DEAR TEEN-AGERS -– AND IF YOU WHO ARE READING THIS ARE BEYOND YOUR TEENS, CLIP IT AND GIVE IT TO A YOUNG PERSON. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: Yesterday, my family and I laid my father to rest. He was a mere 57 years old, but fell victim to lung and brain cancer because he was unable to overcome his addiction to cigarettes. Although not a heavy chain-smoker, he did smoke nearly every day for more than 40 years. It was not until a quadruple bypass in 1996 that my father quit smoking.
Unfortunately, by then the foundation had been laid for further complications. My father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1998 and underwent successful, but complicated, lung surgery that July. He was steadily improving, even talking of returning to work, when it was revealed on Feb. 22, 1999, that the cancer had metastasized to his brain and left lung. Dad lived another 22 days.
I write this letter not from the perspective of a grieving son who will forever miss his father, but in response to an article I read in USA Today shortly after my father's funeral. The front-page article highlighted the increase in tobacco usage among college students across the country, with cigarette smoking at its highest for this age group in the last 20 years.
I address this letter to all those young men and women who will face the same challenge my father faced in trying to quit. Cigarettes cost him his life. I know the trauma; I've seen the scars, both physical and emotional, that cigarettes left on my father and on my family. I spent nearly every day with my dad during the last 22 days of his life. I watched his strength, balance, mental capacity, mobility and communication skills diminish before my eyes.
I will forever cherish the time I spent with my father throughout my life, and will be forever indebted to him for all he gave to me. I can only hope that one day I will be the kind of father that he was. He told me, just 10 days before he was taken into God's hands, that his only regret was that he started smoking as a teen-ager. He knew it had cost him his life.
I hope you'll print this, Abby, and that I'm able to convince just one person to take the necessary steps to "kick the habit." I do not wish upon any person the pain and suffering I saw my father endure and succumb to as a result of the cancer he developed from smoking. -– SEAN W. KING, PORTERVILLE, CALIF.
DEAR SEAN: Please accept my condolences for the loss of your father. I'm glad you wrote, because I'm sure your words of warning will make many people of all ages stop and think before lighting up. We all know that using tobacco in any form is hazardous to our health. It causes cancer of the mouth, tongue, throat, lung, pancreas and bladder, as well as heart disease and emphysema.
My male readers tell me that they started smoking as teen-agers to "prove" they were "a man." It's ironic that 30 years later they try to quit for the same reason! I hear from women that they smoke to control their weight. I recently attended the funeral of a lovely young woman who was a good friend. She lost weight, all right (by smoking) -– but she also lost her life.