Mother’s diagnosis spurs action on radon awareness

Josette Miller and her husband Paul Miller, of New Market, attend a summit in New York for lung cancer awareness. Courtesy photo

Josette Miller, of New Market, learned her mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in May 2013. While the cause is unknown, the Millers discovered that radon is a leading, yet little known, cause of lung cancer.

“Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer,” Miller said, and “kills more than breast, colon and pancreatic cancer combined.”

“If you have lungs, you’re at risk,” Miller added.

According to the Virginia Department of Health website, http://tiny.cc/jl5o4x,  there are about 700 cases of radon exposure in Virginia, and around 21,000 across the nation. Those living in Shenandoah, Warren, Frederick and Page counties are at higher potential risk than other areas of the state, according to a radon map on the website – http://tiny.cc/0o5o4x.

Radon is an invisible radioactive gas caused by the breakdown of uranium in the ground. It’s also found in water.  The gas, according to the health department’s website, “decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy. This can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of your lifetime.”

Miller said there’s a stigma associated with lung cancer that deeply affected her family. When people hear you have lung cancer, they automatically think it’s because of smoking, but radon may actually be to blame.

Miller’s mother was the first person in her family to be diagnosed with lung cancer. “She didn’t deserve this,” Miller said.

Her mother was afraid of what people would think of her. “Mom was so embarrassed, so ashamed,” Miller added.

According to Miller, when her mother first started feeling ill, the doctor said she was depressed. This diagnosis lasted for 13 months until her mother was sent to the hospital after her lung collapsed. This is when the lung cancer was found.

“If it’s not detected early, it spreads very quickly,” Miller said.

In February her mother had a stroke and was in rehab for a month. Then it got worse as the cancer spread to her brain.

On June 7, 2015, Miller’s mother passed away. Doctors had given her nine to 12 months, with treatment. She proved her doctors wrong and lived for two years and 13 days.

One step toward prevention is home testing. Miller said testing your home for radon is extremely important. If high levels of radon are found, there are ways to eliminate it.

“This is the best time of year to test your home because your windows are closed,” Miller said.

Miller also said that radon can be in any water source, including well water and spring water, and it needs to be removed from water before it enters the home.

November is lung cancer awareness month. Miller is helping to put together events for lung cancer and radon awareness in the community. She volunteers with Free to Breathe and Lung Cancer Alliance. Some events coming up include:

  • On Oct. 22, a radon workshop will be held at Randy’s Hardware in Timberville.
  • Nov. 5, National Shine a Light at 7 p.m in New Market at 9771 S. Congress St.
  • On Nov. 14, there will be a Tupperware BINGO at the New Market Fire Department.
  • On Nov. 19, the Great American Smokeout will be held. This is held as a target date for smokers to quit smoking.

For information on any of these events, contact Josette Miller at 540-481-0459.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com