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Denise Z.

If this was five years ago I’d be dead. If my doctor didn’t suggest a lung scan I could be dead. If my oncologist, radiation therapist, nurses, and others on my medical support team weren’t so fiercely committed to saving lives I might be dead. If I didn’t have the support, love and kindness of family, friends or blessed with a good sense of humor life might not be worth living. But it is. Oh yes.

My primary doctor strongly suggested that as a former smoker I get a lung scan. I shrugged it off. I had no symptoms. The hospital kept calling to schedule. Finally I did. My tumor was 8cm.

A year or so later, after chemo, immunotherapy and radiation, I am here to tell the tale. It’s difficult to say if I am cured but as my doc likes to say my tumor is behaving. I now go every 3 months for a scan to make sure that bad boy is under control.

I am a stage 4 cancer survivor. I am also an addict. A nicotine addict. There is however no public empathy, addiction support groups, marches, runs or legislation pending to help addicts like me. Smokers are lectured and looked at with disdain. Do folks really think smokers don’t realize smoking can kill? Or how agonizingly difficult it is to quit? How many others could be saved if there was more empathy and community support for nicotine addicts?

Make no mistake, this isn’t my story but a story of those who surrounded me, made me soup, brought me cake, gave me a warm blanket, laughed with me, loved me, cared for me and played Rock Lobster on request. This is the story of a life worth living. There is no shame in being an addict. You are not to blame. The shame is if you let the shamers define your character and undermine your ability to take back your life.

First published: June 6, 2019

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