Why is the Threat of Cancer Not Enough to Stop People Smoking?

Cancer, a word the majority of the human race fears. If you smoke, the chances of developing Cancer is a lot higher than if you didn’t. Why then, do smokers still smoke?

In 2005 I had the misfortune of losing a very close aunt to Lung Cancer. I had reached the grand old age of 40 and had been lucky enough to never have experienced a death in the family.

My aunt had smoked since she was 17. Was she naive? No. Did she not understand the possible consequences of smoking? Hardly, she had been a nurse for over 35 years. So why then, did she continue to smoke, especially as she worked in a field where she came face to face with cancer patients on a day to day basis?

When she was first diagnosed with cancer it came as a big shock to all of us, as I expect it is to most people that get given this devastating news. The year previously she had been very ill with TB, and we all thought that her deteriorating health was down to a reappearance of that, how wrong we were. She gave up smoking straight away, and as she went through the grueling process of doctors, tests, scans and specialists, the rest of us smokers in the family continued to smoke. Oh not around my aunt of course, but continue we did. We had been dealt a terrible blow, we had up close and personal proof that smoking can lead to cancer. It’s not that we didn’t know that anyway, but when it never affects you directly it’s easy to shrug off the threat with excuses.

My aunts cancer was diagnosed as too far gone to be treatable, nothing could be done. She started smoking again. Three months later she was gone. Her funeral was the first one I had ever attended, I hoped is was my last.

And still we smoked.

Towards the end of that terrible year, November to be precise, we where yet again given bad news. My father had prostate cancer, and even though, he too was a smoker, we still managed to make excuses for the reasons he developed this disease, excuses like “a lot of men his age get prostate cancer, it’s quite common and easily treatable.”

Luckily, his cancer was treatable and he was cured. My father gave up smoking.

We, did not.

Three months later, after a routine blood test, my father was told he needed more tests, that something was wrong with his blood. A visit to the hospital revealed that the prostate cancer was back, but if that was not bad enough it had spread, he now had bowel cancer as well. I think for a brief period we all went into a state of shock followed by denial. This couldn’t be right, he doesn’t smoke anymore. It’s amazing how stupid you act when given bad news. A week later he’s in the hospital having an operation to remove his prostate and part of his bowl. My father had always looked young for his age, at 65 he looked more like 50, now, he looked awful, he lost over 2 stone in weight within a matter of weeks, he went from looking 50 to looking 90. He now looked like a little wizened old man, not my father at all. And during this terrible time, we still smoked.

A week after surgery the consultant met with both my parents to give them the news that not only did my father have cancer of the prostate and bowel, but that it had spread to his lungs and liver. The only thing that they could do for him now was to offer him chemotherapy, not as a means to a cure, but a way of giving him some more time, how much time, they couldn’t or wouldn’t say.

It’s now 2007 and luckily for us, my father is still here. He has his good days where you would never believe that there was anything wrong with him, then he has his bad days and you wished it was all over, just so he wouldn’t suffer anymore.

My father still doesn’t smoke.

We still do.

So why is it, even after two very painful experiences of the consequences of smoking, do we still smoke? What will it take to prove to myself and the other members of my family who smoke, that we need to quit. We have witnessed at firsthand the horror and pain cancer causes, we have felt the devastation and loss, but still it is not enough. Do we all believe that it will never happen to us, if so, why do we believe that. Why is it that certain members of the human race, a species that has evolved, adapted and developed into what it is today, simply refuse to believe what is in front of their eyes.

I’ve read all the warnings. I’ve seen all the advertising. I’ve been advised by doctors. I know all the dangers, an yet I still smoke.