wild turtle crossing

slow: writer at play

Vivian Henoch

Vivian Henoch
Northville, Michigan, USA
June 17
Writer and editor:myJewishDetroit.org
I write around. Follow me on Twitter @vivianhenoch or @myJDetroit


OCTOBER 17, 2011 9:03AM

If You Smoke

Rate: 24 Flag

Quit.  Won’t you please.  Just quit.


It’s not that I get all hot and bothered by secondhand smoke.  I grew up with enough of it, I’m sure. It’s not that I’m offended (though I should be) by the smell of cigarettes on your clothes or in your car.  It’s not even a question of my health I’m talking about here.


This is about my brother-in-law, Rick,  and what I’m only starting to understand about lung cancer. 



You probably have family and friends who love you, people on your case all the time, people who beseech you to quit, please just quit.


You’re probably like everyone else who figures the big bad boogeyman numbers aren’t about you, and that you’ll go on hacking and smokin’ just fine ‘til you’re 99. 


You probably think like everyone else that your next smoke ain’t going to be your last, so light up and relax.





Light up and relax.  As if you have all the time in the world.


As  I write this, the irony strikes, that I am sitting at my brother-in-law’s computer right now…taping on the keyboard at his desk, a desk he built with his own hands. 


This was his place  - Rick’s place -  a favorite spot in a home that he and my sister gutted and rebuilt together just two years ago when they moved to Bradenton, Florida.  Here at last Rick and my sister were living their dream.  To grow old gracefully: together. 


She would return to her art,  her painting . . 


He would turn his passion for racing rally cars into a leisurely vocation, rebuilding vintage Mercedes, starting with the ’78 450SL now sitting in the garage.  



This was their plan. It was a good plan for the good life. Until July 5th when Rick was diagnosed with cancer.


Small cell lung cancer.


Small cell lung cancer -  SCLC -  has a particularly nasty way of presenting itself.  Like a stealth bomber, it can attack the lungs undetected, then show up -  full-blown and fatal - as a metastatic disease, spreading rapidly to the bone, the liver, the colon, the brain.    


All cancer is bad news.  SCLC is bad luck, as well. Only 15% of all lung cancer cases are SCLC.  And in almost all cases, small cell lung cancer is due to cigarette smoking.  


In Rick's case, SCLC  presented itself in his liver - the equivalent of a Category 4 storm in the body.  Extensive. Inoperable.  Incurable.


In follow-up on the CT scan,  Rick’s doctor advised him to put his affairs in order.  To talk to his family. To begin chemo immediately. To prepare for battle. 


Imagine processing that all at once.  No time for passing go, no time for second opinions.  It was chemo or "certain” death within a month.   With chemo and perhaps with “luck” at best,  Rick would see the sunrise for another six months to a year.   


So much for the “clear” chest x-ray taken in June.

So much for that cough “due to allergies.”

So much for Rick’s quiet habit over the years --slipping away from our company to grab a smoke. 


“Where’s Rick?” we would ask, when noticing he was missing. “Oh, he must be outside. . . out for a smoke.”  


Rick’s dream to build rally cars and race again is now abandoned, as his work stands incomplete in the garage, a one-of-a-kind restoration. 






Those who know what they're looking at - the BenzWorld.org people - tell us that Rick's work on his car is spectacular. To the uninitiated, that '78 Mercedes looks like it has “miles to go” before it will ever see the road again. 


Rick, so full of life and determination, fueled with future plans when last we saw him in health, dancing at a wedding in May,  took his last breath on his 62nd birthday: September 27.


And no, he did not go quietly into the night. He fought and clawed and he held on for dear life, with hope against hope to beat the odds, one day at a time.


“I’m here,” Rick would say, “I’m still here.” In full-battle mode, Rick the stoic and eternal optimist (always with that ready smile, masking his dark side) defied his prognosis. . . courageously taking it in the gut, "one day at a time," as he would say.   


In his wallet, along with a photo of his daughter, Erin, Rick carried an old scrap of paper - no doubt a memento mori from his racing days -  with these words, faded into its folds. . . 

"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -- 'WOW, what a ride!!!'"




For Richard Major Thompson:

may his memory forever be a blessing

to those who knew and loved him.   


And thank you for not smoking.


