Thanks, Tobacco: You Killed My Mom

I just discovered this video by AARON SHAWN GRAY (known as sonicbondage) on You Tube this evening.

This is the story of a mother who went in for medical tests and was diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer. It gives you insight into what a family goes through when someone is lost to lung cancer.

Her son Shawn created this video to honor his Mom’s last wishes to tell people not to smoke and to assist him through the grieving process. Let it inspire you to take the steps that you need to take to stop smoking once and for all.

It is important to see how what you are doing right now may impact not only your life but the lives of all those who love you: Description:

This video was created over a one-year period. At first, it was just random use of a video camera, plus a few pictures taken during a visit in September of 2006. Of course, this was before we knew that Mom had a collapsed lung. She went in for tests, and it was discovered that she had Stage IV Lung Cancer.

As we learned of the cancer diagnosis in October of 2006, we tried to get Mom down to California (from Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada). It was a race against logistics and paperwork (i.e. obtaining documentation in order to cross a border and travel), which we unfortunately lost. Mom suffered a stroke, ironically on the same day as she received her birth certificate, which would have allowed her to travel to Southern California. The stroke left her left side completely paralyzed, and she was stuck in the hospital, no longer the independent woman she once was. We were summoned to fly up immediately, as we were told by her doctors that her death would not be far behind.

Mom proved them all wrong, and lived for four more months. Of course, the quality of life was minimal at best. There was no treatment, since the cancer was discovered so late, and due to the stroke. We have since learned that often times, a biopsy can knock loose cancerous material within a tumor, which can cause a stroke. It was extremely difficult to watch her suffering in a hospital bed, and wondering why her last months had to be made that much worse due to the stroke. So, Mom never did get to come see where we live in California.

We continued to videotape the entire ordeal, so that family (who couldn’t be with us at that time) could see everything. We ended up with approximately 90 minutes of raw footage, which has been edited down to the 10 minutes allowed here.

First, we have done this to honor Mom’s last wishes: tell people not to smoke.

Second, we have completed this very emotional project to honor her memory, and to help us as we continue through the grieving process.

Finally, we are aware that much of the anti-smoking media is not so real to life–it doesn’t show the suffering, what the families go through, and the pain that cigarettes actually cause. This documentary is “non-Hollywood”. We have omitted certain things that one might find offensive, including her IV, vomiting, bodily functions, and her actual death itself, which was obviously painful. Instead, we have brought many different segments together, which still conveys our overall message: DON’T SMOKE!

In a letter dated September 24, 2006, from Mom:

Try not to worry about my health. I go for a CAT-SCAN on October 4th. I should have the results about a week later. The appointments are taking a long time, so I must not be in such dire shape, or they would rush them. I’m glad you never really had the desire to smoke. What do your lungs look like after all of those years of second-hand smoke? I can’t wait to see you and Patti more often. Gotta go for now. Love Forever, Mom

To conclude, one can compare smoking cigarettes to a slow-motion car accident. At any time, you can get out of the car before it crashes. It is your choice. Furthermore, you may be driving your own car, but please remember that you take passengers along for the ride.

21 thoughts on “Thanks, Tobacco: You Killed My Mom

  1. Kirk VandenBerghe

    What a heartbreaking…and I hope…effective message for smokers. What a gift Shawn has given to any smoker who has the courage to watch this video.

    I’d like to stuff a DVD of this video in the Christmas Stockings of every tobacco company executive, so they can know the “gift” they’re giving the world…

  2. andrea

    I am so sorry to hear about your mom. tobacco killed
    my dad, too.

    i have quit more than 18 mos.

    I am sure your Mom wd love you to have a blessed life.

    Say our prayers and say ILY to them.

  3. Roz

    I have just recently stopped smoking. June 9th 2007 to be exact! I must admit that I was definately having a hard time during the first few days.I believe it was day 3 in particular that made me feel as though I couldn’t stop.Like many people, I sought support online.Everything sounded like everything else I had ever heard. Then …I happened to stumble accross ,”Thanks tobacco ..”You killed my mom”. I have to admit that when it started to get a little heavy I didn’t think I could continue to watch it, but I forced myself to face the harsh reality of it all! I am now into my third week of being smoke -free and I would really like you to know that your video has been my smoking deterrent. I admire your strenghth and compassion for others and thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing such an intimate part of your life.Thanks to you and your mother allowing the public to see her during her most vulnerable moments …I know that I am forever smoke free! Rosalind C Coles

  4. robbster

    Hi Rosalind and Andrea,

    This is not *my video.* I found it on YouTube and have been trying to contact the owner.

    He did grant permission for his video to be embedded or shared in order to get the message out. I am hoping that he will visit our site soon to make his own statement about this video.

    Congratulations on maintaining and nurturing a smokefree lifestyle.

