Fil-Am mother-daughter flight attendants battle health risks
Jet-setting to London, Paris and Milan may sound too good to pass up for a mother and a daughter who made their careers working in two major United States airlines as flight attendants.
But a rude awakening jolted Jen Samson when she went for a routine colonoscopy on turning 50. She was found to have Stage 4 cancer that has spread to her liver and a good portion of her lungs.
Prolonged exposure to airline radiation is said to be a hundred times more powerful than a regular radiology or CT Scan. In Jen’s case, the discovery came too late.
Her only daughter, Danica Lilia, also a flight stewardess, is likewise having her own job-related health issue. In one of the turbulent trips she served, she hurt her back.
Now, she is seriously hoping to get into a management position so she could continue to work while going back to school to get a new degree. Her only consolation is that she is still able to drive her mother to the hospital and spend time with her during this difficult time in the family.
Both mother and daughter realized for the first time that the health benefits packaged for their type of job are conditioned upon sustaining a continued flying activity.
Where Jen, for instance, is confirmed to have a late Stage 4 colon cancer, one that is classified as a terminal disease, the health coverage will likewise terminate by the end of this year. Ironically, her health insurance will terminate at a time when it is most needed.
Friends and family pulled together to get Jen to New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering, where she is undergoing aggressive chemotherapy every two weeks.
Her current airline health benefit covers most of the $9,000 per treatment cost, but not for long. As Jen and family pooled their meager resources seeking new health insurance coverage at a steep premium, it is not likely that it will cover the astronomical cost per treatment at this premier hospital.
In its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued the following information about Cosmic Ionizing Radiation to which aircrew and passengers are exposed during long periods of air travel.
• The World Health Organization (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) says that ionizing radiation causes cancer in humans. Ionizing radiation is also known to cause reproductive problems. We are looking more specifically at whether cosmic ionizing radiation is linked to cancer and reproductive problems.
• The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements reported that aircrew have the largest average annual effective dose (3.07 mSv) of all US radiation-exposed workers. Other estimates of annual aircrew cosmic radiation exposure range from 0.2 to 5 mSv per year.
For now, Jen and family remain upbeat, but deep inside, the fear of spending one last holiday together is all too real. The hope of getting through Christmas is pure luxury, specially knowing that the end of the year means the end of her health benefits.
Her mother, Lilia, 84, is helpless, but she too is asking for answers. In her room she is staring at a white lace dress that her daughter told her to keep, because it is her favorite dress! Eerie thoughts provoked, devastation is calmed by prayers.
Jen’s husband, Ike, is himself recovering from economic setback. He just got back to work a humble job with benefits that are far from what the airlines currently offer.
The couple made it through many of life’s challenges, and celebrated their marriage again and again in the Catholic Church. Inseparable, they continue to proclaim “Till death do us part” through their personal tragedies.