- Posted February 24, 2009 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Ask Dr. Gupta
My Daddy, Our Cancer Part I
My dad was only about 14 when he began smoking cigarettes. This was, of course, during the innocent 1950’s era, when sex was a taboo subject, Elvis hadn’t yet swiveled his hips and scandalized the older population, cars were heavy, and cigarettes were touted as a pleasurable luxury. Tobacco companies denied that their products were carcinogenic, or addictive, or even harmful. They advertised heavily in all available media, and you could sit in a hospital room, right next to the patient, and puff away. The chances were good that your physician also smoked. Smoking was so acceptable in those times that people who didn’t smoke were considered “odd”.
My father continued to smoke through the years. He grew up, graduated, got married, joined the military, and later returned to civilian life. Somehow, he found time in all of this craziness to create five children, and adopt one. Out of all of his kids, five of the six took up his tobacco habit. It was quite easy, because when one parent smokes copiously, then the smoker’s kids smell like tobacco regardless of whether they ever take a drag. We filched cigarettes from our inattentive father’s unguarded packs of Marlboro reds. He must have thought he was smoking six packs a day.
Over the years, some of the kids managed to quit the tobacco habit. I am a veteran of at 18 failed quits, and one successful one. I quit smoking for good on January 7, 2007, by using a combination of Chantix, placebo effect, and a smoking cessation support forum on About dot com. My reasoning was simple…I was speaking with a wonderful friend of mine who had terminal, metastasized lung cancer. I was also noticing a shortness of breath, and after battling successfully against cervical cancer, I was no longer entranced by tobacco. It was a long, arduous road, but I managed to overcome my addiction to nicotine, and I now live a tobacco-free life. I tried to persuade my father to quit, too, but no praising of the benefits of quitting were enough to overcome Dad’s dedication to his “best friend”.
Two weeks ago, my dad went to his doctor and complained of shortness of breath, an increase in coughing, severe back pain, weight loss and a thickening of the left pectoral muscle. Because my dad takes care of my mom, who is bedridden and is on dialysis, he assumed that his health issues were related to the strain of caring for his wife. His doctor, who is a friend of the family as well as a physician, thought something different. He ordered X-rays, which showed suspicious masses in and around the lungs. A later CT scan, taken a week later, showed 8 tumors of various sizes, and “numerous” 2-mm or smaller masses in both lungs. One tumor had broken through the lung wall, eaten part of a rib, and infiltrated the pectoral muscle. The visible swelling on my father’s chest wall is a tumor that measures 12 cm by 6 cm. A biopsy, performed yesterday, revealed that the tumors are small cell lung cancer in active stages.
My father has elected to return home, and have hospice take over his case management. The man who has raised us kids, and who has dedicated his life to helping others, is dying. We are all helpless, and grief-stricken, in the face of my Daddy’s diagnosis.
Cancer is only behind heart disease in terms of cause of death in our nation, and approximately 90% of all lung cancer deaths in the US are directly related to cigarette smoking.
In my grief and my anger, I challenge the tobacco companies to answer me as to why my father has to die. Lung cancer is a gruesome, merciless destroyer, and my father will die a horrible death because of tobacco products. I stare at the CT scans and X ray, and I see Death leering back at me. Our only question now is which tumor will kill him…Will it be the huge one in the upper left lung that grows so large it suffocates him? Will it be the one partially wrapped around his aortic valve, which may eventually eat through the aorta and cause massive hemorrhaging? Or will it be another tumor which hasn’t grown to its full potential yet?
This man has taken care of us six kids, taken care of my mother’s parents, and he currently takes care of his wife. He has dedicated his life to helping others, but oh! Is there no help for a widow’s son?
Who knows how long Daddy would have lived, had he not been born in a generation where tobacco was not only accepted, but embraced. Now, my mother will lose her husband, we kids will lose a Daddy, and our kids will lose their grandfather. The time has come for Daddy’s labors to come to an end, but the time has also come for us to resume our labors.
I want to know why my father will die after years of using a product that is a known carcinogen, which produces over 5,000 toxins, and which has overwhelmingly been proven to cause early death in its users. Why is this stuff even legal? And why, with all the “tobacco settlement” money which was touted only a decade ago, are there no resources for a man who is so obviously being killed by an unabated addiction to tobacco?
My next iReports will deal with research on those questions. My father will not die as another nameless, faceless victim of tobacco, and of Big Tobacco.