Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Just Give Me Five Minutes. Please.

All I am asking for is just five minutes of your time with this post.  Please.  Why just five minutes?  Because every five minutes, is all that it takes for another person to be diagnosed with lung cancer.  Each year, well over 200,000 people are newly diagnosed with lung cancer.  Lung cancer is the number one killer of all cancers and more than breast, colon, and prostate cancer combined.

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I first learned of the dangers of smoking back in elementary school.  But back in the seventies, the concern of smoking was always directed towards emphasema.  Today you rarely even hear that diagnosis anymore because of the prevalence of lung cancer.  There is no doubt that smoking leads to lung cancer, not a question of “if”, but “when.”  To make matters worse, you do not even have to be a smoker to develop lung cancer.  Studies show that “second hand smoke” (the smoke from the lit cigarette not being inhaled as well as the exhaled smoke) is known to cause lung cancer.

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And it does not matter what tobacco product is smoked, or how.  Sure, smokers will justify that cigar and pipe smoking is not as bad as cigarette smoking because those products are not inhaled as much or smoked as often as cigarettes.  That theory makes about as much sense as being hit by a moving vehicle.  Someone who gets hit by a Prius is not going to have as much damage done to them as someone hit by a tractor trailer.  And though it is way too early to tell, I am willing to bet that e-cigarettes or vapor cigarettes will be proven just as dangerous.  Seriously think about this, you are inhaling a product, vapor no less, into your lungs.  Oxygen is really the only thing supposed to go into your lungs.  Yes, this theory can be applied to all things bad for us.  But for the purpose of this post, I am concentrating on smoking.

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In schools, children are “shocked” as to the dangers of smoking with graphic pictures of what smoking can cause.  But where the disconnect comes in, is learning how to deal with the immortal thought process, “it won’t happen to me.”

Funny, that is exactly what my father said.  My dad smoked everything from cigarettes to cigars and pipes for over fifty-five years.  Though he had already begun smoking long before I ever came into his life, because that was the cool thing to do in the 1950’s, early in the 1970’s as a student, I began to bring my warnings of smoking from school to home.  And the response was always the same, “it won’t happen to me.”

My father seemed shocked to hear the news in February of 2012 that he had lung cancer.  He even went as far as to ask the doctor, what the doctor thought might have caused the cancer.  I could not hold back the “guffaw” laugh which of course caught my dad’s attention.  The diagnosis was somewhat encouraging because the doctors believed that they had caught it early enough that it could be treated with just surgery.  That was the good news.  The bad news, a diagnosis of lung cancer was not enough to get my father to quit smoking.

My dad had tried many times, many methods, all without success.  The tobacco companies have done everything they can to make sure that once a person starts smoking, that they are unable to stop.  This is the sickest and cruelest of addictions, and because tobacco fuels our economy, our society allows the senseless murders of people from smoking.  And that is exactly what it is, murder.  Because tobacco companies know that their product kills people.

Getting back to my dad, he underwent surgery, which was deemed successful.  But it was decided that my father should undergo preventative treatment to make sure the cancer stayed in remission.  I cautiously agreed with the decision, and my dad underwent chemotherapy.  The good news was that he tolerated his treatments, and there was no sign of any more cancer or stray cancer cells.  The bad news, he was still smoking.  Though at this point, he had gotten to the point he now needed to “sneak” the cigarettes in because everyone’s eyes were on him, and just how serious his health had become.

The doctors felt for better success, that my dad should undergo radiation treatment also, just for the exclamation point of his treatment plan.  To make sure the cancer never came back.  I was not sure about this thinking and shared it with my dad.  I was concerned about other issues, being exposed to radiation, and the benefits to a 70 year old man.  But he decided to undergo the treatment anyway.  And yes, he still smoked.

But half way through those treatments, something went horribly wrong.  It was now doubted the cancer had gone into remission completely, but in fact had morphed into a more aggressive form of lung cancer, and his condition had been changed to “terminal.”  He spent several weeks in out and out of hospitals.  Eventually he would be put into a nursing home, with hospice, where he would spend the rest of his days until he passed, with his wife by his side.  It was a painful death for him physically and emotionally.  His thinking became compromised as the cancer spread to his brain, and many times he would not even be aware of where he was, or why.  He often would not understand things that were happening, and would often cause issues with staff because of his confusion.

As a member of his family, we all watched this very humble man, who dedicated his life to taking care of his wife, who had been hit by a car leaving her needing assisted care the rest of her life, now unable to do so.  This crushed him as we all promised him that we would make sure that she would be taken care of after he was gone.  We cried as we watched my dad struggle, heard him cry, scared by all the confusion now in his thoughts.

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These pictures were taken before his diagnosis.  This is how I would like to remember him.  This is how I would like my daughters to remember him.  But we cannot.  The loss has been so painful.  I lost my dad to lung cancer.  My daughters lost their grandfather because of smoking.  My stepmother lost her caregiver because of something that was more powerful to deal with than the love he had for her.

I have always done, and will always do whatever I can to make sure that my daughters never forget what my dad went through so that they never start smoking.  My ex-wife and I always made it a point to never have the girls exposed to smoking, not even to see it.  This was a problem back when we first adopted our oldest, because my ex  was smoking once again, after having quit.  In meeting with our accountant, obviously having a personal connection to the dangers of smoking, told her “how can you look into the eyes of that beautiful child, and have her face the possibility of losing her mother to lung cancer.”  Eventually she would quit again, but in recent times, has begun smoking again.  And the frustrating thing for me, as the non-custodial parent, I cannot protect them from this.  And because of people now in their lives, I have already heard about cigar smoking from them, from a parental friend, that “cigar smoking is not as bad for you.”

This is what the tobacco companies want and need.  They need smokers to have no control over their addictions, and to justify them, and blow them off as no big deal (sorry, no pun intended).  People can quit any time.

No, you can’t.  And the tobacco companies do not want you to quit either.  Up until the time my father was placed into the nursing home, my brother discovered my father’s hidden stash of cigarettes.

I asked you for five minutes to tell you my dad’s story, because I do not ever want anyone to experience a loss which is 100% preventable.  Lung cancer does not need to be the number one killer.

I miss my dad.  I miss my friend.

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