1997- Smoking and Lung Cancer
The urge to smoke when I got home from my lobectomy to remove my lower right lung drove me crazy. I was a slave to nicotine and everything that I did was a fight to be free of it.The urge to smoke ambushed me, like a lurking Gollum. If I wanted to live I could not smoke. I was in the throws of nicotine withdrawal and it was horrible..
I have to talk about smoking and lung cancer because my healing, my recuperation depended on my not smoking, not ever. But these cravings are such a draw, a power, a riptide pulling back its backwash. It’s hard to describe how I knew that I had to have a cigarette. It’s a whisper of a need that grows into a hunger. It starts at the back of my tongue, a foretaste, and swims to my head and heart. It’s my very own feedback loop. Somehow I had to stop this, to break the code.
When post-op minor complications showed up they paled in comparison to my urge to smoke. My bladder infection would go away, if only I could smoke!! My stitches itched, my muscles contracted, I was tired and achy and needed pain pills at night. I was as cranky as an old car refusing to start. The high that I had felt for surviving my surgery paled in comparison to what I really craved.
I remembered how fabulous it was, smoking when I was in college. It was so social, so acceptable, so stylish. Any craving was instantly fed, like a mosquito needing a sip of blood. Not a thought in the world but inserting its stinger. It was my pleasure, that first inhale, my lustprinzip. Smoking felt cool. But even back in the late 60’s and early 70’s there was a niggling of fear, a breath of panic. Would I get cancer?
Could I really fight this feeling of lack of control? Gain power over it? But what would replace it? If I continue smoking what would I do instead? Would it be just empty time? A time to remember smoke rings, to reminisce? Maybe a time to do something else? But what? I don’t remember how far along I was in my recovery, but I knew that something had to change. Even my dreams were betraying my cravings. I’ve always had mostly vivid, fun dreams, but they were now conjuring up fear that I would be caught smoking. They created a panic, not at the edge but splat in the center. My dreams had turned bad. I couldn’t get away with anything now, not even in a dream state.
As time went on I didn’t need to worry about whether I had enough cigarettes to last me until the next day. No one stepped back from my exuding any telltale signs that I was a smoker – shame, shame. My nails changed to a more natural color, as did my teeth. I found that my hands didn’t need to be as busy, worrying everything, like a puppy gnawing its paws.
Nothing replaced my smoking and yet everything did. I also think that Dave was getting pretty sick of my whining, and finally, said to me, “If you smoke, you’ll die” And there it was, a new mantra, all for me! So every time I had a craving that was especially strong, I would say to myself, “If you smoke, you’ll die. ” It was between me and me, a private, battle song. I was like a Viking yelling “Tyr!” the god of war!
As far as I knew I no longer had cancer. I had to consider myself a non-smoker. But old habits die hard, as much as it is to quit smoking. As soon as I could drive I found that the cigarette lighter popped out as soon as I got in the car. Did I push it in? I have no memory of it. My heart leapt into the air. Maybe there was a left over butt in the ashtray!! But Dave had done an absolutely thorough job of getting rid of any butts, ashtrays and lighters. I would puff no more. If there had been a butt in that ashtray I would have lit it up. But I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live. It took me a long time for the cravings to ebb until they were just a whisper, every now and then.