A few weeks before Thanksgiving of 1989, I got a call from my Mom – she told me that Dad had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and he was going into the hospital the next day so they could remove half of his right lung. She asked if I was thinking of coming home for Thanksgiving, and of course, I said I was. When I flew home for Thanksgiving, Dad had just gotten back from the hospital, and it was a great relief to see him.
That Saturday, I “caught” Dad sneaking a cigarette in the back yard (he didn’t see me, and I didn’t say anything to him about it). When I was getting ready to leave on Sunday, Mom pulled me aside and told me she knew Dad was smoking again; she could smell it on his clothes. I said I knew.
I Couldn’t Believe It
I couldn’t believe it; my father was one of the strongest men I ever knew, and yet, here he was, apparently not strong enough to quit smoking even after having had half of a lung removed!
Well, Dad continued to smoke, and a year and half later (just a few weeks before his 64th birthday), he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. He never got back out of the hospital that time; he died a day or two after finding out that he had cancer again.
My Biggest Fear
When I set out to quit smoking for the last time in 2001, my biggest fear was that I’d be no stronger than my father had been in relation to smoking and quitting.
How I dealt with that fear was by remembering my brother Bob, who turned out to be a whole lot stronger than I’d ever thought:
Bob was only 43 years old when he died of colon cancer. He’d had a long struggle with Crohn’s disease, and, rather than allowing his doctors to do a colostomy when the disease progressed to the point where it couldn’t be controlled, he elected to try an experimental form of chemotherapy.
Tragically, the chemotherapy ended up triggering the colon cancer that killed him.
I’ll never forget carrying him down the three flights of stairs from his apartment and taking him to the hospital when the Crohn’s and the cancer had weakened him so much he couldn’t walk or drive himself. I was at his bedside almost every day of the last six months of his life; it still breaks my heart to remember how he wasted away.
My Greatest Inspiration
But throughout his ordeal, Bob showed the most incredible strength of character; the day he died, there wasn’t a dry eye in the place, including the hospital staff; anybody who had had anything to do with caring for him said what an inspiration he was, facing death the way he did.
And looking back, his strength should really have come as no surprise; Bob was an alcoholic who chose not to drink, one day at a time, for the last 10 years of his life (and, except for Mom and me, the most frequent hospital visitors he had in his last six months were his buddies from AA; I don’t think a day went by that at least one of them didn’t stop in to see him).
He also quit smoking a few years after he quit drinking and remained smoke-free the last 7 or 8 years of his life.
If He Could Do It, So Can I
Bob and I were always fiercely competitive as kids (he was only two years older than me), and whenever he did anything, I had to do it, too – I remember many times thinking, “if he can do it, why can’t I?” – and many times it turned out that I could (and sometimes better than him, depending on what “it” was).
So, as I went through the early days of my final quit, I often reminded myself: if Bob could do it, so can I. And it turns out that (so far, at least) I was right.
Who will you use as your positive role model?