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The 99B bus was coming into view, and the guy standing beside me at the bus stop had just lit a cigarette.  As I was putting some distance between us, I watched with interest as the man began taking fast, short puffs – with his fingers holding the cigarette against his lips the whole time!

It was terrible enough breathing the smoke-filled air from all of the forest fires in British Columbia, but I was getting just as annoyed at the smoker for not smoking correctly.  As a former smoker, for many years, I consider myself an expert smoker, although I haven’t touched tobacco since 2001.  I wanted to explain to the man, that smoking a cigarette is like kissing a woman – it requires a slow and steady puff (kiss) and then a moment’s hesitation as you savor the taste of the nicotine (lipstick).  But I didn’t.

Last Thursday, I drove to LaConner, Washington and it was then that I noticed how the air was so much cleaner!  And my new friends explained that it was even better than Bellingham’s.  But I already knew that the smoky air that I’d been breathing was affecting my throat.  It’s not like I didn’t hear the warnings on the radio, which regularly advised to stay indoors if you have breathing issues.

Instead, I continued to go for daily walks – until I awoke early Saturday morning, coughing violently and continuously.  And then I got the shakes and started shivering.  I turned on the thermostat and got a few blankets, but the coughing wouldn’t stop.  I made a hot drink, and that seemed to help but not for long.

Most of my readers have seen the video of my cancer patient’s presentation at the UBC Faculty of Dentistry, in January 2016.  I start the performance by stating that I started smoking when I started high school in 1963 and quit smoking when I graduated from high school in 2000!  It was meant to provide a little humor to an unsuspecting group of dental professionals.  Here is a link to the presentation:  Danny’s Cancer Story

After I gave my presentation, I was approached by several people asking me to give my presentation to their respective study groups and even a request from a dentist who asked if I would speak to the students of the high school that her sons attend.

I often wonder if I would have ever started smoking at the age of thirteen if I knew the significant health risks?  But knowing little Danny, I probably would have.  At the time, our family doctor smoked in his office and so did his patients.  And although only my dad smoked, I’m sure that we all were affected by the second-hand smoke.  However, I am to blame for my all of my bad habits, and I’m not trying to excuse myself.

It’s Monday afternoon, and I called my buddy Norm and canceled plans to go to Gibsons this week.  I have an appointment to see the doctor tomorrow and then a club meeting to attend in Vancouver on Wednesday evening, so hopefully, I’ll be feeling better by then.  I’ve also got a big day planned with my buddy Reg Dutton this Friday – we’re going to see a Canadian’s game!

But my breathing problems are not just a result of the current smoky air – I believe I got throat cancer from the years I smoked – period!  And the scar tissue in my throat from the radiation treatments is sensitive – I can’t even drink lemonade (too acidic).  In retrospect, I definitely should have taken better care and stayed these past few weeks indoors or gone to the Prairies for an extended visit with my friends in Saskatoon.

I don’t believe in looking back at what might have been – and the future may never come – so I want to ask you if you smoke – if you’ll consider quitting?  If you want, we’ll keep it our little secret – but regardless of how difficult it is to quit smoking – let me assure you that the radiation and chemo treatments are a thousand times worse!

A few months after my treatments ended, I called my youngest brother and asked him if he would please quit smoking because I didn’t want to see him (or anyone) going through what I did.  I also told him that I would never bring the subject up again.  He thanked me for the words of caution but never said that he’d quit.  A few years later, when he and his wife came to Vancouver for a visit, I noticed that he wasn’t smoking!  I was both shocked and thrilled at the same time!

Danny:  I noticed you’re not smoking?

Randy:  I quit two years ago.

Danny:  Wow!  How did you do it?

Brothers Randy and Danny  (September 2015)                                       Photo by Suzanne

I should probably explain that my brother nearly died some years ago from a massive heart attack and stroke.  I was attending a business meeting in Toronto at the time and had to leave for the day, so I could go to the OR Department of the hospital in Mississauga and be there with him when he came out of surgery.  

My brother was in Intensive Care, and when I asked the heart surgeon about the surgery, he replied that they wouldn’t give him odds of surviving for at least  48 hours.  He explained that they had both Randy’s lung and heart on the table while operating on him.  It was the first time that I had prayed for anything in a long time.

A few days later, I went to visit my brother at the hospital, and he was supposed to still be in Intensive Care.  But when I got to his room, he wasn’t there!  I panicked and rushed out into the hall asking a nurse where my brother was!  She explained that his girlfriend had wheeled him by wheelchair to the smoking area so that he could have a cigarette!

Danny:  How did you do it?  Did you go on the patch?  Or did you use a prescription to help you quit?

Randy:  Nope, neither.

Danny:  OMG!  Are you kidding?  How in the world did you quit?  Did you do it gradually?

Randy:  I quit ‘cold turkey.’

Danny:  Please tell me how you quit.  I give cancer survivor presentations, and maybe I can include a bit on how you quit ‘cold turkey?’

Randy:  I was with my two grandkids, and when I lit a cigarette, the oldest told me if I didn’t quit smoking, I was going to die!  And before I could assure him that I wouldn’t die, the youngest grandkid started to cry; screaming I don’t want Papa to die!  And as much as I tried to console him, he wouldn’t stop crying until I put out the cigarette and promised him that I’d never smoke again – and I haven’t!

So, as I’m coughing and gagging while writing this story, I hope that you’ll forgive me for ‘preaching’ to you.  I want you to avoid the excruciating treatments – regardless of how tough and brave you see yourself.

If you need someone to talk to you about it – call or write to me.  Or better still, talk to your grandkids and make their day by promising them you’ll never smoke again.

And that’s all I have to say about this smokin’ subject.  I’ll never write about it again.

Cheers to smokers trying to quit, and Tears for those who don’t.

UPDATE:  Tuesday, August 28, 2018.  The violent coughing and accompanying headaches were finally too much to bear and at 4:00 AM, I got dressed and drove to the ER Department of Langley Memorial Hospital.  After 4 1/2 hours, and a series of blood work, x-rays, and an ECG, the doctor believed that it was probably a virus infection in my chest and that I should take it easy and rest for the next few days.  I was relieved to know that it wasn’t cancer returning (something most cancer survivors understand).  

Danny’s selfie from ER

I’m hoping to be able to go to the Vancouver Canadians baseball game on Friday with my buddy Reg.  We’ve had tickets for this sold-out game for two weeks, and I have been so excited about going.  



Today’s tune (from Danny’s library of purchased music):  


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About Post Author

Daniel (Danny) St. Andrews

An almost famous Film, Television & Stage Actor (as in almost pregnant) living in Vancouver, BC His other passions include cancer patient advocate (he had stage 3 throat cancer), walking with the Vancouver 'Venturers Walking Club, and of course, spoiling his dog, Holly Golightly. If you like the stuff he writes about - please leave a hug (or a comment).
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2 thoughts on “A Smokin’ Story

  1. Another well written story Danny. If only we all did not think of ourselves as “Superman” and that “I can beat the odds”, “never me”. If you can reach just a few with your message, you are doing a great thing. You and I feel the same with the walking club- if we can reach just a few, get them just a bit healthier and happier by walking with us…..

    1. Thank you, Doug, for the kind words. Sometimes, we never stop paying for the unwise choices we made earlier in life – mine was smoking and listening to my rock n roll music loud – very loud. Hugs

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