob thought he had burst a blood vessel in his neck, but an X-ray showed a major tumor in his lung. This was a shock because Bob was only 49 and a non-smoker; so he did an Internet search to find radon exposure to be a plausible cause. When we called the EPA for more info, we were told that our area didn’t have any radon. We decided to test anyway.

The results were an incredibly high level of 55.2 pCi/L. A follow-up test was 56.2 pCi/L. The worst news was that the discovery was too late to help Bob.

When diagnosed, Bob was already in the late stages. He died in November in 2004. I had a mitigation system installed, which reduced the radon level to a safer level of 2.1 to minimize the risk to me, my children and grandchildren.

I became a spokesperson for Radon Awareness Month just a year after Bob’s death. The first people I told about radon were my neighbors, and I was greatly surprised to discover some people just didn’t want to know about it. The cost for a test is minimal and is a small price for peace of mind. I am working to spread the word about radon in Lake Oswego whenever and wherever possible.

Chest X-rays should be part of any physical. Radon testing should be part of any home inspection. Many real estate agents treat radon as if it doesnÌt even exist. If I were an agent, I would say, “Let’s do the radon test. Let’s get it done”. I would like public awareness increased about radon and not swept under a rug.

- Marlene MacEwan

Linda D’Agostino

Linda D'Agostino

Linda D'Agostino

Conestoga, PA

As we were selling our home of 6 years in Holtwood, PA, the prospective buyer sought a test for radon. The test revealed radon levels of 87 pCi/L. We didn’t even know what radon gas was!

We built a new house in Conestoga and placed a mitigation system in it. Four months later, after fighting a chronic cough, I got the terrible news-Stage IV lung cancer! A doctor slapped an expiration date on the bottom of my
foot telling me I had one year to live without treatment, two with.

After lung surgery and many rounds of chemo, I am still here and feel that my life is in God’s hands. Having smoked I thought that was the reason I had developed lung cancer until I saw the Radon PSA on TV and searched the Internet to discover that radon gas in the home increases the chances of lung cancer for smokers or former smokers many times over. Smokers are not the only ones at risk; we are all at risk. Radon can be in any type of structure, old, new, brick, frame, basement, crawl space, or slab on grade. The only way to know if this silent killer is living with you is to test for it.

While still undergoing chemo treatment, I continue to tell my story and tell others about the danger of living with radon gas-this dirty little silent secret. My story has now been featured on TV news and in the newspapers. I have found out that I am not alone in my fight against radon, although, many people I talk with say, “Radon, what’s that.” Refusing to lie down and be quiet about this, I pray you will help me on my journey to raise awareness of radon and urge everyone to test his or her home for radon and fix if the level is high.

I feel like I have been robbed. It’s like a movie on “Lifetime”, only I’m living it. I am angry, but I am on a mission to raise radon awareness. Now I immerse myself in researching radon, connecting with others who have been victimized by radon and try to prepare my 11-year-old daughter for growing up without me. I put together things for my daughter’s future by keeping journals, and underlining information in books for her to read later. God is keeping me here for my daughter and to tell others about the dangers of radon gas. I am 44 years old, and I have terminal lung cancer; I don’t want it to happen to anyone else. Test your home for radon!

Angela M. Riley

Angela M. Riley

Angela M. Riley

Slippery Rock, PA

I am a recently divorced mother of two girls, eight year-old Melissa and five year-old Julia. I am also a former nurse, so I know the importance of taking care of one’s health. I never smoked or worked around smoke.

I first went to see my doctor in late May of 2003 because I was wheezing. He left message on my answering machine on a Friday that something was wrong, but I had to wait until Monday to find out they had found a small tumor in my lung. I had surgery in July to remove a quarter of my lung. I am very fortunate they caught it in time.

Not knowing how in the world I could have developed lung cancer, I tested my house for radon and discovered my girls and I had been living in a very high concentration of 55 pCi/l. I also discovered my neighbor, who died of lung cancer in late 2002, had been living in over 70 pCi/l!

I’m getting stronger and I love to walk and play with my children.

Sue Michael – 2005

Sue Michael - 2005

Sue Michael - 2005

New Castle, PA

I was at greater risk for radon exposure because I was a stay at home mom for 25 years. My husband Bob and I didn’t want latch key kids, we wanted me there when the kids came home, to greet them and to say hello, how was your day? We discovered after it was too late, we’d been living in a radon concentration of 6.8 pCi/l. We’ve never smoked.

