Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Great American Smoke Out is 32 years old

The first national Great American Smoke-Out was sponsored by the American Cancer Society in 1977 in hopes that Americans would quit smoking for a day. And that day would lead to another and so on.

Here's what the Cancer Society has to say about smoking in it's materials for this year's event:

"Today, about 43 million US adults smoke. Tobacco use can cause lung cancer, as well as other cancers, heart disease, and lung disease. Smoking is responsible for nearly 1 in 3 cancer deaths, and 1 in 5 deaths from all causes. Another 8.6 million people are living with serious illnesses caused by smoking."

Look at that again. 1 in 3 cancer deaths is smoking related. According to the Cancer Facts and Figures 2009, smoking causes more than just lung cancer. Smoking is associated with increased risk of at least 15 types of cancer: nasopharynx, nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses, lip, oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, lung, esophagus, pancreas, uterine cervix, kidney, bladder, stomach, and acute myeloid leukemia. Half of all those who continue to smoke will die from smoking-related diseases. Over 8.5 million people suffer from chronic condictions related to smoking like emphysema, bronchitis and heart disease.

One those statistics was my mother. I say was because she died in 1991 from heart failure brought on by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, (emphysema and chronic bronchitis). She smoked from about the age of 12 until finally forced to quit at age 60. By then it was really too late and the damage done to her lungs was irreparable. As horrible as dying from cancer caused by smoking no doubt is, in my opinion, COPD is far worse. In took her a decade to die. 

She was gradually robbed of the ability to do most, if not all, of the things she loved to do. My mother was an avid bowler who played in a league on Wednesday mornings for just about as long as I can remember. She moved to a lighter weight ball and spent her time between frames catching her breath until finally she was forced to stop. She loved to shop and Christmas was always one of her favorite times of year. Slowly but surely her forays to the mall became fewer and fewer. By the time my children were born, she was for all intents and purposes house bound. My parents' house in Houston was a large, sprawling ranch style affair that had grown over the years in pace with my Dad's home remodeling business. My mother could hardly walk across the house from her bedroom to the den. By the time she reached her destination, she was gasping for air as if she'd just come in from running a mile. 

She took a dizzying array of drugs - inhalers, daily breathing treatments, anti-anxiety meds, steroids and more. She was in the hospital on a nearly annual basis as I was growing up. She was hospitalized with pneumonia or bronchitis more times than I can count. Interspersed between that she had Legionnaires, Strep in her nose and thrush. 

In short, she spent the last decade or so of her life miserable, coughing and gasping for breath, and eventually waiting to die. It's really hard to convey in words what it was like to watch and I can't even begin to imagine what it was like to live. 

If you've ever been sick with a really bad lung infection or bronchitis then you have some idea.  The struggling to take a deep breath, the pain, the wheezing, the sense of drowning on dry land. Now imagine living like that every day for the rest of your life.

I've shared this story with my children. They've known since they were young that they don't have a Grandma around because of smoking.  If this convinces one person to quit or better yet not start, then I'll be glad.

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Aliceson said...

That story about your mom is heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing it.

When I was in high school I would get pneumonia fairly often, even had pleurisy twice and what I remember was the inability to breathe normally and it was seriously scary and very exhausting. And I was an otherwise healthy teenager! I can't imagine what people with emphysema and COPD go through.

We need to remember to be kind to our bodies and not wear them out before we're finished using them.

Great post as always True Blue!

♥georgie♥ said...

Thank you for sharing the