My youngest sister died in 2009 at the age of sixty-three. It was an unnecessary death.
Sally had developed a cough that she had ignored for a few months, thinking it was allergies. In September of 2007, she went to a doctor who immediately ordered a chest x-ray and other tests.
The diagnosis – lung cancer.
The doctor at our small local hospital, either not understanding the seriousness of what they had seen in the tests, or not wanting to be the one to tell her the worst, said it was curable.
Well, he was wrong.
Sally went to Roswell Park Hospital in Buffalo, NY, a cancer treatment center, to begin treatment. Doctors there told us that she had stage four lung cancer, incurable. She began chemotherapy and was hopeful that it would give her a few more good years. She was going to be a grandmother for the first time in January of 2009 and she had a lot to live for.
Sally rallied for a while, enough to make a trip to the Netherlands with me and our other sister.
Things were looking hopeful.
Then came the bad news. Tests had showed that, as lung cancer is prone to do, it had metastasized to Sally's brain. She began radiation treatment to fight the brain tumors and it was all downhill from there.
Sally lived long enough to meet her granddaughter, but that was all she could manage. She died in March of 2009.
The saddest part of this story is that it could be prevented. Sally did not get cancer from smoking; she got it from radon.
When her home was sold, the new owners had the home tested for radon. It tested very high for radon particles.
Another sad part of the story is that Sally's nearest neighbor was a radon specialist. He had approached her and her late husband five years earlier to ask if they would like to have their home tested.
Before they could make a decision, her husband died an untimely death from heart problems. Sally never gave it another thought, and the neighbor decided not to pursue the proposal.
Had she gone ahead with the testing and had the home radon-proofed, it might have saved her life. Or perhaps it was too late at that point – we will never know.
Radon is known to cause over 20,000 deaths due to lung cancer per year. It is the second highest cause of the disease, and it can be prevented. Home testing kits are available or you can hire a professional technician at quite reasonable cost.
Radon-proofing a home can reduce the radon content by 99 percent. If your home has not been tested for radon, considering doing it NOW.
We were devastated to learn that our loved one had died so needlessly. But we have all had our own homes checked. I want you to have yours checked too.
Oh, I failed to mention that I was one of the caregivers for Sally.
I'll never forget the night near the end when I was caring for her and she weakly turned to me and asked "I'm a cooked goose aren't I?"
What's a caregiver to say?