More thoughts on smoking

I am extremely proud of my employee and friend, Susan Marshall, for her decision to quit smoking and her decision to hold herself up as an example of "why did it take me so long to figure this out" in her editorial in the Jan. 2 issue of the Peabody Gazette-Bulletin.

I also am proud of my little sister for making the same decision to quit smoking before it became an issue of smoke or die. For years she disregarded the fact that our mother died from smoking-induced lung cancer as well as continued encouragement to quit smoking from her husband, her son, and me. I guess the light finally came on.

I think back to my years in high school and three attractive young ladies I dated at the time. All three were seduced by cigarette advertising of that era that promised glamour and popularity. Peer pressure was a contributing factor along with the thought that you always could quit smoking — something that was not so easy once you started.

Two of those young ladies now are in their late 50s and suffer from smoking-induced COPD. Both have to carry bottles of oxygen with them wherever they go to allow them to breathe.

The third young lady I dated for three years. When she graduated, she moved to Washington with her parents and we lost contact with each other. A year ago this past August I discovered she had cancer and I called her older sister in Wichita to get an address.

I contacted her and found out she had smoking-induced lung cancer. She told me she had been an inhalation therapist and later obtained a nursing degree and she should have known better than to continue smoking. She said the treatments she had received for the cancer had failed and the type of cancer she had caused her right lung to fill with fluid. Her doctor installed a drain, which she would attach to a suction pump every other day and withdraw the fluid so she could breathe.

She was living in New Mexico and since Mary and I make a couple of trips a year to Arizona we arranged to stop by and see her. I had not seen her in 40 years and I sort of expected her to look like her older sister, who is still a very attractive woman. I had to hide my shock when we met, because she looked a good 10 years older than her older sister. Most of that difference in appearance was the result of 40 years of smoking — not the cancer.

We continued to correspond by e-mail on a weekly basis. Here is what she said in the last e-mail I would receive:

"I have been extremely tired all this week and cannot figure out why. I am also draining more fluid than in past weeks by about 100cc each tie. I am more short of breath with exertion. I guess I am going to have to quit being so stubborn and wear my oxygen more during the day and not just at night. I have not wanted to admit that I need it during the day; it was hard enough to say I needed it at night. This morning I am still short of breath and not moving real fast, but I am at work and think I will be OK until at least noon. Keep me in your thoughts and prayers, as today is the third day cigarette free. I know that I should have tried harder a year ago but I didn't, guess I felt 'I've already done the damage, so why give them up?' Another bad choice! I do not want you to start worrying, that is not the reason for this update. I just wanted you to know."

Later that week I received a call from her brother-in-law, telling me she had died. She was two months short of her 59th birthday.

If this letter discourages one person from beginning to smoke or encourages one person to quit smoking, it has accomplished what I intended.

— Shreves Avery