Rose grew up in a small Texas town and never planned to leave her extended family or the outdoorsy life she built there. She enjoyed fishing, hiking, and working outdoors. She started smoking at age 13 by stealing cigarettes from her father. Before long, she was spending her school lunch money on cigarettes instead of food. Rose gradually settled into a two-pack-a-day addiction. It was an addiction that nearly caused her to lose a foot—and caused her lung cancer at age 58.
Pain and weakness in her legs sent Rose to the doctor in the first place, when her symptoms got so bad she could hardly walk. Smoking had caused the blood vessels in Rose’s legs to fill with plaque—a condition called peripheral artery disease. “My doctor said only a pinhole was left to push blood to my foot, and I could lose it without surgery,” she said. Before Rose could have the leg surgery, a chest x-ray showed that she had lung cancer—and the focus turned to saving her life.
Doctors removed part of one lung, but then problems kept Rose in the hospital for a month with a chest tube. “The whole time it was in there, it was painful,” she said. “And you just pray that today will be the day it comes out. And the last 3 or 4 days, I literally cried,” said Rose. Finally, the chest tube came out with a sharp pain. “It hurt more coming out than when it was in!”
Rose’s family and friends took care of her through many chemotherapy and radiation treatments—and then through another surgery after the cancer spread to her brain. “We are very close,” she said. Rose had to move in with one of her sons in a big city to be near her doctors—far away from the small town life she loved.
“I regret picking up smoking in the first place,” said Rose. “Every day, I had to get up with a cigarette and go to sleep with a cigarette,” she said. “It’s just addictive.”
The threat of losing her foot prompted Rose to quit smoking, before she even knew she had lung cancer. And quitting wasn’t as hard as she expected, even after smoking for many years. “Once I had set my mind to it, I didn’t struggle,” said Rose.
After quitting, her cough went away. She felt better, breathed better, and could walk farther without losing her breath. Foods tasted better and even smelled better. “I love being able to smell tortillas cooking in the oven and fresh beans cooking on the stove,” said Rose. And although she never had surgery on her leg, quitting smoking stopped the clogged blood vessels from getting worse and helped Rose regain some of the blood flow to her foot. Her leg pain went away.
Between treatments that lasted for nearly 2 years, Rose relished good days that she spent with her family and friends, especially her three grandchildren. “They mean the world to me,” said Rose. Her youngest grandbaby, named Tomorro Rose, was born around the time Rose started her fight against lung cancer.
She hoped that sharing her story would get other people to quit smoking before they get sick. “Cigarettes harm. They kill,” said Rose. “Try your best to quit. And if you don’t smoke, don’t pick it up. It’s not worth it.”
Rose died in January 2015, at age 60 from cancer caused by smoking.