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Dad First, COPD Second
Dad First, COPD Second

Elizabeth provides support, insight and guidance for caregivers.

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Smoker's Denial

An illustration of a man shrugging. Drawing courtesy of iStockphoto.comThe other day, I reconnected with John, an old friend from my grammar school – St. Bernard’s – in what is now the revamped Meatpacking District in New York’s West Village.

This blog brought us closer, sharing our challenges and coups as caretakers.

The smoker in John’s life is his mother. On Facebook, he shared, “I just got some messages from my mom. She now faces more rounds of tests on her lungs. She had throat cancer 12 years ago but according to her, the fact that she smoked 40 years, two  packs a day, did not cause it. Stress caused it. And what reduces stress? More smoking.”

I totally relate, John. While my father didn’t get throat cancer, he was diagnosed with cancerous skin lesions on his leg a couple of years ago. His dermatologist said it was caused by cigarette smoking. My father’s reply? “Eh, maybe. It could be.”

“No, dad,” I retort. “Maybe and could be are not the correct answer choices.” Yet for as long as I can remember, my father almost always denies the effects smoking has on his body, mind, and spirit. But deep down inside, I know he knows. Otherwise, he wouldn’t advise me as often as he does about not picking up that very first cigarette.

So what’s the best way to handle smoker’s denial?

I found this informative fact sheet from the CDC on the health effects of smoking. Sharing this information with a smoker in denial is not easy. As John adds, “It's difficult to get through to my mother to begin with. But it's ok. I've settled with all that long ago.”

I have, too, but as you know, I’m like the Little Engine That Could.  

My experience with my father has been to have a friendly, calm exchange of ideas and thoughts. This way, I do not come across as a nag or controller. By allowing him to tap into what he holds true, I realize he feels empowered and free to come to terms with his health issues.

Here’s some helpful intervention information from the same CDC website. Consider taking your loved one out for a treat – coffee, ice cream, or a meal at a favorite spot – and have a soulful chat, offering support and encouragement for better health for both of you in the days to come.   


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About the Author

Elizabeth cares for her mother, a diabetic, and for her father, who suffers from COPD.