Let’s Raise the Legal Age to Smoke to 21

I just arrived in Austin, Texas, which is the state capitol of Texas. Shortly, other delegates from all across the state and I will learn how we are going to approach asking our state lawmakers to (1) continue funding a cancer research and prevention program and (2) raise the legal age for buying cigarettes to 21.

Interestingly, far more lawmakers have already signed onto the bill that will pour billions of dollars into cancer research over the next 10 years than have agreed to support raising the legal age for smoking. A couple of years ago when I was here to ask for the same change in the law, my Congressperson argued that she could not tell a person who could legally join the military that they can’t smoke.

Isn’t that weird? They can’t legally rent a hotel room or lease a car at age 18. And, they can’t buy alcohol until they are 21. Is smoking less dangerous to a person’s health than drinking alcohol?

I always kind of wondered what difference it really makes whether a kid can legally buy a package of cigarettes at age 18 or when they turn 21. For the most part, teens that are going to smoke start long before they turn 18. I smoked my first cigarette at age 16. So did most of my friends, if they hadn’t started even earlier.

It didn’t occur to me that many 18-year-olds are still in high school. As a 16 or 17-year-old who wants to smoke and needs cigarettes, it would be easy enough to just ask one of the high school seniors to buy cigarettes. Most kids are going to help out a friend, even if they themselves do not smoke, especially if it means they might make a dollar for doing it.

Once I understood that rationale, it made it much easier to make the ask to raise the legal age to 21. It has been well established that most people who start smoking do so before they are 21 years of age. In fact, 95% of smokers start before they are 21.

Wow. Sit and contemplate that for a moment.

Naturally, we’re never going to keep cigarettes out of the hands of all kids under the age of 18 or 21. But, if it is especially difficult for them to get cigarettes, maybe a few will decide it just isn’t worth the hassle.

(I don’t know about you, but I wonder how anyone, but especially kids, can even afford to smoke these days. When I started smoking, a pack of 20 cigarettes cost $0.35. By the time I quit, they were closer to $3 a pack, I think, especially if you bought them by the single pack. These days, in Texas where they are less expensive than in many states, the average price for one pack of cigarettes is $6.70. I just shake my head at that. I used to smoke at least one and a half packs a day. I sure am glad I quit when I did. I would go broke buying cigarettes in today’s world.)

But I digress. The law we’re proposing isn’t about raising the cost of cigarettes. It is about changing how easy they are to get. I can’t be sure of it, but I think I might have been one of those kids who just didn’t want to go through all the trouble it would take to ask someone else to buy my cigarettes. I think that would have been especially true if I had to find someone who was not even a classmate to do it for me.

If the law prevented anyone under the age of 21 from legally buying cigarettes back when I was a kid, I might never have started smoking. And, that would have been the biggest favor legislators and the adult public could have ever done for me. I might not have realized it when I was a rebellious teen, but I sure understand it now.

If you live in a state where it is still legal to buy cigarettes at the young age of 18, please advocate for them to raise the age to 21. There is no good reason to allow 18-year-old teens to legally purchase cigarettes. If you live in Texas, please write to your legislators and ask them to support Tobacco 21 legislation.

There are Worse Things than Cancer

You must think I have lost my mind when I write that there are worse things than cancer. Most of us really haven’t thought so since we or our loved one received that awful diagnosis. And, maybe you’ll argue that I’m wrong, that there really aren’t worse things than cancer. Maybe it is just a matter of perspective.

Where I’m coming from

On November 2, 2018, I received a call that no parent wants to get. My daughter-in-law was calling to tell me that she was following an ambulance to the nearest hospital. My son had suddenly and unexpectedly quit breathing. No warning. Just, one minute he was fine and communicating and the next minute he was on the ground, lifeless.

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It’s about the Journey

I remember the days following my diagnosis as if they were yesterday. I was told I might not have very many more days here on earth, so I decided I better enjoy and make the most of the days I had. And, even though my initial prognosis was only four months, I somehow decided from the very beginning that I was going to try to bring hope to others with this disease.

Don’t let the diagnosis steal your joy

When my mom, husband and I showed up for my first chemo treatment, I wore a t-shirt that said, “It’s about the journey” and that’s the attitude I have tried to adopt. I asked my husband to video my first chemo treatment. I wanted to post it online to document the fact that a dire cancer diagnosis doesn’t have to be scary, doesn’t have to steal your joy.

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Precision Medicine 101

Have you heard of Precision Medicine? If you haven’t, you are certainly not alone! But, it is very important for you to know it exists, what it is, and how it can benefit you.

What is precision medicine?

