I had the honor of meeting Cheryl in December of 2003, shortly after she'd been diagnosed with stage IV small cell lung cancer. It was her wish to do whatever she possibly could to help people quit smoking, so she wrote this article, along with another detailing life inside of the cancer treatment center called The Healing World.
I think she accomplished her goal many times over. Her stories have been read by thousands of people all over the world, and many have found the inspiration they needed to stop smoking for good after reading what she had to share.
We all lost a very courageous and loving woman when Cheryl succumbed to her cancer on June 30, 2005. Please read her story, and take her words to heart. What happened to Cheryl could happen to anyone.
Smoking is a deadly habit, and it will kill you, given the chance. It has nothing of value to offer you. Nothing.
My name is Cheryl, and I have been here before in one of my many attempts to stop smoking. I believe I lasted 3 months that time.
This is a very good site for great information and support. This site, and the good people I knew here did not fail me. I failed myself. It just wasn't enough for me. I went back out to smoke yet again.
Of course I had reasons why my quit attempts did not work. They were many and varied, but the bottom line was this: I didn't try hard enough.
...Nicotine withdrawal was too hard.
...I figured I could always try again.
...I had plenty of time.
...People in my family never had cancer, and they all smoked, so I was safe.
Well, all my reasons and excuses finally led me to a place where I hope no one ever has to go.
I caught pneumonia in October, 2003. When I saw my x-rays, I knew. The doctors still wanted more tests and biopsies, but the fact was plain as day when I saw the x-rays. I believe I knew months before that I had cancer, but I would not let myself think about it.
I was diagnosed with limited small cell lung cancer and squamous third stage B, on November 19, 2003. It's inoperable and incurable. I had finally pushed my luck as far as my body could handle.
These last weeks have been nothing short of horrific, and I have had endless bouts of self-hatred. I brought this on myself, but it will be my family who will suffer the worst of it. I am married with three children, and five grandchildren.
I am the ringleader in the family. I usually make all of the arrangements for vacations and trips. Well, this time I lead them down a path that none of God's children should ever have to walk. I have selfishly jeopardized their happiness and security with my weak choices. More than ever, I am so grateful for the support my family and friends have given me. They have been my salvation. In spite of it all, they stand with me.
God knows it is so very hard to quit this brutal nicotine addiction. But now, as I look back, I was too lazy, couldn't stand the nicotine withdrawal, and wanted the easy way out, which in my case was to continue smoking.
Life was so simple and lovely before I was diagnosed with cancer.
I could do what I wanted, our children were all productive, happy citizens, and the grandchildren were wonderful. I could travel, have fun, and enjoy the fruits of our hard labor from our younger years. Guess what life is like now? Guess whose fault it is? Who else but the biggest dummy in the world...ME!
Now my life and my family's lives are very stressful, painful, expensive and inconvenient for everyone. I have to drive over 100 miles a day to go to radiation treatments five days a week, with weekends and holidays off. I guess cancer has it's own union..*weak smile*. I do this for five weeks with two weeks off, and then two more weeks of radiation. It hurts and burns. It gives me spasms that are as painful as heart attacks. I got thrush from the chemotherapy, and at times I can't even swallow water. I have to be driven by someone who loses that many hours a day of their life/work time because I am too ill and tired to drive myself.
I will do four rounds of chemotherapy during the radiation process. Chemo three days every three weeks. It's pure poison, and it makes me so ill I can't breathe, eat or drink sometimes. When all of these treatments are completed, and if I live though it, they will test me to see what the cancers have done. They will have either grown more and gone to my brain, liver, or bones, or if I am fortunate enough to be blessed, they will be gone.
But wait...they will come back...my kind of cancer always does.
The pulmonary doc said I had three to four months to live without treatment. The oncologist said he might be able to buy me one or two years, but it's up to the medicine and me as to how well I do. I know he must be sick of seeing people who are dying because they chose to smoke. He's young and looks very weary for his age. I actually worry about him.
The radiologist said if I kill these tumors, more will come eventually. He said he could maybe buy me a year, or even three. Limited small cell cancer is incurable and inoperable. I have a 50 percent chance of beating this round, he says with sympathy and amazement in his eyes. He sees so many patients like myself. What a sad job. His amazement is at why anyone...in this day and age...would smoke in the first place.
The base line for me is to stay well enough to endure the treatments. I must stay healthy, germ-free, and eat right, etc., for the rest of my life. Right now I can't shop. I can't be in crowds. I can't even kiss my grandbabies because of their sniffles. I have no immune system anymore, so I should wear a mask around people.
It's sure funny/ironic that everything I did in life (my so called fun/bad habits) was to avoid this exact healthy lifestyle. Heck, it was no fun to be healthy and vice-free. Too dull for me. I knew I was going to live to be one hundred.
Now that I am ill, I have to do all of those things I resisted or was too lazy to do in the past...if I want to stay alive and fight the cancers. Now, wouldn't life have been simpler for me to have done those things all along? DUH!
Let's see now...why was it that I preferred to smoke...as opposed to...say...live and not smoke?
It's very hard to forgive myself...
I am trying to let the shame and blame go. It's very hard to forgive myself for what I am doing to my loved ones. My life now depends on me having a healthy and positive attitude. I am going to give it my best, but it's difficult at times.
I want so much to make something positive out of this horrible state I have gotten myself into. I thought maybe a story from a person who has smoking-related cancer might help someone. But how could I get my story out? And would anyone care? I'm nobody in particular. Then Terry from About.com kindly invited me here, and we decided maybe a story on this site would be seen by others trying to quit. It might make a difference in their lives to see how much harder it is to have cancer than it is to stop smoking.
Even if it's only one person who might get scared enough and quit, that's a miracle in itself. I am sharing my story for all the folks who come here to get help in order to quit smoking. I want them to hear firsthand how devastating cancer is, not only for me, but for my innocent loved ones.
If you use smoke, then smoking will get you eventually...
...unless you are murdered or have a fatal accident. It will give you a heart attack, stroke, or cancer. It can happen; it happened to me. It happens every day. The real crime is that nicotine, which is that addictive is legal in the first place.
I am writing all about this cancer and how my life has completely changed in my personal journal. Actually, it's the same journal I used for my "stop smoking" journal. Now that's a wee bit ironic and morbid, don't you think? But so is death at 56.
The shrink says to tell my eight-year-old granddaughter I am ill, but not to use the word cancer. I don't have to tell her. She knows on her own. She saw me working with scarves for the day my hair will be gone (which it is now), and said, "Oh no you don't! That is not a cool look on you, grand-mom."
Remember when only the cool people smoked? I was terminally "cool."
Thanks for reading my story. I have to go take some of the 900 dollars a month's worth of medication now. It's the only way I can sleep with minimal pain.
The Healing World - Part two of Cheryl's Story