Thursday, June 29, 2006

Those Cancer Sticks Never Look Good on Anyone

You'll have to pardon my incoherence. This is not easy. I found out last week that my dearest, beloved uncle A, my mother's sister's husband is terminally ill. I do not even think that writing this is cathartic for me, because at this moment, I would like nothing better than to forget that. I am in denial. I'll perhaps be in denial for a long time. Which is why I'm trying to weave together clever words, a turn of phrase, amuse myself with my own deceptions.

I need to stop being pointless, because there was a reason I started writing this post. A few months ago, I lost an ex-colleague of mine to cancer. And now I have a very dear family member afflicted with the disease. Both were smokers, my uncle especially so, and despite my best efforts throughout my life, I could never persuade him to kick the habit. Thankfully no one in my generation in my family smokes, but I do know that a significant number of persons around the world do.

I'm rarely didactic or preachy in this blog, but at this point, my impulse is to plead for people to reconsider their lifestyle decisions. If this post could impel even one of the readers to consider quitting smoking, I would consider the pain I felt in writing this down more than worth it.

This is what the American Cancer Society has to say about cigarette smoking and cancer:

Cigarette smoking accounts for at least 30% of all cancer deaths. It is a major cause of cancers of the lung, larynx (voice box), oral cavity, pharynx (throat), and esophagus, and is a contributing cause in the development of cancers of the bladder, pancreas, cervix, kidney, stomach, and some leukemias.

About 87% of lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, and is one of the most difficult cancers to treat. Fortunately, lung cancer is largely a preventable disease.

Details can be found on the American Cancer Society information pages.

Compare this with only about 3 per cent of cancers attributed to environmental toxins.

With the spate of lawsuits against tobacco companies in the US, and major public awareness campaigns against smoking, it is feared that these companies would try to expand their businesses in developing countries. This article is four years old, but it details the expansion of tobacco multinationals into countries like India. I'm sure the onslaught of tobacco advertising has already begun at full swing, and brands like Wills are ponying up big money for events such as the India Fashion Week in Delhi.

Let's get this straight: THERE IS NOTHING COOL STYLISH OR TRENDY ABOUT SMOKING.Those who in a fit of mistaken bravado continue to smoke in the face of overwhelming evidence about the harm it causes have absolutely no idea of the misery of being afflicted with a deadly disease. Both for themselves, and for their family members. They have no idea of the excruciating physical pain of cancer and its treatments, and the emotional pain of dealing with terminal illness in the prime of life.

And for the examples of those who've been heavy smokers all their life and never suffered, that's like playing Russian roulette with your life with nearly half of the bullet compartments loaded. Don't believe me? Here's the American Cancer Society again:

About half of all Americans who continue to smoke will die because of the habit. Each year, about 438,000 people die in the US from tobacco use. Nearly 1 of every 5 deaths is related to smoking. Cigarettes kill more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide, and illegal drugs combined.

To be more explicit, if you continue smoking, there's a 50 per cent chance that you will die of a smoking related illness. None of us would ever drive a car which has a 50 per cent chance of spontaneously catching fire. None of us would ever consume food with a 50 per cent chance of poisoning you. And yet, many of us would continue smoking, oblivious to the grave risk it poses to ourselves and those around us.

However, I am well aware of how hard it is to quit. I had a neighbour who couldn't stay without a cigarette for long. The strict non-smoking rules in our apartment complex meant that he had to rush to the parking lot every 30 minutes, and even this inconvenience was not incentive enough to quit. But then, there are those who do manage to quit, through sheer force of willpower and peer support, and I've seen enough success stories to know that it's possible. My own father quit before my sister was born, and so did my boyfriend's father shortly after my boyfriend's birth. I regret every moment that my uncle wasn't one of them.

Perhaps I come across as brusque and offensive in my personal anti-tobacco crusade, but for the life of me, my mind cannot wrap itself around the fact that it would snatch away someone who grew me up, loved me like his own daughter and was kindness and care personified. What if someone had written this for him, maybe, just maybe he would have focused a bit more on quitting. Who knows.


Blogger Shilpa said...

Really sorry to hear about your uncle, TM. Have lost someone very very close to that disease and i know how it, I completely completely agree with you about the stick. I don't understand it at all. Had written about it earlier on my blog here. Almost the same sentiments as yours, just a different way of saying it.

8:21 PM  
Blogger Neela said...

You're not brusque or offensive at all and this is a very moving plea. Sorry to hear about your uncle.



9:02 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Hello Shilpa, I thought I'd reproduce the comment I left on your blog, just in case you don't see it.

Thanks for the link Shilpa. And the kind words. At this moment, I'm feeling very, very uncharitable towards cigarette apologists, and certainly towards those who would knowingly push passive smoking down the throats of those around them.

It's just a very nasty, vile, disgusting habit, and I count my blessings that I'm in California, with rigorous laws against smoking in public.

Neela, thanks for the support.

9:31 PM  
Anonymous Grey Shades said...

Hey TM very sorry to hear about your uncle. Totally agree with your sentiment of non-smoking! Here are some more facts and figures to shock those who are already smoking or who think its cool to hold a death wish between their fingers...

11:18 PM  
Blogger swar said...

my condolences, TM.

i know how hard it is to get somebody give up smoking. it just kills you inside. my boyfriend is not a chain-smoker but he still does the stick a few times a week, during his office breaks or at parties. its an uphill task...

my colleagues are all chain-smokers and i dont know where to begin with them.

ain't it ironical how anti-smoking people are seen as spoilsports?