    Warm regards,

  5. Aaron Shawn Gray

    I thank you all for elevating my personal video of my Mom into an inspiration for good. I admit, it is very raw and emotional…but it was as it unfolded with no preconceived idea of it being used as anti-smoking inspiration at first…

    At the time I had no idea my Mom was going to die. I knew in September 2006 that her left lung was collapsed, but they hadn’t even begun to test her until late Sept. and early October. The hospital had a waiting list to see the oncologist and she had her stroke in November before that even happened. She did have a chest X-ray which showed a golf ball sized tumor pressing against her collapsed lung (left). They did a biopsy 2 weeks before her stroke (which could have contributed to the stroke) after that she was throwing up and not eating.

    After she landed in the hospital with a stroke in Nov. 2006, I flew up…Immediately in case she was going then and didn’t even bring my video camera or camera. We were given a disposable camera which I took some farewell shots of her before we had to fly home. I really thought that was the last I’d see of her.

    In December, we went back again to be by her side and I brought my video camera and camera this time because I wanted to capture what little bit of my Mom that was left to give to my brother (11-years younger than myself) who is in jail and has been in there through all of my Mom’s terrible ordeal. I didn’t want him missing out on seeing her while she was still talking and determined to fight this.

    I also wanted to give a copy to my two cousins that weren’t making an attempt to see her. (Living in the same area as her) Since my one cousin’s common-law wife smokes and mooched cigs off of my Mom all the time still smoked and my other cousin and his Mom (who live together) and chain-smoke together, I figured that would tally up to four people (my brother too) in my immediate family that could benefit from seeing the damage that smoking really can cause over time. I just wanted them all to quit!

    So my last cherished memories of Mom wrap up like this in chronological order:

    1-March 2006—I visit my Mom for the first time in two years (since moving to California), as I just attained my Green Card and now am allowed in Canada…sad, but true. I videotape her and took some pictures because I just missed her so much!

    2-September 2006—I visit Mom and we celebrate my Birthday together and find out she’s in trouble with her health…collapsed lung issue. I start forcing the issue of her getting her replacement birth certificate so I can fly her to California and spoil her with love and excitement.

    3-November 2006—I visit her in the hospital after she has her stroke. I was actually on the phone with her when she had it and they called the ambulance while I hung on the line. It was also the same day she got my letter with spending money and her replacement birth certificate. 

    4-December 2006—I visit her again to be with her through the holidays because she is alone (no husband or boyfriend) and as mentioned before, the family is a tattered dysfunctional mess not even visiting her.

    5-February 2007—I get paperwork to fill out for a nursing home because they are going to release her for long-term care because she is stable. My hopes are up and I’m thinking of trying to get her a motorized wheelchair so she can be independent again. My brother is out of jail and by her side…then he breaks the law again (shoplifting) and is in jail within a week and a half. (He gets released July 31st 2007)

    6-March 2007—I get a call saying she took a turn for the worse (having pneumonia) and I need to come now. I take a red-eye and get to her late in the afternoon. She can’t open her eyes or move at all. All I see is her awful fight to breathe through bubbles in her lungs. I decide that as horrible as it looks, I need to video this stage of it to show all the people that are avoiding a visit to her now (my family shrub) two days later, I am told by a male nurse she is going fast and to call family…Only one family member came (the only non-smoking one) but he was 15 minutes late for her demise. I’m kind of glad because he is an emotional baby and would have been more of a distraction to my connection with my Mom. I think my Mom would agree!

    To sum it up, most of my last trip I was alone with her and all before that were my wife and me. I felt a duty to be with her in this condition. I even left my job in December 15th 2006 because the phone calls, updates, trips and interaction with the medical staff wore me down to a shell. I couldn’t focus on my work and it pained me to be 2,200 miles away from the only parent I ever knew…and loved dearly. She was too good to me to be left alone in a hospital dying for four months straight. I still think I could have been there more for her, but it was so damn expensive and cost me around $10,000 in expenses with three trips…it would be nice to get that hard-earned money saved up to invest in my music career back from the tobacco companies that profited from my Mom’s addiction.

    I know the cigarettes killed her and I can’t even be near family or friends that smoke anymore. I hope this video helps at least one family avoid this catastrophe…then it would have meant my Mom’s existence helped save lives. I’m just feeling robbed of my Mom and need to feel that it wasn’t for nothing.

    Take care,

  6. robbster

    I hope that you find solace in the knowledge that you have inspired so many people to quit smoking!!!I am now on day 25 and am partially indebted to your mom and you for sharing your video!!!I’d like to thank you from the bottom of my heart!!!I am not sure that I would have had quite the same resolve to stop ,were it not for your mom and you! I wish you peace and comfort . Forever thankful, Rosalind Coles

    Reposted by robbster – it appears that Rosilind’s most recent comment (posted at 3:24 EST today) did not post to the blog.

  7. Angie

    I just lost my dad watching your tape was like seeing it all happen again. I lost my dad july 17 2007 at 3:50 pm. It is so very had to cope. The ending factor happen so fast I saw him Friday he was up and moving then we get a call monday night. Same signs that you tape. he got a fever then a couple hours later he was gone. I hope that this tape you made shows people that smoking kills.

  8. robbster

    In the end that is what Aaron and his Mom made this tape for – to show people that smoking really does kill.

    I am so sorry for your loss.


