Smoking and Bladder Cancer - Gene Vasconi Writes
“How’d The Smoke Get Down There?” by Gene Vasconi, author of “For Bladder or Worse”
Now, no one ever told me when I was a kid and embarking on a then well accepted habit of smoking that the smoke was going to sink into my bladder. All I ever heard was, “Smoking Can Cause Lung Cancer” which was stamped on the side of a pack of cigarettes and aired on TV and radio when they didn’t have any revenue ads to play. The symptoms of that were commonly thought to be shortness of breath and a cough. I figured I could handle that and, should these symptoms develop, I’d just stop. Then again, I was 18 years old. So, smoke I did but not puff those nasty, unfiltered things – I smoked only filtered cigarettes recommended by the cowboy who had replaced all of the doctors that had recommended them in the 50s (I guess most of them died from lung cancer). My father smoked, my friends smoked, movie stars smoked, it was a great time to be a smoker because no one complained when you lit up anywhere except a movie theater. It was the good old days.
Of course I tried to give it up. I quit at least a dozen times for various reasons: worried about throat cancer, no air to play my musical instrument, maybe I would get mouth cancer, it was kind of smelly. But, no thought ever about bladder cancer. The usual quitting cycle was a few days; even made it a week once. Then, the rationale would drip back in about gaining weight, becoming nervous, and why the hell can’t I smoke if I want to? Zap … back I went to the smokes and enjoyed them even more.
So what caused me to quit? I knew several people with older relatives suffering from emphysema or asthma who sucked on cigarettes in their hospital beds; even heard of one guy who puffed through his throat tube. Wow. Dedication and a great role model for me.
I stopped smoking many years before being diagnosed with bladder cancer. Had nothing to do with bladders or lungs or even the cost of the smokes. It had to do with falling in love and wanting to hang around longer.
When I was single, what I smoked and where I did it was no one else’s business. I determined my own destiny and the rest of the world be dammed. But that changed when I met my future wife. She absolutely did not force the smoking issue and maybe that was what made the quitting desire so strong. I came to realize that I needed to drop the nasty habit because I wanted to honor her and try to maximize the amount of time we would have together on this planet.
Having quit many times before, I knew I had to create a strategy that would be successful this time. So, I created my own set of rules. No smoking in my apartment was a big one because I required myself to move to the balcony to smoke. Not bad in the nice weather but really put the pressure on in the cold. Another rule was no smoking in my car. I had cleaned the inside windows once (hey, I was single) and the black grunge that had collected was startling. So, no more. If I wanted to smoke, I’d need to exit the vehicle.
The one tactic I developed really made all the difference to me. I suspect some of the “positive-thinking” types would disagree but it worked for me. I began to visualize my vocal cords or lack of them after their being removed following cancer surgery. I had the hole through which I could breathe, the device so I could speak in a buzzing manner, and my career that required my voice as a media producer would be over. A very powerful image.
A bonus to being successful at quitting smoking was that my fiancé was very impressed that I had done it for her (well mostly). Guys, that was good for quite a few points! So, this was a win-win for everyone until my bladder savings account produced a dividend.
Living with the consequences
I hadn’t realized that I was creating a comfortable living space for my cancer buddies by smoking all those years and the carcinogens were helping tumors develop. Of course, I have no idea how long it took for them to grow but some 20 years after quitting smoking, they removed 27 tumors from my bladder. Here is the important part of this and is why I wrote “For Bladder or Worse.” Bladder cancer is like your shiftless brother-in-law who is out of work and in your spare room. You really have a hard time getting rid of it. I have tried for over four years and I suspect I will keep at it forever. It is expensive, long-lasting, and a continual mental challenge because, given the possibilities, you may end up piddling via a tube into a bag or even die if it spreads.
So, this is where I take a step back when talking to folks about this and simply say, “Is smoking worth it? The for-the-rest-of-your-life cystoscopes, operations, and all the other embarrassing scenarios medical folks like to put you into.” I never found anyone who says, “Yes”.
Let me add a word about marijuana. I find it odd to be sometimes on the wrong side of this with some people who support smoking pot and even legalizing it. They cite this study or that with findings that amazingly show that smoking pot can actually help you fight bladder cancer. They also don’t seem to recognize that there are over 400 substances in marijuana and that the simple act of sucking smoke into your lungs is not what they were designed to do. I continue to say, “Is it worth the possible bladder cancer risk?” To me it is not even though I already have bladder cancer.
Friends and Strangers
I close with this. Bladder cancer has enabled me to experience many things I never ever imagined I would do. Fun stuff like having an urologist (my new best friend) shove a pipe up my private member and troll for tumors, learning all about catheters, seeing how fast my wife could drive me to the emergency room when the catheter stopped up at four in the morning, having bladder spasms so deep that I would have traded it for giving birth, and learning what a stent was and why I would like to punch the guy who invented it. Add to that being on an examining table with strangers staring at your personal area (and not getting paid) and I respond to, “want a cigarette?” with, “not on your (or my) life.” I know where that smoke really goes when you inhale and what it does when it gets there and it isn’t nice!
Gene Vasconi is a television/radio media producer, speaker and author of two books. His first was “Say What: Do You Really Know What You Are Communicating?” followed by, “For Bladder or Worse” which is a hilarious book about his adventures after being diagnosed with bladder cancer. Both books are available through Amazon.com
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