Jan P., UT
I was diagnosed with stage 3A lung cancer in 2007. My father died of lung cancer at age 74, so you can imagine how frightened I was with my own diagnosis.
I had taken my mother-in-law to an oncologist, so I made an appointment to see Dr. Kent DiFiore at Utah Cancer Specialists for treatment. He suggested a CT scan to see if the cancer had spread. If not, he knew a surgeon who could probably do surgery to remove the tumor, since I had been told it was inoperable. Fortunately, the cancer had not spread, so the next day I met with Dr. Michael Collins and 2 days later I had my right lung removed. I then followed up with 5 weeks of radiation and 4 months of chemotherapy. My cancer was then in remission.
Since I was not a smoker, I was curious as to what could have caused my lung cancer. We started exploring possible causes of lung cancer, and heard about radon gas. We knew nothing about radon and that it is a carcinogen. Could it be in the home we bought in 1992? We checked our real estate records and found out that it was tested when we bought the home, thanks to our nephew who was our real estate agent, and knew to do a radon test. The results were 2.5 picocuries per liter of air (pc/l), certainly below the EPA recommendation to mitigate at levels of 4.0 or higher. Then we remembered we had done a huge remodel in 2002, digging a walk-out basement and adding a sunroom. When the State Inspector came to approve the remodel, he approved everything, but had us add smoke alarms in every bedroom, since they were only in the hallways. We then decided to test for radon again. This time the level came back at 24.9 pc/l. Immediately we had a mitigation system installed, bringing the level down again to 2.5 pc/l.
I was told by someone that I should get in touch with Michael Siler who had recently founded the Utah Radon Coalition and the Utah Radon Policy Coalition. I contacted him, and now am a proud member, board member and Treasurer of both organizations. We have given out many free radon test kits, and have established a Low Income Mitigation Program where we can financially assist folks with low incomes to be safe from the dangers of radon. Our number one goal is to raise awareness of radon. And I am very proud of all the successes we have accomplished.
I also have contacted Eleanor Divver, who is the Radon Project Coordinator for the state of Utah. She has asked me to tell my story at many of her presentations, to relay the message that if it can happen to me it can happen to you.
Through the Utah Radon Coalition, I met Dr. Wallace Akerley, a lung cancer oncologist from the Huntsman Cancer Center. Fast forward to 2014. I started having symptoms of dementia. My primary care doctor ordered an MRI which showed a fist sized tumor in my brain, and a smaller tumor in the back of my brain. Since Dr. DiFiore had retired, I met with Dr. Akerley. I had brain surgery, by Dr. Peter Maughan, a very good neurosurgeon, to remove the larger tumor, which was metastasized lung cancer, followed by radiation to treat the smaller tumor. In January of 2015, Dr. Akerley started me on a newly approved chemo drug which crosses the blood brain barrier and keeps cancer cells from reproducing. The research that NIH does likely contributed to this breakthrough. Though I am officially cancer free, I still have MRIs and CT scans every 6 months.
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