In July 2015, I went to the doctor because I had shingles. I got the medicine for the shingles and the doctor then asked me if I had any other complaints that may need to be checked out as part of my Medicare health maintenance. I hadn't been to a doctor in 18 months. I was extremely healthy: never had the flu, never broke anything, blood pressure and blood sugar and cholesterol were excellent and was in top shape.
In answer to her question, I said, "No. I feel great. Except, well, I sing by ear and I noticed that my voice sometimes sounds a little bit edgy and I can roll notes, but it seems now I have to take a quick short breath to end the run." I said that it was probably because I had been sitting and working on the computer too much in the last year and I probably just need to exercise my diaphragm more, that's all. Singing and music is my passion. I got my voice when I was eight years old. I've been in every church choir. I just love it!
My doctor asked me as she listened to my chest, if I was coughing or had any chest pains, to which I said, "Nothing."
At that point, we were both going to blow it off thinking it was nothing. My doctor had her hand on the door, ready to leave, but then said, "Well, since you get this free maintenance, let's just order a chest x-ray." Two days later, I got a call saying they found a tumor approximately 1 inch in diameter in my lung. I had the biopsy which proved to be lung cancer - adenocarcinoma.
I was blown away! Of course I went through all of the mental pain everyone else does and after talking with my doctor again, she said, "Do you realize that we both almost walked out of that door? And, if you hadn't gotten shingles, we probably never would have found this for another year or so?"
Well, a month later, I was operated on and they removed the upper left lobe. I lost 1/5 of my lung capacity. The surgery went smoothly and the same day, I tried to sing and was still able to. I was released from the hospital in 3 days and at which point I am 100% cancer free. No chemo, radiation or medication. The doctor said just walk every day.
I went back to church and the choir after 2 months. The practice helped to build my lung capacity, which I work on every day.
It's been 7 months now. When I returned to my normal duties, through a conversation with a friend, I mentioned that everyone is puzzled about how I got lung cancer. He mentioned that radon was the largest cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. I didn't know anything about radon, so I did my homework and read about it. I was shocked at the study results regarding radon emissions and the number of deaths due to exposure. I had my building tested which did test higher than the norm. I lived in this building for 38 years. The area that I live in is built on top of old coal mines in Pennsylvania.
There are no laws in the State of Pennsylvania that says you must do a radon test as a seller, buyer or owner. I found that many people don't know about it and how it can affect you. As a result of my reading and talking with various people and organizations who have been so helpful in providing information, I have decided to become a Pennsylvania Radon Awareness Advocate. More education needs to happen at the local levels and the information must get into the hands of more people. Maybe I can help someone through early detection. For me, this is my way of paying it forward.
First Published: May 18, 2016
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