It came as quite a surprise when I was first diagnosed with Stage 3 lung cancer in 2007. It was an even bigger shock to learn that my lung cancer was caused by exposure to high levels of radon gas in my own home. I want to keep sharing my story with the hope that it might prevent others from getting lung cancer from radon gas.
My husband and I did extensive renovations on our house to turn it into our dream home. About five years later, I developed a nagging cough. I went to the doctor, who sent me for a CT scan. The scan showed a mass in my right lung, so we scheduled an appointment with a pulmonologist to have a biopsy. The doctor who performed the biopsy called to tell me that I had lung cancer and that it was inoperable. He told me that I had four months to live.
My husband had just returned from a trip to Africa and my mother was staying with us while she recovered from surgery. I turned on the T.V. and Jordin Sparks was singing, “This is My Now” and it just hit me that “you can sit here and feel sorry for yourself or you can fight it.” It’s crazy how the universe works.
Shortly after I was diagnosed, we had our home tested for radon gas, the second leading cause of lung cancer. The test showed levels that were 6-times the EPA recommended action level. I had my right lung removed and underwent 5 weeks of radiation and 4 months of chemotherapy. I started to gain my strength back and started looking for a lung cancer community.
In the beginning, there was very little information about lung cancer. I couldn’t find anyone to talk to. Then my daughter found out about LUNGevity and a walk they were holding in Manhatten Beach, California, called Breathe Deep Los Angeles. She said we should go there on a girls’ trip. Who wouldn't want to go to the beach after dealing with lung cancer treatment? My first Breathe Deep experience was so inspirational. There were over 350 people walking whose lives had somehow been touched by lung cancer. I’d never been to anything like that and there was nothing like that where I lived near Salt Lake City. When we got home, my other daughter said, “Why don’t we start one here?” So we held our first Breathe Deep Salt Lake City in 2012.
I remained cancer free for 6 years, then in 2014 they found a fist-sized tumor in the front of my brain and a smaller tumor in the back which was metastasized lung cancer. They were able to remove those tumors and I went back into remission until that December, when they found 6 more brain tumors. I underwent surgeries to remove those, and then in January 2015, I started on a new chemo pill that I take orally. This treatment has worked very well for me and now there are four more on the market that would work just as well or better if this one stopped working. This is why I am so passionate to raise funds for lung cancer research. I am living proof that it works. The new treatments are so effective and amazing, but researchers need funding to find a cure. Lung Cancer research receives the least amount of federal funding of all types of cancer, yet it is the deadliest. I feel it is so important to raise funds to improve outcomes for lung cancer patients.
I think the most rewarding thing about being a Breathe Deep event coordinator is to see people coming back year after year because they know it’s a good cause. It makes you realize how many people care about health and our lungs. The more people you talk to, the more you find that they have a connection to lung cancer, whether it’s a family member or friend. In addition to raising funds and awareness, we try to provide information at our event. We have speakers who talk about new discoveries in lung cancer treatment and radon.
In fact, just because we’ve been raising awareness, a lot of the real estate agents are on board with getting homes they sell tested for radon gas. A local organization that does radon testing is even donating $20 of every radon test they do to LUNGevity. They’re promoting the walk to all of the real estate agencies that they work with. It’s amazing how generous people are. At first, I thought I can’t go around asking for free stuff. But I’ve found that people are willing to help!
I really feel like the grassroots is the way to reach people. I’ve had more success talking to people one-on-one. We’ve done some women’s groups and I’ve spoken at classes on Radon. I also worked with a social worker to put together a lung cancer support group. The online groups are great, but sometimes, you just really need to talk so somebody in person. In addition to LUNGevity, I’ve also been doing a lot with the Utah Radon coalition. And I’m going to be speaking at the international radon convention in New Orleans in October. I want to show that there’s a face to lung cancer caused by radon gas. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. Preventing lung cancer is so much easier and less costly than treating lung cancer.