Rachael Malmberg was an Olympic hockey player, someone who had always looked after her health and never touched a cigarette. She didn’t know that she’d spent years breathing in a carcinogen.
As WIS News reports, the 33-year-old mom from Chicago was living an active life, training for the military, and enjoying her life as a parent when she started experiencing pain in her back and ribs.
A visit to the doctor ended in a stunning diagnosis. Malmberg had stage 4 lung cancer that had already spread to the lymph nodes and her brain. Since she had never smoked, Malmberg was curious as to how she could have developed lung cancer. That’s when she learned about radon.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is a radioactive gas generated by the natural decay of uranium in the soil. The gas is invisible and odorless but moves into the home through cracks and holes in the foundation. Once inside, the radon builds up and can reach dangerous levels.
Radon can be found across the U.S., in both new and old homes, and in every type of building from schools to workplaces. The EPA estimates that approximately one in 15 U.S. homes has elevated radon levels.
Among nonsmokers, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer. It also significantly increases the risk of lung cancer among smokers. According to the EPA, radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year, about 2,900 of which are people who have never smoked.
Though not as common, radon can also be found in water — especially well water — and is linked to gastric cancers.
Malmberg found that both her childhood home and her current one both had high radon levels. Fortunately, there are measures that can reduce radon in the home. Malmberg installed a radon mitigation system and replaced all her carpeting.
“It wasn’t on my radar at all actually until I started doing research on causes of lung cancer,” she told Fox News. “Upon diagnosis, I had no idea about radon.”
Because exposure to radon is usually in small amounts, it can take years before the adverse effects are noticed.
“You need a long-term exposure — probably five years to get lung cancer,” one expert, Dr. Jorge Gomez, told Fox News.
After her diagnosis, Malmberg had 22 lymph nodes and part of her lungs removed. She has also gone through radiation treatments and has been free from signs of cancer for more than a year. What makes it especially difficult is knowing her illness was preventable.
Now, the mom is raising awareness of radon and urging people to get their homes tested before it’s too late. Malmberg has launched Rachael’s Radon Challenge, which provides everyone who purchases a radon test kit with a free kit to give to someone else … and potentially save a life.
Malmberg hopes that the radon challenge will encourage people to test their homes and spread the word about the danger of radon. As she explained, “If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”