When I went to the oncologist (in May 2003), I knew that it was in the lungs, the liver and some of the lymph nodes. And then I found out it was also in the bones in three different places. When the doctor told us it was 8-10 months, my oldest daughter said at least I’d be here for Christmas.

Says Bob, “When you’ve been with a woman for 38 years, its tough. To all of a sudden to find out she’s got something that can take her away from you…it’s difficult.

(Sue passed away in September 2005).

Monica Pryor – 2008

Monica Pryor - 2008

Monica Pryor - 2008

Taylor, SC

I am a 37-year old wife, mother of three children, Meghan, 8; Jason, 6; and my baby, Joshua, 17 months, and I am a believer. I have been diagnosed with incurable, Stage IV, adema carcinoma–lung cancer.

My surgeon said that the cancer either came from smoking, asbestos, chemicals, or radon. Since the first two are not possible, most likely it is radon-induced lung cancer. Our indoor radon measured at 7.2 pCi/L, so our “family” at North Hills Church enabled us to get the house mitigated. The level is now 0.7 pCi/L.

The local TV station, WYFF 4 in Greenville, SC, interviewed me and many people responded by calling to get a free test kit to check their home. I so want to get the message out about how dangerous radon is.

This strange journey began with four months of having severe headaches and pneumonia-like symptoms, and finally a visit to the doctor. After many tests, my doctor discovered that my right lung was blanketed with tumors called adema-carcinoma ¬lung cancer. I started chemotherapy almost immediately. Nausea, headaches, mouth sores and infections gave way to a little pity party for myself, but God gave me the strength to face my tomorrows and my fears.

I have been on the most intensive medication and chemotherapy regime possible. I am finding that this struggle is as much an emotional and mental fight as it is a physical one; however, the physical suffering is terrible. The cancer has spread to my liver and bones through my lymph system. There is much pain and many problems I work through on a daily basis to be able to “live”.

I try to have lots of snuggle time with my children. It is such a treat to just sit and watch them, hear them laugh and hold and pray with them. One of my prayer warriors told me “God is still a God of miracles.” I am in good physical condition even though not much energy. I go to church every Sunday, out with my girlfriends a few times a week and have a date night once a week with my husband.

My pastor said one Sunday morning, “This storm was designed for me” which struck a cord with me. This is not a random or accidental case of cancer. It never ceases to amaze me that God knows the right person to put in your path at the right time. God is not finished with me yet. I am confident that educating others about radon is one of my missions.

Ravi Zacharias asks, “Are our lives just random and meaningless strands of thread, or could they possibly be precise designs woven with remarkable care, thought, and intent?” On my special journey there have been many threads woven into my life by the Grand Weaver.

(Monica passed away October 27, 2008)

Ginger Collins – 2011

Pearisburg, VA
For more than 30 years, my mother Ginger Collins worked, prayed and raised her three daughters in the ranch-style brick house she my dad built at Bunker Hill. My mother had no idea that she was living with a silent killer in her home; she was a never smoker and died at the age of 58 from lung cancer in February of 2011.
In January, the level of radon was more than four times the EPA action level in her house. My family had never heard of radon and had no idea of the devastation it could cause—lung cancer. Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the natural decay of uranium. Over time, as radon particles are inhaled; they can adhere to the air sacs in the lung and change the DNA of the cells—thus causing lung cancer…
I sat down with my mother on her back porch in the spring of 2010 on the day she received her cancer diagnosis. “She said to me, ‘I know what it’s like to lose a mother’.” My grandmother had also died at age 59 from lung cancer. My sister and I wonder whether our grandmother’s cause of death mirrors our mother’s.
Hopefully by bringing the danger of living with high levels of radon to the public through media and community awareness, no one else will have to endure the tragic lost as we did. It is my goal to increase the awareness of the danger of radon gas and educate others that it is so simple to test a home and not difficult to fix if the level is elevated. Our state of Virginia no longer has a radon program due to budget cuts; the state no longer conducts an outreach campaign that included distributing literature about radon, giving out free radon test kits and working with real estate agencies and local government officials to get the word out; so it is left up to the family of the radon-induced lung cancer victims to make a difference.
Tina Steele
Daughter

Sandra Sponcler

Sandra Sponcler

Sandra Sponcler

Chattaroy, WA

I am getting a radon mitigation system installed as I write to you. I am a 64-year-old, non-smoker, married 44 years. In January 2008, I got sick with a cold; it went into Pleurisy; after X-rays, Cat scans and Pet scans, I had major Cancer surgery to remove 1/3 of my left lung upper lobe.

