Living life with cancer (from secondhand smoke)

photo of the authorA short time ago, I participated in a community roundtable discussion sponsored by the Mesquite Citizens for Clean Indoor Air. The purpose of the event was to bring together people representing casino and bar workers, business owners, and area healthcare providers to discuss exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke in the workplace.

With more than one-third of Mesquite’s workforce employed in bars and casinos, where indoor smoking is permitted, exposure to secondhand smoke is an important issue among residents, and it showed. More than 50 concerned citizens showed up to hear what we panelists had to say.

I worked as a Nevada bartender for 17 years. In 2011, I was diagnosed with stage 4 adenocarcinoma, a form of lung cancer. As a nonsmoker, I never expected or had any reason to believe I would receive such a diagnosis.

Adenocarcinoma is the most common form of lung cancer. It has long been established that smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke can both cause lung cancer. Because I don’t carry any of the other risk factors common to causing adenocarcinoma (such as exposure to radon, uranium, arsenic, vinyl chloride, nickel chromates, coal products, mustard gas, chloromethyl ethers, gasoline and diesel exhaust), my lung cancer was likely caused by breathing tobacco smoke while I was at work.

Since my diagnosis, I have had four surgeries, six rounds of chemotherapy, 10 rounds of radiation to my spine and pelvis, and I’ve been on a targeted therapy drug for 35 months to keep my cancer in remission. Each surgery, medication and the disease itself challenges me to my utmost but, thankfully, I have a great medical team and support system to help me, including my wonderful family.

What is it like to have lung cancer?

My breathing is labored with almost every activity. I have trouble sleeping. My back is in chronic pain from tumors. And since I have been on chemotherapy, my memory is unreliable. Yet, I am grateful each day to be alive.

Hope helps me keep going, and I receive enormous inspiration from other lung cancer survivors. With them, I know I am not alone. They know from their own experiences what I’m feeling and they generously give me tips about treatments and dealing with all side effects: physical, emotional, and mental. I also have tremendous faith in God and that gives me hope and strength.

To begin eliminating secondhand smoke exposure in the workplace, we need to talk about it. That’s why I encourage everyone to get involved with Mesquite Citizens for Clean Indoor Air. They hold meetings and other events to help people understand the truth. They believe that no one should have to sacrifice their health for a paycheck and everyone has the right to breathe clean indoor air.

Mesquite Citizens for Clean Indoor Air is making a difference. Having the opportunity to work with this fine group has been a pleasure, and their work and dedication should be commended. For more information, visit the group online at http://www.smokefreemesquite.org/ or on Facebook.

Lysa Buonanno is a resident of Henderson.