Posted by: Teri Simon | 2012/01/08

About Smoking

pack of cigarettesThis past week, several of my Facebook friends provided a link to writer Annie Keeghan’s post,  “The Cancer No One Cares About.”   (I give first dibs FB posting credit to my new FB friend, James Robinson, who always seems to have his finger on the pulse of all things Lung Junk.  Very impressive, James!)  The article pits breast cancer (well known, everybody likes boobies) against lung cancer (greatest cancer killer of all cancers, everybody has an opinion about smokers, and it ain’t good).  It’s a great read, and really eye-opening.

After I read it, I commented to James:  You know, James, when I was diagnosed with lung cancer, I was in total shock. I mean, I was a never-smoker with no family history of any cancer whatsoever. My first thought was, “Ya know, if they’d said I had BREAST cancer, I’d have believed them. After all, I’m a woman; I have breasts.” My next thought was, “Hey, wait a minute! I’m a HUMAN! I have LUNGS!”  This truly is what happened the week of December 2, 2009.  My thought process, all kerflunky, jumbled through those kinds of rationalizations, explanations, “why’s” in a sea of unanswerable questions.

I’m not about to lie to y’all:  I’ve always been anti-smoking.  Well, since after 7th grade, that is, when I TOLD MY PARENTS THAT I WANTED TO TRY SMOKING!  (I know, I know!  What a wuss!)  They actually had a really cool response:  “Go ahead and try them.  But if you get hooked, we’re not paying for your addiction.  You’ll have to figure out how to pay for your cigarettes yourself.”  Which was waaaaay progressive, I think, for the ’70’s.  Truth is, that day that I walked home from school with a merry band of smoking 7th graders, I DID like it!  It was cool, it was hip, and it was oh-so-decadent.  Practical thinker even at age 12, I knew that I could never afford cigarettes on my allowance, and so, I never became a smoker.

As my awareness grew, and by that, I mean my understanding of propaganda aimed at people my age, I realized that smoking was BAD for you!  Really, really bad!  Smoking, it would seem, caused cancer!  So, naturally, I figured that if I did NOT smoke, I would NOT get cancer.  Especially lung cancer. I looked with great disdain at those who lit ’em up, needed to sit in the smoking section of restaurants (when they still existed), and reeked up lobbies and elevators.  I admit that I would smugly think to myself, “Well, you’re bringing it on yourself, you idiot.  But, geez, do you have to gross me out in the process?”  And I’d think to myself, “I know I have to watch out for heart disease, but not cancer.  Thank goodness I never was a smoker.  Yuck.”  Here’s the part where I wish there was some way to write the sound that a game show “you got it wrong” buzzer makes.  ‘Cause—WRONG!

According to an article in the New York Times in 2010, 1/10 of men, and 1/5 of women with lung cancer have never been smokers.  That number was 35% of women diagnosed in Northern California.  All of us in the Land of Lung Junk are painfully aware of the shocking rise in newly diagnosed cases (my oncologist alone sees as many as 8 newly diagnosed patients PER WEEK!), and how very many of them are never-smokers or former-smokers.  We’re also, I tell you with great sorrow, painfully aware of the stigma of lung cancer, so beautifully highlighted in Annie Keeghan’s missive.  And, frankly, I’d like to blame someone.

But who to blame?  I mean, I’ll be honest with you:  for about the first 6 months into my diagnosis, I wanted so very badly to roll down my car window whenever I was driving, and scream at smokers in my best Staten Island accent, “I got your lung cancer right here!”  I really, really hated smokers, y’all.  How DARE they smoke?  How dare they light it up, defying odds of what my childhood propaganda assured me was a death sentence?  How DARE they!  My cancer was all THEIR fault, those stinkin’ smokers!  THEY did this to me, it had to be them!  It had to be why everyone, from friends, to strangers, to medical professionals, asked me pretty close to first off the bat if I was a smoker.  Dang ’em!

I have to tell you, I’m not sure I feel like that anymore.  Smoking is big business in this country.  From government subsidies for tobacco crops, to cigarette companies keeping people employed by making cigarettes, to consumers (and some would argue, addicts) purchasing the cigarettes, to the multimillion dollar quit-smoking industry, money changes hands faster than you can say “light ’em up.”  Lots of money does.  Way more money, I would venture to guess, than is going toward productive and helpful things, like, oh, say, funding lung cancer research or clinical drug trials.

Anymore, I kind of am in a “blame the media” mood.  It was, after all, their propaganda on TV, in magazines, in newspapers, and on the radio, that made me aware of the Demon Smoking.  And, I will remind you, it was rare, if ever, that following up on the heels of those militant articles and news spots, were found ideas of what you SHOULD do instead of smoke.  Oh, and where was the consideration that ANYONE could get lung cancer, any time; that quitting smoking only reduced your risk, but didn’t eliminate it, and that not smoking in the first place was no guarantee?  Yeah, I’m full-on blaming the media.

But not being one to want to complain without a plan, I have a plan:  Let’s us do something about it, shall we?  Let’s, next time we hear someone has been diagnosed, not jump to the question, “Oh, were you a smoker?” and say instead, “I’m so sorry!”  Let’s take the money we maybe were gonna use to buy a pack of ciggy’s or splurge on something and send it to The LUNGevity Foundation, or to The National Lung Cancer Partnership, and help fund some research and some clinical drug trials.  Let’s talk loud and proud about how lung cancer bears an unfair stigma, and it’s high time we change our mindsets about it.  Let’s not blame the victims of this dread disease, shall we?  Let’s at least ease that burden of guilt from their backs.  From my back.  Me.  A never-smoker.  Who’s starting a new chemo tomorrow.  Feh.

We can do this, you and I.  We can be the change we wish to see in the world.  One conversation at a time.   One person at a time.  One heart at a time.  ‘Cause heaven knows, it’s time.

Much love,

Teri, the on her soapbox Flying Elephant in the Land of Lung Junk



  1. Hoping you are feeling better today, dear lady!

  2. I have no doubt you’ll be a leader
    In erasing the stigma…with informed passion!

    Prayers for a kind and successful treatment tomorrow…



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