Each November I write an article for Lung Cancer Awareness and send it to newspapers throughout the country to help inform the public that lung cancer is the greatest cancer killer of all and that much can be done to prevent this. Very few people realize that twice as many women die of lung cancer than breast cancer and three times as many men die of lung cancer than of prostate cancer. However, lung cancer research and prevention is extremely underfunded. Most people are not aware that Radon gas is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and that Radon is the leading environmental cause of lung cancer. My focus this year is “What can you do to make a difference.”
Most of us spend a lifetime wondering how we can make a difference; that was not the case with young 10-year old Jacob Shimek of Bel Aire, Maryland. I first met Jacob in Philadelphia at the National Conference of State Legislators Convention in July 2009 as he was accompanying his mother on her travel. Jacob and his father saw the sights in Philadelphia as his mother organized the booth “Radon Radio” at the Radon Leaders Saving Lives display in the Exhibit Hall. Jacob, his family, and I shared a few meals together; and I shared my story with Jacob.
My husband Joe was diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago and lived only six weeks after diagnosis. When we asked the oncologist what could have caused it, he told us smoking and Radon gas are known causes of lung cancer. Joe hadn’t smoked in 27 years and we didn’t know what Radon gas was. One month after Joe’s death, I heard the mention of Radon gas and lung cancer on the morning news, so I went to the hardware store, bought a test kit and found that for 18 years we had been living in our home with over four times the EPA action level of Radon gas and never knew it. At a very reasonable cost, I had the home mitigated and preceded to learn all I could about Radon gas. I went to my state legislator, Dan Reitz, and told him we needed a law so no one else would purchase a home with Radon gas. The Radon Awareness Act was passed in IL and since then four laws have been passed concerning Radon gas. Previous to the Radon Awareness Act, 8% percent of homebuyers tested for Radon before taking occupancy; in the first year of the enactment of the law that percentage grew to 25%.
Jacob heard my story and decided that for his next birthday party, he would give up receiving presents and instead host a charity birthday party. He would sell tickets at the door; $15 for games, $20 for games and a Radon Test kit and $25 included games, a Radon test kit and a t-shirt, which said “Love your lungs—Test for Radon.” Jacob invited his classmates and friends to his event, which was really more like a carnival, since he donated many of his toys, purchased a few new ones, and solicited a few friends for their toys. Booths were set up in the basement where the children could play and win prizes in games such as golf putting, basketball toss, spin the wheel, fish pond, and raffles for extremely large prizes. Approximately 35 children came and had a blast at Jacob’s event and Jacob raised $1,055.00, which was donated to Cancer Survivors Against Radon (CanSAR). We can all be inspired by Jacob’s unselfishness and compassion.
I hope you will take action this year and make a difference. Lung cancer is the greatest cancer killer of all taking approximately 170,000 lives this year. Do some little things like testing your home for Radon gas. Most people have no idea if they are living with this silent killer or not, and the only way to tell is to perform a simple test. If the Radon level is between 2 and 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) or higher, test again for accuracy. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates 2.7 pCi/L as a reference level and the EPA uses 4.0 pCi/L as the action level. Radon gas accounts for 14-18% of lung cancer according WHO. The surgeon general urges everyone to test his or her home for Radon gas.
You can visit www.cansar.org to see others who didn’t know they were living with high levels of Radon gas until the diagnosis of lung cancer entered their lives. You can make a difference and perhaps save the life of someone you love. Please take action against Radon and test your home. I invite you to become a fan of “Radon Tee” which is a t-shirt traveling the nation to increase Radon awareness, testing, and mitigation; thus helping to save lives by helping to prevent future Radon-induced lung cancer deaths. www.facebook.com/radontee