By Kimberly Buchmeier
My name is Kimberly Buchmeier and I am from a small town in Southeast Nebraska. I am a mother, wife, grandmother, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, friend and a six-year lung cancer survivor. In 2011, at age 37, I was diagnosed with non-small cell adenocarcinoma.
I thought I was pretty healthy. I ran a half marathon the year before, exercise on a regular basis and am not overweight. With three active kids at home and a full time job, I had no time for a cancer diagnosis. I mean, I didn’t feel “sick.” Can you imagine the questions going on in my head? I was young. I was healthy. How could this be?
My oncologist told me that some environmental factors can cause lung cancer. Environmental factors. What environmental factors? I went to Google. Every time I searched “lung cancer from environmental factors” one word stood out in bold…RADON. I ended up finding out, three years after my diagnosis, that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. The odorless, colorless gas called radon tests very high in the area where I live. In fact, Nebraska is the third largest state with the highest radon content. With that information, my husband and I tested our home. According to the EPA a home should test below 4 pCi/L.* Our home tested at 14.8 pCi/L. We waited about six months and tested again…29.9 pCi/L! Outrageous!
I discussed this with my oncologist and it was determined that radon was the most likely culprit behind my lung cancer diagnosis.
We installed a mitigation system that controls the radon levels and our home continues to test well under the EPA’s recommendations.
We built our home in 2003. Never in a million years did I think my beautiful home would be a health hazard. The same year I was diagnosed with lung cancer we lost our seven-year-old dog to cancer. He spent most of his time in our basement bedroom (the highest levels of radon are usually recorded in the basement of a home) and we can’t help but think that radon caused his cancer too. This past year my husband had a CT scan for a separate health issue and it showed small nodules on his lungs. A re-scan after three months showed most of the nodules had disappeared, but now he has to monitor with annual scans. I raised my children in this home and it scares me to death that they, too, were exposed to such high levels of radon.
I advocate constantly for lung cancer awareness and I work with all advocacy organizations to get radon awareness on the map. I urge everyone to test their home, new or old, no matter where you live.
Don’t guess, TEST!
*When radiation from radon is measured directly, the amount is usually expressed in picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). A Curie is a unit of radioactivity equivalent to 1 gram of radium and the prefix “pico” means a trillionth. (source: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-12/documents/2016_a_citizens_guide_to_radon.pdf)