His last few weeks of life gave personal meaning to our state’s motto: “Dum Spiro Spero.” It means “While I breathe, I hope.”
Carroll – more affectionately known as “The Dawg” – was diagnosed with lung cancer on June 1st. He lived only 24 days after that diagnosis.
The Dawg had been short of breath for a while. We thought it could have been due to a little weight gain, getting older, or even his weak aortic valve. All kinds of tests were done.
A June 1st visit with the pulmonologist, though, confirmed our worst fears: The Dawg had Stage 3-B lung cancer. We were told that the average life expectancy from that point was 10 months. “Average” was stressed. The Dawg, as it turned out, was not average.
He was a tall man with broad shoulders and was extremely active his entire life. He was the picture of health and of an energetic lifestyle. An avid sportsman, he had a promising career leading to major league baseball when he chose to serve his country in the military many years ago.
Even with the diagnosis of lung cancer, The Dawg had hope. He hoped to continue for a while in his usual on-the-go lifestyle. The day after his diagnosis, we went to the beach and spent five wonderful days there.
Carroll did not fear cancer. He feared lingering; he feared being dependent; he feared being pitied. As long as he could breathe on his own, though, he had hope. It was his own “Dum Spiro Spero.”
Finally, though, he was put on oxygen 24/7. Ultimately, this proved to be insufficient. He chose not to use a ventilator. Yes, he had hope but only as long as he could do the breathing on his own.
I didn’t know Carroll when he was a smoker, which he apparently had been in his early years. It was that long-ago smoking which crushed his hope and ended his life.
I’ve never really liked being around smoke.
In the 1970s, as a member of the SC House of Representatives, I introduced our state’s first bill to restrict smoking in public buildings. Yet I held out when it came to private buildings. I never wanted the government to intrude too much in private lives or in private businesses.
I’m still not convinced that it is the government’s role to tell people they cannot smoke or to tell private business owners that they must not allow smoking in their establishments.
However, I held a loved one in my arms as he struggled to breathe and as he eventually took his last breath. There is nothing quite like seeing a once-healthy person struggling to breathe and finally giving up the hope of life when he could no longer breathe.
I don’t think anyone could spend the last 24 hours of life with someone who is dying of lung cancer, struggling for breath and still continue to smoke.
Eventually, smoking literally takes one’s breath away.
And when it takes one’s breath away, it also takes away hope.
“Dum Spiro Spero.”