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Quit smoking cigarettes right now

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Allow me to issue a couple of warnings before we get started.

First of all, if anybody tells the other person who lives at our house that I mentioned her in the newspaper, you may be responsible for my demise because, as I've pointed out before, we have an arrangement: I don't talk about her in print and she doesn't stab me in my sleep with a butcher knife. So, please - keep it to yourself.

Secondly, I want to talk about lung cancer, hardly the hilarious kind of topic smart-alecks like myself prefer to jabber about.

OK, that's enough foreplay.

Let's start with the fact that November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

I know, I know. Every month is devoted to roughly 500 to 750 different causes, many of them serious and often boring, even the ones that are life-threatening.

But it wouldn't really hurt you to know that this year, lung cancer will kill more Americans than any other cancer. In fact, it will claim more lives than the next four leading cancer killers - breast, prostate, colon and pancreas cancers.

That isn't something I just dreamed up, of course; it comes from the American Lung Association, which is behind this Lung Cancer Awareness Month thing.

When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer more than a decade ago, I found it sobering to learn how pathetically unaware of the disease men were, and the best example of that was how much awareness women had already stirred up over breast cancer.

I don't know if you've noticed, but the whole world - everyone from football players to local news anchors - is wearing pink and singing the praises of regular breast exams and urging every woman to stay on top of this disease.

Since the new millennium dawned, I think, men have stepped up their game a bit, and I do hear people talking about prostate awareness, exams, treatment options, etc. - even though it involves such touchy topics as pooping and peeing and, you know, sex.

But I see no such movement into the light where lung cancer is concerned.

It's still hiding out, being treated sort of like the dirty secret cancer that polite people don't like to talk about.

My dad died of lung cancer. So did the dad of one of my best friends. Then, a little more than two year ago, we learned that the other person who lives at our house had lung cancer - and suddenly it was even more real to me.

Fortunately, hers was detected and treated early - thanks to a primary care nurse practitioner at Fanno Creek Clinic, a pulmonologist at Legacy, and finally a pair of great surgeons who removed a section of her lung at Good Samaritan - and she's been cancer-free for 3½ years now.

One of the first revelations about lung cancer, of course, is how preventable it is. Something like 90 percent of the cases are directly attributable to smoking - either cigarette smoking or else pipe and cigar smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke. There are some others, including exposure to radon, asbestos and hydrocarbons, but most of the time this disease is brought on by our own behavior.

I smoked cigarettes for 20 years. My wife and I both quit in September 1982, meaning we've been 'pure' now for 29 years. Because that was such a long time ago, her doctor told her that her particular cancer probably had nothing to do with her past as a smoker.

If I could leave cigarette smokers with only one thought it would be that you really do have to stop smoking. It truly is a killer, and the odds are, if you do it long enough, you will be one of its victims.

So stop it. For your own good.

As someone who sat by the bed of the person I care most about in this world, after she'd had her chest sawed open and a good-size hunk of her insides carved out, I promise you don't really want to go through that - either as the patient or the loved one on the sidelines.

And you do have the power to avoid that fate. I know you can quit this habit because I did, and I'm not especially strong or brave.

The American Lung Association offers two programs to help you quit for good. One is the Freedom From Smoking Program at ffsonline.org. The other is the Tobacco Quit Line/Lung Help Line at 1-800-LUNG-USA.

And if you just want to ask a normal, weak-willed person who's been there, done that, you're welcome to call me at 503-546-0737.

Former editor of the Lake Oswego Review and former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Mikel Kelly handles special sections for Community Newspapers and contributes a regular column.