The National Institute of Health (NIH) says this about precision medicine:

“Precision medicine is “an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person.”1

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A tribute to my dad

We got the dreaded and totally unexpected news that my 48-year-old dad had stage IV lung cancer after he underwent a routine physical exam. He’d been having some pain in his knee, but we (and all of the doctors he saw) attributed it to some sort of strain that he got from driving from Texas to Washington, DC and back again in a relatively short period of time. Otherwise, he had no symptoms of any disease, much less lung cancer.

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Save Your Life With a Clinical Trial…I Did

Have you ever considered participating in a clinical trial? If you haven’t, you are in the majority. In fact, according to Patient Advocate Foundation,“ less than 5 percent of adults diagnosed with cancer each year will get treated through enrollment in a clinical trial.”

I find this stat extremely sad for two reasons. The first is that without participants clinical trials cannot be conducted. If treatments cannot be tested in trials, they will never be approved by the FDA, so they will not be available to cancer patients. A study by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the University of Washington found that nearly 20 percent of publicly funded clinical trials fail due to lack of participation.

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originally published 10/6/2016

Advocate for Yourself

When we are diagnosed with lung cancer, it is almost always a shock. Whether it is caught early or late (the usual case), it is like a fist in the stomach to us – and everyone who loves us. It is important to put on your boxing gloves as soon as you can possibly recover from the shock and start fighting for yourself.

This was made all the more important to me just the other day. I was approached by someone in an online community who wanted to know about the treatment I receive. I have been in a clinical trial for nivolumab or Opdivo, an immunotherapy, for over two years now. Word is getting out about immunotherapy and the hope it offers many of us with late stage lung cancer.

This woman was 61, the mother of a seven-year-old and a six-year-old German shepherd. She had Stage IV lung cancer. She was given one infusion of chemotherapy, which made her very, very sick. Her oncologist told her she was not a candidate for chemo so she needed to just go home, get her affairs in order, and prepare to die.

When I met her online, she had rehomed her dog and was taking her daughter to relatives to live during that week. She had completely followed her doctor’s advice. She was simply preparing to die. It broke my heart. And, it made me angry.

Why would an oncologist give up so easily on a patient? And, more to the point, why would a patient give up that quickly?

So, how does a lung cancer survivor best advocate for themselves? Here are some ways that I have personally advocated for myself. Maybe some of them will help you, as well.

 

  • Never take no, or inaction (a form of “no”), as the final answer. Keep fighting. Your life is most important to YOU! Don’t give up. If one doctor tells you to give up, find another. Until you take your last breath, keep fighting.

 

  • Research your doctor. What do others say about him? Where was he educated? Is he interested in research? Is he with a private practice or a university hospital?

 

  • Not all treatment facilities are created equally. The US News and World Report publishes a list of best hospitals every year. The National Cancer Institute designates certain hospitals that have been proven to deliver cutting-edge cancer treatments to patients.

 

  • You know your body best. If something doesn’t seem right, make sure your doctor knows. And takes it seriously.

 

  • My oncologist, somewhat jokingly, tells people that he works for me. But, in the end, that’s the truth. He does. If, at any moment I decide he is not doing an adequate job for me, I can fire him. I have no contract with him. I do not have to continue trusting my life to him if he loses my faith. The same is true for you in your relationship with your doctor(s). If you do not trust them with your life, because they indeed hold your life in their hands, fire them. Find one you trust completely.

 

 

  • Join support communities (in-person or online or both). It means a lot to spend some time with others who “have been there, done that.” Most of us realize that the general public simply does not understand what it is like to be diagnosed with cancer. I think being diagnosed with lung cancer, the most stigmatized of all cancers, makes the misunderstanding by others even greater.

 

  • One organization I have associated with is LUNGevity. It is dedicated to funding research for lung cancer and to providing HOPE to all lung cancer survivors. If you want to spend time with others who have lung cancer and exude HOPE, get involved with LUNGevity!

 

  • Spend some time spreading the truth among your friends and acquaintances! Unlike what the general public, and unfortunately, even many doctors, believe, lung cancer doesn’t just happen to smokers. It doesn’t matter if you smoke or don’t, are white or black, male or female, young or old, skinny or fat. Lung cancer happens to people with lungs.

 

  • Try to maintain as normal a life as you can. Eat as healthily as possible. Drink plenty of water. Exercise as much as you are able. I walked my two dogs every day during chemo. Sometimes, I could only manage a couple of blocks, but we got out and walked. Smile, even if you don’t feel it. Watch happy movies and laugh. Cancer is an awful disease and none of us want it. But, it doesn’t have to consume your every thinking moment. And, it shouldn’t.

 

  • Start a binder or a file where you keep important test results and CD’s of all of your scans. Make lists of questions you have for your doctor so you don’t forget when you get into his or her office. It sometimes also helps to take along a friend of family member to doctor visits. Two sets of ears are nearly always better than just one, especially if you receive some shocking news during the appointment.

