Smoke Rings and Cancer Lumps


Even though I did smoke cigarettes, I made sure that I didn't smoke enough to get cancer from it.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Laura Yeager

Nana’s ember is glowing brightly on her cig, and every time she takes a drag off of the delicate white stick, the glow gets brighter and hotter. I am three, and it’s 1966. It’s fun to watch this smoking ritual. Johnny Carson is on the television; my brothers are on the floor lying on satin comforters; I’m sitting in a chair observing the ember burn and the cig get smaller and smaller until it’s just a little white paper covering some brown leaves above a pure white filter. She smooshes the cig out, and a little later, lights another. Nana takes a swig of gold liquid. I stick my finger in the glass when no one is looking. The strange stuff burns as it goes down.

Who would have guessed that the fun smoking activity of my grandmother would eventually kill her. Throat cancer in 1992.

Clove cigarettes tasted so good at Oberlin College. My roommate Tracy smoked them and was always generous with them. I must have smoked about ten during my BA career. We’d put on Bonnie Raitt and Tracy would light a cigarette and close her eyes and sing to high heaven.

“Would you like one, Laura?” she asked.

“Sure,” I’d say, without even considering the fact that they might kill me if I smoked too many of them. This was in 1982, before Nana passed away.

I never considered smoking dangerous, but I didn’t do it too often. Not often enough to get addicted.

Nana’s husband’s brothers, Raymond, Richard, Willy and Carl picked up smoking in WW II when the government supplied the soldiers with cigarettes to pass the time and give them some small pleasure while the bullets flew overhead. All of my elders were always surrounded by smoke clouds at picnics and parties. It was just the thing to do. It was vogue.

I remember guest stars smoking on Johnny. They were clad in their finest clothes, and they were sucking on wands of tobacco. I wanted to be like them – famous and chic.

After I got married, my neighbor Martha smoked.She too was generous with her cigarettes. She loved to smoke. Once she said that cigarettes were her only friends that would never leave her. We’d smoke on my back porch, discussing our children. I must have smoked about ten cigarettes with her as well.

All in all, in my life, I figure that I’ve smoked one pack of cigarettes. I’ve been careful, again, not wanting to get addicted to them.

Once my husband came home and saw me smoking. Martha had just left. “Put that out,” he said. He was angry. “If you ever smoke again, I’ll divorce you.”

Smoking cigarettes – the only deal breaker for my husband in our marriage. He knew the damage they did, having lost several relatives to lung cancer from smoking cigarettes. He had a relative who smoked while on oxygen. 

Even my mother smoked, but she quit when she was pregnant because it made her cough and choke. She was allergic to smoking. Mom says her smoke allergy was the best gift she ever got from God.

Funny, in my quest to avoid lung or throat cancer, I did develop breast cancer.

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