'We Found a Spot, A Tiny Spot. It's Probably Nothing': A Cancer Survivor’s Warning

‘We Found a Spot, A Tiny Spot. It’s Probably Nothing’: A Cancer Survivor’s Warning

  • Editor’s Note: During the 28thAnnual National Cancer Survivors Day on Sunday, June 7, thousands of celebrations across the country will call attention to the ongoing challenges of cancer survivorship and show that life after a cancer diagnosis can be rewarding and inspiring. The following is one of those stories, told in a survivor’s own words, with a message especially relevant to those of us who live in Kane County, IL.

Barbara Sorgatz was baffled. She had no reason to think anything was wrong with her lungs. She never smoked, her family history left no clue there could be anything wrong. She never found herself exposed to a significant amount of second-hand smoke. But there was a problem.

She happened to be visiting her doctor for something unrelated to her lungs when she heard those words she would never forget: “We found a spot, a tiny, tiny spot. It’s probably nothing.”

Well, it was something: Stage 1B lung cancer to be exact, and a month later she was in surgery.

Sogatz’ cancer was blamed on radon gas, the result of the naturally-occurring geology in northern Illinois. Radon is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that is produced by decaying uranium and radium in soil and rock that seeps up into our homes. Radon gas is inhaled and absorbed into the lungs, causing lung cell damage. It is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, and the second-leading cause of lung cancer over all.

Sogatz, who works in Kane County and is a member a member of the Kane County Healthy Places Coalition, was lucky to have caught her condition early and be able to install a mitigation system in her home.

“If I can save even one life, then I feel that this lung cancer has been worth getting,” she said.

In Her Own Words: Barb Sorgatz’ Story

“My name is Barb Sorgatz, and I am a radon-induced lung cancer survivor.

“I have lived in my home for 25 years. I was diagnosed in January 2007 with Stage 1B lung cancer and had 20 percent of my left lung removed a month later. Thank God the cancer was caught early, but only by accident on a CT scan when I went to the emergency room seven months earlier for a gall bladder attack. The doctors have told me over and over how lucky I was to have had that attack. Otherwise, by the time I would have developed any symptoms, the cancer would have advanced to Stage IV, and it would have been too late for treatment.

“Having never smoked before nor been exposed to a significant amount of secondhand smoke, I was puzzled as to how I developed lung cancer with no family history of it. Upon doing research on the Internet, I was surprised to discover that radon is estimated to be the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. today, and a leading cause of lung cancer in healthy people who have never smoked.

“Certain areas of DuPage County, where I live, are known for high levels of radon, including my own neighborhood. I knew there was radon here but was not aware of the long-term effects of radon exposure. I purchased a home test kit, conducted the test and sent it to the lab. The results revealed that the radon levels in my home were five times the EPA recommended level. And the irony is that I have worked in the field of public health for over 20 years, yet I knew nothing about radon.

“I have since had a radon mitigation system installed in my home that has lowered the radon levels to within the acceptable EPA range.”

You can protect yourself and your family. Make sure your home is tested for dangerous levels of radon. If high levels are found, have a mitigation system professionally installed. Radon test kits are available for purchase at local hardware stores and from the health department. Costs range from $12 to $15, which includes postage and laboratory testing.

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More information about radon is available on the Kane County Health Department website.

Relay for Life of Kane County will be held at 6 p.m. Friday, June 12, at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, 34W002 Cherry Ln, Geneva, IL.

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