Eight years ago today, August 8, 2005, I watched my dad die. It’s unfathomable, yet still very real in my mind. Some days, it’s like it didn’t happen. Other days, I see it clearly, still very fresh in my memory.
My father’s death was not in vain. It impacted me in ways I can never explain in written words. It made me detest cigarettes and question why anybody on Earth would play russian roulette with their lives. Tobacco use is the number one cause of lung cancer. Yes, you can get lung cancer if you don’t smoke. But, you increase your risk of developing cancer if you smoke, and you are basically telling your body you don’t care what happens to it.
I had been foolish in how I’d hoped sharing a little about my father’s excruciating last weeks alive might change at least one person’s view. I secretly prayed that one person (especially family) would be so moved by what that experience was like, that they would say, “I’ll never touch tobacco again.” And yet, no one was touched enough to stop poisoning themselves. I’ve had to remind myself that it’s human nature to be unaffected until you are affected. People who continue to smoke go about their day, one pack of cigarettes after another, oblivious to what they’re doing to their bodies. People just don’t care, until it happens to them.
Lung cancer is disgusting, like the bubonic plague. It rots the body. My father grew softball-sized tumors all over his body, to a point he couldn’t even sit on his butt because one planted itself on his right cheek. They burst through the skin; they bleed and scab. They protrude from a weakened, sick body as weight drops and skin sags. My dad’s feet flattened. It was laborious for him to walk. He was tired. Drugs made him even more sick. All he could do was get radiation treatments, which was pointless by the time the doctors gave him 6 months to live. He didn’t even have that. He was alive less than 4 months from the day he was diagnosed, on his birthday. The doctor told him he had stage 4 cancer and recommended against chemotherapy when he read him his death sentence, on my 28th birthday. He was gone in 2 months.
Watching my father suffer and die will always be the darkest day of my life. It’s not supposed to be that way. Parents protect their children from the day they are conceived. Mothers carry and nourish us in the womb. Moms and dads spend the rest of their lives making sure we feel safe and loved. And, I was totally robbed of that. Cigarettes and lung cancer stole the grandfather of my two boys, who resemble my dad in so many ways that sometimes I swear I’m looking into his puppy dog eyes when I look at them. I had a shaky relationship with my dad in my adult life, but I loved him nonetheless. Our roles reversed at the end, and my sister and I cared for him. He lived with me the last 5 days of his life, and he went from bad to worse in the blink of an eye. Maybe he was comforted when he came home, I don’t know. It was pure torture for me, and yet I rested easier knowing he was with me.
If you smoke tobacco, you are not only gambling with your life, you are setting yourself up to hurt your family. You will make them suffer because they will be the ones who care for you when you are told you have days to live. It is cruel and selfish. When someone says, “it’s my body and I can do what I want with it,” they are absolutely right. They can. But, it’s not fair that they will make their family suffer right along with them. Children don’t have a choice in the matter. Life throws so many unexpected curves our way as it is, why risk it?
Death is life. We have to deal with it. No one is immune to it, and it comes knocking on our door when it chooses. I just feel sick to my stomach when I know people have choices, and they continue to make bad ones. I can’t even begin to tell you how much my life has shifted since having children of my own. My purpose is to stay alive for my boys. I know I could die at any moment in a car accident or some God awful act of crime, or even by cancer, but I refuse to let myself stare down the barrel of a gun knowing I have the power to do otherwise. It’s only fair to my babies that I am there for them as long as I possibly can be. I will never let my father be forgotten.
Every drag you take of that cigarette is welcoming death to your doorstep.
By the way, I smoked. I did so casually in social settings–not every day, not even every week or month. But, I did. My last cigarette was the day after my dad died. I owed that much to him. It can be done.
For my dad, Richard Allan Zobrist, April 14, 1951 – August 8, 2005.