Amy Morris, AARST Integrated Media Manager
After learning that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends every home be tested for radon, one of the first questions a homeowner will have is, ‘How much does it cost to test?’ What if we reverse that mode of thinking and ask, ‘How much does it cost if I DON’T test?’
The price to test and even mitigate is minuscule compared to the expense of treating lung cancer. Quantifying the cost of not testing is a challenge, but we can be certain it will far exceed the cost of testing if unknown radon levels cause illness.
A recent National Cancer Institute article, “Financial Toxicity Associated With Cancer Care” states, “Cancer is one of the most costly medical conditions to treat in the United States. Prices higher than $10,000 a month for individual drugs and biologic agents are common.”
Cancer costs do not stop with the astronomical price of medications. More recently compiled data reveal a financial loss profile that is staggering – lost wages, expenses for travel, childcare, long-term care, etc.
AARST Government Affairs Committee Chair, Kyle Hoylman, suggests the current EPA risk estimates are outdated and understate the number of lives impacted, as well as the financial burden caused by radioactive radon gas. “The current risk estimates are based on the EPA’s 2003 document, Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes,” says Hoylman. “Our country has experienced tremendous growth over the past 17 years, and none of this data is reflected in the current risk estimates.”
Using updated data available to the public through organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Census Bureau, Hoylman estimates the number of annual radon-induced lung cancer incidents exceeds 30,000, with direct and indirect medical costs topping $7.2 billion.
Some homeowners may choose not to test despite the scientific facts and financial data. Others are completely blindsided, only to learn about radon after they become ill. Had they known from some source – a real estate agent, a homebuilder, a doctor, or an awareness law, perhaps they would have tested.
Industry professionals must actively and without hesitation, be the ones getting the knowledge of radon risk- health and financial, to as many people as possible so they may make an informed decision about testing.
PART TWO- Interview with Rachael Malmberg
FIND A WAY
To only look at the high financial cost of not testing is insufficient. Even more devastating than the financial struggle of treating cancer, is the human suffering.
The importance of radon-awareness cannot be overstated. Industry professionals must find a way to connect with more policymakers, homeowners, real estate agents, builders, medical professionals, and school boards to share the testimony of radon-induced cancer patients passionately fighting alongside us.
Had she known about radon, Rachael Malmberg would have tested her home. But the radon message came too late to protect her from Stage IV lung cancer. Now, she must live with the cost of cancer treatments and the emotional cost and pain of the battle.
Rachael has summoned relentless dedication to find ways to advocate for radon awareness. It’s important to contrast being an advocate during a healthy time, with the extra fortitude required to sustain advocacy work while in the fight against cancer. Rachael graciously spent some time sharing her reality with AARST.
You are again courageously fighting radon-induced lung cancer and still maintaining an active advocacy schedule. How has your advocacy perspective shifted during the changing condition of your health?
“In the beginning, determination and raw emotion were driving the advocacy. I was living as if I didn’t have tomorrow. Now that I am 2.5 years in, I have been able to take a step back and reflect on what is important and work more intentionally. When things are good in the cancer journey, they are great, as if you are a normal person living without a terminal illness. You realize that you must enjoy those times and be intentional because suddenly, you can be in a distressed situation again.
Advocating when [cancer] progression is found becomes more meaningful. The desire to make a change becomes the fire to continue and the need to positively impact others is stronger because the disease is right in your face.
What do you have to overcome physically/emotionally to continue advocacy?
The hardest part of advocating when I am struggling with pain, progression, fear, or even the emotional side is having to deal with it front and center. I like to try and live a normal life, and I do not want sympathy, or the pity people give when they know you are sick. I think there is a time and place in which you need support; however, for me, my biggest support comes from people who act and support the cause. [PULL OUT QUOTE]
Daily I am living with severe pain and extreme fatigue caused by medications. Taking medication multiple times a day, and having to watch what I eat and drink is a constant reminder I am sick. I am coping with the constant fear of progression, not being here for my daughter, and not making a big enough impact while I am here. On top of all that, being a single mom and worrying about how long I will be able to work and ensure I can provide for my daughter has weighed heavily.
From your perspective as a patient, what would you want radon professionals to know about your story to inspire them to seek ways to pull together to create change?
They need to know that we, as patients, need change, which comes from numbers. The people in Washington, D.C., always say to me, “change comes in numbers and those that show up.” We need to show up and be present. We need people to acknowledge that radon causes major health issues. Until that is front and center, there will continue to be less funding and more deaths. Until radon testing and monitoring are like smoke detectors, we have not won this battle.
Does your daughter understand the work you are doing?
I have worked hard to remove her from the cancer world. In the beginning, it was all about time with her and her understanding that I am going through something hard but not going to give up. As a 6-year-old, she has dealt with more in her life than I have in 33 years. She has lived for two years in fear that mommy isn’t coming home. She is not able to live a normal 6-year-old carefree life.
What significant change(s) would you like to see in 2020 from your efforts?
I would like to see radon testing in schools passed. There is a massive volume of children and educators that we can protect if we can get this done. Our children spend 8+ hours a day in the schools and 15+ years often within them. That’s a major portion of their lives, especially during developmental years. If we reduce the risk and exposure during that time, we have an opportunity to make a difference.