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Wednesday, 25 March 2009

A Real Cost of Freedom of Choice

By Chester Baldwin of Multifaceted Musings

Tons of literature, thousands of television public service announcements and pressure from anti-tobacco users in recent years have actually changed the habits of America. Time was, anyone could and did, light up or dip or chew almost anywhere and any time they chose to do so, and smoke, chew and spit to their unhealthy heart's content.

If my memory serves me correctly, it was along about the early 1980s, at least in my part of the world, that the non-smokers gained a voice and started getting aggressive about their "rights.” Hospitals were first, banning smoking in lounges, cafeterias and public waiting areas. Then came public buildings such as court houses, city halls and all sorts of government establishments. Most had "smoking areas,” supposedly to appease the smokers.

Slowly, the anti-smokers won over a large portion of the public. In time, their propaganda infiltrated the minds of children who grew up to become non-tobacco users by choice. They, in turn, joined in the fight against tobacco usage.

They became more and more knit-picking and powerful in their agenda to rid the world of tobacco. The nerve of them. I, and my wife, had been smoking for nearly 40 years or so, and, like a lot of die-hard addicts, simply either refused to quit or believed we couldn't quit so we continued to smoke cigarettes.

As far as being knit-picking, they made ridiculous statements that their clothes smelled like smoke after being in a room full of smokers, and that what they later called second-hand smoke was as dangerous as smoking itself.

Yeah, right!

Get real!

I'd been smoking for years and I wasn't dead yet! I had freedom of choice and I was darn sure not going to be told what to do, and neither was my wife! Besides, we'd tried numerous times to quit and it was simply too hard. We felt that we couldn't.

But, the years passed...

Then one day in 2005, January 18 to be exact, we were at the doctor's office. My wife had been experiencing bad back pains for about 2 months. He gave her a chest x-ray and told her that she "had a growth on her lung.” He set up an appointment with a pulmonologist who, within the next few days, did a broncoscopy and a biopsy.

The diagnosis was not good.

On January 28, he advised her that she had non-operative lung cancer. She started radiation treatments, lost all her hair, lost weight and then lost more weight. She became increasingly weak and frail. She couldn't eat except for tiny portions and if she went over a certain amount, she'd throw up all she'd eaten, so it did her no good, but she couldn't eat any more. She cried. I cried with her. Even though neither of us said so, we both knew she was dying.

I guess she must have known something because she quit smoking right after Christmas, and I did on January 25. Although we'd both tried many times, this time this cancer stuff was just too close to home and we had to get serious about it. We did.

For two months, I cared for her, every moment, spoon feeding her at times, helping her to bed, helping her up, helping her to dress, bathing her and, all the while, trying to keep her spirits up, which wasn't easy.

I'd do it all again, too, if I had to. But, for her sake, because she didn't have to suffer, I am now glad that she only lasted a little over two months. I lost her on April 1, 2005.

I was sitting on her bed, holding her, praying for her, and talking to her, when her time came. It was an experience I'll never forget, never want to experience with a loved one again, but wouldn't take a billion dollars for the memory. I am so glad that I was fortunate enough to be there and to say good bye. Many, many spouses never get that wonderful privilege.

She was only 57.

We used to do things together, had many of the same interests and took trips. But the last thing we did together, more or less, was to quit smoking. I have stayed quit now for over four years, not only for my own health, but for her memory.

I try not to preach about it, but I would encourage anyone to quit and quit cold turkey - no gum, no patches and no nicotine replacement therapy of any kind. It's much, much easier in the long run that way.

And maybe then, if you're blessed, and I pray that you are, you'll never hear the doctor say the words that will turn your world upside down and change it forever: “You have a growth on your lung...”

[EDITORIAL NOTE: The supply of stories is running low, so if you've had one on your mind to write, now is the time. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I’m sorry for the loss of your wife. I hope the memories of time spent together helps you through your darkest moments. It’s obvious that the two of you had what many others can only hope to have. Thirty plus years ago, I was told I had a spot on my lung after a routine chest x-ray. It turned out to be scar tissue. That was a signal for me to give up smoking.

Chester - This is a moving, powerful story.
My wife smoked several packs a day until she stopped "cold turkey" in 1969. I smoked cigarettes every time I could get my hands on them, at a boy's camp in 1949. (Curiously, I never smoked again.)
Your piece makes me realize how lucky we are. I would never have the courage and strength that you describe so well, to deal with what you went through. Thanks for sharing this.

Lifestyle changes are very hard. And I believe it is the rare person who can make a drastic change without a serious "wake-up" call. There are so many pleasant associations with our old lifestyles, that a big change would upset our whole world.

Thank you guys for your wonderful comments. A website called whyquit.com really helped me quit. They also have a "smoker's memorial" page on there where I've posted a memorial to my wife, Linda. It is number 26.
It's been 4 years now and, although, that's not something one "gets over" (I hate that phrase!) at least by now the pain has subsided, and I can carry on with my life.

Thanks again.

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