I just couldn’t imagine how or why I got this cancer. My husband and I decided to do a radon test in January 2009; the levels in our bedroom where I have slept for 31 years were at 18 picocuries; the crawl space under the bedroom was at 32.

I am totally shocked that radon is not taken more seriously in our country. I was told there are only approximate 600+ certified installers in the USA who can install radon mitigation systems. This is absolutely crazy. My lung cancer was the worst surgery I have ever been through in all of my 64 years. If I had just known more about what radon-induced lung cancer, I certainly would have checked often for radon levels.

Everyone’s home should be tested for radon. Please take action against radon now. Test, fix and save a life!

Debbie Greenman

Debbie Greenman

Debbie Greenman

Loon Lake, WA

Like many others on this page, I have led a healthy life style. I never smoked, my parents didn’t smoke and as a teacher, I have always worked in a non-smoking environment. Just before Thanksgiving in 2008, I went into the hospital for a routine hysterectomy. As part of pre-op, the hospital required a chest x-ray. That x-ray saved my life. Two weeks after my hysterectomy, I was on the table for a biopsy. To my shock, I had Stage 1 non-small cell lung cancer.

On the day of my lung surgery, five weeks after the first surgery, our first radon test was being analyzed at the lab. The results came back at 204 pCi/L. I thought for sure they must have the decimal point in the wrong place. A call to a local radon mitigation company provided us with two more test kits from a different lab. The results came back even higher – 260 pCi/L. Our state Department of Health recommended that residences with levels over 100 not be occupied, so my husband and I moved in with my parents. They tested their house, in Deer Park, WA, and it had levels around 25. Advanced Radon was able to fix my parents house very quickly while they customized a heftier system to fix our home. Using a commercial building size fan and two holes through the concrete slab, they were able to reduce the radon level to about 1 pCi/L. Now I am back to teaching third grade full-time and will return to coaching my school’s running club this spring (which means walking and jogging with the kids).

What frustrates me is that despite the radon levels in our area, I have given radon test kits to two neighbors who still haven’t found time to test. Fortunately, others have, and have installed active radon systems. The WA State Department of Health asked me if I would be willing to talk to the media to get the word out about radon. The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA) ran a great article on the front page.
http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2009/mar/08/a-silent-danger/

Elizabeth Hoffmann
November 6, 2013

Elizabeth Hoffmann

Elizabeth Hoffmann

Milwaukee, WI

I was diagnosed with lung cancer, Stage IIIA in September, 2003 at age 37. I never smoked, nor was there any family history of lung cancer. Our home, of 15+ years tested at 8.6 pico-Curies per liter for radon. I underwent surgery to remove the mass and lower left lobe followed by chemotherapy and radiation. Treatments were completed March of 2004. I underwent regular blood and CT Scans every three months to monitor possible reoccurrence.

Round 2:

But, the cancer returned during the summer of 2006 in the form of fluid in my chest. I was getting out of breath easily and went to see my doctor. A chest X-ray showed fluid in my left chest cavity. I had over four liters of fluid and needed to stay in the hospital a few days over Labor Day weekend to drain the fluid. At that time I was told that I had “weeks or months to live.” A pleurex catheter was placed in my left side so I could be drained at home. I was told that it is rare that a pleurex catheter is ever removed. I also underwent another round of chemo. Miracles continue when the fluid level stabilized and the catheter was able to be removed in March of 2007. I returned to work full-time at the end of 2006.

Round 3:

In August 2008 the cancer returned a third time; 11 masses/nodules in both lungs and it metatisized to my brain (one mass). I underwent Cyberknife (pinpoint brain radiation) and began taking the daily chemo pill Tarceva. Both treatments have shown positive results. I remain positive, but also realistic. I continue to enjoy time with my husband, family and friends. I pray that miracles continue to help me beat the odds.

Round 4

A routine brain scan in the summer of 2010 showed a dozen or so new lesions on my brain. I underwent whole brain radiation and as of December 2010 my brain looks great. The radiation seemed to work. But, my chest CT in December showed new growth in my left lung. I started a new chemo drug and have high hopes that I will have another positive response.

I will do everything I can to help spread the importance of radon testing so no one else will hear the words, “you have cancer” (due to radon exposure).

Enjoy life. Appreciate every day. Never take anyone or anything for granted. “Grant me the Serenity to accept the things I can not change, Courage to change the things I can and Wisdom to know the difference.”