Sharon’s Story: Lung Cancer, Radon Exposure, & a Call To Action

Environmental Works met Sharon one day while installing a radon mitigation system on her street.  She saw our van and came out to ask some questions about radon.  This is when we learned about Sharon’s story.  Sharon and her husband Jim lived in their NE Portland home for over 40 years.   Sharon was a nurse and Jim was an avid outdoorsman and mountaineer.  Neither had ever smoked.   Sharon went to the doctor for some GI issues, at which time they performed an MRI.  The MRI revealed a tumor in her radon houselung.   Luckily the tumor was confined to a small region in her lung and had not spread to other organs or tissues.  Her cancer was completely removed with surgery, and it has remained in remission.  Sharon is now a lung cancer survivor.  Around the same time, Sharon noticed that Jim had an unusual sounding “dry cough”.  She believes that most people would not have raised concern, but her nursing experience gave her an ear for things that “Just didn’t sound right”.  Sharon wanted Jim to see the doctor regarding the cough, but Jim said “It’s just allergies”.  Within a short time Jim woke up one morning and was unable to speak clearly.  This was very frightening, and there was no longer any doubt that something was very wrong.  Jim’s doctor performed an X-ray showing multiple tumors in his lungs, followed by an MRI showing tumors in his liver and surrounding tissues.  A CAT scan then revealed the reason for Jim’s loss of speech.  Jim also had a tumor in his brain.  Jim started Chemo Therapy, but the cancer was heavily metastasized and the Chemo was causing loss of motor function in his legs.  It was soon apparent that treatment was not going to work, forcing the difficult question “How much time does Jim have left?”  The doctor told them that he might have 6 months left.  Jim passed away just 3 weeks later.  From diagnosis to death was only 4 months for Jim.  This is common with lung cancer, which is why it is called a silent killer.  Often, by the time you have symptoms, it’s too late because the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.  After Jim’s death, Sharon started to wonder how? Why? What are the odds that we would both have lung cancer and we’ve never smoked?  Sharon’s physician had mentioned radon gas exposure as a possible contributor.  Sharon immediately set up her own short term charcoal tests in the basement of their home, which is also where Jim spent a lot of time after his retirement.  The radon levels of her home averaged 17 pCi/L!  This is over 4 times the EPA action level of 4.0 pCi/L.  That’s when it all came together, and she realized that the most likely reason for their cancer was long term exposure to radon gas in their home.  It was hard for Sharon to deal with, all the emotions, the pain of her tremendous loss, the frustration that she just never even knew what radon was or that it could be so easy to test for it and to fix it.

So Sharon hired Environmental Works to install a simple radon remediation or “mitigation” system, also called a sub slab depressurization system.  The system was installed in one day for around $1,500, and her follow up testing showed a reduction in radon levels to below 1.0 pCi/L!  We had already installed systems for two other neighbors, with three more on the schedule.  This area of NE Portland was definitely a radon “hotspot”, with one neighbor having over 80 pCi/L.  Sharon immediately took action in her neighborhood to inform as many people as she could that there was an unusually high radon potential in the area, and that they should spend a few dollars to test for the gas.  Sharon joined the Oregon Radon Coalition and shared her story at the 2014 Salem Radon Forum.  Sharon understands all too well that the only way to know if you have a radon problem is to TEST!  And testing for radon gas is very easy and affordable.  To purchase short term and long term radon test kits we encourage our readers to go to websites like AirChek ( or the American Lung Association.  Kits can be purchased for about $15 including shipping and lab cost.  You can also contact Environmental Works for questions or radon test kits by going to or calling 503-719-6715.

By Joel Migliaccio

Environmental Works LLC


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