Did Pittsburgh Kill My Mother?

View from my desk at work in downtown Pittsburgh, PA, pre-Covid.

I intended for this blog to be mainly about life in Pennsylvania. My mother was born, lived, and died in Pennsylvania. She died of lung cancer. So, today’s post fits with my blog’s theme.

Also, November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

Mom was born in Pittsburgh in 1954, and she lived in Pittsburgh until 1974. Then, she moved to rural Pennsylvania. She lived in rural Central and Western Pennsylvania for the rest of her life. She turned 64 years old on October 23, 2018. She passed away very early in the morning on October 25, 2018.

Mom never smoked. She never lived with a smoker. (I smoked a few cigarettes in college when I was trying to look like a badass, but I never did this around Mom.) By no means do I mean to imply that my mom “deserved to get cancer less” than do smokers. I bring this up because the first time that I visited a new physician after my mom died, I gave him my medical history. I told him that my mom had recently died of lung cancer. The very first two things that he asked me were: 1.) Did your mom smoke? 2.) Did your dad smoke? I bring this up because I am concerned that lung cancer has a stigma. I want to point out that ANYBODY can get lung cancer.

So, did living in Pittsburgh for twenty years kill my mom?

I’ve heard a lot of stories about Pittsburgh’s dirty air.

My own husband’s late Babcia (the Polish word for grandma) worked in downtown Pittsburgh in the late 1940’s / early 1950’s. In that time, the women wore white gloves as they travelled and worked. Babcia brought TWO pairs of gloves with her each day. She had to change her gloves partway through each day because the original pair became dark with soot. She did this every work day. And she worked in an OFFICE.

I was born shortly before Pittsburgh’s steel industry imploded and took a lot of American dreams with it. I visited my grandparents in Pittsburgh (Carrick) during my early years. I remember how the city smelled of sulfur from the mills on a late December night.

Earlier this year, a Google engineer published a controversial essay claiming that Pittsburgh’s alleged poor air quality drove him to transfer from Pittsburgh to a different part of the country.

We all hear every single day about Covid-19. (Another respiratory illness!) So this will be my last lung cancer rant until next fall. But my mom drove me all over Somerset County and over the mountains into Greensburg and over the OTHER mountains into Johnstown and THEN over the OTHER-OTHER mountains into Maryland so that I could read all of the books that I ever wanted to read. So, at the very least, I can blog once a year about my family’s personal experiences with Pittsburgh air.

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