I've had this post pending in my que for a long time... For some reason, I didn't post it right when I wrote it and for the last few weeks, I'd contemplated not posting it at all but that doesn't feel right either. It originally started as a post to highlight why I love the field I work in but as I wanted to share my personal story, it became much more. This post is a snapshot of my life, as it was in mid-March and although circumstances have changed, it doesn't change the feelings.
(Post written on March 21)
When I was a little girl, my grandpa (also known as "Lolo") was a long time cigarette smoker. I was young but I already knew I disliked the smell (and I still do). My cousin and I, both no older than 8-9 years old convinced Lolo to quit smoking by pleading with him to quit repeatedly. And luckily, he did.
In August of last year, I made the jump from autism research to tobacco cessation research. As part of my training, I attended a tobacco cessation group that educated smokers and helped give them skills to quit. I learned that nicotine is a highly addictive substance (as addictive at heroin and cocaine) and it has biological implications that make quitting a REAL challenge. It taught me not to jump to judgement (as a nonsmoker) because quitting isn't just breaking a "bad habit", its changing neurological patterns of reinforced behaviors. I heard personal stories of smokers choosing their health, family and life over an addiction to tobacco and it was a defining moment for me professionally. I realized I'd fallen in love with my job, helping people overcome their addiction to nicotine.
In October 2013 (when I wrote that vague blog post), we found out my Lolo was diagnosed with lung cancer. I was numb on the phone as my parents told me. Even after years of Lolo being a former smoker, nicotine still affected our lives. It was devastating since Lolo had already undergone multiple heart surgeries and continued to thrive. But he wanted to fight so he started chemo and radiation everyday and then he moved into my family home with my parents right before the holidays. It was a rough end to 2013 with a lot of transition.
It's been 5 months since his diagnosis and Lolo has completed his rounds of chemo and radiation. He had lots of days he felts weak and had to be admitted into hospitals for infections many times but overall, he was always cracking a joke and making all of us laugh. He was desperately stubborn about shaving off the remnants of his hair but he finally gave in a few weeks ago. He's a fighter and cancer is no match for his spirit.
A week ago, I received an e-mail from my Dad the other day that said after months of chemo and radiation, at Lolo's last PET scan they said with relative certainty that he is cancer-free. Obviously there are no guarantees in life (especially because cancer has a way of coming back) but for my family, that was spectacular news.
This experience taught me so much about the sacrifices we make in life to be good to our family. My parents are my heroes and there's not a day that goes by that I don't respect and admire how they treat their family. I can only hope I grow to be as good of a daughter to them as they age. I also have a new soft spot for the people who work in oncology because I met the NICEST people when I brought Lolo to his radiation appointment, they absolutely adored him.
I don't judge people based on their vices in life (I mean you all know how much I love wine and french fries) but lung cancer is the primary cause of cancer-related deaths in both women and men in the United States. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer. Tobacco cessation and my job aren't about forcing people to quit, it's about educating smokers and helping those who are interested in quitting. Its about exposing the difficulty in a person's addiction to nicotine and freeing people of that dependence, when they're ready to. Tobacco cessation helps people extend their life to spend more time with the people they love, and that's why I love my job. Now, more than ever.
So Thank you to God for strengthening our family in so many ways, and thank you everyone for your support even if you didn't know why I needed it. Your comments and your presence in my life was felt deeply.
(The post above was written on March 21)
Sadly, on April 8, 2013, my Lolo passed away. His body fought the good fight with chemo and radiation but the process of fighting cancer weakened his organs and slowly, they started failing. It was a difficult time for our family because losing a loved one is an impossibly hard reality to face. However I'm grateful that we were able to say our goodbyes in the most meaningful way possible and that he left this world knowing how loved and appreciated he was by all of us. He's joined my Grandma Priscilla and my Auntie Gigi up in heaven.
As much bad press as funerals get, I have to say, Lolo's was so special. It was truly a celebration, with all our family and loved ones showing up to pay their respects and show their support. Lolo was so well liked by everybody and everyone had a story to tell. The amount of love and support our family received that weekend still manages to overwhelm me when I think about it. It was a healing weekend for us all, to be able to cry and laugh together thinking about the life that my Lolo so eagerly lived. While we were gathered for a somber occasion, I will look back on that weekend fondly, knowing Lolo loved watching every minute of it from up above, seeing all his friends and family together.
Lolo, we miss you so much. You've raised a family with unbreakable bonds and loving hearts, I couldn't thank you enough. Thank you for all the wonderful memories that I will always carry with me. I love you.