Patrick Swayze smokes despite having cancer

Patient Expert

Reports have been surfacing that despite a recent diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, Patrick Swayze is still smoking his usual two packs of cigarettes a day. What would drive an otherwise intelligent person to do such a thing to his body?

Swayze has been known to be a heavy smoker for many years. Research shows that smokers are more likely to suffer from all forms of cancers, not just lung cancer. But research also shows that quitting smoking has an immediate positive impact upon one's health.

Because Swayze is undergoing chemotherapy, we can presume he wants to fight this disease and improve his chances of surviving. Continuing to smoke puts a serious damper on his body's ability to successfully win this battle.

I think I know exactly why Swayze hasn't quit smoking yet and I sympathize with him. Smoking becomes one's constant companion, a friend in times of stress. And what could be more stressful than hearing that you have cancer and might only have a few more weeks to live? His inability to quit is not surprising.

When I was researching my stop-smoking book, I encountered many stories of people battling lung cancer and other diseases, yet they still puffed away. Then there are the stories of people with oral cancer who get tracheotomies with ventilators to help them breathe. Soon after returning home, they start smoking through the ventilators.

I doubt that few of these people would say they are smoking because they choose to. I would guess they are smoking because they have to. Smokers who get ill because of their habit do not automatically wake up and say, "Wow, I think smoking must be bad for me - I guess I'll quit" No, we all know it's bad for us - it's written right there on every pack of cigarettes.

When I was still smoking, I used to worry that I would get seriously ill and be unable to quit. I felt so trapped by my addiction that I was not certain I would be able to quit even if I was put on a ventilator or was told I only had a few months to live.

And it's really a matter of degree. All smokers suffer health consequences from smoking. Some of us get lucky and are able to quit before the death knell is struck. Others are not so lucky.

I understand Patrick Swayze's dilemma. It's tough to quit when everything is going well. It must be so much harder to quit when life has dealt us a bum rap. I wish him all the strength in the world to overcome this addiction and this illness. We can only hope that he wakes up one morning realizing that he does have a choice. He does not have to be victimized by his addiction, too.