 

It is hard enough to be diagnosed with cancer. But, when you are diagnosed with lung cancer, it is a double whammy. The stigma that associates with lung cancer can make people look down on you or discount the importance of your disease and your fight.

Keep your head up. Whether or not you smoke or smoked, lung cancer is a formidable foe. And, no one deserves to die from lung cancer; no one deserves to be looked down upon because of lung cancer. Don’t be ashamed.

And remember, there is hope. Always, there is HOPE!!

 

Turning Lemons into Lemon PIE!

So … since I have had cancer, I have developed all kinds of new interests, or spent time trying to perfect (this is a strong word, but I can’t think of the one I need … thanks, Chemo Brain!) skills I already have. One of the new interests is gardening. And, one of the plants I added to my garden last spring was a lemon tree.

 

I have never tried to grow a fruit tree before, but some of my friends would post annual pictures of their lemon crops. I always wished I had a lemon tree, too. So, finally, in the spring of 2015, I ran across a nice tree at Walmart and brought it home. Its blossoms smelled like heaven.

 

 

 

It wasn’t very long before some of the blossoms fell off. In their place were teeny, tiny little green lemons!! So cute. I couldn’t imagine that those tiny little things would actually mature into something edible!

I enjoyed my tree all season long. I took pictures frequently as the blossoms and fruits progressed!

Butterflies and bees loved the blossoms as much as I did!

 

 

Close-up of the tiny little lemon!

 

The scent is like heaven. I think the blossoms are very pretty, too.

Waiting and watching fruit mature is a lesson in patience. I’m not particularly patient, to say the least, so it was a good lesson for me. There was nothing I could do to rush the progress. All I could do was wait, photograph, and watch! The little fruit appeared in April or May. A friend who had lemon trees told me that I would have mature fruit in October or so.

 

 

Sure enough! By October, my little fruit had grown into lemons like you find in the grocery store!! I was so excited! I know this must seem odd to people who garden … but, until last year, I never tried to grow anything. If it wasn’t on the grocery shelf, it didn’t come to our house.

By November, my little lemon tree was loaded down with big, juicy lemons. And, after waiting for them for so long, I couldn’t bring myself to pick them. Any of them.

Lemon trees cannot withstand cold temperatures. In mid-November, I decided I better bring mine into the house. Lemons and all.

You can’t tell by the pictures, but the tree is planted in a very large pot. The tree itself was not real tiny when I bought it. Because we had such a lovely (and rainy) spring, it grew by leaps and bounds. Getting it out of the yard and into the house was not an easy task! Especially with fruit hanging off of it!

But, we managed to get it indoors. Every day, I looked at that tree just loaded down with fruit. I kept waiting on the lemons to drop off on their own or to look shriveled and spoiled. But, they didn’t. In fact, I think they just kept on getting bigger and bigger!

Once, when my grandkids were here, we picked a couple. We ate one. It was good. We just left the other one on the table until it spoiled… Then, it was used in the disposal to make the house smell citrus-y!

In the end, and over a few months, we picked a few lemons, but we mostly left them on the tree. Finally, yesterday, January 17, 2016, I decided I should pluck the lemons off of the tree. The poor tree was trying to bloom to make more lemons. It wasn’t really fair to expect it to flower while still bearing fruit from the last season. Besides, I figured, it would not be nearly as productive if I didn’t remove its fruit burden from the previous year first.

 

Of the lemons I finally plucked, only one was no good. It had rested for too long against a branch of the tree, I think. It got cut up and put down the disposal.

So. Now I have a load of lemons. I don’t want them to go bad. But, I’m feeling too tired to really want to do anything with them. (This exhaustion often hits when I need to cook. I don’t enjoy cooking. If I had been offered an activity I love to do, my exhaustion would have quickly abated.)

The lemons sat on the table all day. I took pictures of them. And left them sitting.

Before we ate dinner, Robert asked when the lemon pie was going to be ready. My family kept waiting on those lemons to be picked so that we could enjoy some fresh lemon pie. That’s probably why I kept leaving them on the tree … I didn’t want to make a lemon pie! That’s unnecessary cooking! 🙂

(I am the worst housekeeper and cook you’ll find. I LOVE to be active, but I don’t enjoy cooking and I don’t enjoy cleaning. And, I try to avoid doing either one as much as I possibly can. I wish it wasn’t so, but it just is.)

I started feeling guilty. We all love lemon pie. We’ve all watched those lemons go from flowers to tiny little green orbs to real, live, big lemons. We’ve all thought about how good a lemon pie would be made from those home-grown lemons…

BIG SIGH. Okay! I looked up the recipe. Took several tries to find the one that sounded familiar (it has been years since I last made a lemon pie). The recipe I use uses corn starch. Great. I know I have some. But where?

