Just stop saying it

Linnea Olson at Outliving Lung Cancer wrote an interesting post called Just Not a Just World.  This is a comment on her post.

As a fellow LC patient/client/mutant/whatever we call ourselves, I follow your blog and have learned enough about you through your blog to know that what you write is thoughtful and heartfelt. Your intelligence, indomitable spirit and optimism shine through and are  inspiration to your many readers.

However, with this post, you’ve scraped up against what has lately become a raw nerve with me since I got handed this bag of snakes and shoved down the road called cancer.  And that is this let-me-make-sure-you-know-I-never-smoked clause that sneaks its way into  almost everything I’ve read by a “never-smoker” with lung cancer.

I applaud your intent in this post. Really, I do. And I get where you’re going, but your message would have rung truer with me had you not found it necessary to mention that “never ever touched a cigarette.”

I don’t care whether you smoked or not.  Your insistence that I know you never smoked feels more like a thinly veiled device to separate yourself from those people who did smoke and got what they deserved with lung cancer, rather than as an illustration of the arbitrary nature of life, which was the theme of your post (shit happens).

Had you analogized, “I’ve never been exposed to radon, so why me?” to support your theme, it would have been just as effective.

Whenever a writer or speaker decries the stigma around smoking and lung cancer, but still has a need to let you know that he or she never smoked, I’m fairly certain that person still has a way to go to rid his or her own psyche of the stigma.

It lingers in everything we read about lung cancer, And it will never go away until we just stop making it a part of the conversation.

Note to readers:  There are many other cancers and fatal diseases are associated with smoking.


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  • bird baths
  • birds

10 responses to “Just stop saying it”

  1. I just *like* this more than once, twice, three times a lady or on some days not so much a lady….but….no. No. Buts. Like. Like. Like.

    Is that perfectly clear?


  2. Oh Raye, you are so, so, dear and wonderful! No posts in a long time. What gives?


  3. Anita Figueras Avatar
    Anita Figueras

    Good blog post, Neal. You are right, after a while repeated statements of never-smoker status start to feel like non- stigma wrapping around itself and becoming stigma again, like the Worm Ouroboros.

    I’m taking the approach, “why I have this is a mystery, it’s bad luck, and it’s a natural part of life.” Because as Linnea said, life ain’t fair.

    Don’t underestimate the power of addiction. Many family members have struggled to quit smoking, and my dear sister still has not been able to get the monkey off of her back. I’m a ex-smoker myself, I quit 35 years ago. I dislike and fear being in the presence of tobacco smoke and have friends I no longer visit – but I don’t think they are ignorant. They are deeply addicted and I try to have compassion for them.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for your comment, Anita. I always enjoy what you have to say.

    I, too, take the same approach to our shared experience, and it’s why I liked Linnea’s post.

    I’m an ex-smoker, too, Anita, so while my footnote might seem overly harsh, I really don’t underestimate the power of addiction. I tried to quit many times, but the addiction was too strong. I took medication, which, fortunately, worked. So, I guess my point is, I overcame and I’m sure not imbued with any special strength.

    There’s a difference between “ignorant” and “willfully ignorant.” I’m talking about people who won’t even try to quit. Say they love it and it doesn’t hurt anyone, even them.

    I have close family members who smoke. Doesn’t mean I love them any less or they’re not wonderful people. It doesn’t mean I don’t empathize with their addiction, either. But they won’t even try. They are sick all the time, they stink, they have respiratory problems (and use inhalers!), but insist smoking doesn’t contribute to their ill health.

    That’s willful ignorance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anita Figueras Avatar
      Anita Figueras

      Denial seems easier than withdrawal, I guess. Plus there’s now a very strong anti-science, anti-expert current flowing in our national culture. Do these same folks also poo-poo global warming?

      Good for you that you got help and quit! 💛


  5. I don’t have cancer and have never had cancer so I’m speaking from the sidelines here. But I think your comments about not reinforcing stigma are so important. I detest the reflex of blame – whatever the condition or event. It’s like we have to blame people for what they have or what they have suffered as a way to make sure people understand that we are blameless. I wish I had more clarity of thought here but short comment: I liked what you said.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally get what you mean, Jan.


  6. Thank you for speaking so clearly and with such understanding about something that needed to be said. You opened my eyes. I don’t know if I’ve stigmatized people in the past, but after reading your comment and the comments made in response to you, I’ve promised myself to avoid using words, or even thoughts, that seem to blame others for what befalls them. Oh, how I hope I’l lbe as good as my word.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Who’s to blame? What DID YOU do wrong? There are more reasons than smoking that cause cancer. There are some people who smoke or HAVE smoked who have cancer. And there are some non-smokers who have cancer. And then there are smokers who live to be in their 90’s and still enjoy a good smoke…and maybe a shot of whiskey in their coffee. Oh, yeah! Let’s talk about cancer of the liver…does everyone who drinks 🍹 get liver cancer? Well, let’s see, what about prostate cancer? I think that cancer must be due to being addicted to sex…and what about bone cancer? Well, that’s easy…those people must have walked too much…pancreatic cancer? Too many sweets…colon cancer? They’re just “full of shit!” I could go on, but I’m sure others can come up with some pretty interesting theories.
    Bottom line? We all breathe the same air, eat too much or not enough of the “right stuff.” We all walk about on this wonderful sphere we call earth. But, were all different and unique. And we’re always looking for a reason for things that happen to us. And sometimes, there really is no clear reason. Shit happens… so, to wrap this up, let’s just 🛑 trying to assign a reason for our cancer or feelings of not deserving to have cancer yet fully thinking that if a person who smoked has lung cancer it’s their own fault . And some people get hit by a bus.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And you’re absolutely right, HAB. But the farther down the road you get into Cancerland you’ll discover that people like to blame smokers for their fate, even as you point out the contradictions to the argument. It absolves them of caring for one more tragedy.

      The culprit, in my mind, is the powerful effect of the anti-smoking campaign. Enormous amounts of time and money were spent painting a picture of smoking as choice and linking the decision to smoke to getting lung cancer. People who don’t know or remember what the tobacco companies did to encourage smoking and hide the dangers from the public naturally blame the people who smoke, discounting the powerful addiction. Nevermind that smoking contributes to many other cancers, the anti-smoking lobby targeted lung cancer.

      No other disease has the stigma of lung cancer. I didn’t realize that before I was diagnosed. I was shocked and dismayed when I started reading about my disease. It’s unfair and infuriating. So every time I read anything where the author has managed to unnecessarily squeeze in the phrase “I never smoked,” my hackles are raised.

      Linnea Olson is a thoughtful, intelligent, positive force in the lung cancer community. It’s just this one problem I have with some of her posts. She’s not the only one who does it by far, and I think it’s unconscious for the most part, but in this instance I thought it was disingenuous to her message and I chose to speak out.


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About Me

This blog started out as letters to my dog maizie but devolved into meaningless observations from a half-deaf cancer alumnus introvert navigating the noise you other people make.


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