11:43 PM  
Blogger Bidi-K said...

sorry to hear about this, thalassa. i had been trying hard to get my husband to stop smoking and he finally quit as an anniversary gift. it was hard for him but he did it and its my most cherished gift ever.

8:53 AM  
Blogger Shilpa said...

Read it on mine, TM. And i know exactly how you feel about this right now.

9:59 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

very sorry to hear about this.

it's not just bravado though, you know. it's also a physical dependence, and, most importantly in my eyes, it's evidence for how people differ in the values they place on the immediate versus the distant future. some of us just tend to discount the future much more than others do (or can understand). there's a paper called "why do dancers smoke?" that provides some interesting evidence in this context.

i hope some day we'll be able to "treat" such time-inconsistencies.

9:45 PM  
Blogger Vijayeta said...

I know how you feel. I've lost someone very dear to cancer too, though it wasn't due to smoking. Your post makes me feel very sad for the smokers who dont even try to quit. I mean, why wouldnt you want to save yourself from cancer when you can?
I so hope people read this post and give a serious thought about quitting smoking.

7:22 AM  
Blogger aristera says said...

i dont smoke, but i really dont see the big deal people make of quitting...

9:10 AM  
Blogger Asheesh said...

Really sorry to hear about your Uncle. I lost my grandma to cancer, though it was of a different kind, so I can relate to your pain.

I completely agree with you about your opinions on smoking. I am an ex-smoker my self and really do not understand the big deal about quitting. I kicked the habit by making up my mind one fine day and haven't touched the evil stick since then.

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Deborah in Bordeaux said...

Pity the giant cigarette companies aren't hauled over the coals .... they add all sorts of substances to tobacco which are seriously addictive.

Best to constantly encourage young people never to start and to encourage those who smoke to try and try to give up if they can. One of the plus sides of stopping is one constantly congratulates oneself! and so satisfying to no longer have the 'need'.

The book 'The easy way to stop smoking' by Alan Carr did the trick for one of my daughters. Good Luck to the rest of you still stuck on the weed.

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Deborah said...

Pity the giant cigarette companies aren't hauled over the coals .... they add all sorts of substances to
tobacco which are seriously addictive.

Best to constantly encourage young people never to start and to encourage those who smoke to try and try to give up if they can. One of the plus sides of stopping is one constantly congratulates oneself! and so satisfying to no longer have the 'need'.

The book 'The easy way to stop smoking' by Alan Carr did the trick for one of my daughters. Good Luck to the rest of you still stuck on the weed.

11:50 AM  
Anonymous deborah said...

sorry about that double click yesterday! it might double today too.

The two who made comments before me don't understand the big deal about quitting .....

well, they don't know what it feels like to be seriously addicted, c'est tout!

2:09 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Grey Shades, thanks for the link. Makes for a very sobering read.

Bem, thanks for the wishes. Yes, anti-smokers are often seen as killjoys. However, I do think that this will change as the awareness about cigarettes and cancer spreads.

Bidi-k, congratulations to your husband. It's the best gift you can give yourself.

1:36 PM  
Blogger thalassa_mikra said...

Tabula Rasa, I think some of that is definitely at work. But partly it is also lack of awareness about the full horrors of smoking. Many people know it's harmful, but they have no clue just how harmful it is.

Vij, as Tabula Rasa said, they tend to value the immediate a lot more. And they are genuinely ignorant of how deadly it can be.

Aristera, you're right. Apparently the physical dependency on nicotine disappears just two days after quitting. It's the psychological dependency that lingers on.

Asheesh, that's really admirable. My best wishes for sticking to the no-smoking regime.

Deborah, thanks for the book recommendation. In the US, persistent efforts of cancer patients and their families have managed to haul cigarette companies over the coals, and thankfully made public spaces at least in California smoke-free. I do not understand why this hasn't happened in Europe.

Everytime I visit Greece, I'm horrified at the number of people who smoke. Greece has one of the highest lung cancer rates in the world, and yet, no one seems bothered at all.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Bombay Addict said...

TM - not to do with your post.

thank you so much for your concern. Am commenting here simply because it reaches u the quickest. and its 2am back here.

i cant begin to describe what's happened today. i do hope that everyone you know in bombay is doing fine.

totally numb.

thanks once again. and i'm sorry to hear about your uncle.

1:46 PM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

I feel really strongly abour smoking. Esp since it doesn't restrict itself to lung cancer but cancer to every other system AND every other disease you can think of: HTN, diabetes, heart disease, stroke etc. And in pregnant women ir causes still births, birth defects and if not anything low birth weight babies. It makes me wonder how people still smoke after knowing all this.
The worst thing about lung cancer is it is not detectable until late due to lack of sensitive/ specific diagnostic tests. And usually it is too late to treat it by then.
sorry for the long comment, but I have had personal experience with such cases and feel very strongly.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous robbbster said...

Sorry to hear about the loss of your uncle TM - smoking sux. We keep alot of information at our site if anyone would like to peruse:


3:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stop smoking, benefits you will have aplenty. The first benefited will be your health after you stop smoking. This will drastically reduce the chances of smoking-related diseases, like lung cancer, heart attack, stroke, chronic lung diseases and other types of cancers.

5:02 AM  
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9:51 PM  

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