My Uncle Tommy and his lung

Just how dumbed-down does a dumbed-down advertising campaign have to be before it gets its message home to dumbed-down people ?

Take for instance the new Health Ministry campaign for awareness of lung cancer launched today, full details here, which offers the advice that a persistent cough could be a sign of lung cancer, “persistent” meaning a cough that lasts for more than three weeks.

Now I’m no medical person but I’m fairly sure that a persistent cough could be one of several other things long before the medical staff would consider that it might be lung cancer, it might be just a persistent cough for instance, just a thought.

My Uncle Tommy had lung cancer when he died, its probably fair to say that he died from lung cancer, in fact I once overheard my cousin mention to someone that his death certificate mentioned a lung carcinoma so thats pretty much nailed on that he died from a lung cancer or to put it another way if he didn’t have lung cancer he probably wouldn’t have died when he did.

This was back in the late 1960s, he smoked a lot, he smoked an awful lot of cigarettes actually, and he was a decorator for the council and so probably breathed in an awful lot of fumes from paint that may not have been as decorator-friendly as paint is today, if you were going to put your money on a person who might contract lung cancer then you’d probably go for an asbestos factory worker first, and then my Uncle Tommy.

When he was diagnosed the treatment plan was pretty simple and easily explained as thus – “We either do nothing, or we take one of your lungs out” and so, with his only daughter planning her wedding for later that year he opted for the radical solution, take out the most badly affected lung and leave behind the other one that also had lung cancer, but not so much – right from the start it was just a temporary respite to get him to live long enough to see his daughter get married.

And he did, later that year after what always appeared to be a very painful procedure with constant after-effects, he very slowly and very carefully walked his daughter down the aisle and gave her away in the manner of a very brave father, then he very slowly and very carefully went home and died a few weeks later.

I was 11 years of age in the year that my cousin got married and my Uncle Tommy died from lung cancer after having a lung removed and living the last six months of his life in constant pain, he couldn’t walk very far, had trouble breathing, rarely strayed beyond his armchair or a stool in the kitchen – he had a stool against the kitchen wall to one side of the huge refrigerator in their kitchen that he would sit at, the posture of sitting straight backed against the wall seemed to bring him some respite and occasionally that summer I’d ride my bike to their house for want of something to do and I’d walk in the back door and not see him behind the fridge until he whispered my name and I’d walk towards him while he held one finger to his lips to “shush” me and then point into the hallway, “Phyllis is on the party line again” he’d whisper and we’d both sit there in the kitchen in silence while my Auntie Phyllis sat at the bottom of the stairs with the phone pressed to her ear and her hand on the receiver so that one of her neighbours who was using the single telephone line out of their district chatted to one of her family – she was never off that party line wasn’t my nosy Auntie Phyllis.

Watching my uncle Tommy change from a happy-go-lucky painter and decorator who was always up for a joke and a laugh to someone who always seemed to be clutching his ribs in pain and could barely draw enough breath to whisper to you, was enough to convince the 11 year old me that this smoking lark wasn’t really a good lifestyle choice and possibly completely by coincidence it was around that time that our dad stopped sending me and Ned to the shop for his Gold Leaf cigarettes too.

Works wonders for health education does having a relative die painfully from a preventable disease.

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