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3 family members diagnosed with lung cancer; radon suspected

By Mike Headrick and Linda Williams. | Posted - Nov 8th, 2012 @ 7:00pm


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DRAPER — She still doesn't know how it happened: three family members diagnosed with lung cancer in one year. And the strange thing is none of them ever smoked.

"(My husband) was 44 when he was diagnosed, and he died on his 45th birthday," said Mary Ann Williams, a resident of Draper. "My mother was diagnosed six days after I buried my husband ... that was hard to take. And then my daughter's mother-in-law, she passed away a year after my husband."

That was six years ago. Today, Williams wonders how it happened. She said her husband, Steve Williams, was in great shape. He ran marathons, went on big hikes and loved to ride his bike. But in the fall of 2005, he developed a bad cough.

"He had, kind of was feeling pressure on his chest," Williams said. "(The) doctor just decided he was stressed, didn't even listen to his lungs, just gave him cough medicine and went on his way."

The cough got worse. Several months later, Steve ended up in the hospital.

"He had two liters of fluid drained from around his lungs, and from there we saw multiple doctors," Williams said. "The diagnosis was lung cancer."

By the time doctors caught it, the cancer had spread throughout his body. He only had seven months to live.

"They kind of guessed that he had probably had it for a couple years," Williams said. "That's why it's called the silent killer. You just don't realize you have it until either, A, you find out, go in for other tests, and they stumble upon it; or you become symptomatic, and then it's too late."

Mary Ann Williams' favorite passage from her husband's journal:

"This is a life of opposites. At one end I have one of the worst terminal illnesses known. At the other end I have the greatest wife and children. They are much more than I deserve. Each of them are much better people than I will ever be. When cancer melts everything else away, even my life, I will still have my family and nothing can take them away from me, even physical therapy." -Steve Williams

Steve spent his final months fishing with his kids, loving his wife, and writing a journal for his family to read when he was gone. His daughter turned it into a book and a website.

"I think this helps a lot of people too — this site, his entries. He's very inspiring," Williams said.

She still doesn't know how her husband and family members contracted lung cancer, but she suspects it could have been radon gas.

"Because they were non-smokers, I'm going to say radon has a big part of it," Williams said.

Radon gas comes from the decay of uranium in soil and water. It seeps up through the ground and collects in buildings. You can't see it, smell it or taste it, so it's impossible to know it's there until you test for it.

Williams tested her home, and the levels were high.

Tonight at 10:00, KSL News will take you to a Draper neighborhood where more than a dozen homeowners just discovered they have unhealthy levels of radon gas.

The neighbors want help from their homebuilder, but a KSL investigation discovered Utah has no protection for residents.

A leading Utah senator explains why the issue has seeped through the cracks for decades, and what he's already doing to change that.

Email: liwilliams@ksl.com

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