betsy mathews
Betsy Mathews started smoking in 1944. In 2014, two days after Christmas, she died of lung cancer.

You smoke.

Oh, not a lot – seven, maybe eight cigarettes 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 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 of 2014, but the doctor doubts it was discipline. More likely, he said, she inhaled one day and it felt like the devil was breathing fire down her throat.

Death came two days after Christmas, six weeks after her 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. She didn’t smoke a lot at all – seven, maybe eight cigarettes a day.

But they added up, and now Betsy’s dead.

When Mom still had enough strength to talk, I told her 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.”

Garret Mathews is a seasoned journalist who wrote the metro column for the Evansville, Ind., Courier & Press. His email address is