I was thinking about my last post and my guilt in regards to having been a smoker. I’ve found in my connections with other cancer survivors that many of us feel guilt. Some because they didn’t eat enough vegetables or didn’t exercise enough or because they weighed too much. They didn’t eat organic food, they didn’t drink bottled water. We feel we were somehow responsible.
We look for the reason why, what did we do wrong?
The number one cause of lung cancer is smoking, but in one study I read that only about 10% of smokers go on to develop lung cancer, 90% don’t. Not fair to 10% of the of smokers. Kids get cancer, athletes get cancer. Bad things happen to good people. I’m a nurse, I see bad things happen to good people all the time. And we all fail in some area. Some take great care of their bodies, but poor care of their relationships. Who is to say which is better in the long run. I never asked “why me”, but I did wonder sometimes about others who abused their bodies AND were just plain mean into old age. Why did they not get cancer?
In the end, guilt serves no purpose except to motivate, I guess. Guilt in part motivated me to quit smoking. It motivated me to help raise the tobacco tax to maybe help some kids avoid the addiction. Guilt motivates others to eat better, take better care of themselves. Maybe my survivor guilt helps motivate me to remain in the cancer community and to try to help others struggling with the diagnosis.
So maybe guilt serves some good purposes, but what we really need is forgiveness. We need to forgive ourselves and move on.
I have never smoked. No, I’m not being sanctimonious. I tried a couple of cigarettes when I was around 14, didn’t like them and never got hooked. Smoking by other people around me has never bothered me. I have spent many, many hours in smoky pubs, and I married a smoker who has spent the last 40 years trying to kick the habit: patches, chewing gum, reading books and blogs, hypnotherapy – all without success. Both my daughters took up smoking. One managed to give it up, and the other cut down drastically – to zero while she was pregnant, but then she took it up again, albeit on a very small scale.
Today, 1 July 2007, marks the beginning of smoke-free England. Ireland, Scotland and Wales have already gone smoke-free. Smoking is now longer allowed in any workplace. This includes offices, restaurant, pubs and taxis – anywhere where anyone is employed to work. As a frequent visitor to pubs (I enjoy a good pint of real ale), I am interested to see what effect this will have. It had a devastating effect on the turnover of some pubs in Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Smokers just stayed at home, and all the non-smokers who campaigned for smoke-free pubs, claiming that they would now attract more non-smokers who were put off by the smoky atmosphere, also stayed at home.
I understand the guilt thing too. But some people just have bad luck. There’s no rhyme or reason to life. I remember the consultant’s first question being “Do you smoke?” He looked almost disappointed when I answered “No” – as this excluded what might have been a common cause and forced him to look for some other reason. My wife’s parents smoked for over 60 years, dying of natural causes at 93 and 97. They were lucky. When I was told that I had a very rare form of cancer, affecting one in a million people, my reaction was: “Just my luck, I couldn’t have won the national lottery instead, could I?”