Today will mark the American Cancer Society’s 40th Great America Smoke-out. It is a day to encourage smokers to make a plan to quit smoking, at least for today, if not longer, and hopefully forever. By quitting, even for one day, smokers will be taking an important step towards a healthier life, one that can lead to reducing a cancer risk.

Despite all of the warnings 43.8 million Americans continue to smoke cigarettes which equates to one in 5 adults. There are also 13.2 million cigar smokers and 2.2 million pipe smokers in the U.S. as well. If you know a smoker, encourage them to stop at least for one day in hopes a second and third day will follow.

How I never smoked in my life is beyond me. Both of my parents were regular smokers. My Dad died from Alzheimer’s Disease, but my Mom suffered from Emphysema and COPD. To her credit, she lived the last 3 years of her life without a cigarette after suffering a breathing episode.  Unfortunately, it was too late.  Those three years saw her relegated to having to use a breathing machine. It started by setting the machine on 1 for minimal oxygen usage then it became 2 and then 3 and 4 and eventually as high as the machine could go at number 5. She knew the end was coming.  She needed more oxygen and her machine could not provide it.

I sat with her for the final hours of her life and watched her struggle to do what you and I take for granted, to breathe. In the end, her breaths were painful to watch until there were no more. In some ways I wish I wasn’t there to see her die and in other ways I am glad I was there. I would not wish that on my worst enemy. If I could only convince my smoking friends of the pain she went through as well as the pain I went through watching it happen, they would have quit yesterday.

Quitting is hard but there is help. The American Cancer Society has established an 800 number for smokers wanting to stop.  That number is 1-800-227-2345. If you are a smoker, I pray you will make the call.