Champions

Happy Birthday To Me by Lili Frindel-Veldman

I am 53 years old, but March 9th, 2009, is my 11th birthday!

Sound confusing?  Let me explain …

Growing up in a family of cigarette smokers, I was the quintessential ANTI-SMOKER – anti-cigarette rebel!  I feared my mom would die of lung cancer, and I used to hide under an end table in the living room and cry.  I wrote anti-smoking poems, and even had them published in the local Penny Saver!  And I went around preaching the word of “LILI —“  Don’t smoke — it causes cancer!

But the night before my sweet-sixteen, I did the unthinkable — I had my FIRST cigarette!  Why?!  Because I knew that once I turned sixteen, my parents would ALLOW me to smoke, AND, because it was cool!  None of my friends smoked, except for one.  But I was the cool one, or so I thought…

Fast forward to 1998.  By then, my dad had died of a heart attack, and smoking had become so taboo.  My twentieth wedding anniversary was approaching, and this was the “ultimate” gift to my husband — to quit — and to hopefully be around to celebrate our FIFTIETH wedding anniversary!  Was it easy?  No way!  For a year prior, I used to make lists — WHY DO I SMOKE?  WHY SHOULD I QUIT?  The latter won out.  With the help of the drug ZYBAN, and the incredible support of my husband, I succeeded!  A footnote to that — I told my younger brother that first day that I was quitting, and he told me that if I could make it three days, then I would succeed.  He was right, and he quit shortly afterwards…

Fast forward again — December 2001 — my Mom was diagnosed with lung cancer!  All of my childhood fears were coming true!  She had quit smoking NINE years before!  She had quit BEFORE me!  Within five weeks, she was gone…

Now, BOTH my parents had died because of cigarettes.  I kept on reading statistics that said that after twelve years, your lungs were as clean as BEFORE you started — Eight more years to go.  At this point, I just wanted to make it to NINE years – to make it past my mom…

Fast forward — December 2006 — five years TO THE DATE of my mom’s lung cancer diagnosis, my YOUNGER brother — the one who supported me and told me that if I could go three days without a cigarette I would make it — the one who quit shortly after me — my “Irish” twin — was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer!

At first, his prognosis was slightly optimistic as opposed to my mom’s.  But within a month, the cancer was spreading, eating away at his tissues, and taking up full residence in BOTH lungs, taking daylight from them, and inhabiting them with darkness, slowly, day by day…

My brother had beaten death so many times.  But the lung cancer was the one fight he could not win — and on March 19th, 2007, the cancer won — the cancer that took all of his breath out of his lungs, and the light out of my life, and his family’s…

Cigarettes are poison — only poison works quicker — they are guns — only guns work quicker — They are a SLOW, suffocating death sentence that can often take years to notice, and by then, it’s too late…  Because by the time that lung cancer is detected, it is often too late to “cure…”  The minute you put a cigarette in your mouth, you are making a decision to commit suicide – and not only are you killing yourself, you are killing those around you who inhale the smoke.  SECONDHAND SMOKE is as bad, if not worse, than first hand smoke.

March 9th, is my 11th birthday.  Will I ever feel totally safe?  No way!  But maybe, just MAYBE, I will make it to my 12th birthday.

So I will blow out eleven candles, with the breath that I wouldn’t have had eleven years ago.   And with the breath that I cherish, from the clean, non-toxic air that I can now breathe.

And I will toast my Dad, and I will toast my Mom, and I will toast my younger brother…

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME — and many, many more…?

“Continued support for the NYS Tobacco Control Program will prevent others from experiencing the loss I have.”

Lili Frindel-Veldman