Former Team USA women’s hockey player Rachel Malmberg is raising awareness of what she believes caused her to develop stage 4 lung cancer.
Two and a half years ago, Malmberg initially tried to overlook the constant pain she felt in her back and ribs. The now 33-year-old mother, who has been athletic her entire life, was in disbelief when she was diagnosed with lung cancer and told it had already spread to her lymph-nodes and brain.
Doctors told Malmberg that the diagnosis was not caused by any apparent genetic mutation, nor was it inherited, prompting the University of Minnesota alum to begin her own research into what could have caused her illness.
When Malmberg discovered radon; an odorless, invisible and tasteless radioactive gas that is released into the air through decaying soil elements uranium, radium and thorium.
According to Health Canada, radon can enter the home through cracks in the foundation, porous foundation materials, gaps around service pipes, construction joints and cracks in walls
“It wasn’t on my radar at all actually until I started doing research on causes of lung cancer. Upon diagnosis I had no idea about radon,” Malmberg told Fox News.
Malmberg and her husband immediately had the home they had lived in for six years tested for radon. When levels came back high, they took action and installed a radon mitigation system, with many neighbours following suit.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), lists radon as the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Although present at some level in all air, the EPA advises that all homes be tested for radon, and take action if levels read at 4 pCi/L or higher; 200 Bq/m3 in Canada.
Fox News reports that Malmberg’s childhood home had radon levels at 7.9 pCi/L, while her current home in Minnesota tested at 6.9 pCi/L.
Both Health Canada and the EPA note that with radon mitigation systems installed in the home, radon levels can be reduced between 80 and 90 per cent.
Malmberg began aggressive treatment to tackle the cancer, including medication to shrink the tumour in her lung and intense radiation. After months of treatment, the tumour shrank enough to be surgically removed. The brain cancer was eliminated thanks to medication that reportedly cost $20,000 USD a month.
Now, Malmberg has been declared cancer free, but doctors continue to monitor her carefully and she still undergoes targeted therapy for a spot on her brain that doctors believe to be scar tissue.
“God gave me this journey for a reason,” Malmberg said of her diagnosis. “I may not know what it is now, but I feel like I’m being guided to be an advocate for others.”
Since learning about radon, Malmberg has partnered with several organizations and companies including Airthings, a radon detection system.
Malmberg is also part of the Minnesota board of the American Lung Association, and campaigns for increased funding towards radon and lung cancer research nationally.
“I want nobody else to go through what I’ve gone through,” Malmberg said. “If that means sacrificing my time and my body, and my family’s willing to support me through that, then I’m going to do it.”