One Lung – Still Smoking

Over the past two years I have been adjusting to caring and living with my sweetie who has had 3 brain surgeries for non-cancer disorders (normal pressure hydrocephalus, 2 traumatic brain injuries, and a subacute subdural hematoma that shifted the midline of his brain by 14 mm). Our love and lives as we knew them, shattered. To everyone he seems recovered and appears to be a miracle of modern medicine. Only I am privy to what’s really going in with his cognition and physicality. There is no satisfaction in trying to convince friends and family of his progressive decline. Few seem to get it. I have transformed into a person that lives day by day or as I joke, from one meal to the next. I visit my past to find comfort in fond memories of my life experiences rather than add fuel to the fire that burns in my soul when I think of the mistaken, overlooked and ignored symptoms, diagnoses, treatments, etc. The future is filled with doctor’s appointments and more uncertainty that I am comfortable with. Here’s the narrative that describes the extreme conflict I feel and desperately want to resolve hopefully with your valuable insights.

My sweetie was diagnosed in 11/2013 after a heart ct scan and had a right pneumonectomy in 12/2013. He will be starting a course of adjuvant chemo this week. HE IS STILL SMOKING!!! Probably 2-3 cigs/day. Whenever asked at doc appts he says he quit on the day of surgery but this is not the case. He has always been a “closet” smoker. His clothes and breadth don’t give him away. At post surgery appts. he denies smoking and I just sit there and “smoke”. On occasion I have challenged him directly or said something to the docs, nurses in the hallway. But they don’t seem to respond with any guidance, warnings or questions other than he needs to stop smoking.

DOES IT REALLY MATTER IF HE CONTINUES TO SMOKE??? I have several thoughts. If it doesn’t interfere with his treatment i.e., endanger chemo effects, etc., is it okay to just ignore it? I see no benefit to our already modified relationship to continue to coach, harass or contradict him. Then I think about what one (of 3) of the cardiothoracic surgeons said during consultation, “If you don’t quit smoking today, don’t put yourself through surgery or “waste our time” and enjoy the next 3 years of your life.” Is there a moral, societal or financial imperative to get him to stop smoking? What does his ongoing smoking tell me about his will to live and how he feels about our future?

So I reflect on my poor health behaviors. I overeat and have been on a weight yo yo most of my life. I am being treated for various cardiac risk factors yet I still stuff my face with high calorie treats. 6 months ago I thought I got a grip and changed my eating and exercise habits. Soon after sweetie’s surgery I slipped back into old habits and despite being conscious about reversing the weight loss and fitness achieved and re-aggravating the risk factors I remain unwilling to turn things around. Would it be justifiable for a heart surgeon to say, don’t have bypass surgery if you don’t go on the Ornish diet now? Keep eating everything and enjoy the remaining years of your life. OUCH! It kind of upsets and comforts me that I cannot really see a difference between his chronic smoking and my chronic overeating.

My current approach is not to interfere with his smoking, to stop contradicting him when he gets positive feedback for “quitting” and let him do what he wants to enjoy the remaining years of his life but continue in my role as his caregiver, advocate, wife and lobbyist for the best medical care I can find for him.

Posted 2/18/14 on Inspire.com.

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