Knowledge is Power

Jill - Champaign, Illinois
Entered on April 9, 2009

To this day, every time I smell it, my nose wrinkles up in disgust. I remember what this smell comes from and what it could do to me- like it has done to millions.

My dad’s parents had always wanted grandchildren. On the day my parents got married, they asked my dad when they were going to get some. They thought it was never going to happen, but their patience was rewarded. On December 8th 1988, they got not only two granddaughters like they had been expecting, but three. Three beautiful baby girls. My grandmother was ecstatic. Or so they tell me.

My mom’s parents had five kids of their own. They had already gotten some grandchildren, but they were just as excited when we were born. Especially when they found out there were three. My Grandpa Winters had never been one to automatically ask to hold a baby. He just wasn’t that type. But he could see that my mom and dad had their hands full when they brought us all home. So, he would always hold us. Or so they tell me.

My Grandpa Winters had smoked for probably more than 45 years. It was just part of life back then. When I was about one or two years old, he was diagnosed with lung cancer which was probably directly caused by that smoking. He had to have part of his lung removed and radiation treatments in order to treat the cancer. It worked for awhile, but eventually he found that the cancer had spread to his pancreas and at that point there was very little hope for recovery. My grandpa died in 1991. I was two. He was 69.

Shortly after that, my Grandma Smialek was diagnosed with lung cancer. Her treatment was complicated by the fact that she had diabetes. She had smoked her whole life- similar to my Grandpa Winters. Grandma Smialek grew up in the thirties- it was the thing to do then. I was about three when she died.

My Grandpa Smialek and my Grandma Winters both tried to give up smoking cold turkey after that. My grandma snuck a couple every now and then when she was really nervous, but they both held strong. And it bought them some more time. But it wasn’t enough. Grandma Winters ended up having a series of strokes that was related to her smoking and died when I was 6. Grandpa Smialek was diagnosed with lung cancer, but was able to fight it off. However, the smoking also caused pneumonia and congenital heart disease. He had smoked for over 50 years. He died when I was 11.

I have not touched a cigarette in my entire life and I don’t plan to. I’ve always been taught that they are bad for you through my parents and school, but I think the fact that I was hit so closely by the consequences is what has impacted me the most. I had some of the most wonderful people in my life taken away from me before I could even get to know them. And that’s what I want to do with this statement. I want to show others the impact that it has had on me so that even if you haven’t had this experience (and I really hope you haven’t), you can learn from it too.

I think this new smoking ban is a great idea. I know it’s unpopular to some people, but recent studies have shown that people can die from second hand smoke too- not just smoking themselves. Any chance that we give people to have a minute, a day, a year longer with their families is worth it. I know I would have appreciated it. I know two of my grandparents solely through pictures and stories. It’s not the way they wanted it and it sure isn’t the way I wanted it, but it’s a fact. It’s no one’s fault, but it can be prevented. I believe knowledge is power. If my grandparents had known that smoking would cut their lives short, I’m sure they never would have done it. Far less people smoke now that they know the harmful effects it can have. At college I have unbelievable access to knowledge. If this experience has taught me nothing else, I am going to use that to my advantage- and that includes not smoking.