Written by Crystal Stone
There’s a stigma attached. Even though there are pollutants we breathe in daily, putting us all at risk, people assume if you’ve gotten lung cancer you did something to deserve it. You were a smoker, or someone you loved was a smoker, or your favorite bar let people smoke inside. You made choices.
Even if you are a smoker, people think that it’s easy to quit after hearing the news. But smokers may still take joy in a toke of what had been their comfort for years. I remember watching my grandmother in the wheelchair after chemo with a lit cigarette at the end of her mouth. My dad’s quiet relinquish. “Let her be. She knows she’s going to die anyway. Can she just have one thing she enjoys?” We had to respect her decision, as much as we wish we didn’t. The doctors caught the tumor too late.
And of course they did, because aside from the smoking, my grandmother had been healthy. She swam laps in the pool daily, golfed on the weekends, read books to keep her mind sharp and participated in a local choir. She was active. There weren't obvious signs of danger to her life.
What they don’t tell you about lung cancer is that it’s very treatable when caught in the earlier stages. Unfortunately, the symptoms are minimal so people don’t usually notice the shortness of breath, the tightness of the chest or the problematic cough until it’s too late. A good friend died of lung cancer a year ago and they didn’t find the tumor until the autopsy. While curable, it’s so easy to miss.
They don’t tell you that long before death, after the diagnosis, you’ll want to move closer to home. But with long visits there, you’ll realize even close to home, there’s nothing you can do. You can’t stop the tumor, not even with love or prayers, positive thoughts or hope. The decline is rapid: one minute she’s an active swimmer and the next minute she’s only a mermaid in the depths of your dreams.
No one prepares you to watch your grandfather hold his wife’s hand and cry. The way she’ll pass on Valentine’s Day and say “I love you” in her last breaths like a clip from a Hallmark movie.
And even after she’s passed your grandfather will still cry, petting the shih tzu they raised together, missing her. You’ll learn to appreciate the memories and live in a way that makes her proud. Death doesn’t erase life; it just makes it more precious.
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