Woman encourages others to quit smoking after losing dad, several family members to lung cancer

Cigarette sales up for first time in 20 years
Posted: 12:45 AM, Nov 05, 2021
Updated: 2021-11-05 12:44:39-04

There's nothing like the bond between a father and his daughter.

“He was my world," said Debbie Gilmore. "He was a police officer, and he basically just did everything for me and with me.”

“So he's gone a lot and he worked a lot of hard hours, but he always took time to be with me, like at 11 o'clock at night when I came, or 10 o'clock when The Tonight Show was on, and I'd come down and say, ‘Dad, I really needed to talk,'" she recalled. "And we didn't have pause, so I would be talking to him during the show and then, you know. So that was the type of father he was, very hands-on.”

But Debbie's time with her dad was cut short.

“He called me in December and he says, ‘Hey, Debbie.’ He says, ‘Guess what? I'm losing all kinds of weight and it's great and my pants are falling down,'" she remembered. "And he worked out, he exercised and did a lot of stuff like that. And he called me and told me this, when I said, ‘Dad.’ I said, ‘That doesn't sound right.’ I said, ‘Have you been to the doctor?’ And he's like, no. He says, ‘This is great. I don't want it to stop.’ Well, then a couple of weeks later, he called me back and he says, ‘Deb, they found that I have a tumor on my lung.’ And I said, ‘What's going on?’ And he says, ‘I don't know, I'm going to go in and check.’”

Debbie's father was diagnosed with lung cancer. On April 3, 2001, three months after receiving the diagnosis, he passed away.


“The end of March he called and he says, ‘You know, I think it's time that you start coming home,"" Debbie said. "And so I got on a plane, and I called him when I reached Chicago, because you can't go directly to Kansas City. So I called him when I got to Chicago and I said, ‘Hey, Dad. I'm almost home’. And he says, ‘Oh good, Debbie.’ He says, ‘I really am looking forward to seeing you.’ They had taken him back to the hospital. And so we got into the hospital and that night when I got in, I went in and he didn't recognize me. So I was glad I got that last little talk.”

Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women, as well as the leading cause of cancer death for both men and women.

“We see a lot of lung cancer here in Waco," said Dr. Matt Pattillo, a pulmonologist with Ascension Providence. "Most lung cancer that we see is smoking-related. I would say roughly, probably 80% of the cases that we see are smoking-related.”

“The reason lung cancer is the most deadly cancer is that you don't really have symptoms until it's pretty far progressed," he continued.

Debbie's father is not her only family member to suffer from cancer. Both of her grandfathers, her grandmother and her cousin contracted either lung or throat cancer. They were all smokers.

“How does that make you feel, you know, seeing all of these family members suffer from lung cancer? Is that a worry that you have moving forward?” asked reporter, Sydney Isenberg.

“It's always in the back of my mind," Debbie responded. "I quit smoking because, like I said, when my, my grandmother found out she had lung cancer, my dad stopped smoking and that's when I started. Brilliant, huh? And so I started smoking, and I smoked heavy. I mean like three packs a day. And I smoked for 20, 30 years. And finally on, in 2009, I stopped smoking, and I haven't looked back since.“

In 2020, cigarette sales increased by 0.8 billion units from 2019. It was the first increase in cigarette sales in 20 years.

“I have several patients who have been long-time smokers who have quit, you know, over the last couple of years, whenever, who have started smoking again during the pandemic," said Dr. Pattillo.

“The pandemic brought out a lot of anxiety and mental health problems that were probably right under the surface that weren't quite manifest yet, and a pandemic really exposed those," he continued. "And smoking has kind of come up in some of these patients that I've seen because of their stress levels, and the smoking helps bring those levels down.”

So what about e-cigarettes?

“There are some chemicals in e-cigarettes that have potential to cause cancer," said Dr. Pattillo. "They are generally thought of as less, what we would call, a carcinogenic than a combustible cigarette or a nicotine actually smoking tobacco, but the risk is there. And I can't say that there's zero risk of getting lung cancer with e-cigarettes, but I think it's, everybody would agree that there's likely to be less risk of lung cancer with an e-cigarette than there is with a real cigarette.”

Last month, the FDA approved the marketing of e-cigarettes, the first authorization of its kind for the agency. However, Dr. Pattillo says Central Texas should not run out and pick up a vape.

“The FDA made a good point in to say listen, we're approving this, but we don't condone this," he explained. "We're not saying... this is just like it's legal to sell cigarettes in America and the FDA allows that to happen. This, that, that is what they're saying with these e-cigarettes. They're not saying, Hey, this is, this is safe. Everybody has started doing it. This is FDA approved. It's FDA approved to market and to sell these products, but it's not approved to be healthy or a safe alternative to not smoking anything.”

"I realized how much time I wasted smoking," said Debbie. "I mean, it was like, I was either smoking a cigarette, just putting one out, thinking about the next one. And my entire life was wrapped around having a cigarette."

Debbie is proud of her decision to put down the cigarettes. Even 20 years after losing her father to lung cancer, she knows he would be proud too.

“Do you think if he was here, he would be proud that you eventually quit?” asked Isenberg.

“Okay. Oh, I hope so. I think he would be, yeah," Debbie replied.

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November marks Lung Cancer Awareness Month. If you need help quitting cigarettes, click here for tips and resources.