Julia tried her first cigarette out of curiosity when she was in her early twenties. She had left her large family in Mississippi for the adventure and opportunities of living in New York. Within a year of that first puff, Julia was addicted and smoking a pack a day. Getting sick never entered her mind. She continued to smoke for many years, and at age 49, Julia was diagnosed with colon cancer, which is a danger for all smokers.
Julia’s first symptoms were cramps, gas, diarrhea, and vomiting, which she tried to manage on her own for a while. One day her pain and bloating got much, much worse. She was back living in Mississippi—raising her young son near her family: her mother, three sisters, and three brothers. Her sister took her to the doctor for a colonoscopy, a simple exam of the colon that uses a narrow tube and a tiny camera. That exam helped saved her life.
“I will never forget that day. I was so sick. They found the tumor in my colon and rushed me to the hospital,” said Julia. The tumor completely blocked her intestines, which can be life threatening. Julia had surgery right away, followed by months of chemotherapy to treat the cancer. She also needed an ostomy bag, which was taped to a hole in her abdomen to collect waste.
“When my son came to the hospital and saw me laying there with the tubes and stuff, he just broke down. He was just 9 years old then. But he just broke down,” said Julia.
Over the years, Julia had tried to quit smoking. She stopped while she was pregnant and made every effort not to smoke around her son. Family members kept urging her to quit. “My niece said, ‘Think about your child. What means more to you, him or the cigarettes?’ I knew they weren’t good for me, but I was addicted.”
Julia’s family members kept after her to quit smoking, and they supported her in the first hard days as she adjusted to life without cigarettes. “My colostomy was an important part of my healing process. It allowed me to heal and prevented me from getting an infection or worse. I would do it again, because it saved my life.”
Today, Julia says her life is so much better without cigarettes—her energy, her breathing, and her strong voice in the church choir. “My singing voice is better than it ever has been.”
Julia hopes that people who hear her story about smoking and colon cancer will quit as soon as possible. “If I can just help one person to realize that it’s not worth your time. It’s not worth your health,” said Julia. “Think about your family and just think about your life!”