Health and Fitness

I Hope You Listen

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You smoke.

   Oh, not a lot. Seven, maybe 8 a day.

   Mom was like that.

   If necessary, you can go two or three hours between puffs. A movie. A dinner party. A Little League game.

   Mom was like that.

   You don’t smoke in the house, a nod to your spouse who quit cigarettes under surgeon’s orders after his heart attack.

   Mom was like that.

   You mostly light up outside. In the garden. On the porch. In the rocking chair beside the bird feeder.

   Mom was like that.

   You’re much too polite to smoke in the car, or around family members who don’t have the addiction. You tell people that, yes, even one cigarette is bad, but at least you’re not like those huddled wretches who fill their lungs inside smoking booths at airports and rail stations.

   Mom was like that.

   Betsy Mathews started smoking in 1944, her freshman year in college. She kept it up for 70 years until X-rays revealed two large, fast-growing tumors in her lungs.

   She quit in the fall, but the doctor doubts it was discipline. More likely, he said, she inhaled one day and it felt like the devil breathing fire.

   Death came two days after Christmas, six weeks after the diagnosis.

   Mom was an active, vibrant person who ate the right foods and kept her weight down. Smoking-induced cancer stole her too soon from the grandchildren and the little great-grandbaby she loved so much.

   Betsy Mathews didn’t smoke like a fiend.

   Not a lot at all. Seven, maybe 8 a day.

   But they added up and now she’s dead.

   When Mom still had enough strength to talk, I said I’d like to write about cigarettes and lung cancer.

   Is there anything you’d like to share? I wanted to know.

   She whispered, “Tell them not to be like me.”
Editor's Note: AFL contributor Laverne Bardy sent us a note urging us to post this story.  She says, “Garret Mathews is a newspaper man, and author of numerous books. (Check him out online and at A couple of my columns are in his latest book.  His mother passed away from lung cancer two days after Christmas. He wrote a powerful,  brief piece about it that I would love to get some coverage (my idea, not his.) I’m sending you the piece and if you think you might be able to use it in After Fifty Living. Garret is trying very hard to get the information out there.”  Thanks for sharing this with us, Laverne.  And we extend our sympathies to Garret, and also our thanks for sharing this most personal, powerful piece.  Garret can be reached at


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