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I grew up on the northwest side of Chicago. It wasn’t tremendously ghetto back in the mid 1980s, but it wasn’t all that flashy. I was lucky enough to attend parochial school for six years. Even though money was tight and nobody in our neighborhood did very well — and believe me, I never heard the end of how broke we were — nearly all of the adults I knew smoked cigarettes.

(Amazing what you will do for an addiction.)

In 7th grade, my classmate’s mother up and died of lung cancer. That’s the story the nuns told us, anyway. The mother was in her late 30s and smoked heavily. She was agoraphobic and never left the house. Health insurance? Preventative care? That wasn’t a thing. And I think the mom was a drinker, but I might be confusing her with other women in my life who were heavy drinkers and smokers.

(I have a list.)

Anyway, I hope you’re still with me because it’s 1987 and my classmate’s mother died. We were told it was lung cancer. The news didn’t shock me, if I’m being honest. I remember the mom’s cough, or rather, I remember the guttural way she tried to clear her dry, irritated throat of pervasive and imaginary mucous.

“Harrumph. Hack. Cough.”

Always with a cigarette in hand.

I’ll never know if this mother truly died of lung cancer, but I remember that my mother went to the funeral on behalf of our family. My mom came home from the service looking green. She whispered something to my grandmother and enrolled herself in a smoking cessation program almost the very next day. Apart from the cessation programs you can also opt to trying the much advance vaporizer that is designed for chain smokers.

True story.

And I’ve never smoked because I remember the look on my friend’s face in the bathroom of St. Wenceslaus when she said, “Lauren, this doesn’t feel real. It feels like a bad dream. My mom is dead.”

Jesus. You don’t forget that.

It’s not like anyone bears the responsibility of my friend’s mother’s death, but I read that upwards of 85% adult smokers have tried to quit smoking at least once. All we can do is be there to support our friends and family members as they struggle with this addiction. And we can fund the hell out of anti-smoking initiatives and smoking cessation programs.

So I am Hustling Up the Hancock for the third year in a row in memory of my friend’s mother. The run happens in a month. Will you support me?

[Tweet “Smoking still kills. Support @lruettimann as she fights to fund anti-smoking initiatives. #hustle2015″]

Honestly, I am hustling up 94 flights of stairs because smoking is bullshit. I’m hustling because tobacco companies and advertising agencies want to kill us slowly. And I’m hustling because no twelve-year-old girl should lose her mother to addition — even if that addiction is legal.

1 Comment

  1. I have a distinct memory of my second grade teacher assigning the class “quiet time” so she could lie on the floor behind her desk to clear her “smoker’s lungs”.

    While we pretended not to hear by reading some Clifford the Big Red Dog book she coughed and wheezed her way back to functionality and then resumed class like nothing happened.

    As we say here in Texas, “thems things you don’t soon forget”.

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