Daily Archives: January 4, 2010

Clearing the air

When I tell people that I have lung cancer, I make no mention of whether or not I smoked.  Most people will ask me anyway.  I view this as an opportunity to educate:  nonsmokers can get lung cancer too.  But what if I had smoked?  Would there be an awkward silence after my affirmative response?  Would the air hum with an unspoken “you got what you deserved?”

This is but one of the reasons why you hear lung cancer referred to as the cancer with a stigma.

When regarding a person who is morbidly obese, it is likely not uncommon to assume that they have failed to regulate self control when it comes to food consumption (whether or not that is actually the case).  But how often does someone actually go up to them and ask, “did you eat too much?”  Such restraint is not observed when talking to those of us with lung cancer.  I feel compassion for everyone who shares my diagnosis, and I certainly don’t believe anyone deserves cancer.

My relationship with cigarettes is complicated.  My mother smoked. Probably while I was in utero, but certainly throughout my childhood.   I never liked it, and when I got to an age where I felt I could take a stand, I did my best to get her to quit.  She finally kicked the habit, but not until I was in my thirties.  Mom never got lung cancer, but I did.

It’s hard.  Hard not to feel sad and a little angry.  A new study indicates that children who grow up in a household with a smoker are twice as likely to get lung cancer; whether or not they ever smoke.  Click here to read the article.

Unfortunately my exposure to second hand smoke didn’t stop there.  From the age of sixteen until I was thirty, I waited tables in a variety of restaurants.  This was in the nineteen seventies and eighties, and anti-smoking laws were in the distant future. After a seven or eight hour long shift, I would come home and immediately shower, in an attempt to wash away the reek of cigarettes.

Yesterday, the Sunday New York Times had an article regarding the poorly enforced ban on smoking indoors.  Evidently in certain New York City clubs, patrons are ignoring the regulations against smoking and the management of these establishments is choosing to look the other way.

The online version of the article allows readers to express their views, and a large number of people joined in, myself included.  Click here to view the article;  and then check out the comments if you are interested.  Mine was the 200th comment and you can find it under HIGHLIGHTS as well.    The viewpoints are, as expected, quite polarized.  A lot of anger, and words such as entitled and selfish thrown around by members of both camps.   The Bill of Rights is rather loosely invoked and references to a “nanny” state are made.  Not a lot of sympathy is shown by either side for the other and some opinions are just downright cruel: “As for smoking generating higher medical costs, I am dubious.  Smokers die early rather than hanging around until they’re ninety…”

Tell you what.  I’m not one to judge as long as personal behavior is harmful to no one else.  But that’s the rub with smoking.  Unless you are really, truly, isolated in locale, your smoke is going to enter someone else’s airspace.

More than twenty years ago I made a sketch for a t-shirt that I wanted to get printed.  I hesitated, afraid that maybe it was offensive.  I no longer feel that way, and in fact one of my New Year’s resolutions is to put it into production and raise some funds for lung cancer research.  The message on the shirt will be this: