Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Dad Died of Cancer Because He Was A Smoker

Today all I can think about is the most terrifying and horrible day of my life. It was exactly one year ago. It was the last time my Dad ever held my hand. The last time he ever looked into my eyes.... He did these things as he convulsed in pain from the mini-strokes that were slowly and painfully killing him - despite the high doses of drugs coursing through his veins. Staying ahead of the pain was our collective goal for the past six months but this day we seemed to be loosing the battle. It was the first day of many things that would never be again.

(photo Tommy Ton via JAK & JIL)

My father smoked from the time he was around 14 and aside from a few failed attempts he didn't stop until a couple years before his 80th Birthday. Finally with lungs like black tissue paper and three aortic aneurisms about to burst at any moment he finally followed his surgeon's advice to quit. I remember what it was like to watch the rotation of pharmaceutical commercials on NBC Nightly News with him. A commercial for some drug boasting its ability to treat COPD would come on and he would say " Oh, COPD? I have that". He said it pleasantly, not just acceptingly. He was clearly in denial about what it meant to live with a disease that could kill you. I never knew exactly how to respond. I was living in comfortable denial too. One commercial after the next, the diseases and drugs would vary but his commentary and attitude didn't. The only disease he had that there was no drug commercial for was lung cancer. With that disease his denial faded in and out. He would often say to us with total conviction "I really don't believe I have cancer! I don't FEEL sick". Unfortunately I never felt the luxury of denial with this diagnosis. And some days I felt happy my father was living in denial and other days I was concerned he didn't feel the urgency of his final days. I didn't know how to respond. It frustrated me. I didn't want him to "waste" a single day. Who the hell was I to decide how he should spend his last days on earth? I stopped feeling that way the first time I saw him really feel the fact that his final day was coming. I never wanted him to feel that way again. And all I could do to help him was tell him what he meant to me. Really meant. It surprised me how easily the words fell out of my mouth. We are not a vocal family when it comes to our feelings. I know - weird considering we are of Italian descent! 

(Tommy Ton photo via JAK & JIL)

In six month's time my dad's cancer spread from his lungs to his adrenal gland and then his bones and then they stopped looking. 

(photo Tommy Ton via JAK & JIL)

You may think 80 is a full long life but you don't know how youthful my father was. You don't know how much he LOVED life! He used to say "Life is for living" and quoted "This old world we live in, sure is hard to beat. You find a thorn with every rose, but ain't the roses sweet". Were it not for his total zest for life he would never have made it through all the health complications he suffered the last ten years of his life. They were all directly related to his lifelong smoking habit. Totally self induced. Totally unnecessary. 

(photo Tommy Ton via JAK & JIL)

Some people live to be 100 and smoke their entire lives. Some people never take a drag and die of cancer at an early age. Some people smoke, quit and crave it every day and then get hit by a bus and die anyway. Life is short - why not indulge? I feel this way about cheese despite having "dangerously high cholesterol" since the age of 24. I have my own vices so who am I to lecture the close friends of mine who smoke despite the facts. But I worry about them. What my dad went through, and what his friends and family witnessed didn't have to be. That's what keeps passing through my mind. It simply didn't have to be. But he had his first cigarette high before they knew the consequences. So why do my friends smoke?

(Paz de la Huerta portrait by Terry Richardson via terrysdiary)

The Surgeon General released a shocking report a couple weeks ago. 

They are calling it "The Epidemic":

- every day in the US 30 kids pick up their first cigarette
- the overall number of teenagers smoking is down but the rate of decline is slowing
- 88% of smokers start in their teens
- 600,000 middle school students smoke, 3 million high school students smoke
- 1,200 people die every day from cigarettes, for every death 2 young adults start smoking
- when you start younger, you're likely to be addicted longer
- 3 things happen when you start smoking at a younger age: 1- cardiovascular damage 2- stunted lung growth 3- shortness of breath
- nicotine is more addictive than heroin 
- the 7,000 chemicals in cigarettes are what kills you

(Kate Moss portrait by Terry Richardson via terrysdiary)

Chilling news, this epidemic. I'm sure there are many factors that contribute to the results of that report but the one that strikes me most is the images we are fed daily. Not to single anyone out but there are two sites I visit daily - they are the sites belonging to my two current favorite fashion photographers. You likely know them: Tommy Ton - whose inspiring images of street style are taken to the next level and have made stars out of "fashion people"; and Terry Richardson whose work is in just about every fashion magazine out there. I have personally seen his work exhibited at "Art in the Streets" at the Geffen Contemporary and "Terrywood" at OHWOW Gallery. I admire their work. I believe in their images. I'm buyin' what they're sellin'. My guess is so are young impressionable minds. And images of smoking isn't just all over the internet but TV (hello, Mad Men!) and movies... Ciggies are dramatic props. Smoke swirling around is sexy. They draw attention to the mouth - hot! 

(vintage Odille dress hand painted by me!)

So, before I get too rambly or worse, preachy, I'd love to hear why you think this epidemic is growing. What can be done about it? I've seen some pretty terrible commercials with labored breathing as of late. In Canada they've had frightening images of lungs on their packages of cigarettes for years (and exorbitant taxes as well) and yet I have plenty of family and friends over there who still smoke... Smoking bans vary from state to state and even city to city here in LA county but trust - it's getting harder to find a place outside of your home (and some apartment buildings do not allow smoking in your apartment or even on your balcony!). Maybe if I were an important image-maker I'd consider some of the images I was putting out there... 

The only forms of expression I have are through this blog and my personal style. So I guess this is my way of trying to get through to friends, and family, and anyone reading because no man is an island! 

Please, I'm worried about you! Stop smoking... form a nice healthy cheese habit!


fifi said...

My grandfather died of this horrible killer. I know my grandfather made choices that led him down this path but he stopped when he was very young he had too he developed lung cancer and lost one lung. Which took place many years before I was on this earth. All I had seen was how this killer came back later in his life and took my grandfather and how hard it was for him in the end to try to breathe with one cancer ridden lung. Little did any of us know it would also strike again a few years later taking my grandmother who never smoked a day in her life, I also tell anyone who will listen stop smoking!

Anonymous said...

I've smoked for about 6 years of my life, even after having seen my grandmother die of emphysema, and my uncle of lung cancer. One day, remembering my family passed, I decided it wasn't for me and I wanted to live. At least for as long as God's will sought. Your dad was right when he said, the roses are sweet. May he rest peacefully.

pinkmate said...

Great post i must say!! I hope people will realize that smoking will not do anyone any good. My dad is a smoker, i hope he stops soon!


stylecomb said...

I find it so interesting to hear all of my grandparents talk about how they used to smoke, and how those their age that didn't smoke were the 'weird' ones.

Growing up in the neighborhood that I did, it seemed as though nobody smoked. But then I went to art school. Everyone smoked and it baffled me. Still does. I now work on a creative team and I am the only non-smoker.

I am with you when you say it worries you. It worries me to know that people I care about are doing something that has been proven so many times to be so harmful. I can't say I understand it, but it is also not my decision to make.

Magical Day Dream said...

Thanks for sharing your personal story. It's a horrible place to come from, but I am glad you are turning it into something positive. I always liked the smell of cigarettes, which is why I never started. I just knew I would get addicted and there would only be drawbacks that weren't worth the pleasure. I was tempted at times, especially when close friends were smoking but I always was able to rationalize their behavior and be stronger than my 'direct desires'. I wish more teenagers had the courage to make their own choices that might be different from their friends.



Shybiker said...

I'm sorry for your pain. It's terrible to lose a parent, especially when you believe it was premature.

Smoking does kill people. Years ago, there was doubt about that but science has eliminated the doubt. Now there's just denial.

It's hard to quit an addiction. My dad smoked three packs of unfiltered cigarettes until he had a heart attack they didn't expect him to survive. Fortunately, he did -- and that's the last time he smoked. It took facing death to convince him to stop.

Again, my sympathies.

Amanda said...

My thoughts are with you today. I can't imagine losing a parent.

Lady and Olga said...

LOVE that dress you customised and what it represents. My BF's Mom died because of smoking too, and I've always hated that...

Rxqnaesthetics said...

Thank you for sharing this very personal and emotional passage from your life. I can relate as my mother in law at 53 passed away from throat cancer once diagnosed she lived less than 6 months and she was in pain. I worry too since my dad is still a smoker since age 16 even though he says he is healthy you never know.

Shirin said...

My dad passed away last year, he was a smoker when he was young, but he quit and was a non-smoker for 30 years. He died from lung cancer that was spread to his brain. I don't know if it was smoking that took his life, but all I can do is not to smoke and reduce my risk.

Irene Buffa said...

perfect pics!
wanna follow each ohter dear?



Anonymous said...

So sorry about your dad. Wish I could have met him.

expensive birdcage said...
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absolutelyfaaabulous said...

Well done for writing such an article hon.. My father had serious hear surgery at 50 because of cigarettes too.. He has been fine for the last past 20 years.. but we always lived in fear of the 'what is'.. This is just so totally unecessary.. After smoking for while in high school and uni, I quit. And this is one of the best decisions I made in life so far. xx

hautepinkpretty said...

This was such a touching post. Thank you for sharing this story with us! Your passion, experience and concern should be more than enough to get a friend or two to quit smoking :) I hope they listen! It's a terrible, vicious, painful killer that takes time to finally hit, but when it does, it's unforgiving.
Xox <3

Isabel, Wake up & smell the azahar said...

Sorry about your dad. It's lovely that you use your blog to tell such a personal story & convince other to stop smoking. I think it's important, because personal stories are way more touching that impersonal institutional campaigns. The fact about smoking is that it's not only the direct cause of many diseases. It's been also proven a risk factor for almost every disease you can think about. Smoking & obesity are the epidemics of our age at richer countries.

Vidhya said...

The line - life is short anyway really bothers me , so indulge (even in cheese - with high cholesterol). The reason we exercise and portion control and try to be healthy is so that we do everything on our part to stay alive and healthy. That is all there is, in our control. So lets do it right. People find it easy to say , life is short. But what if you are not hit by a bus? What if u live to 50 years of age , have a loving spouse and kids who depend on u and then u die out of a disease that is preventable? Think abt that scenario too. Limit the cheese. I'm worried about u!