It was Christmas morning 1953 in Long Beach at the Tiscareño household. Our parents had recently relocated to California where dad, just released from his stint in the Army Air Corps, took a job with Northrop as an airplane mechanic. Times were lean, and there were only a few gifts beneath the tree. Dad’s favorite gift that year: a carton of Pall Mall cigarettes.
In the 1950s, health concerns about the hazards of smoking were just surfacing. In a British Medical Journal of the day, researchers reported a definitive and direct link between smoking and lung cancer. The cancer advisory committee of the Ministry of Health said they had demonstrated an association, not a cause, and advised the government to do nothing.
Smoking in my parents’ generation was the norm. Marketing tobacco to the military was touted as a way for soldiers to psychologically escape their circumstances and boost overall troop morale. For women, it was an important part of the social fabric of the time. Everyone woman wanted their cigarettes lit like Claude Rains did Bette Davis’ in Now Voyager. It was just plain sexy.
To borrow from the popular slogan of the Virginia Slims brand introduced in 1968, ‘we’ve come a long way, baby’.
Today, we understand the critical connection between smoking and lung cancer, which accounts for about 27% of all cancer deaths in men and women. The Rio Grande Cancer Foundation is proud to have been a part of the forward and unprecedented move in our city to adopt an ordinance designed to protect the public’s health by eliminating smoking in public places.
And yet, although smoking in our community has declined, lung cancer still accounts for about 20% of all cancer deaths in El Paso County. The hopeful news, however, is that survival rates for lung cancer are also on the rise.
It was in 2006 when my friend and colleague, Ed Saltzstein, a surgeon at the Garbar Breast Care Center in El Paso, transitioned from doctor to patient. A persistent cough and some fatigue led Ed to seek medical attention, which resulted in a lung cancer diagnosis. Having many times been the bearer of the statement “you have cancer”, I asked Ed how he handled his own news. “The hardest part was having to abandon my duties and patients for six months while I got treatment,” he said, “It also tested my relationships somewhat; there were some naysayers who didn’t expect me to survive”, he added.
Having been through a left upper lobectomy followed by radiation therapy and chemotherapy, Ed is an eight and a half year survivor and doing well.
“So far as I know I’m doing well, knock on wood,” he declares. “I get a CT scan of my chest once a year and talk to my oncologist and just plug along.”
‘Plugging along’ for Ed and his wife, Phyllis includes spending time in their Ruidoso home just enjoying life. He calls it being empowered by a realistic attitude – neither positive nor negative, but certainly hopeful.
My dad quit smoking in the 1960s, having graduated from Pall Malls to Winston’s (which ‘tasted good like a cigarette should’) and subsequently avoided any issues with his lungs. He devoted his remaining time between family, teaching and fishing, subscribing to the John Buchan quote that "The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope."
Maybe a bit of my father’s fishing philosophy peppered Ed’s own hopeful attitude. He and Phyllis spent some quality time with my dad at Grindstone Lake in pursuit of the elusive trout. Dad mused that the double hitch knot he taught Ed to tie was no doubt being incorporated into his surgical stitches. I’d like to believe there are some Saltzstein attended cancer survivors walking around El Paso with a signature Tiscareño trout line tie. The thought simply makes me breathe a little easier.
- Patty Tiscareño is the Executive Director for the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation, the community’s only local non-profit support cancer patients and their families.
Call the Rio Grande Cancer Foundation (915) 562-7660 for more information. And make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you. Visit our website at www.rgcf.org. We are the Colors of Cancer.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women.
The American Cancer Society’s estimates about 225,000 new lung cancers will be diagnosed in 2014 with an estimated 160,000 deaths resulting.
Cigarettes are not only packed with cancer-causing chemicals, but they also disarm the lungs’ natural defense system. The airways are lined with tiny hairs known as cilia. These hairs protect the lungs by sweeping out toxins, bacteria and viruses. Tobacco smoke stops the cilia from doing their job and allows cancer-causing chemicals to collect in the lungs.
Lung cancer begins quietly. There are usually no symptoms or warning signs in the early stages, but as it progresses, symptoms may include:
- A cough that won’t go way
- Chest pain, especially during deep breaths
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
- Coughing up bloody phlegm
Lung cancer does happen to people who have never smoked, particularly more so in women than in men, so it is important to seek medical attention if you are having any of these symptoms.