Photos: VHenoch

Smoke patterns: ephotozine 

Paintings: Susan Miller-Thompson

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It is certainly a bitter pill to swallow, when one day the future is spread out before us like an endless road, full of promise and possibility and the next, the road is closed and worse, there is no detour. Or there is but not to our intended destination. What an awful thing to happen. I offer my deepest sympathy to you, your sister, and Rick's daughter.
I have never smoked in my life. Anyone I have been involved with has never smoked until Steve. He smokes as much to make up for everyone else.
He wont quit... refuses to.
Thank you for writing this blog..
I am so very sorry for your loss. Unfortunately so many people I know who died of cancer were also smokers. Including my own daughter.
Smoking was one of the major causes of my last divorce. Not only did my ex smoke two packs of cigarettes per day, he didn't work to support his habit. Bye bye!
P. S. I didn't mean to be flippant in that last comment but it makes me mad at how selfish smokers are. Rick didn't consider his family's feelings once he was gone. He will be missed dearly, I know from your loving yet admonishing post.
I'm so sorry for your loss. I used to smoke and gave it up many years ago. Thinking back I realize how badly I must have smelled and my children too. So hard to quit but so worthwhile. -R-
This is beautifully written grief. I am so sorry for your sister's loss, for your loss, for Erin's loss. Rick sounds like a good man who had a strong addiction. Sometimes even unselfish people find themselves caught in the web that is so difficult to get freed from....such a heavy price to pay.
I'm so so sorry to read of this quick turn of life for your family this year.
The paintings are just stunning.
A beautiful piee and my sympathy to you.
A very powerful, sad and stunning post, Vivian. I'm sorry for the loss in your family, and thank you for your courage and kindness to reach out and caution others against smoking.
Wow such a sad but well-written story. Thank-you for sharing this. I'm sorry for your loss
I smoked on and off for years, and my husband is a dedicated smoker. I worry about him, but I can't make him quit. Thanks for posting this. My condolences on your brother-in-law.
Thanks for this. I did a humorous post today on my smoking. I quit 4 months ago, and my wife, who had breast cancer, quit and started back and I'm mad.
I am very sorry for your loss. I am sorry for all the unfinished dreams, for all the existence not reaching its natural conclusion, but hurried along by something that if you knew about, would not have done. So many people are addicted to smoking, so many people horribly exposed over the years and suffering even as a non smoker, the fate of the smoker. Once again we can point easily to corporate greed. And just why is it still there, the companies that make tobacco products? My deepest and profound sympathy to you and his family.
a terrible and sad ending, vivian, and you wrote a top-notch piece to honor what sounds like a wonderful man. i'm so very sorry for your loss, your sister's and rick's daughter's.
I am so sorry for your loss. In my previous life, I one of the pharmaceutical drugs I sold was a stop cigarettes drug. I attended a workshop about the awful addiction, which we were told, is poweful as heroin. I know that sounds crazy but apparently it is true. The really scary part is what the second hand smoke does to the people around the smoker. Where I live there are plenty of smokers (one mile from Kentucky where burley tobacco is king) and lung cancer and pulmonary disease is one number one cause of death. Again, sorry for the loss of this BIL so young. Peace to you and his family.
I've always hated the smell of cigarette smoke--why anyone would want to have that smell clinging to them and everything they wear, sit on, sleep on or drive, I can't understand.

And it's so insidious--so hard to quit and kick the habit, even for people who realize how bad it is, and WANT to quit. I'm so sorry for your sister and neice, Vivian. What a devastating disease cancer has been for them.

Blessings on you for writing this. I wish I'd known him. Susan's paintings are lovely.
Poisons should be controlled better...Espcially addictive ones. I am so sorry for your loss and your family's. He went too young with too many fun things ahead...
I'm so sorry for your loss -- and the addiction your friend was powerless to escape. Tobacco is a vicious, evil weed, a drug that produces no discernible high until you reach the point of addiction and try to escape. My dad survived lung cancer and is lucky, living with a third of a lung on his left side. He had friends who died at the same time he battled.
Vivian, I'm so sorry for your loss--what a heartbreaking turn of events for your family. Small cell cancer is just awful--I knew a brilliant and kind young man who died from it. He wasn't even thirty yet. And yes, he smoked like a chimney. What a waste!
I hope this helps someone, Vivian. I'm so sorry for the loss to your family. When I was young, my grandfather had an oral cancer caused by cigarettes and the memory of his disfigurement ensured none of his grandchildren ever turned to the demon weed.