A Letter from a Lung Cancer Patient (Part 2)

by Team Onco
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Hello

If you’ve read the first part of my letter, you already know why I’m writing to you. 

I can safely say that I’m in the last stretch of my life. Like any race, the last stretch is the hardest. You have less energy left and every small step is like climbing a full mountain. 

They say that before we die, our entire life flashes before our eyes like a recap. I wonder what moments of my life will be highlighted in such a flashback. Surely, my wedding will be one of those moments. 

My entire family had come together for this occasion from different parts of the country. I was only 25 years old and most of my cousins were little children. 

My wife did not know that I smoke. She barely knew anything about me, except that I had a job and that I was taller than she was. In those days, we only expected these things from a groom. 

I had heard from the elders in her family that she was a very strict vegetarian and was against all bad habits. I did not have the courage to ask what she considered ‘bad habits’. Stealing and using bad words? Alcohol? Smoking?

All through the pre-wedding ceremonies, I was thinking about how I was going to tell her that I smoke. At one point, I felt so anxious about it that I even considered calling off the wedding. Afterall, a modern woman would be able to understand that it’s common for men to smoke these days. I should have warned my mother that I would only marry a modern woman. But it was too late for that now. 

Without my regular dose of tobacco, my nerves were on edge and I could barely keep myself from shouting at my own aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbours who came to ‘see the groom’ before the wedding.

Finally, unable to take the withdrawal symptoms anymore, I bribed my six year-old cousin to keep watch at the foot of the terrace while I went up there to smoke. Each smoke cost me a big bar of milk chocolate and for the rest of the day my cousin walked around with chocolate coated teeth, much to the amazement of his mother who kept wondering where he was getting the chocolates from.

All the other kids started keeping a close watch on him, in hope of finding such chocolates for themselves. But my cousin turned out to be a smart fellow who dodged all of them during his loo breaks to come and be my smoke-break sentry. 

This memory makes me chuckle but I also feel sad. This same cousin of mine later became a chain-smoker and although he grew up in a different town, I somehow feel responsible for his smoking habit.

Within two days of my wedding, my wife found out that I smoke. Since there were still some left-over relatives around us, she said nothing. But I have since learnt that arguments are better than the passive-aggressive silence that women sometimes resort to when they are upset. 

Just as I kept weakening my lungs with the tobacco smoke I inhaled, she kept hardening her heart with the anger she felt at my smoking. She would suffocate the house with incense sticks every time I smoked, as if trying to cancel out my unholy smoke with her holy smoke.

When our eldest daughter was born, my wife assumed that I would now stop smoking. But I just couldn’t. I had additional financial responsibility on me now and very little time to relax. Smoking became my quick fix as a means to unwind. 

When my daughter was two years old, she developed a cough and the doctor seems to have told my wife that my smoking was making it worse. That was one of the worst days I can recall. After that I stopped smoking in the house and went outside every time I craved a smoke. 

When my son graduated from engineering college, I promised him that I would give him anything he asked for. I knew he wanted a KTM bike and I was prepared to finally gift it to him. But to everyone’s surprise and my shock, he announced in front of all our relatives that the only gift he wanted was for me to quit smoking. 

I had no idea that my smoking was such a big issue for him. In that one moment, I went from being a proud father to an ashamed smoker. 

I am honestly telling you, after that I tried everything possible to quit smoking. Someone said cucumber helps to quit. I ate cucumber with all three meals that week. Then I tried chewing gum, and then I even tried nicotine patches. 

With time, I stopped trying. It ruined my entire day if I was trying to quit. I needed my attention for other more important things at work and couldn’t spend all my time battling my urges and cravings. 

Last year, I got a bad cough and sore throat. I went to the doctor and took some medication for it. Even after taking the medicines for one month, the cough did not subside. So I went to another doctor. They suspected tuberculosis and started the treatment. 

The throat problem got so worse that I had pain while swallowing food. So I started eating less and compensated by drinking tea after every meal. But with time, even swallowing tea became painful. 

By now, my daughter was married and was settled in the US. She called me on her birthday and I could barely speak properly over the phone. I had trouble speaking clearly now as my voice was muffled. She asked me what had happened and I told her that I was having a bad cough as it was winter and I always fall sick during winters. 

When they finally diagnosed lung cancer, I felt more bad for my family than for myself. I knew they would be disappointed, sad, embarrassed, angry with me for smoking all these years, and most of all worried about what would happen to me. 

My family doesn’t deserve to suffer because they had warned me several times to quit smoking. They did everything in their power to make me stop. But I couldn’t. 

Regret is worthless now. There are many non-smokers who get lung cancer too. But I hear that smoking is the most preventable cause of cancer. 

Do you think I would have continued smoking if I had known that I would suffer from lung cancer? Maybe I would have. It’s not so simple. When you go through the daily struggles of life, you are unable to think ten or twenty years ahead. You are just thinking of the present moment and how to cope with it. 

I have heard that cancer patients in the advanced stages suffer a lot. So I am expecting more suffering before I meet my end. I just wish my family didn’t have to suffer with me. 

That’s why I’m writing all this to you. I know exactly how hard it is to quit smoking, but I’m still asking you to quit smoking. I could never do it but you please find a way to do it. 

If I say smoking is not worth it, you will not fully understand. Even if I say you will regret it badly, you may still not understand. 

So I’m asking you to go into the cancer ward of a public hospital and see for yourself what suffering is. I’m asking you to speak to the widows of patients who smoked away their life. See with what difficulty they are raising their children alone. I’m asking you to speak to those children and see if they miss their father or not. 

If even this does not help, then please go and see a therapist who can help you with de-addiction. When the battle cannot be won alone, we need to find help. Do it now, before it’s too late. 

I sincerely hope your story will be different from mine. 

Take care of yourself.

Regards,

Pavan

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