The Cancer Stick


Mom and I spent this past Saturday in the ER of the local hospital, where she was admitted and has spent the past week.  We are still unsure of when she will be home, though it should be in the next day or two. She was diagnosed with pneumonia and during the course of her treatment, they have discovered a blood clot and a small “nodule”  on her lung. Wonderful. Thank you, cancer sticks.

Mom is a smoker, as so many in my family are, including my husband, as well as 45.9 million other Americans. The boys and I call the cigarettes that are choking the life out of her “cancer sticks”, even though – so far – she does not have cancer. Only a nodule, for now. She has emphysema. C.O.P.D. (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).  (see below) She only has use of one half of a lung. She is on oxygen. My cabinet looks like a pharmacy shelf. There are three different inhalers. She coughs. and coughs. She coughs up nasty phlegm that I do not even want to think about – but because of which, I go through a roll of paper towels about every two to three days (kleenex are just too expensive to use for this).  She has a hard time breathing, can’t walk very fast, and even as sick as she was – she still made it up and down the stairs to go outside to smoke.

Has she tried to quit? Yes, however she has convinced herself that she can not, at least this is my thoughts on the subject. Cigarette addiction is an addiction I have a hard time wrapping my brain around. I am the daughter and sister of addicts. I understand drug addiction. I also understand that you can quit. My sister is a recovering addict. I have friends who are recovering addicts – from crystal meth, no less. But cigarettes. They just can’t seem to give them up. They have all watched people slowly die while puffing away, then eventually being put in the hospital, living on a ventilator because they can not breathe without help, their lungs being so damaged that they no longer functioned. (See info below)

So now, as I watch her in the hospital, coughing up a lung (or half a lung) and listening to her tell me about the doctor who yelled at her when she asked when she was going to be released –  Did she not realize how sick she was!?!? (Granted, the doctor shouldn’t have been so gruff, but I doubt he yelled – and no, she really didn’t – and doesn’t – realize how sick she is. How could she? Her cigarettes are still whispering in her ear) – I wonder – Will she quit this time? Will this be the time she realizes?

My boys see this and so far, I am not worried about them ever smoking. My husband is trying to quit.  I smoked once. For a week. I got bronchitis and said No Way! This sucks. I remember how I started – everyone else was doing it, we were working in a restaurant, my best friend and I. She was so cool and I always wanted to be just like her. She was smoking, so of course, I was, too. Thank God for bronchitis. She finally quit about 10 years later with her first pregnancy. Kudos.

I worry about my friends who smoke. About their parents who smoke, because they have been smoking longer. Do they not realize the things they are going to be missing? Mom was here to see Justin and Dhelia graduate high school, but she may not be here to see Harley graduate in 3 years. Patrick in 4 or Little Reese in 6.  One of my best friends has a son who is only 5 and his mom smokes. My sister-in-law smokes. Will she be here to see her grandchildren? For that matter, will my husband?

Please, people. Before you are on the oxygen machines, the medicines for your lungs, your heart..before it is too late. QUIT. It is possible. I promise. There are people who love you who will support you.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a disease in which the airways and tiny air sacs (alveoli) inside the lungs are partially obstructed or destroyed. The result is labored breathing. There are varying degrees of this illness, and different names for them, but it all comes back to damaged airways and air sacs. This disease occurs when a person breathes in lung irritants of some kind: smoke, chemicals, pollution, dust. It makes sense then, that the most common cause of COPD is smoking.

The inside of our lungs look like upside down trees, with the trunks at the top, tapering down to tiny branches at the bottom. At the ends of the branches, there are many thousands of tiny round air sacs. In healthy people, the passageways to the sacs are clear and open. The sacs are bouncy and strong. When we take a breath, the sacs fill up like little balloons, and deflate when we breathe out. In lungs with COPD, the airways are partially blocked, and the air sacs are floppy and out of shape. When a person breathes in, the sacs don’t fill as well, and the result is shortness of breath. One or all of these things may be happening inside of the lungs:

  • The airways and the air sacs have lost their springiness, like an old rubber band might
  • The walls between many of the sacs have been destroyed
  • The walls of the airways become thick from inflammation
  • Cells in the airways are making more mucus[sputum] and the airways are getting clogged due to that.

Chronic bronchitis happens when the airways are inflamed and thickened. More of the cells in the airways are making mucus, so the result is a  habitual cough and difficult breathing.

Emphysema is what occurs as more and more of the walls between air sacs get destroyed. Instead of having lots of little sacs, the sacs break up and what is left are fewer larger sacs. These bigger sacs have less surface area for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide than the tiny ones. Poor exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide causes shortness of breath.

Often, people with COPD have both chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Most are smokers or former smokers. This is a disease that develops slowly from repeated exposure to lung irritants. Most people don’t begin to show symptoms until they’re 40 years of age or older. While the damage is permanent, by quitting, a person can improve how they feel, and stop further damage from happening.

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2 responses to “The Cancer Stick

  1. Anna Allen Chappell

    Mom got to come home tonight.

  2. redpillproductions

    Good post girl! I hope you mom gets better soon!

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