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Young dying smokers share nightmares online

John R. Polito

Prior to the Internet, the death of a young smoker in their thirties or forties was likely a local obituary page news event, if covered at all. But increasingly, young and middle-aged terminally ill smokers, and their surviving families, are realizing the value of their ordeals to worldwide youth smoking prevention efforts and in helping motivate smokers to quit smoking. Boldly, they are going online to share how the richness of life can be snuffed horribly short by not arresting chemical dependency upon smoking nicotine while still time.

Noni Glykos holding her 3 month old son.A tour guide with a passion for history, a Camel smoker since age 14, Noni Glykos was married at 30 and gave birth to her only child, a son, at 32. Two months later she was told she had lung cancer, that it had already spread to her brain, and that she only had a few months to live. One month later Noni bravely stood before friends and loved ones at her final birthday party to say goodbye.

Today visitors to WhyQuit watch a video clip of Noni's farewell speech and get a sense of her life through pictures and words. They see her wedding smile, the joy of her final Christmas, view her death bed and visit her grave. They attend her son's first birthday party. And then it it hits them. His mom has been dead six months.

After Noni's story was shared at WhyQuit her family received more than 2,000 e-mails. Most relate to "quitting this nasty addiction that each year takes away so many," writes her brother John. "It is really hard to handle all the love and the emotions that you are sending through the messages but I save them so my children, and most of all Noni's son, will read them when they grow up."

Bryan Lee Curtis holding his two year-old son Bryan Jr., just 63 days before his deathA two-pack-a-day Marlboro smoker, Bryan Lee Curtis starting smoking cigarettes at age 13. Those reading his story view a haunting image of what small cell lung cancer can do to a human body in just 63 days. Having just turned 34, a photograph shows his grieving wife Bobbie clinging to their two-year-old son, as Brian lies on his death bed. On his lap is a photograph taken two months earlier. It's a picture is of a healthy looking Bryan holding his son Bryan Jr.

Periodic e-mails from Bryan's widow keep visitors updated. "It's almost been 2 years now," Bobbie wrote. "We sit and watch home movies of us. His son is missing him too. Christmas was the worst. He had to go outside and show his dad what he got for Christmas. That really tore me up."

Through her own words and pictures, visitors get to know 44-year-old Kim Genovy. She tells of getting hooked at 12, stealing cigarettes from her parents and stores, of her parents quitting, and the need to invent rationalizations that continued smoking was safe. Readers view her messageboard postings to struggling quitters at Freedom, WhyQuit's 5,000 member online quitting forum.

Kim Genovy's healing left lung removal surgery scarKim shares pictures of a healing scar on her back where doctors ripped out her cancer-riddled left lung, her scalp scar from where they removed a tumor from her brain, and a chemotherapy hairdo that brought chuckles to an otherwise horrific experience.

Following a second brain surgery to remove new tumors, Kim's sister Kelly arrives with news of her passing. But not before Kim left a critical message for smokers.

"Hard to believe it's been 2 years already," Kim writes. "I don't even think of smoking anymore, definitely a thing of the past. My health is too important at this time and the next step is up in the air. Chemo, radiation, surgery or oxygen therapy, maybe all of them. I have 2 brain tumors and a tumor on the adrenal gland. All of these tumors originally spread from the lung cancer I had. Believe me everyone, withdrawal was and is so much easier than this 2-year cancer battle I have been fighting. The craves disappeared, the cancer hasn't."

Deborah with her 11 year-old daughter Ariana, after starting chemotherapyWhyQuit visitors meet Debra Scott, a 38-year-old mother of two daughters, one age eleven. Debra has been diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. A pack-a-day smoker who started at 11 or 12, through periodic diary entries Debra provides a running account of the living nightmare of knowing you are dying, watching your health and abilities gradually decline, losing your job, watching the medical bills mount, and worry about leaving a young child motherless.

On March 17, 2008 Debra wrote, "I am so tired and I ache and I'm sick all the time. Right now I'm struggling so hard. I'm depressed, bad." "I just can't handle anything." "I try to come off like I'm so strong, I can handle this and just deal but I can't do it. I can't do any of it. I just want to lock myself in my room and sleep or cry whichever comes first." It isn't a pretty picture Debra paints but one smokers would be wise to ponder while still time.

Visitors are also introduced to notable smoking victims such as playwright Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote "Raisin in the Sun" and died of lung cancer at age 34, and actress Carrie Hamilton, daughter of Carol Burnett, lost to lung cancer at 38.

Chris 'Punch' Andrews, 43, popular Toronto radio DJ  who died of lung cancer on March 30, 2008The most recent notable recognized at WhyQuit is popular Toronto radio DJ Chris "Punch" Andrews who died of lung cancer on March 30, 2008 at age 43. Visitors watch a YouTube memorial video clip which shares Punch's life and journey. During the video Punch tells viewers, "I see now the kids that were me. They're smoking because they think it's cool. It's nothing. There's nothing good about it. It's the one thing in this world that there is nothing good about it. If you don't smoke, don't start. If you smoke, quit. It's that simple."

Created on July 15, 1999, although WhyQuit presents young tobacco victim stories in an obvious attempt to motivate smokers to consider quitting, its bigger mission is in educating them on how to transform motivation into successful, long-term nicotine cessation.

An all-volunteer forum that actually declines donations, visitors discover that WhyQuit is home to the Internet's largest collection of original quitting materials. They include hundreds of articles, more than 200 video quitting lessons by Joel Spitzer, Joel's free e-book "Never Take Another Puff," WhyQuit's director's free ebook "Freedom from Nicotine - The Journey Home", free quitting tip guides, more than 350,000 support group messages indexed on 22 subject matter message boards at Freedom, and is home to Turkeyville, Facebook's most popular quit smoking support group.

Turkeyville's first caretaker was Helen Bradford. We lost Helen to lung cancer at age 50. If visiting Freedom, be sure to read the journal of Neil Curtis. Feel Neil's anger at having spent years toying with totally worthless quitting products. Neil, was 53 and was survived by his 9 year-old daughter.

While millions of words at WhyQuit, they all boil down to one rather simple rule. It's what WhyQuit terms the "Law of Addiction" ... no nicotine today, never take another puff, dip or chew!

Noni 32 Kim 44 Quentin 23 Deborah 38 Bryan 33 Carrie 33

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Written 04/30/08 and page reformatted 08/07/18 by John R. Polito