I just turned 69 years old and I won’t live to see my next birthday. For a really long time I was in denial. At first it was a cold, then it was arthritis, just ringing in the ears. But soon the chronic body aches started, then the chest pain and difficulty breathing. Before I knew it, I couldn’t stop coughing. Soon I started spitting up black mucus and bits of blood. There were a whirlwind of doctor visits, and all this confusing chatter about lung cancer and treatment. “Stop” I said, “I’m done”. They put me on hospice, which I don’t understand. But the benefit is that I see my four beautiful daughters multiple times a week. They make me take pain medication that makes my stomach hurt, so I never feel hungry anymore. I used to feel strong, but because I stopped eating my fat and muscle disappeared. I stopped looking in the mirror because I didn’t like what I saw. I finally had the courage to look a few weeks ago… I didn’t realize that people could still function and look like walking skeletons. Like something right out of a concentration camp photo.
At 5’4 I now weigh 80lbs wet. The medicine also makes my brain fuzzy. At first it was the little stuff, like the grandkid’s names. Now it’s the day of the week, the time of day. I get upset frequently, because I always forget what we are talking about half-way through a conversation. I can tell it hurts my children, because they get really quiet and teary eyed. I don’t mean to yell or get frustrated, but I am scared and don’t know how to fix it. I finally came to accept that I am dying, but I won’t stop fighting. I can barely walk, but it is enough to force myself to keep moving. If I stop, I am afraid I won’t ever start again. “Use it or lose it” is my new motto in life. My eyes are starting to get dim, but I can still sense the flame of the flickering candle that I keep by my side at all times. It is a reminder not to go to sleep yet. My greatest pleasure and relief are the visitors I get. I used to prefer solitude, but now I don’t want to be alone. If you come to visit me, there is one thing I will always mention: the family portrait mounted above the TV. I can’t see it, but I know what it represents. My life. My legacy. The purpose of my existence and reason I keep fighting to breath. My four beautiful daughters and their babies. The one thing I did right in the world. I know they will come to visit me in the next day or two, they always do. In the meantime, I will do what I always do to pass the time. Now, where did I put my cigarettes and lighter? This story is in honor of my greatest role model, the man who taught me the important things in life: My Dad. I grew up engulfed by his cigarette culture. My childhood was marked with bronchial infections and a chronic “smokers cough”. I remember being jokingly told as an 8 year old that I “needed to quit smoking”. But no matter how hard I tried, I could never make it go away. The sad truth? I have never smoked a cigarette and I never will… because the cost is too high. Teale A. Greylord Wisconsin Hispanic Tobacco Prevention Network South Milwaukee