Lung cancer and a beauty queen crown don’t normally go together, but for Joanie Ryan they do. Joanie Ryan is Ms. Colorado Senior America 2023. Five years ago, a regularly scheduled breast MRI surprisingly revealed that she had stage 4 lung and neck cancer. She was shocked. She had never smoked, her parents or husband had never smoked, and she had never worked in a bar or area around second hand smoke.
Joanie was forced to leave her job as a successful vice president for a Fortune 500 company because of her intense cancer treatments that included lung surgery to remove a tumor, radiation on her neck tumor, immunotherapy, 6 trips to the ER, and over 12 weeks of hospital stays. She defied the odds and is now cancer free with ongoing PET scans.
Boosting Radon Awareness: Unveiling the Link Between Lung Cancer and Radon
It wasn’t until Joanie was speaking at an event with fellow lung cancer survivor Heidi Nafman-Onda that she made the connection between lung cancer and radon. Radon is the #1 cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers and the #2 cause of lung cancer nationwide. Joanie traced her radon exposure back to a prior home she had lived in that had radon levels “through the roof.” Since then, she has become a tireless advocate for radon awareness laws in the state of Colorado.
Radonova recently sat down with Joanie after hearing her story at the Rocky Mountain AARST meeting in Colorado. Coincidently, this meeting took place during the same week that the new “Radon Disclosure in Real Estate” law that Joanie had helped lobby for went into effect in Colorado. Her testimony at the capitol with Rocky Mountain AARST board members and the American Lung Association earlier this year was instrumental in helping this bill become a law.
Prioritizing Radon Awareness: Exploring Homebuying and Radon Testing
“I had never heard of radon gas until about a year ago. When I purchased homes in the past no one ever mentioned the possibility of radon gas exposure. If I had known about radon being in my home when I bought it my life would be totally different now,” Joanie says. “We had the money to pay for a radon mitigation system – but we just didn’t know anything about it.”
Radon testing isn’t required when selling a home in Colorado, but the new law requires Colorado home sellers to provide the buyer with any known information/results from radon tests performed at the home. The seller must also disclose any knowledge of radon concentrations in the home. Prior to this law, a homebuyer might only know about a home having elevated radon levels if they specifically requested a radon test prior to closing or if the home already had a radon mitigation system.
Raising Radon Awareness: Unveiling the Silent Killer
Radon is an odorless and invisible gas. It forms when uranium in the soil beneath a home decays. The gas decays into harmful radioactive atoms that get caught in the lungs when we breathe. Over time, this exposure causes lung cancer. The AARST Radon Report Card for Colorado states that Colorado has more than 500 radon induced lung cancer diagnoses per year with 44% of homes having radon levels at or above the EPA’s actionable limit of 4 pCi/L.
Joanie shares that, “When people find out you have lung cancer (versus another type of cancer) their attitude becomes less sympathetic. People assume you were a smoker and could have prevented your disease. It’s like you should be ashamed of having lung cancer. But there shouldn’t be shame in getting lung cancer from a silent killer that you didn’t know existed.”
Shining Light on Radon Awareness: A Beauty Pageant Winner’s Journey of Recovery from Lung Cancer
Joanie competed in her first senior beauty pageant following her cancer recovery. The Ms. Senior America pageant contestants have all reached the “Age of Elegance” (age 60 plus) and are scored based on an interview, philosophy of life statement, evening gown competition, and talent presentation.
“This platform has given me the opportunity to share my cancer journey and raise awareness about the dangers of radon and its cause of lung cancer,” says Joanie. “When you are wearing a crown and a sash, people listen,” Joanie says with a cheerful smile. A person of faith, Joanie shares that she feels God’s purpose for her and winning the beauty queen title was to open doors for her to share her story.
Joanie was crowned the 29th Ms. Senior Colorado America and will compete in the Ms. Senior America pageant in Atlantic City.
Good luck Joanie! We are pulling for you – both in the pageant and for a healthy cancer-free life!