Maria S

Maria S., IA

As a 62 year old Nurse Practitioner, and being in healthcare for the past 40+ years, I was (I thought) in good health - no prescription medicine, exercising regularly and I ate a healthy diet. However, in late 2019, I’d developed a 2 month history of a night time cough along with crackling sound when I took a deep breath along with chest heaviness.

As I have a strong family history of heart disease and stroke, I had screening appointments made and everything checked out ok with regards to my heart. I then decided to see my Nurse Practitioner, who ordered a chest X-ray. This was abnormal and a CT of my chest then revealed the possibility of lung cancer with several lymph nodes that were swollen in my chest, causing the heaviness. Further testing revealed Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer with an EGFR mutation. I was also found to have extensive brain and bone metastasis.

I had never smoked but soon learned about the dangers of radon gas and it’s prevalence in Iowa. Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in our country. Our state’s average indoor radon concentration is more than six times the national average. This makes our state the highest in the nation with radon levels above the EPA recommended action limit. An estimated 400 deaths per year in Iowa are caused by radon-induced lung cancer. That is approximately the number of Iowans who die in traffic accidents each year.

I have been through brain and bone radiation treatments and am currently on targeted therapy pills daily. I have a bone strengthening infusion every three months. Thankfully I am tolerating my treatment well. I decided to retire a few years early as I was told the average person in my situation (especially with the brain metastasis) lives a year. Well, it’s been two years now and I’m feeling well. I still have surveillance scans regularly but I’ve decided to continue to live life, and, in the words of my radiation oncologist: “Find joy and spread joy!”

I have devoted a lot of time to cancer adcocacy. Early in 2022,  a bill was introduced into the Iowa Legislature to require all Iowa schools to test and mitigate for radon. If present, mitigation systems would need to be installed.

Just recently (March, 2022) it has passed the Iowa House with overwhelming bipartisan support and will now go to the Iowa Senate. This is my first time as an advocate in this manner - I’d not been politically active, except to vote. I would encourage each of you to get involved in this way. Even writing emails to your representative is so important!

I am also been involved with the American Lung Association by participating in their Fight for Air Climbs in 2020 and 2021. Social media has been an easy way to get the word out about the amazing work the ALA is doing and to raise money for a great cause. My advice to anyone with a cancer diagnosis is to stay as positive as you can, continue to exercise, eat a healthy diet AND surrounding yourself with loved ones that support you! Go ahead and keep looking forward! I am so grateful to be at this point in my life.

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