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N.B. woman raising awareness about the dangers of radon gas after terminal lung cancer diagnosis

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Angela Lea will turn 58 years old next Tuesday, but she doesn’t know how many birthdays she has left.

The Havelock, N.B., woman received a terminal diagnosis of lung cancer two weeks ago, but she’s never had a cigarette in her life.

The cause: naturally-occurring radon gas in the home she’s lived in for 26 years.

She said the news has hit her family hard.

“It breaks their heart for sure. My dad, I feel so bad for my dad. We lost my mother four years ago to ovarian cancer,” she said. “I’m very much a practical person. I’ve not cried one tear for myself.”

Dozens of friends, family, and patients came to her home Wednesday to wish her well.

Butternut Valley Mayor Alan Brown said the news comes to a shock to the community.

“You have a person who’s active, who’s healthy, who leads a very active lifestyle and then to end up with lung cancer driven by radon, it’s not something that you think would happen,” said Brown.

“Generally, when you think of lung cancer, you think of people that have smoked for a long time or have engaged in unhealthier activities, but that’s not her and yet here she is wracked with it.”

Lea is now trying to raise awareness of radon gas causing lung cancer and is urging everyone she knows to have their homes tested to prevent tragedy.

“I’m not well, but I’ve always been about health promotion, so how could I not share the word? It just has to be. So, I share it with everybody,” said Lea.

According to Statistics Canada, 16 per cent of lung cancer cases in the country are attributed to radon.

According to NB Lung, one in four New Brunswick homes have dangerous levels of radon, something that you can’t see, smell, or taste.

Melanie Langille, president and CEO of NB Lung, said the bedrock that comes from the province is high in uranium, which releases radon gas.

The gas is radioactive and the radioactivity causes physical damage to the lungs, which in some cases will lead to lung cancer.

Langille said testing is the only way to know if radon is in a home and they’re working with Lea to get that message out.

“She has asked us to amplify her voice in raising the awareness, particularly in this area. It’s an issue across New Brunswick. New Brunswick has some of the highest levels in Canada so we’re encouraging everybody to test their home for radon gas,” said Langille.

Lea, who has worked in health care for almost her entire adult life, said she felt sick for about two months, but thought it was her liver when she received the diagnosis.

She had only been out of the hospital for a few hours when she spoke to CTV News.

Lea and her husband built their beautiful country home and raised their children there.

Radon Repair of Moncton measured the level of radon in the home and it maxed out the instrument used.

Lea said remediation will be done to remove the radon.

“Hopefully my husband is not affected. He’s already had a chest X-ray and he’s going to have a C-T on his lungs. For me, I have two children and the fact that they played in the basement where it’s the worst breaks my heart and just hopefully they got out of here before it’s too late for them,” said Lea.

As for Lea’s prognosis, she knows it’s not good, but is trying to stay positive and strong for her family.

“I definitely don’t have, I don’t expect years and years to live,” said Lea.

Hundreds of radon test kits will be distributed at the Havelock Elementary School on Nov. 15 through a community fund called Angela’s Allies. 

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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