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LUNG FORCE Heroes

Kelley J.

On December 12, 2017 at 12:12 in the morning my husband lost his battle with cancer. He had been fighting for his life for less than a year, and while his family knew what the impending circumstance could be after being diagnosed with stage IV small cell sarcoma, we were, of course, in shock when he drew his last breath. We knew that the likelihood of him living long past his 58 years was small but hope thrived in us for those short 11 months.

Rory Weinstein was raised during a time when public information about smoking and its impact on health was suppressed. Families had no idea what smoking in their homes and enclosed cars did to their children’s health. When children went to movies or flew on an airplane and even when they went to school, they were exposed to secondhand smoke which, not known at the time, had a direct impact on their lung health and increased the child’s likelihood of becoming a smoker themselves.

A study published in 2011 by the NIH, "used PET scans to demonstrate that one hour of secondhand smoke in an enclosed space resulted in enough nicotine reaching the brain to bind receptors that are normally targeted by direct exposure to tobacco smoke. This happens in the brain of both smokers and non-smokers."

"Previous research had shown that exposure to secondhand smoke increased the likelihood that children will become teenage smokers and makes it more difficult for adult smokers to quit. Such associations suggest that secondhand smoke acts on the brain to promote smoking behavior."

Rory’s mother and father were two of those millions of under-informed parents about the affects of their smoking on the health of their 5 children. I often wonder had they known that 3 of their 5 children would die of smoking related diseases and that Rory’s mother would also be taken by advanced lung disease, if they would have taken the steps to change their behavior. My guess would be yes if they just knew how their future children would become smokers themselves, would have chronic health problems, would lose their lives and leave their loved ones without their spouses, their children without parents, their grandchildren without their grandparents and all those people left behind would suffer without them. If they knew that 3 generations of their family would be devastated and would impact their future ancestral line not only in health habits but also on the transfer of emotional trauma on each subsequent generation.

Rory fought hard for 11 months with chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiation and anything the modern medical system could provide. He was willing to do it all. That’s because he had a lot to lose. He was happily married, had two beautiful children he was very proud of, a son-in law he fell in love with, love that oozed for his friends, a job he could have only imagined in his dreams and a company whose values aligned with his perfectly. He understood the value of life and that the people he chose to surround himself with made that life rich and full.

I have been a teacher of young children for over 25 years. It is part of my job, my duty, to consider the children of this country and their future and to stand up and use my voice for their protection. Having first hand experience with the devastating affects of losing someone so valuable to me to a preventable disease, it is unimaginable and heartbreaking to think of any of my students having to suffer in the same way. I feel compelled to ensure this does not happen again. I believe that as the adults in this country, it is our charge to ensure the safety of all of our young citizens and their families.

There are organizations, such as the ALA who continue to be the adults in the room, who fight everyday in their actions and foundation to ensure the information that these families and children need to become healthy, thriving citizens is transparent and assertive and it must continue in a robust fashion as they take on a new fight against the vaping industry. This is the good fight of this generation. I have seen past students of mine (middle schoolers), just recently become exposed and sadly, addicted to the candy-like tobacco flavors that they are attracted to. The efforts to take on this industry, continue to support affected people of lung disease and their families, to pressure the tobacco industry for transparency and to work with legislators to fight for tougher restrictions will continue to be the work of the American Lung Association and its volunteers.

Millions of people have lost their lives to lung disease, much of it preventable. Rory, his mother and siblings were deaths that could have possibly been prevented and the pain of the subsequent lives affected because of those deaths would not exist.

Rory had a life well lived, but it should have been a full life, well lived.

First published: November 11, 2019

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Hero stories are the point of view of the Hero and not necessarily the American Lung Association. The Lung Association does not endorse any specific provider, facility or treatment.

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