And this is how they do it

Yesterday I was in Longmeadow, MA for a quick visit with our friends Melinda and Kihan. Mel and I were out tooling around, and she spotted the Google Maps Street View car on an adjacent avenue. We then spent ten frantic minutes driving around trying to find it again (because, why not) and just when we’d given up, we did. So, naturally, we pulled in behind the vehicle and snapped a bunch of photos like some deranged middle aged groupies. All in good fun.

After lunch today, I was back on the road home again and passed a massDOT (Massachusetts Department of Transportation) vehicle with a panoramic video camera mounted on the roof. It seemed a funny coincidence witnessing two ‘road crews’ within twenty-four hours. Also, as it so happens, I have somewhat of a personal connection to Department of Transportation  highway footage.

It was 1984, and I worked at a company in Denver that did post production of motion pictures. I was employed in Inspection, and one of our tasks was to view all the film before it was shipped out. When I took the job I imagined myself sitting alone in a darkened theatre, watching full length features. In reality, we watched soundless footage on small monitors at high speed, and often it was upside down or backwards. One of our biggest clients was the Colorado Department of Transportation. They filmed highways all around the state in order to assess their condition. I viewed countless reels of roads, careening down them at high speed and often without regard to gravity.

Before packaging, we diced and spliced each reel of film and then ‘washed’ it in vats of trichloroethylene, an industrial solvent and degreaser which, interestingly enough, was first developed as an anesthetic. However, it is now recognized by the EPA as a human carcinogen, associated primarily with kidney cancer.

Fortunately, I held this job for a mere four months. I believe it is worth noting that the exposure I experienced was acute; we wore neither gloves nor respiratory masks (they were available, but the individuals who trained me told me not to bother and I didn’t). Four or five times a day I would enter a small, poorly ventilated room and immerse my arms up to the elbows in trichloroethylene. The smell was so strong I could taste it and the skin on my hands would turn cold upon contact with the solvent.

Although casual about any risk to my own health (I was 24–invincible!), I became pregnant with my first child while employed there. As I neared the end of the first trimester, I began to feel uneasy and placed a call to OSHA. There was actually not a lot of information (or, clearly, regulation) in regard to trichloroethylene then, but there was an association between the solvent and liver toxicity. No longer complacent about the safety of my workplace, I gave my two weeks notice. Six months later my daughter was born–seemingly unscathed.

There is no data linking trichloroethylene to lung cancer and my own exposure precluded my diagnosis by many years. This rambling tale (from two cars with cameras to carcinogens) may be totally irrelevant. However, I have long felt that the anecdotal data that patients can provide might lead to a greater understanding of why those of us without clearly identified risk factors (smoking, radon exposure) get lung cancer. So, I’ll throw it out there.

And just a BTW/FYI:  I have written a guest post for the Stanford blog of medicine about clinical trial participation. For those who are not yet exhausted, a link:

6 responses to “Meanderings

  1. Linnea and I may be joined at the hip… and it looks like our “comments” are, too! Last night I sent a comment, which evidently showed up as Linnea’s! So here goes again, coming from Melinda: As adults, we have so many obligations on our shoulders, so many worries, so many balls in the air that we are constantly trying to juggle. But every once in awhile, we get to return to that child within, and do something just plain silly…. like chasing the google car around town…. just to remember what it’s like to be a kid again!!! Love you! 🙂 m

    • Melinda, together we can have fun doing just about anything. And with our mutual high tolerance for humiliation, just about anything is possible. Love you!


  2. Linnea, I’ve been following your blog since my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and turned out ALK +, and started xalkori. Unfortunately, she passed away six weeks ago. She was 73, I think age has a lot to do with outcome as her body just didn’t have the reserves to withstand the rigors of chemo. She was a non smoker and walked 2-3 miles day for 25 years so lung cancer was the furthest thing from our minds when she became hoarse a few months back. Her doctor was also not thinking along those lines although he should have. She had exposure to second hand smoke as a small child, so if that exposure could have caused lung cancer later in life (???) just as maybe your exposure to trichorethylene could be a factor for you. I hope you get to keep finding new treatments that work for you until they find a cure for this horrible disease.

    • Lisa, I am sorry about your mom’s passing. I would agree with your assessment of the chemo; it is hard on anyone and although some older people manage to tolerate it, I have had several close friends and family members (all older) who were just pummeled by it. Xalkori must have seemed very kind in comparison, and it is unfortunate her reserves of strength were already laid low.

      They are a long way from understanding what leads to lung cancer in never smokers. I too had exposure from secondhand smoke; both as a child and then for years while waitressing. That couldn’t have been good either. I suspect that for most of us it may have been a series of environmental insults resulting in cumulative damage.

      I thank you for your comment and kind wishes. Although I don’t actively hope for a cure in my lifetime, I am grateful that my life has been extended. It is a sad, sad disease with far too many affected and I have enormous admiration for those who are looking for that elusive cure.

      Best, Linnea

  3. Hey Linnea, so great to read your posts and hear about you out there living each day – creating your own fun and celebrating birthdays. I haven’t seen my oncologist since last summer because I was getting beaten up by chemo and he didn’t have any other options for me. I’m doing well though, no skiing last winter but I still get out and walk a mile or so every day.

    Thinking about causes of lung cancer in non-smokers is ever ongoing. I use to work in the medical field and contracted TB in 2000. When I was diagnosed with lung cancer I discovered that if one has had TB it can increase their risk of lung cancer. Also, my brother died at the age of 49 from lung cancer. I since learned that if an immediate family member has died from lung cancer (non-smoker) it can increase your risk of lung cancer and others in the family should be on higher alert. MD Anderson recommends surviving family members have CT scans when they are within 5 years of the age their family member contracted the disease. (Does that make sense?)

    It could be overkill but if you have siblings they might want to be tested also because during their life they most likely were exposed to a lot of the same toxins you were.

    I hope you are enjoying a glorious spring. All the best, Melanie

    • Melanie, so good to hear from you; just the other day I was wondering how you are doing. Great to hear that you are out there walking (I may have said this before, but I figure no one ever died from lung cancer while they were walking–just keep moving!).

      That is interesting about the TB and most certainly I would think your brother’s disease is related. I do need to get on my siblings about having a scan; I think the idea unnerves them. Understandably so. Per risk factors, I have had a few in my deck, including pneumonia that landed me in the hospital on my third birthday. I think anything that damages lung tissue can’t be a good thing. Kind of hard to avoid such scenarios as a person has gotta breathe.

      I wish you a glorious spring too Melanie. Hang in there.


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