Cancer


This Thursday, November 20th, is the American Cancer Society’s annual “smokeout” with the stated goal being to encourage all people who smoke to quit for their own health as well as those they love.

As my father has only just recently passed away after a month long battle with stage four lung cancer, I am feeling particularly vehement that anyone I know should make this the year they quit smoking for good. And not just for their own sakes, but to protect their families and friends.

Having been at my dad’s bedside those last hours, I can assure you that dying from lung cancer is not pretty. His lungs were choked with fluid that by the last day oozed in a continuous steam from his mouth having gurgled up his bronchial tubes and throat. The light brown mucus was flecked with dried blood and small chunks of a darker brown matter. When in the grips of a coughing spell, the phelgm would foam out of his nose and he would turn dark red with the futile effort of trying to clear his lungs. 

I can’t imagine dying as he did. But I should try because between him and other family members I have spent good chunks of my life inhaling their cast off smoke. My lungs have been bathed in the same carcinogens and I could just as easily be a victim of lung cancer as my Dad was.

And it’s not just in the air. Smoke clings to clothing and hair and furnishings. It seeps into walls and permeates carpeting. It finds its way into air ducts or filters through open windows. It hangs in the air, wafting its way into the breathing space of anyone who happens by whether they are indoors or out.

I am not mollified by those who “only smoke outdoors” or sit in the increasingly rare smoking areas. Air has no boundaries. 

The meme for today is to send this, or some other word, of the Great American Smokeout to someone you know who smokes. Thank you.


When I was ten years old, I spent several weeks going through magazines and cutting the Surgeon General’s Warning out of the cigarette ads and then leaving them anywhere in the house where I was sure my dad would find them.

I rolled them up into his socks one week. Every single pair he opened contained that little warning linking smoking to cancer and death. Another time I put them in his shirt pockets. The same pockets where he kept his Pall Mall’s, the unfiltered kind.

I left them on top of the beer bottles in the garage and under the seat of his car with his Brach chocolate star stash. He found them in his wallet, his toolbox and in both pockets of every pair of work pants he owned. I think I even placed one under his pillow.

I never saw him find a single one, and he never said a word to me about what I was doing, but eventually he decided that enough was enough. He told my mother to tell me to stop, which she did.

And he didn’t. Stop smoking that is. Read Full Article


I spent a bit of the morning Friday placating DNOS and our mother. It seems that the first official visit from the hospice nurse was not a rousing success. Mainly because Dad refuses to die peacefully and without being irritating.

Oh, did that sound cold? Here’s something colder yet then, as I listened to first my sister and then my mom describe the nurse’s visit and the ensuing argument it caused between my folks, so much so that when the nurse left DNOS lectured them on decorum, I realized for the first time really just how incredibly annoying and oblivious to the world I had been myself back in the care-giving and early widowhood days.

At one point as I reassured Mom for the tenth time in as many minutes that she was indeed relevant and important, I wondered if I had sounded that shrill and peevish and if people were rolling their eyes at me as I poured out my frustration over the phone to them.

Well okay, not eye rolling, but certainly more than one person had to have wondered if I would ever be a sane member of society again.

From this distance I can see all sides to the slow disintegration that is taking place. Mom is feeling overlooked as caregivers often do. She has needs as real as Dad’s and she thinks no one cares. Dad is feeling pushed to the grave, which is absolutely not what is happening, but I can see where his resistance is coming from. A couple of weeks ago he was dying someday and now he is dying sometime really soon. It is an adjustment and he feels the loss of autonomy more keenly than he has since he was banned from driving last spring. This is his passing and he is going to give the orders. He isn’t thinking about Mom too much right now and she is hurt by this. DNOS then is in the uncomfortable position of mediating their struggles.

My parents have never been stellar communicators. Fifty-two years has brought them great insight into each other but no great wisdom as to what to do with the information beyond tormenting each other. My sister would rather be peeled like a grape than involve herself in confrontation. Her modus operandi is too simply tell the parental units what they will be doing.

“And you are going to back me up,” she ordered as we spoke, “don’t you tell either one of them anything different.”

Four times I assured her that I was in total agreement. I don’t think she  heard me anymore than Mom did when I spoke with her later.

God, I must have been just the most awful person to run into back in the day old days. If I was even a tenth as deaf or petulant, I can imagine that my number was constantly being screened on phones everywhere.

And I know this is all just a phase. Eventually a person comes back.

Dad is probably the most even keeled of the three. He is driving DNOS crazy with his impromptu dictations of funeral arrangements. So far he has had her write out a list of personal items to be given to certain people, informed her that he would not have individuals eulogizing him at his service nor did he want any sort of digital picture display. DNOS has had to take down the pallbearer list, not the funeral home that Dad prefers above all others and be told that picking out the casket was her job.

Last evening she got to take the two of them to the wake of my Uncle Erv’s wife who passed away last weekend. I don’t like my uncle at all. He was a sharp tongued guy with no inner censor who looked me up and down when I was about fourteen and told me,

“I can’t believe how fat you are.”

Still, I felt badly for him when Mom mentioned how incredibly lost he was when she and my Dear Auntie visited him the day after his wife died. She had taken care of all the details in their life. He couldn’t even find their checkbook. They were married for sixty some years.

When I mentioned that I was surprised that she was driving them to the wake, I got,

“Well who else is going to do it?” rather peevishly.

I had actually suggested to Mom that they skip the wake and just go on Saturday with Dear Auntie, but wakes are huge social events. There was no way that either of my parents would miss an opportunity to mingle.

The only good news that came out of the phone at me today was that Dad was stable. The fluid is building but slowly, so there is no need for me to fly down right now. I can’t say that this disappoints me at all, but DNOS is clearly desperate for me to come, judging from her tone, though Mom knows perfectly well that my arrival is not going to let her off the hook as far as caregiving. I won’t do that again for her.*

Rage against the dying of the light, isn’t it? We have that done, I think.

*About six weeks after Will died, Dad had some surgery. He had a growth in his rectum and they thought it might be cancer – it wasn’t – but I was required to come as it was my spring break. Never-mind that I had a thesis due on the 1st of May and comps to write. There were complications and Dad ended up in ICU (ironically right next door to his brother’s dying wife – fun times) and I was the one doing hospital duty while Mom worked and DNOS went about her life. It was unfair of them to stick that on me. It will not happen again.