Here I am. Not in the mood to make a pie in the first place. Looking everywhere for the corn starch. It isn’t anywhere that I think it should be. But, admittedly, my pantry has become a bit disarrayed. Okay, a lot disarrayed.

I was just about to decide I was going to have to go to the grocery store to get corn starch when I finally found the brand new, unopened box. (It was probably bought in 2012, but it was there waiting on me!)

 

 

I haven’t made a pie in a long time. I guess I overbeat the egg whites. We got those little droplets on top of the meringue that you get sometimes. I did beat them until they were REALLY stiff!!! I sort of combined two recipes to make the pie. I started with one that was on my phone and ended with one on the back of the corn starch box. It worked out okay.

 

 

Taking that first bite! So exciting!
Yum!!! Pretty good stuff!

Well … despite my not wanting to make a pie, we sure enjoyed those slices we ate last night. I’ve been dreaming of having another slice today! It was slightly warm when we finally could wait no longer last night. Today, it should be nice and chilled.

So. There’s a lesson here. Of course.

Lemons are awfully sour. Even these Myer lemons that are not supposed to be so sour. Most people don’t like to just sit down and eat a lemon the way you do an orange or a banana.

But, with a bit of sugar and a bit of fire added, the lemon becomes a sweet and delectable custard.

Like us. Hopefully. We go through the fire and hopefully we come out a better person as a result. Cancer is a fire, for sure. Do we let it consume us or mold us? The choice is ours.

That brings me to the following…

A good friend posted me yesterday with a link to a sermon she’d been listening to. She said it reminded her of me. I couldn’t wait to listen.

Here’s the link:
http://www.intouch.org/watch/when-we-dont-understand-why

It is Dr. Charles Stanley preaching a sermon on “When We Don’t Understand Why.”

We often don’t understand why. Why did we lose everything in a fire or a tornado or an earthquake? Why did we get cancer? Or have a heart attack?

WE don’t know. But God does. And, for me, that’s all I have to know. HE has it under control. My job is to just continue living for as long as I have breath. My job is to turn those lemons into lemon pie!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Research Drugs

Wow! Time flies, doesn’t it? I had resolved to be more faithful to my blog … you never know if there might be a person out there who might be helped by getting to know someone else who is facing the same battle they are. But, months have passed and I haven’t written a word.

Today is treatment day again. I praise God on treatment days that this test drug does not make me sick. At all. Such a nice switch from the initial treatments I was given. I have been told the drug company that makes this test drug will soon be asking the FDA for approval. I hope they get it so that lots of cancer patients can be treated with it. I’m not sure if it is just for lung cancer or not, but it is wonderful :).

Which brings me to a subject that is somewhat confusing to me. I saw something recently that said that only 5% of cancer patients go into a research study. Why?

The traditional treatments I received had held the tumors at bay as long as I was getting them. But, as soon as we stopped them, the tumors began to grow again. And, because the treatments I had been getting were so harsh, we couldn’t continue that particular regimen.

So, I didn’t have a lot of options. I could have undergone a different chemo treatment that didn’t work very well and that would have made me even sicker than what I’d been getting did or I could try a research drug. I didn’t spend ANY time trying to decide which route was the right one for me. And, I have never, ever, not for one second, been sorry I decided to go with the research drug.

I’ve been getting the research drug since July. My blood work is still phenomenal. I haven’t lost a pound (though I wish I could lose about 40!!!). We eat before we start our long day at the hospital and we eat again when the day is done – no nausea!! Not right after the treatment and not later either. I am a bit more fatigued the day after a treatment than I am otherwise, but it isn’t significant. I have participated in agility trials on a Saturday after receiving treatments on the previous Thursday. That wouldn’t be happening if I was getting the old “tried and true” chemo drugs. I’d be spending most of my time being sick, I’m afraid.
My last CT scan could not detect the tumors in my lymph nodes in my neck. The tumors in my lungs are just sitting there – not growing, not spreading. 

I think it was one year ago today that I had my very first chemo treatment. None of us had much hope that I would still be here today, blogging away and still getting treatments. But, here I am and I feel great!!! Just last weekend, I took my Barney-dog to Waco for an agility trial. He and I ran in three events on Friday evening, six on Saturday, and another two on Sunday before we headed back home. We didn’t just run, we were competitive!!! Mr. Barney earned himself two elite titles and seven or eight qualifying scores – first or second place each time. Who would have thought?

God isn’t finished with me on this old earth … and even though I know that Heaven is a far better place than here … I’m really glad that He’s left me here for awhile! 🙂 I just hope that I’m adequately fulfilling whatever purpose He has for leaving me here.

Time to go!