Monday, August 25, 2008

A Crime Unto One's Self

I had planned to begin my new series today, where I will be blogging about some very strong, entertaining and philanthropic women I laud. However, having just attended the funeral of a friend, I need to slide back just a little and talk about something that has me so steaming mad I can barely see to type.

As I think about it, Brandi was a very strong, entertaining and philanthropic woman herself. Since my purpose today is not eulogize this lovely, generous woman, I won't go into all the beautiful things that made up the "dash" in her all-too-short life of forty years. But because it's pertinent, I will tell you that Brandi had the BRCA 1 mutation gene--and endured 5 years of metastatic cancers. Despite elective, prophylactic surgeries, this insidious disease stole her life two weeks ago, leaving a huge contingent of heartbroken, grieving friends and relatives.

The services were at once loving and poignant. Brandi was the consummate volunteer, often putting aside her own pain and despair in order to help others. The church was filled with those whose lives she had touched. The legacy Brandi left us was one of hope, and a challenge to live our lives better through appreciation of each day and our own approaching mortality. I'm sure I wasn't alone in my silent promise that I would do better, live healthier, love stronger and make every day count.

With these thoughts still stirring my emotions, a wet tissue clamped into the palm of my hand, I walked across the parking lot en route to my car, exchanging comforting words and nods with others I passed. Yet as I neared my car, I spotted a woman two slots over with her hands held up to her face. At first I thought she was hiding her tears, like many others had done throughout the service. But on closer look, I discovered the unthinkable. This mourner was lighting a cigarette.

I literally shuddered with anger. My emotional state made it quite impossible to rein in my overpowering feelings of disgust and loathing. She was neither young nor old, seemed to have full mental faculties and otherwise appeared healthy. Why, I always ask myself, would anyone suck caustic, burning smoke into their fragile, oxygen-hungry lungs?

Did I mention that my mother succumbed to lung cancer? That she smoked for close to 60 years?

The woman in the parking lot had just come from an auditorium full of people who would give anything to have Brandi back. Brandi, who'd not smoked a day in her life. A woman who, by the luck (bad luck) of the draw, had been tagged with a bad bit of DNA. She'd done everything right. This woman has a choice, and she chooses to continue smoking "coffin nails" when she could opt for a smoke-free, and possibly cancer-free, life.

Cancer may be a monster, and one we are unable to control--at least for the time being. Nicotine addiction is also a monster, and one we can control. No, I've never smoked, and yes, I do understand about the strength of the addiction. Still, I believe--Brandi's mantra--I believe that people have the ability to take responsibility for their own health and give themselves the best possible odds against encouraging the growth of cancer cells.

All I can hope right now is that this parking lot smoker is thinking, strongly, about quitting before it's too late. Ditto for the teens I see outside the Mall, puffing away as if, AS IF! as if it is actually cool to smoke. I wonder how cool they will feel when they are unable to draw a breath.

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