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Politics

Rusty Lungs

Balloon Juice - Tue, 02/04/2020 - 17:01

Nobody’s posted on Rush Limbaugh’s lung cancer diagnosis. Someone who denied the ill effects of smoking being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer pretty much speaks for itself. It’s a rotten, horrible disease and I wouldn’t even wish it on him.

Anyway, I have a prediction: he will be dead very soon. I base my poorly informed guess on two things: he smoked for a long time, and therefore his lungs were already damaged prior to the cancer, and stage IV is really, really bad (both lungs involved, plus metastases, 10% five-year survival).

Let’s drill in on the damage smoking does, for a moment. A lot of society treats it like a trip to the casino: Some people smoke. The losers get lung cancer, heart disease, COPD, etc. The winners don’t.

But that’s not how it works. My uncle, a great guy, was a heavy smoker. He died a miserable fucking death not from cancer, heart disease, COPD or anything like it. It started with back surgery that just wouldn’t give him relief. It continued on to this odd disease called normal pressure hydrocephalus, which is where the normal pressure of the fluid around the brain crushes it. I discussed his health with my dad, a doctor, and Dad pointed out that the continued smoking was causing his problem with healing – nicotine constricts the blood vessels, which of course prevents tissue from healing. Dad felt from his clinical experience that chronic nicotine use has a lasting effect on circulation, even with heavy smokers who quit. (I don’t know if there’s research on that.) He also guessed the hydrocephalus was caused by smoking, but wasn’t sure.

Since there are so many obviously bad things about smoking, they don’t get around to telling you that even if you “win” by not getting cancer, COPD, etc., you still lose because your general health is fucked.

Rush, unfortunately, will find out just how bad smoking was for his general health when he can’t breathe with his damaged remaining lung capacity. My mom was diagnosed with stage 2/3 lung cancer (single lobe involvement, probable lymph node involvement) over two years ago, at 81. She had never smoked in her life, was active and maintained a healthy weight, and doesn’t even need high blood pressure medication. She’s still alive, after tolerating two rounds of chemo, and radiation for bone metastases. Why? Because she’s tough, but also because she’s still able to breathe fine with the remaining 3 lobes of her still-healthy lungs.

When I see her next, I’ll tell her about Rush’s demise, and I’m sure she’ll say, “that poor man.” And I will agree.

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