Rico, age 48, started smoking at age 14. As a high school student, he had access to tobacco because his father was a smoker. “My dad would ask me to light his cigarette, and instead of just handing it to him, I would take some puffs first. My dad would laugh, and this encouraged me,” Rico said. Before he knew it, smoking cigarettes became an addiction.
Rico continued smoking into adulthood because most of his friends were smokers and cigarettes were always available. Then he experienced a personal tragedy. “My dad died of liver cancer, but that didn’t ring a bell for me, so I kept smoking. My doctors told me to quit smoking, but the warnings fell on deaf ears. I was already addicted.”
When he was 45, Rico began feeling sick. Even though he didn’t feel well, he kept smoking. A biopsy (a test in which cells from a person’s body are examined under a microscope) showed that Rico had cancer. He and his family were devastated.
In addition to his physical recovery, Rico’s emotional recovery was a long and challenging process. “It was a very difficult time. I became depressed because I was unemployed and needed a long time to recover. I was too sick to work, and we lost our house because I couldn’t afford the mortgage. We lost everything we had,” he said. Rico knew he needed additional support, so, after his surgery, he moved to California to be near his sister.
Once there, Rico’s wife found a job as a nurse, and he was alone most of the time. “I studied a lot and looked for jobs online. When I was suffering from depression after my surgery, my wife lifted me up with positive thoughts about my skills to start and manage a business,” he said.
To fight his depression, Rico focused on personal development and leadership skills. He eventually started two companies. “I currently serve as the CEO of a home-care corporation and manage operations at a vocational school as its executive director,” he said.
Of all of Rico’s accomplishments, one of his proudest is his commitment to quit smoking and to stay quit. “When I found out I had cancer, I quit smoking. I just wanted to be healthy—and be able to watch my children grow up,” he said.
Rico is a cancer survivor who feels passionate about sharing his story and educating others about the health consequences of smoking. In 2013, he started working for a nonprofit organization in Oakland, California, and became a volunteer for its program to help people stop smoking. “As a former smoker, I know how hard it is to quit. Addiction is a very difficult battle to win, but it can be done,” he said. Rico says that ever since he’s quit smoking, time spent with his wife and children is even more precious. “Now that I’ve quit, I can be a part of my children’s lives as they mature.”
Rico, age 48, California; smokefree since 2011.