Obviously that is a question everyone with cancer or other serious illnesses asks. When I was told by my gastroenterologist, Dr Alex Reed, that the primary origin of my cancer was the lung I immediately thought of non-smokers who get lung cancer- the most recent I remember being the wife of Christopher Reeves, Dana Reeves in 2006, shortly after he died.

Well, there is of course more to the story. Despite the fact that I loved a great cigar with friends and eventually alone with a glass of wine, I never really considered that smoking! I know it sounds silly but my dad smoked 1-2 packs of Marlboros for all the years I can remember and today at 86, I think he still slips in a cigarette every day and is completely cancer free. My mom smoked when they first got married but quit when I was born, or before, and while she passed away in 1980, she was also cancer free.

So maybe you can understand why I have been in a state of denial about this, even though I was clearly a smoker, not a cigarette smoker-heaven forbid- but a “guy’s-guy” macho, cool cigar smoker. While I didn’t inhale (oh please Bill), I loved having a cigar while fishing and chomping on it is much as smoking it. Have a look at my Blog on stone carving– the smoke is not from the tools I am using! So why not lip cancer or throat cancer? Maybe my cigar smoking actually had nothing to do with my cancer and I was really one of those non-smokers who got lung cancer. After all my DNA testing of the tumor at tGEN showed I had epidermal growth factor receptor and that is most often found in non-smoker lung cancers. Maybe it is from second hand smoke!

Wishful thinking- Let me quote from the Magazine CURE (Vol 6, No.4, 2007):

In people who never smoked, lung cancer is most often a type called adenocarcinoma, a cancer that usually arises from cells on the periphery of the lung. For some types of adenocarcinoma, prognosis seems to be a bit better than in other types of lung cancer. In smokers, lung cancers are more evenly divided among adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinomas, which arise from thin, flat cells lining the lung’s airway. Both are non-small cell lung cancers-more common, slower to grow, and somewhat less likely to spread than small cell lung cancer.”

My cancer is non-small cell squamous cell carcinoma. It is stage 4 and spread to the liver by contact or metastasis. At the end of the day I will never know if my cancer came from smoking or other factors. I accept the fact that it is most likely from my cigar smoking. While I don’t feel a need for confession about it to all of you reading this blog, I do feel a responsibility to let all my friends, friends of friends and men chomping on stogies in Iraq to know that cigar smoking really can cause cancer. I never wanted to believe it, up until only a few months ago, yet it’s true. It has taken years from my life with my wife, my boys, extended family and friends. It has taken years away from my ability to make a difference in this world, helping the poor and serving the marginalized to my best ability. How many years- God only knows- I hope and pray for another 25 years.

Given the firsthand knowledge I have about fighting cancer, I would say to my friends, why take the chance? Sure, it will never happen to you, that’s certainly what I thought.

God is good, all the time, God is good!

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2 Comments so far

  1. luke.h on August 5, 2007 11:39 am

    I hear you Don.
    Being a cigar smoker sure seems cool…but it’s not.
    Thanks for the reminder that whether or not the root can ever be traced back to the tobacco use, it is never-the-less an easy assumption to make… and an even easier one to eliminate from consideration if one were to NOT ever use tobacco.

  2. kls80 on August 6, 2007 8:45 am

    Don- What an awesome picture at the top. The Blue Angels are amazing. I hope you guys have an amazing week up at Whidbey. Sam and I have been working hard on getting our house put together. We would love to have you over for dinner sometime next week. Love you!


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