Thursday, March 01, 2012

Old Habits are Hard to Break

As a teen, I used to smoke cigarettes. I knew that my grandfather died of it. He walked around with an oxygen tank gasping for air due to his emphysema. Even though I knew the risks involved in smoking, grandpa was just 'one' example in my mind - as though it was probably just a fluke thing - because well, mom & dad smoke all the time and they’re okay... I remember sitting in my health class being asked by the teacher, “By a show of hands, how many of you walk into another room when your parents light up a cigarette?” Everyone rose their hand. I did too. Everyone else did. I didn’t want to be the odd one out. Dinner at our house was typical by any standard, (I think). Even if we were still eating dinner, dad would smoke probably two to three cigarettes while we were all finishing. Cigarette butts were left sticking out of leftover mashed potatoes and at times, a great big ashtray was placed next to dad. Mom was more tame with her habit. My father chain smoked - to the point of clouds forming in the air. I remember my sister and I would laugh and giggle as we would ‘stop drop & roll’ under the plumes that were lingering above. It was funny then I guess. Even as a young child, I remember so many times where my mom had to rush me into the steam room that they had because I was having a croup cough attack - similar to asthma. It relieved me at times, and other times I had to be rushed to the doctor.

We all have vices though, whether it be drinking, eating the wrong foods, etc., and we never think about liver damage or diabetes while enjoying our vice. We know the risks involved, but we keep on... Then you have people who make these awesome lifestyle changes for the better, and then bam - they get blasted with some ungodly life threatening disease. We’re told high fats are good, more carbs are okay now, and then it changes two months later. News reports will have your head spinning telling you alcohol is healthy for your heart and then in the next breath, that it can also lead to breast cancer and other diseases. So people take in the ‘good’ portions and throw away the rest. “See? It’s good for me.” --I distinctly remember watching a portion of the news with dad. There was a little old lady who turned 100 years old and the newscaster asked, “So what’s your secret?” She said, “Port wine, lots of garlic and cigarettes.” My father’s eyes lit up immediately. Between mixed messages and our comforting vices - how do you just give it up so easily? He already had emphysema and diabetes, but was always strong and didn’t rely on an oxygen tank (carrying it around 24/7 like grandpa) or needed shots of insulin - he just took pills. Even though the threat posed in the back of everyone’s mind, it was never really an issue.

When dad was diagnosed with bladder cancer a year and a half ago, we were told it was due from his many years of smoking. I prayed so hard one day that he would just quit smoking so he could heal and get rid of this. The very next day when I came to visit him he said, “I quit smoking, Deb. I hate it. I don’t wanna look at another cigarette again.” And he meant this time. It was enough to scare him. All the radiation treatments, operations and unpleasant doctor examinations was what it took for him to finally quit. It doesn’t really seem fair because now the cancer has spread and he is not a candidate for chemo. He was transferred to a facility with hospice care. He’s in agony all the time between the pain and the anxiety of what he’s dealing with. There’s really no point in saying, “shoulda’, coulda’, woulda’”. There’s no “I told you so” or reminding him of why this happened - there’s just love, understanding and compassion because we all know that our vices, our lifestyles are sometimes not perfect. And to even think a healthy lifestyle can’t do one thing when “The Big C” comes crashing in - it just makes you wonder about life altogether. There are no promises of tomorrow. There are no guarantees on life itself. It can be threatened or taken away at any given moment. We all know that, but how many of us truly realize it? Mom still smokes. She’s been smoking much more, and although we’re all trying to ask her to either cut down or best yet, to stop entirely, she can’t. She’s so stressed out and depressed. She needs a drag in the morning with her coffee before going up to visit dad. She needs the ‘sanity’ of smoking. If you’re a smoker - you totally get that last sentence. Although I beg her to stop, and I hear her cough getting more and more productive, I can’t make her stop. She still hasn’t realized how bad it is, even while watching dad suffer in the hospital because of it. It’s a really hard call when you’re not placed in somebody else’s shoes. I can only pray.

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