This is a post that I’ve been putting off for a while as it contains a number of personal things. They aren’t necessarily secrets, I’ve just never really mentioned them.
I was a heavy smoker. Like super heavy, easily going through two packs per day and sometimes three or four depending on the day. I had a routine, wake up then immediately spark up. Coffee and a smoke. Get to work, coffee and a smoke. Four or five smokes before work officially started at 9AM. Regular smoke breaks during the day, two or three during lunch. You get the picture. Most of my smoking was either habitual or as a way to calm down and de-stress (when working on a tech support desk, it can get really stressful).
I started smoking when I was still in secondary school (high school for my friends across the pond), so at the “tender” age of 15 I joined the ranks of millions of people who made a lifestyle choice. Yes I was aware of potential risks, yet I did it anyway so what?
Of course, I kept it secret from my folks (who had both smoked, mum still did but dad gave up cold turkey six/seven years previous). I told myself many times that I could stop if I wished, I just didn’t want to. Hell I enjoyed it, it was sticking the mid-digit up and being rebellious against my folks who kept telling me to not try it. Looking back, maybe it is because they told me not to smoke that I did, I don’t have a definitive answer for that. Either way, I smoked against my parents wishes and kept it secret.
Just a small note, it was rare for me to keep anything hidden from my folks as they always preached about being truthful.
Fast forwarding a bit, mum got diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 16 and dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer when I was 23 (when he got fed up with mum nagging him to go to the GP). Both my folks diagnosed with the “Big C” (as they called it). Diagnosed in their fifties. Both underwent appropriate treatments (radio and chemo for dad, just radio for mum), and both were doing well. Mum actually got the “all clear” just after I turned 21 – party time! Dads treatments went on, operative success, plenty of radio with regular chemo.
Fast forwarding a bit more, things were starting to go downhill a little. No job for dad, and regular chest infections for mum (at least once a year). I became more and more focused on looking after the folks, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else. Mum still smoked, despite having suffered from breast cancer. She’d been to stop smoking “counseling” sessions, tried the patches, the inhalators and even had Chantix on prescription. That was by far the worst part.
All in all, it was horrible. She became irritable, moody, almost unstable. It scared the shit out of me. Dad and myself encouraged her to speak to the doctor about it, and shortly after the prescription was cancelled, and things settled down. For a while.
Mid-2008 dad fell ill. Really ill. Pneumonia, and blood sepsis. He’d been struggling to do normal everyday tasks for a while, even walking up the stairs was difficult. It didn’t help that he had an artificial leg, and had done since before I was born. He was rushed to hospital with mum in the ambulance, and me racing ahead in his car (I beat the ambulance by five minutes – the longest five minutes ever). Cue the multi-hour wait as is the norm for my local hospital, and an eventual move to a respiratory ward for overnight observation. He was moved to ICU the following evening, as the doctor concerned (a Doctor Russell who was brilliant) believed it to be the best course of action due to low blood oxygen (it was at some points as low as 73 from memory), despite the other doctors in the “team” advising against it. Good one Dr Russell.
Well, I arranged with work to be at home rather than out in the field so I could be close to the hospital if needed. Well, it was. Regular calls, and several trips up there during working hours (massive thanks to my employer for being so reasonable), dad was eventually discharged into home care. Which lasted four months before he was back in hospital again.
There’s two words that I never want to hear ever again. Palliative Care. Those two words utterly destroyed me. It signalled the beginning of the end. We managed to get him home for one last Christmas, and on the 12th January 2009 he passed away, peacefully at home. He never got to see his favourite F1 driver claim his first championship.
Things were pretty rough for a while after that. I was snappy, depressed, moody, the whole nine yards. My smoking increased. I was now, a certain 3 pack per day smoker. Was it all down to the loss of my dad? Probably. Did I care? Not one fucking bit. Cue the ever increasing anti-smoking campaigns, to which my general response was “fuck you”. I didn’t want to stop.
Fast forward to 2011, and another blow to my sanity. Mum was diagnosed with lung cancer, on top of asthma and “mild” COPD. That was a slap in the face. But didn’t deter me from continuing my, now slightly decreased habit. I had tried to quit a few times between 2009 and 2011. None of them were particularly successful, perhaps I fundamentally didn’t actually want to quit, I was just going through the motions. I don’t know. My mind was pretty fucked back then.
One year after diagnosis, mum had Radio Frequency Ablation treatment, which carried risks but ultimately proved to be successful. The small tumor got utterly destroyed. Medical science, got to love it. Regular check ups over the next two years confirmed that the ablated area was healing well, although mum was suffering two chest infections a year. After her last infection, she eventually returned home to be force to wear an oxygen mask at all times. I still to this day believe she had been discharged early, but what do I know?
It was only a few short weeks before she was back in hospital with breathing difficulties. Two days later, on the fourth of April 2014, I lost my sole remaining parent. In the space of five short years, my entire world had been shattered. When I looked around the devastation left, I wasn’t sure which pieces I should pick up and which pieces I should just ignore. Smoking of course was picked up. I went through over two hundred smokes in three days.
It was then, and only then that I realised something needed to change. I started vaping exclusively on June 11th 2014. I’ve managed to pull myself out the deep funk I’d gotten into during the difficult years with my parents respective illnesses. I feel so much better and healthier than I have ever done. I started at 18mg of nicotine juice, and now I vape 6mg. A rapid decrease in under a year.
I vape because I want an alternative to smoking that mimics the behavioural side of smoking with less of a health impact. I fight those that would deny me my choices. If, like me someone decides that they want to continue the habitual side of smoking, but yet reduce the harm they do to themselves, then vaping is the way forward. Of course, I’d like to see more smokers switch, but I also firmly believe that they have a RIGHT TO CHOOSE for themselves, just like I did.
*Update I just want to extend my heartfelt thanks to @anImaginaryEcho for providing the inspiration so that I could actually write this
Comments are open, AMA.