All things are relative, it’s been said; never truer when it comes to your health. As of this writing, my first cousin whom I grew up with, a smoker, is waiting for results from medical tests. She has been given a frightening diagnosis. It is most likely lung cancer for her at age 46, a 90 percent certainty.
I’m trying not to blame the victim, but you see, her mother, father, and brother all died of cancer, all of them lifelong smokers.
After experiencing these losses and seeing the demise on a family, one would think that smoking would become public enemy No.1. The familiar justification of smoking’s “stress relief” properties and its powerful addictive qualities are no consolation when it hits home again.
Our once large family of aunts, uncles, cousins has been diminishing significantly in the last decade. And it’s not just the inevitable losses that one dreads and expects of older relatives, but a few younger cousins also fell prey to diabetes and smoking related deaths.
“Some people smoke their whole lives and nothing happens to them,” my cousin would say as she took a drag from her cigarette.
Despite everyone’s warnings, pleadings, and disapproval, the smoking continued. And now I’m angry because when one family member suffers, everyone suffers. I feel in this case she contributed to this plight. Doesn’t she realize we’ve all grieved enough?
We’ve shared so much of this life from the age of 3. Our families would visit each other every Sunday for over 25 years, we played Barbies, stayed up late on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa, survived adolescent first crushes, learned “the Hustle,” proms, dating, marriage, and other milestones and firsts.
So many laughs and stories and so much that I expected would lie ahead.
“It’s not fair,” I think to myself. “If it has to happen, why not at 80something?”
Tomorrow is her biopsy, so I’m praying for tuberculosis to be her diagnosis. TB is an infection caused by slow growing bacteria. Once the leading cause of death in the United States, it is now mostly treatable if caught early and monitored.
Some forms are drug-resistant, but they are rare, the general symptoms include feelings of sickness or weakness, weight loss, fever, and night sweats, the same ones that she is complaining of.
Never mind the pulmonologist’s findings and suspicions, never mind the sinister family history of cancer, or the heavy smoking my cousin embraced. Why can’t she have TB? One can only hope. – Ana J. Cortina
Ana J. Cortina is a Hudson County resident and a frequent contributor. Comments on this essay can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.