I started smoking in 1963, at the age of thirteen. It was during my first year of high school.
I started smoking because of several factors, namely:
- My dad and uncles all smoked. My mom didn’t smoke, but she was exposed to second-hand smoke for most of her life.
- My family doctor smoked. He always had a pipe in his mouth.
- Later, when I was on my own, my new doctor smoked cigarettes. And his cigarettes were unfiltered.
- Most of my television heroes smoked.
- Girls that I dated smoked.
- Cigarette commercials on television often featured doctors (or actors portraying doctors) promoting smoking.
However, my first ‘smoke’ wasn’t a cigarette – it was a homemade version that my buddies and I devised. At the time, I was in Sea Scouts, and on the weekend camping excursions, we would tear off a piece of paper from a paper bag and then crumple up dried leaves and then roll them into the shape of a cigarette.
But smoking those homemade versions made us cough. However, it didn’t prevent us from graduating to store-bought cigarettes. Come to think of it, many of the grownups who smoked also had coughs.
And buying cigarettes was never a problem for a nine or ten-year-old kid. Kids would often run to the store to get cigarettes for their parent(s). Maybe we needed to have a note – I can’t remember.
I also had a history of bronchitis from an early age. In hindsight, smoking contributed to my ongoing bronchial problems. By the late 1990s, my chronic coughing resulted in me spitting traces of blood. Seeing that blood in my spit scared me. I was afraid that I might have lung cancer.
I finally quit smoking in 2000, at the age of fifty. Come to think of it – my dad quit smoking – cold turkey – when he was 51 or 52 years old. He never explained why he stopped, but he never smoked again. Dad became obsessed with avoiding second-hand smoke.
I have not followed my dad’s obsession with the same level of paranoia, but I will go out-of-my way to avoid breathing smoke because it still makes me cough.
In 2005, I retired from the working world at the age of fifty-five. I started my new career as an actor and voice artist in 2007 and was excited at the number of auditions for an old fart like me.
In 2009, I was diagnosed with stage 3 throat cancer and given a forty percent chance of survival. At the time, I figured that I was doomed.
But I heard something from Vicky Grant, a radiation therapist, on that same morning of my diagnosis, which gave me hope and probably saved my life.
When I told Vicky that I had only a 40% chance of survival – she replied by saying, “Well, then you’re in the 40% group!”
That kept my hopes alive and allowed me to think positively and to never give up the fight to live. Besides, why would I want to be in the 60% who wouldn’t survive?
The following video is my cancer story.
But Danny, what has this got to do with a smokin’ gun?
Well, Spanky, it has everything to do with smoking cigarettes. I am not a hero – I am a lucky survivor. Sixty percent of stage 3 throat cancer patients do not survive.
So, you’re still alive. Isn’t that a ‘happy conclusion’ to your story?
No, it’s not even close to being an end to my story.
Let me explain.
I haven’t eaten solid food since August 2009. My voice has deteriorated significantly, and it’s difficult to understand me when I’m talking. I find it difficult to swallow anything but fluids – I’m not able to take aspirin or other pills. But I have never complained, and I’m thankful to have survived this long.
I have lost fourteen teeth because of radiation treatments. My dental bills are over $15,000 – most of which I paid out-of-pocket.
In May 2018, I had another tooth pulled. But it was in the area of my mouth where the radiation field was, and my dentist felt I should see an oral surgeon to have it extracted. I have been going back to the surgeon every few weeks because the area hasn’t healed. The extraction area also became infected. The radiation destroyed most of the red blood cells in my jaw bone and burned out my salivary gland, so I don’t have anything to kill the bacteria in the mouth. Saliva is what helps to keeps your mouth healthy.
Dr. Kang, my oral surgeon, prescribed 30 hyperbaric oxygen replacement therapy sessions. Each daily session was approximately ninety minutes, and I was locked in a tiny chamber. Not a place to be if you’re afraid of being in a closed environment. This treatment would help to increase the number of red blood vessels to the jaw bone and aid in the healing process.
The glass door allowed me to see outside of the chamber, so I wasn’t bothered too much. But sitting inside that chamber gave me a lot of time to think about the reasons I had cancer. And my cancer was because of unwise choices I made in my life (smoking and drinking alcohol). The cost of these treatments was approximately $3,500, and it too was an out-of-pocket expense.
I am not able to drink much anymore – but I’ll have the odd glass of wine or beer. My treats are limited to vanilla ice cream.
So, I’ve been going to the oral surgeon every four to six weeks, and Dr. Kang has been trying to remove dead bone from my mouth. The latest surgery was yesterday, and it was excruciating after the freezing ended. Fortunately, I had a prescription for a liquid version of Tylenol 3 and antibiotics.
Holly, my dog, was waiting for me when I got home. I was holding an ice pack against my face to control the swelling. She seemed to understand and licked my face to make the boo-boo go away. And I cried tears of frustration. Why did I ever start smoking? Why did I wait so long to quit? What would my life be like now if I’d never smoked?
I go back next Tuesday to have the stitches and packing removed.
I have never told a smoker that they should quit smoking. I feel that I’d be a hypocrite if I did. But I know that there are readers who smoke or love someone who smokes.
After I was diagnosed with cancer, I asked my youngest brother to quit smoking. I told him I would only ask him once and did so because I didn’t want him to go through the same painful treatments. He thanked me for my concern but never quit.
A few years later, when he and his wife were visiting me, I noticed he wasn’t smoking.
Randy, when did you quit smoking? I asked.
“Two years ago,” he replied.
Was it because of what I went through?
“No. One of my grandsons was telling his younger brother that I was going to die because I smoked cigarettes. The younger grandson began crying that he didn’t want his Papa to die! I couldn’t very well deny that the cigarettes would harm me, so I decided at that moment to quit.”
In closing, I’m asking you to quit smoking. I don’t care how many times you’ve tried to stop – and contrary to what you may have heard – quitters aren’t losers.
If you don’t smoke, but the one you love does – share my story with them. Tell them that the cigarette in their mouth is like playing roulette with a loaded gun!
Dedicated to smokers – never stop trying to quit!
Today’s tune from Danny’s library (purchased):