By: Penny McCaslin, Tobacco Program Coordinator
Thirty five years ago I didn’t have the knowledge about tobacco’s health effects that I do today. All I knew was my Dad was suffering. The coughing and spitting were gross to the rest of us, but what it did to him was very difficult to watch. From the time I was old enough to remember, my dad had black lung and emphysema. Yet he continued to smoke cigarettes, sometimes a pipe, and maybe a friend’s cigar once in a while. He was unable to quit even though his current medical condition and emerging news from the healthcare world pointed to the hazards of what was commonly thought of as a bad habit. What he had was an addiction.
In my junior year of high school, Dad was diagnosed with kidney cancer. I felt helpless in his fight, but thought maybe I could help others by helping to find a cure. I immediately took to the streets going door-to-door collecting donations for the American Cancer Society. I knocked on A LOT of doors that year.
The recovery was tough on him, and to watch the way his body healed (or didn’t heal) was unreal to me. Today I understand how tobacco use inhibits and slows the body’s ability to heal. It affects almost every organ of the body. I don’t know that my vivacious and hardworking dad ever went back to work after this surgery… but he could still roll his own cigarettes. He writhed with post-surgical pain for many years as his coughing and phlegm expelling progressed. He never stood up straight again.
Not long before the birth of my second child, Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. By this time, there was only a small portion of one lung that was not completely consumed by the disease. Thirty days later he was gone. I remember him being on a morphine drip in a hospital room; his eyes as bloody and droopy as a hound dog’s while he fought for every breath (as if he’d been in the desert for days), until there were no more breaths. It was horrible to see my strong father in this weak state.
I always wondered how family members could continue this bad habit after witnessing the same thing I had. This is addiction. Thankfully, some family members have quit, yet others are still on the battlefield with illnesses caused by nicotine addiction.
This experience is just one in a long line of similar experiences with various friends and family members over the years. With these experiences and working in the tobacco program at Cerro Gordo Public Health for the past 15 years, I have come to understand nicotine addiction. I strive every day to help other nicotine and tobacco users understand how these products can negatively impact their quality of life, and then help them find the right solution to quitting. The issue of nicotine addiction continues… yet every time a person attempts to quit, it brings them one step closer to success!
I wish there was a 100% effective plan or a magic pill to help everyone quit, but there is nothing simple about tobacco/nicotine addiction. It’s tough! That’s why I like the Freedom From Smoking (FFS) program offered through the Partnership for a Tobacco Free Cerro Gordo County and Tobacco Free North Iowa. It provides the framework for developing personalized plans to help you quit. The program allows you to go through the planning, learning, and quitting process with other people who are on the same journey as you, making the program more powerful and effective.
If you are a nicotine user, I encourage you to look into joining the FREE Freedom From Smoking course that will begin on Tuesday, January 12, 2016. You can register today by calling me (Penny) at 641-421-9329. Your life is yours to live; take it back!
Tobacco Program Coordinator
Cerro Gordo County Department of Public Health