Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Great American Smokeout

Saturday would be my father's 81 birthday, having been born on November 22, 1927. It was my dad's 35th birthday the day JFK was assassinated in Dallas, TX in 1963. An OSU Law School alumni, dad's favorite day of the year often fell on his birthday--not because it was his birthday--but because it meant his alma mater would be playing "that school up north" for the Big 10 Championship.

Today is approximately the 18th anniversary of the day my father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer just before Thanksgiving in 1990. He underwent surgery on December 5 and died of a massive heart attack 3 days later while still recovering in the hospital. Dad was a chain smoker and an in the closet (or more accurately in the basement) alcoholic. Until recently it was always my belief that the combination of the cigarettes and alcohol that killed him based upon the intense research I did the week following the Saturday morning call when he informed me of his cancer diagnosis and his upcoming surgery. Stunned from the news I first cried and then called 1-800-4-CANCER and went to the library to look up the characteristics of this type of cancer in the references books. It was clear that his days with me/us were short and as it turned out, much shorter than any of us could have anticipated.

Within the past 5 years, I realized that the hiatal hernia and acid reflux he endured most of his adult life probably weakened the walls of his esophagus allowing the smoke and alcohol to do it's cell altering work to create the cancer. That newer understanding has helped me to ease my anger over his participation (or lack of prevention) in his death.

Each year for the first 10-12 years following my dad's death on the day in November that the American Cancer Society sponsors The Great American Smokeout, I wrote a personal letter to a friend or relative who was a smoker asking them to try yet again to stop smoking. I told these people that I loved them and I wanted them to live a longer life than my father. I don't know if any of these letters were effective--I know some of them were not which attests not to my lack of persuasive powers, but more to the addictive power of nicotine--10 times more powerful than alcohol say brain biochemists. Some of these folks have received more than one letter from me over the years.

I had to smile this morning as I read my offering from "The First 30 Days" about creating positive changes in your life. Today's piece was about a new Nintendo DS game that helps people quit smoking. I started to imagine my daughters teaching their grandfather how to play the Nintendo DS and help him quit smoking. (Much the same way I did when I started throwing out his cigarettes after the U.S. Surgeon General issued the statement that they were hazardous to your health. (Didn't go over too well with my father.)

But the mental fiction of my daughters playing with my father will never come to pass because, in fact, they never got to meet Papa Jim who died nearly a decade before their birth. In lieu of their ability to interact live with my father and teach him how to play a Nintendo DS, I will instead get out the audiotapes that I asked a few of my family and friends (many of whom are now also deceased) to make remembering my father about 10 years ago so they could have his oral history. Last year was the first year I played these tapes and now it will be a tradition on or about November 22.

For everyone else, I will simply ask you to urge a friend of yours who smokes to try to stop--if only for one day...or better yet, if only for one day at a time!

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