Have you ever lost someone so close to you, you feel like a part of you died as well? A loss so profound it has you realizing each and every day how lucky you are – to have what you do – the people around you, your health and the gift of more time with them? A loss that in many ways, also becomes a gift because it helps you realize you shouldn’t take a moment in this life for granted?
My mom passed away 13 years ago. She was just 56 years old. She died of lung cancer. I miss her terribly.
SO .. every year, on this day, I feel a bit of frustration. Not over her death. But over how apathetic we’ve grown to a day designed to do so much good for other families that could prevent the same fate my mother had, despite the fact my mother wasn’t a smoker.
Today is the Great American Smokeout. Did you even know that?
Usually the response from anyone who still smokes to anyone expressing concern is often something along the lines of, “Mind your own damn business.” That’s a comment I’ve heard time and again – not necessarily to me but to others on countless occasions, especially as a reporter trying to do any sort of news coverage on this day.
So.. I’m not going to talk about smoking or quitting smoking. What you want to do to your own body is your own business. I get it. But seeing the meager news coverage today on the event, I feel compelled to say something. Because I miss my mom. And because lung cancer sucks. And because smokers, I want to remind you, if you’re blessed at all to have people around you that love you, it’s that you’re not the only one who gets sick, if and when you get sick. From smoking.
Please do me a favor and if not for me, for those who love you:
- Smoker or not, know the signs, symptoms and risk factors for lung cancer.
- Go to the doctor if you do smoke, have high radon levels in your home or if you’ve been taking in secondhand smoke much of your life.
- What are the radon levels in your home? It’s the second leading cause of lung cancer. The test is cheap and easy, test your home.
- Know that if you’ve quit smoking, even upwards of 20 years ago, you are still at risk. Those statistics that say you’ve magically recovered somehow from all of the damage done – throw them out the window when it comes to your lungs.
- Get screened if possible for this disease if you know you’re at risk. Screenings are more available than they’ve ever been. Call the NCI designated cancer center nearest you and ask.
- If you’re lucky enough to catch the disease early, don’t expect it to be as treatable as every other cancer having success right now. It’s a tough diagnosis. And while advancements are being made by some very caring, hard-working and dedicated researchers and physicians, there are few treatment options available that work for advanced stages of this disease.
- Donate to lung cancer research. Any cancer research, actually, because advancements in one area are often translate anymore to other cancers. Just donate, to a reputable organization. And if you want it to go to research, do you homework. Ask how much of it goes to research. Because I bet if you started asking if what your donations are going to, they are often steered elsewhere unless you know to ask. If you want to be lung specific, two great options include the lung cancer program at the Carbone Cancer Center and the National Lung Cancer Partnership. I’ve worked with and for both organizations. They steward your dollars well.
- If you’re a lung cancer survivor, share your story. Don’t hide in the shadows worrying if someone will ask you if you got it from smoking. Because, people just will. And then you ask them in return, “Why do you ask?” Think about the position that puts someone in then, to have to explain why they’re asking. No one deserves this disease. Would they do that to someone with heart disease? Type 2 diabetes? Not so much, I’m thinking. Stand up for yourself, talk about what is happening. You’d be amazed at how much support there is for you if only others knew.
- If you’ve lost a loved one to lung cancer, become their voice. Nothing will change where the course of this disease or the prognosis until we unite our voices and the research dollars.
- If you have the guts to confront what is before you, smokers, if you really want to quit – which statistics show many of you do – try this. Go fishing. Catch a live fish and watch it as it struggles to breathe until it dies. Understand that this is the position you’re putting your family in. Know that doesn’t have to be you. Or them. I’d never wish what my mother went through on anyone. Not that she could do a thing about it. She was among those that just got the disease, because. And she handled her life, disease and death with as much grace as one possibly can.
If you decide you ever want someone to butt in, to help you quit, there is help. There are resources. It doesn’t have to be today you take that first step. Any day is a good day to try.