My name is Sam Akers, and I reside in Augusta, Georgia, with my wife and daughter, who is in her first year at Georgia Southern University. Both my wife and I were born and raised in North Carolina, where we met in high school and have been married for 35 years. I am an Air Force veteran and a retired federal law enforcement officer working now as an Associate Vice President at Georgia Military College.
In 1999, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Doctors made the diagnosis after discovering the tumor while tending to issues with her heart, which was later determined to be a by-product of the cancerous lung tumor. Not surprisingly, my mother refused any treatment for her cancer. We had lost my father to a massive heart attack some ten years earlier, and my mother, being of sincere religious conviction, did not hide the fact that she was ready to be with my father, so she refused chemotherapy. She was alive for almost one year to the date of her initial diagnosis, with all but the last ten days having no issues with the effects of cancer.
My immediate family and most all other family members were born and raised in Southwest Virginia, while I was born and raised in North Carolina. Either way, we were all exposed to the tobacco capital of the country between those two states. I grew up with the attitude, like most in the 1960s and 1970s, that smoking was part of your life, and no entity or agency pushed any notion that lung cancer was as bad or as prevalent as we would eventually come to know. I began using smokeless tobacco at the age of 15, and I have only recently beat the addiction. This kept me from smoking, although both can be devastating. I have never smoked but have no memory where my family members were not smoking. This would include my mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, and cousin. All but my brother passed away due mainly to their smoking addiction. As mentioned earlier, my mother died from lung cancer, but also my aunt and cousin died from lung cancer. In addition, my father and sister both died of massive heart attacks brought on by their smoking habits. Aside from my immediate family, my best friend’s mother, who I considered my second mother, also passed away from lung cancer, as did several of her family members. The shame is that if you live long enough, you will end up with a list of familiars that have passed away from lung cancer. Because smoking was a significant component of everyday life, my story is reflective of many with whom I was raised.