I remember how it all began. I doubt if anyone in AS3 didn't know about the serious health risks before they started smoking. I certainly knew. In fact, I was fervently anti-smoking in my teens. I didn't start smoking until I was 21, unlike most of you precocious young rebels who started in your early teens or even before.
I remember starting because I was curious about the strange hold this habit had on otherwise intelligent people, like my college roommate, who said she wanted to quit but kept right on smoking.
I remember the strange lightheaded buzz I got when I first started - it was really rather pleasant. That sensation stopped after the first week - why, oh why, didn't I?
I remember reminding myself that I should have a cigarette after meals when I was eating alone. I wasn't addicted yet - I should have realized that I was headed for trouble.
I remember thinking that I should quit because I was wasting too much money. This was when cigarettes went above $10.00 a carton back in 1960, when I'd been smoking for less than a year. But I decided to smoke for a year and then quit to prove to myself that it was easy to quit if you wanted to. I was still smoking when the price rose to $50.00 a carton thirty-nine years later. At a pack and a half a day, I was really wasting money but that no longer had any influence on me.
I remember watching my father's health slowly deteriorate over a ten-year period, until he died of the influenza I caught at work and passed on to him. By then, my old college roommate had quit, but I was thoroughly hooked and believed I enjoyed smoking. I knew I'd quit before it affected *my* health. Remind you of anyone?
I remember my mother's rapid decline after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Although she had beaten breast cancer twice over a quarter of a century before, she died within two months of being diagnosed with lung cancer.
I remember all the anti-smoking advertising, which annoyed me and made me determined to continue. I would not be browbeaten into quitting. The increasing frequency of anti-smoking sentiments, scientific reports on more deleterious effects of smoking and semi-scientific reports of the effects of second hand smoke just irritated me.
I remember finally realizing I needed to quit. A few earnest attempts at quitting got off to a good start, then succumbed to the notorious "just one". I was discouraged by the ease with which, overnight, I went back to smoking just as much as before. Just like you, eh?
I remember being sure I was never going to be able to quit, so I told myself that I wanted to become a little old lady defiantly puffing away. Sure I had a cough. True, that phlegm was not too lady like. But that was just clearing the gunk out of my lungs in the morning. I was just fine; smoking wasn't actually hurting me. It's amazing what awful stuff we can rationalize.
I remember November, 1999, when I found I was getting noticeably short of breath, and was sent for those lung function tests. I had early emphysema. The most frightening thing about it was that I knew I had to quit, and I didn't really want to quit. But I had to, so I did. For a few hours. The next day I quit again. For a day and a half. I could see myself dying the long slow death my father died. I dreaded that conspicuous symbol of the stupidity of smoking - the oxygen tank - but I still couldn't quit.
I remember finding AS3, and discovering that others were suffering just as I was, and were not giving in. The old timers kept chiming in with the reassuring chant of "It gets better." I was finally able to see quitting as possible. It was a while longer before I was able to see quitting as desirable, but even that eventually happened, too.
I remember being so grateful to AS3 for literally saving my life that I couldn't walk away from the group. I hung around long after I made it to OF, mainly posting a few jokes now and then, but also keeping an eye out for posters who developed thyroid problems after quitting, as I had; I also posted for the scared ones being diagnosed with emphysema. I cruised along for almost four years, feeling rather proud, and able to tell newbies sincerely that "It gets better."
I remember late 2003, when, after a chest X Ray follow up for my emphysema, the other shoe fell. From my first post, "Worry, worry, worry," in late October, to "Alas, not a zebra" posted in early January 2004, AS3 followed the suspicious shadow on the X Ray through an inconclusive CT scan, and then needle biopsy to the diagnosis of lung cancer.
I remember there were several more sophisticated lung function tests along the way, because people with emphysema can be poor candidates for having parts of lungs removed even if that is the only way to get rid of the cancer. They determined I'd have enough lung function left to survive after surgery.
I remember the unnerving, terrible wait for a surgery date. Through all this and then the actual surgery, AS3 provided me with unfailing support. The Healing Circle formed for me within the group will always be the most beautiful memory in the midst of this terrifying time.
I remember that, while most cancer patients can expect sympathy and support, lung cancer is generally seen as being caused by the victim. It's embarrassing to admit that you have lung cancer. People wish you well, but you know they think it's your own fault, and no one is a harsher judge than the patient. Even the doctors, although they don't come right out and say, "Well, you did this to yourself, you know.", nevertheless make sure you're reminded of this fact by requiring details of your smoking history at your first visit.
Well, I'm still here, and I should be thankful. But life will never be the same. Not only do I have to deal with ongoing post-surgical nerve pain and severely diminished lung function, there is the constant uncertainty about the possibility of recurrence. You don't think about these things when you start smoking, or when you try to quit and find it seems too difficult. You should.
I will always remember how I alone am responsible for the degeneration of my health. I will always remember that I could have avoided this by just not lighting that first cigarette. I will always remember that over the years I ignored many opportunities to quit. I sincerely hope that, any time you are tempted to smoke, you will remember my story, and that it will help to strengthen your resolve.
Remember this story. Remember me. Remember the pain and suffering I have endured. Remember that the temporary discomfort of quitting can never compare to the agony of discovering that you have permanently damaged your health. I remember. Every day.