It’s a memory as fresh as yesterday’s although more than 50 years have gone.
Two newly wed kids, just 21 and 18, after a nice dinner at home in our little apartment. I light up. Lucky Strike.
“Can I try one?” says my new bride.
“Are you sure? You don’t want to pick this up” says I.
“Oh let me try!” says she.
So I gave the only woman I ever loved her first smoke – with my own hand.
We lived our lives. Raised our kids. Buried two or our four children together. She smoked. She switched to a filter – but she smoked.
I stopped in my early ’30s. She never did.
She always worried about those few pounds she might gain. She never really tried. Maybe she knew in her heart she couldn’t quit. I never hounded her about it. We buried two sons – one in infancy and one at ten. I wasn’t going to add to her burdens.
In 2003 I retired early. We had the money. The daughters were grown. We were going to do all of the things we wanted to do together but never had the time.
She had been having back pains. Ben-gay. “Hey you’re getting to be an old lady!” Laugh.
The pain got worse. We postponed our trips.
Slipped disk? Maybe. Soon she needed a walker. Then she couldn’t go up the stairs. I had a hospital bed brought into our living room.
When her doctor saw her he immediately committed her to hospital.
She had end stage lung cancer, metastasized to her spine and right leg.
She gave up. She never came home.
She died four months after the start of what was supposed to be the best time in our lives.
She never coughed once. Not once.
She was 58 years old.
She started smoking at a time when movie stars, “sophisticates” and celebrities smoked. I started smoking when I was 13. While there is much awareness today about the danger of smoking there was little in 1960. Only the tobacco companies really knew and they weren’t telling.
So lung cancer is now considered by many and, dare I say, demeaned by some, as a “life style” disease – when the words “lung cancer” are spoken the next words are usually “Did she smoke?” Then comes the look that says “Well, c’est la vie”. The look that says “what did you expect?”
Not so with breast cancer. Think Pink! This is breast cancer awareness month!
Breast cancer apparently strikes the innocent; those who have done nothing to bring on their fate. It’s a good campaign to support. Innocent people. Moms. Not obese people. Not drinkers. Not smokers.
And not lungs. Or colons. Breasts.
Maybe its me but sometimes I think there is a certain smugness and commercialism around the Think Pink campaign that I find somewhat disconcerting as if there exists a meritocracy among those with different diseases – as if someone cursed with breast cancer is morally superior and more deserving of sympathy than someone with lung cancer because its not a “life style” disease.
Obviously having one disease does not make one morally superior to someone with another. I know that. Breast cancer is a serious deadly disease. So why does it bother me to see young bouncy women in pink brassieres fighting yet another “war?” Help me out here people.
More women will die of lung cancer than breast, colon, pancreatic and prostate cancer combined. And more women will die of heart disease.
This weekend I will watch my share of football and the smiling happy healthy girls and defensive ends in Pink “fighting” breast cancer. Sorry, but it’s a little too commercial for my taste. All you need is the cheerleaders. It is the blatant commercialism of Think Pink movement which I find disconcerting. Reebok making money selling pink sneakers and teenage girls wearing “Save the ta-tas” t-shirts. Cancer is not a football game.
Don’t mind me. I’m just being cranky today; Maybe because it’s October; maybe because it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month; maybe because I know I gave her the first one.
Thoughtful post, Frank.
For what its worth, my mom, who quit smoking “cold turkey” when she was 30, died in 2005. She had MS, but it was lung cancer that got her in the end.
Its tough to see these illnesses (dare I say it?) glamourized. One of the things I liked about the ALS Ice-bucket challenge is that it brought a little known or understood illness into the limelight in a creative way, without sexing it up.
Hi V – I think this characterization of certain diseases as “life style” diseases (and therefore partly or wholly the victim’s fault and unworthy of sympathy) started in the Reagan administration and the AIDs epidemic of the 1980s. When the disease was thought to be restricted to homosexual males and intravenous drug users it was starved of research money and was seen by millions as God’s punishment for their “life style”.
Breast cancer awareness has been thoroughly commercialized while the founders of the Koman Foundation have made millions. Donations have gone predominantly to “awareness” with little for basic research for a cure. Regards as always.
I sympathise and understand your crankiness. The glamour attached to certain conditions sticks in my craw too. How dare people/governments/institutions look down on certain illnesses in a serves-you-right way. If governments are going to continue to allow the sale of cigarettes and alcohol, they are to blame far more than the individual who starts smoking or drinking, often because of an unhappy, stressful existence.
FND – Many thanks for the kind remarks. Many more women will die of lung cancer and heart disease this year than breast cancer. Regards.
I, too, have major problems with the Think Pink campaign, especially the role of Proctor and Gamble and Avon in championing it. I think it’s the height of hypocrisy that these companies champion the cause of breast cancer and yet refuse to remove the toxic chemicals (endocrine disruptors) that cause breast cancer (and which are banned in the EU) from their cosmetics.
I also have a problem with the Komen Foundation for not calling them out.
Cancer was a a very rare condition prior to the 20th century and the introduction of a host of toxic chemicals into our air, water and food change.
The secret to reducing breast cancer is 1) demanding that the government adopt stricter laws (as the EU has done) to reduce toxic chemicals in the environment. 2) educating women regarding the foods and beauty and cleaning products that contain high levels of toxins so they can modify their lifestyles. The reality is that most cleaning and beauty products can be replaced with vinegar, baking soda and ordinary bar soap used in conjunction with calcium carbonate (a natural water softener). Women who try it find that our grandmothers’ tried and true methods work far better than any of the brand name corporate products.
In my mind, the real aim of the Think Pink campaign and the Komen Foundation is to enable corporate sponsors to promote themselves – since both refuse to address the root cause of the breast cancer epidemic.
Hi Doc – I think you’re right about toxins and I think they are responsible for a lot more than just cancers. I went to school in the ’50s in NYC with thousands of kids – I never knew a child with autism or the number of kids I see today with asthma. And yes, Komen enables corporate sponsors and spends only about 16% of its donations on research and much more on “awareness” – after paying it’s CEO a salary of three quarters of a million dollars a year. Regards.
Sorry I mistyped. I meant to say “food chain.”