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The Heartache of Smoking-Related Disease - A Personal Story

A Sad Milestone at Three Years Smoke-Free

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Updated January 31, 2010

The Heartache of Smoking-Related Disease - A Personal Story

My Parents

Photo © Donna
With upwards of 5 million people around the world losing their lives to smoking-related disease each year, most of us have had close personal experience with the trauma and heartache that death by tobacco causes for everyone involved. And, as hard as it is to do, taking a close look at the stark reality of how smoking-related disease affects lives is a dose of motivation like nothing else for the smoker who wants to quit.

I'd like to introduce you to Donna, a member of the support forum here at About.com Smoking Cessation. The following account is what she posted to the forum community to commemorate her third year smoke-free anniversary. It is a not a happy account, but it is an important and meaningful message, offered from her heart to yours in the hope that the pain and suffering her family has endured because of tobacco use can be avoided by you and yours.

Thanks for sharing your story Donna, and congratulations on three years smoke-free. Your parents must have been so grateful to see you break free.

Three years ago, I filled my very first Chantix prescription, put away my tobacco, and attempted my 19th, and final quit. I knew the statistics of my succeeding for one year were slim...That's why we have the 7% Club. I also knew the statistics of my succeeding for two years were slimmer, but once two years was under my belt, I had an 80% chance of remaining smober for the rest of my life.

I celebrate year three with a lot of pain, a lot of emotional turmoil, and a lot of challenges which arose. Strangely enough, tobacco was STILL intertwined with my life, although it was a more subtle presence.

On January 22, 2009, my sister in Oklahoma called me and begged me to get her and her three kids. She'd found her husband was cheating on her after 19 years of marriage, and the aftermath was explosive. I drove up there, got her, and got to smell cigarette smoke at every rest stop we took on the 12-hour drive home. My sister is a "light" smoker. Her brood and she moved in with us.

On February 22, 2009, my beloved Daddy, a heavy smoker who started in his teens, was diagnosed with stage 4 small-cell lung cancer. The diagnosis shocked him. The doctor told him the results of a CT scan, and my father got up abruptly and left the office. The cancer was so advanced that, of the 23 tumors, one had eaten through the lung, digested part of a rib, and was presenting itself as a swollen, fist-shaped lump above his pectoral muscle. You could SEE the mass. My sister packed up her brood and moved in to take care of Daddy and Mom.

On March 21, 2009, my Daddy died. Do you know what death by tobacco looks like? I do. I have now learned how to work with an oxygen cylinder, because my father was hooked up to one 24/7, and I know how to cut it off, because Daddy would ask me to turn it off so he could smoke without blowing himself up. I know how bad this addiction truly is, because my Dad didn't stop smoking until 2 days before he died, when he became too weak and unresponsive to hold a cigarette. But first, the cancer swelled his lower legs until the ankle was as wide as the foot itself. He lost the ability to walk, the ability to move, the ability to void, and finally the ability to get out of bed. In four weeks, he went from active caregiver of my sick Mom, to dead.

On March 23, 2009, we buried my Daddy. I will never forget staying in the graveyard after the service. I uncaringly sat on the grass in my new dress and watched, numb, as the funeral home worker applied the mortar which would seal my beloved father in his final resting place. My fingers absently twirled the yellow rose I'd taken off his casket spray, and the tears...Well, they bubbled under the surface, but couldn't come out. I watched as my Mom rolled her motorized scooter to the car.

As this year progressed, my mother's health has also declined. After 47 years of living with a heavy smoker, my Mom was also on oxygen. She has COPD, although she has never smoked a day in her life. She got it from living with Daddy's cigarette smoking for all those years. When we told Mom of Daddy's diagnosis, she turned to Daddy and screamed, "I hope you're happy now! You're dying, and I'm going to die because of you!" I know it was a horrified response, but still...Something in me broke that day.

Within a month of Daddy's death, my Mom's left foot was amputated due to restricted circulation resulting from COPD and diabetes.

Mom didn't escape the presence of tobacco with Dadd's death. My sister is also an addict, and she smokes in the home.

Today, as I write this, Mom is lying in a hospital bed 20 minutes north of me. She is unresponsive, and she is in the active stages of dying. Part of what is killing her is the inability of her body to absorb oxygen thanks to COPD. By this time next week, I will be attending another funeral of a parent. I've lost them both within a year of one another.

Daddy was 63. Mom is (was?) 64. Tobacco has taken such a toll on my family this year. It's killed both of my parents, even though only one was lighting up.

Occasional craves are a part of every ex-smoker's life for a time. Although they aren't as insistent or as debilitating as those frantic first weeks of quitting, they can be quite seductive during periods of intense emotions. I can tell you the exact day of my last "crave". It was when I looked at my father's CT scan on my laptop, and I focused in on that one tumor which clearly showed itself as going from the back of the left lung, through the lung, through the chest wall, through the rib, and ending a mere mm or two under the skin. It was when I realized that there was no hope, that he would die, and he would die gruesomely because of smoking.

I broke free of tobacco on January 7, 2007, at 9:30 pm. I was 33 when I quit.

Today, I am still quit. I will NOT ever pick up a cigarette again. I will NOT die the way my parents have died. I will NOT be a slave to an addiction.

~Donna

Donna's Story, Part Two

Donna's tragic loss won't have been in vain if her parent's story can help even one person quit smoking successfully.

If you're still smoking, throw those butts away and quit now.
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  4. Smoking and Your Health
  5. Tobacco Victims
  6. Smoking-Related Disease - A Hard Look at the Reality of Smoking-Related Disease

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