For as long as I can remember, my Aunt Rosie smoked cigarettes. She was more of a childhood friend to me than an elder. At just about 13 years older than me, Aunt Rosie taught me how to play monopoly, how to shoot dice and how to tell people to “scram” when they weren’t in my best interest. She had the biggest, brightest smile because she showed all of her teeth, beaming for Thanksgiving Dinner, Christmas morning presents and the 49ers winning.
Smoke was all around my house and I had asthma. It never seemed to be a bad thing; all the smoke, fun and banter she brought into the house. Rosie laughed a lot. She was fun and loved so dearly by all. My asthma subsided due to medication and all the sports I played.
At the time I thought, smoking wasn’t a problem until the news became inundated with trials over the health risks. The lies we heard from the tobacco companies saying smoking wasn’t harmful. But by the time those companies were forced to include warning labels on the little packs of “squares”, millions of people had died prematurely of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, and chronic obstruction pulmonary disease (COPD). It also makes your teeth yellow and your clothes smell bad.
In March of 2016, my beloved Aunt Rosie died from Lung Cancer. My immediate family went through the dying process with her. We spent hours, days and weeks in the hospital, watching the pain on her face and praying, “this too shall pass.”
The day the doctor walked into her hospital room to deliver a message, she was sitting up and it seemed like a good day. I had fleeting thoughts of her walking out of that room, healthy and ready to watch a football game at home. But when the doctor said the Cancer in her lungs was aggressive and spreading, my Uncle ran out of the room because he didn’t want to hear what was coming next. When the doctor said, there was nothing more they could do, Aunt Rosie barked out, “what does that mean?”
Cancer is a killer. Smoking cigarettes is a choice. It’s an unhealthy choice that people engage in for many reasons. Some say they smoke after a good meal. Many say they smoke when they are “stressed”.
When a person’s cortisol levels rise, the body releases the hormone at excessive levels and the brain wants to fix it. When people say they smoke to relieve stress this may or may not be true, but doctors, researchers and health professionals have proven this addictive habit can kill people prematurely.
My Aunt Rosie was definitely stressed out. She battled illicit drug addiction most of her life. Her Mom, my grandmother died at a relatively early age. My Mom raised my Aunt Rosie as if she were her child, while my Aunt Rosie tried to raise her own son at an early age. She spent most of her life writing her son letters and sending him money because he spent most of his life in the correctional system, never getting corrected or rehabilitated. Her labor skill-set was low, but once she became clean of the narcotics, she stayed employed. However, the “monkey” never got off her back until it bit into her body and gave her Cancer.
I will never stop mourning my Aunt Rosie. I will never stop crying for her to be here present with us today, but too, I will never stop advocating for healthier outcomes for us all. If knowledge is power, healthy living is blissful living.