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Diagnosis Terminal Lung Cancer - The day she quit smoking
When you don't think lung cancer will choose you.
Today, it is no secret smoking causes lung cancer. From billboards to television, the signs are everywhere. Still everyday several people start while others are trying to quit smoking. By the time I started smoking the warnings were clear, but I didn't heed the warnings. My grandmother started smoking before warnings were so abundant. Sure there were some, but nothing like today. I know she didn't believe lung cancer would choose her.
Grandma was a frail woman. She made up funny little songs and everyone laughed. The room filled with laughter just before she filled it with smoke. She lit her cigarette and as she took her first puff everyone would stare.She was the only smoker in the house so there was no one else to blame. People would gag, choke, complain, but she smoked.
It wasn't until she was about 52 years old that I ever heard her say anything negative about smoking. She had a bout of coughing that scared me to death and said, "These dam*ed things!"
She had gone to the doctor twice that month and both times received a diagnosis of acute bronchitis.
She had numerous medications in her medicine cabinet. Every few hours she would pour a glass of water and take her medications. I never related it to smoking.
It wasn't until the early 80's, I remembered her talking about lung cancer. Apparently, Grandpa and her doctor were giving her a hard way to go about smoking.
She said she was going to town and I begged her to go. Hesitantly, she agreed. I didn't know why she had reservations about taking me, because it hadn't been a problem in the past.
About 2 miles down the road she says, "Can you keep a secret?" I said, "Ya." Then she tells me, "Don't tell anyone I smoked in this car. I'll never hear the end of it." "Ok, Grandma, I won't, but why do they want you to quit?" She paused for a moment before telling me, "Because they think I'm going to get lung cancer from smoking?"
I remember thinking, "What in the world is lung cancer?" I wanted to be a big girl so I asked her why they thought that. She said, "Oh it's something they keep talking about and everybody is making a big deal out of it, but I've been smoking for years and I ain't got lung cancer. It's just a little bronchitis." Then she smoked.
Hmmm.... Well Grandma wasn't worried about lung cancer, why should I?
Grandma was a Certified Nurses Aide; she knew everything. I thought she was the smartest woman in the world.
Terminal lung cancer 6 months to live
Six years after I started smoking we were at Grandma's house. She had gone to the doctor a couple days before and didn't seem too concerned. We were having a get together with most the family present. I think she planned it that way.
The phone rings.
"Hello. mmmhmmmm. uh huh... ok. Alright. Bye."
The doctor told her she had terminal lung cancer. He gave her 6 months to live.
That evening I found her out in the shed smoking. I wanted to ask her what she was thinking, but with a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer, what reason did she have to quit smoking now?
For the first time, the significance of smoking hit me. I hadn't smoked in 3 months because I was pregnant and I was certain it would never happen again.
Grandma was still a spry woman and to look at her, she was the picture of health. I'd never seen anyone die from lung cancer, but this didn't seem too bad. I was sure we had a long time with her. How could a woman looking this good die within 6 months?
She started chemotherapy treatments almost immediately. At first she was still able to care for herself and we'd all returned to our perspective homes in other states. One nearby relative checked in on her regularly, so we were sure she'd let us know if things worsened.
About a month after the diagnosis, we got a phone call. Grandma had taken a turn for the worse and was too much for one person to care for.
I packed my things and moved to live with her.
Caring for Grandma in the Final Stages of Lung Cancer
I was excited to see Grandma. I don't think I'd grasped the full picture of what lung cancer can do to a person. The last time I'd seen her, we danced in the kitchen like kids.
I pulled into the driveway and she was standing at the door. At first, I wasn't sure it was her. I don't think Grandma had ever weighed over 115 pounds, but she looked like she would be lucky to weigh 90.
I ran up to hug her and she winced in pain. "Don't hug too tight Sissy. My back hurts."
I remember thinking, "She must have hurt her back. Poor thing." Little did I know, the cancer was eating her from the inside out, causing her pain.
Other than losing lots of weight, she didn't look sick. She wheezed a little when she talked and coughed the way she always did.
As the day went on, I noticed her getting tired faster than she ever had. She was always a busy little bee. She would rival a teenager with her ability to go, go go. Not now. Grandma would get weak from walking to the kitchen and back.
She kept sneaking off though. I'd go to check on her and the stinker was gone! Two or three times a day we'd play 'find the grandma.'
"Oh I just wanted to get some fresh air, it's stuffy in here." she'd say.
One day she was gone a little longer than normal. I looked all over and found her in the shed - SMOKING! If she hadn't coughed, I'd have never known. By now the cough was unmistakable. There was something very wrong. It was deeper, longer and scarier than it ever had been.
I was scared! I knew I was losing my grandmother very soon.
"Grandma, why don't you quit smoking?"
"This is my last one Sissy. I promise."
I caught her 2 more times after that and each time she would say the same thing. "This is my last one Sissy. I promise."
I came to realize the meaning of addiction. She couldn't stop even when her life was ending and it was making her miserable. I would say when her life depended on it, but it was too late for that.
About 6 weeks had gone by since her diagnosis. She got up from her day bed and walked across the living room toward the kitchen. I could tell she was running out of steam so I got up to help her. I asked her to sit back down, but she was insistent. "I can do it by myself."
I walked 2 steps behind her the 20 or so steps she took across the house. I feared any moment she would fall down and I'd have to catch her, but she made it. She sat in a little chair in front of the kitchen sink and breathed so heavily it scared me. You could see the fear in her eyes. I know she was questioning her next breath at that point, but she was proud and didn't complain.
She reached into the cabinet by the sink and grabbed a washcloth. Her breathing slowed as she bathed herself at the sink. She began to get up and sat back down.
"Sissy, somebody's going to have to help me get to my bed."
I picked up her tiny 70ish pounds in my arms and carried her to bed. She cried the entire way, half from the pain it caused in her back and half from sadness as she realized she'd lost her ability to move freely.
I gave her a bell to ring if she needed someone and she used it frequently, but one day there was a sound I hadn't heard before. I went to her room and you cannot imagine what I saw.
She was standing on top a chair in the corner of the bedroom, digging through the top of her closet.
Me: "Grandma! What in the world are you doing up there?"
Grandma: "I'm looking for something."
Me: "What? Get down off there and I'll get it for you."
Grandma: "No don't worry about it. It's not up there."
Later that evening, I smelled something coming from the bedroom. That's right! You guessed it. She was smoking!
She was so angry about me finding out, but this time she didn't promise it would be her last. Instead she told me, "These things will kill you and they're harder to put down than you think."
Wise words from a woman dying from lung cancer. It had taken her roughly 45 years to learn that lesson. But I ask you, did it matter?
Two weeks later, Grandma was placed in a nursing home. The level of care she needed far outweighed our expertise. Hospice nurses were coming day and night to give her pain medication, but it seemed never-ending. It wasn't a choice anyone liked, but it was necessary to provide her with the best care possible.
Less than 3 months after the doctor diagnosed my grandmother with terminal lung cancer, that evil disease took her life. Some would say she quit smoking in her bed that day at home, but I say she quit smoking the day she died. I feel if she'd gotten the chance, she would have smoked with her last breath.
I've struggled with smoking on an off since her death. It never ceases to amaze me how ridiculous I feel to smoke. How I quit smoking for over 5 years and then started again really makes me angry. I haven't talked myself into quitting again but remembering this story is helping. As much as I love Grandma, I don't want to die from lung cancer too. I just hope it's not too late.
When will you quit smoking? Have you ever stopped smoking to start again? If you knew, for a fact, you would hear the same diagnosis if you didn't quit, would you quit smoking?