  9. Beth


    Just saw your tape on youtube and tried to contact you via myspace, but I’m not a member. First of all I am so very terribly sorry you lost your mother to smoking. I lost my father (my best friend) to smoking almost three years ago. It took me a while, but I finally was able to quit the smoking cycle for good and have been quit over a year now. I see that others qmail you and talk about how they quit and have queestions. If there is ANY thing I can do to help you and your mother’s quest and help reach others, I’m honored to do so and please feel free to gmail me…..

    🙂 Beth

  10. luckystar089

    I can relate to this story so well. Although I have worked in tobacco control and prevention, including smoking cessation, for about 11 years now… unfortunately my dear mother was also diagnosed with lung cancer. Small cell (oat cell) carcinoma. We went to the ER one day at the urging of her family physician to get her HEART checked out. They informed my mother and me that she had lung cancer. 5 weeks later she passed. Small cell carcinoma of the lung is almost exclusively related to TOBACCO. It spreads very quickly and is so awful to watch a loved one die from this type of disease. There is nothing you can do. No cure.
    I was so proud, as my mother had quit smoking 6 years prior, with the patch. I honestly believe that had she not quit, she would have gone a lot sooner. She had 6 quality years with her grandchildren, children, and her family beyond when she quit.

    Anyone out there who wants to quit, call 1-800-QUIT NOW. This is a free quality counseling resource that will put you on a program no matter where you live in the U.S. Canada has a Quit Line also, as does Mexico. Call this number and they can give you help that you need. Do it for yourself, do it for your loved ones.

    I’m praying for our world… that tobacco will one day no longer be accepted. It is the only legal product that when used as intended, kills its consumers.

  11. jeann

    I planned to quit and Googled some blogs, videos about quitting and found this video…I watched it and realized that it is actually happening, people are dying.
    we hear about statistics of deaths caused by smoking quite often but I have not actually seen a person dying because of smoking and after watching this video I realized how serious and harmful smoking is…

    *stop smoking before smoking stops you*

  12. Deb

    Hi, I just wanted to share that my mother and father were both smokers. My mother stopped smoking after my brother and I became so sick in the car with her smoking that we fell out of the car and puked on the lawn. She knew she couldn’t continue it any longer. She was coughing and sick all the time. My brother would take away the cigarettes and throw them out after tearing them up. We continued to do it until she had quit for good. My father didn’t live with us and continued to smoke until he died of lung cancer at the age of 54. He smoked until the day he died. I am thankful for my brother’s determination. Without it my mother would not have made it as long as she did. It does help to have the support of those around you to quit smoking. I think just knowing what it is doing to you and your loved ones should help a person find the determination to stick with it, and quit for good.

  13. Carrie

    I went through the same experience with my mom from Dec 05 – March 08. I kept a photo journal up until the end. No one should ever suffer from such an insidious demon, as lung cancer. The photo series was mainly to show people how bad smoking is, but I soon realized how therapeutic the photo series was for me and my family’s grieving process.

  14. Sandy

    Hi Carrie, Thanks for sharing your experience, and sad that you lost your mom to lung cancer. That wasn’t to long ago. What a meaningful gesture to create a photo journal. Bet it helped a lot of people. Take care, and best wishes ..

  15. Joyce

    Aaron, I just watched your video of your mother’s death from smoking. Thank you for sharing a most painful experience. And I thank Robbster also for posting it to alt-support-stopsmoking in Google Groups. I quit smoking more than 11 years ago with the help of AS3, but I still hang out there because I truly want never to even think of lighting up again. I doubt that I would, but one never knows. I am so sorry that I smoked throughout my two sons babyhood, childhood and young manhood. They have never smoked and for that I am grateful. I believe that anyone who sees this video will take it to heart and quit smoking. I know it’s difficult but it’s worth your life to do it.

  16. Teresa

    I am sorry for you loss. I commend you and your mother for filming this very sad video. I believe it will help many to either quit smoking or never start smoking. Thanks.

  17. Loretta

    Aaron – I just went through the same thing with my mother on August 15th, 2010. I was there watching as her breathing got worse and worse, struggling to get a breath. My mother chose not to have chemo and radiation after battling rectal cancer in 2001. She did not want to go through that again, as it would not have helped her live any longer anyway. I also recorded a few moments of my mother struggling, I think to help me in some way…most do not realize what a slow, painful, horrible death lung cancer really is, for the individual, as well as the family that watches them take their last breath. I was holding my mother as she took her last as she was holding me when I took my first. It is something that I could have never imagined. It was like it was from a horror movie; although it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, I wouldn’t change it because I was able to be there for my mother till the end. I am still having a very hard time with her death, seeing what I seen her go through. They say that it will get easier. I am still waiting for that moment to happen. Thank you for sharing your story and trying to help others in the most hardest of times with yourself, mother and family. God Bless You.

  18. Rebecca Barton

    I just lost my mom April 19, 2011. Her 50 year, 2 pack a day habit killed her, but not before it took both of her legs, her ability to breathe without oxygen, her independence, and her quality of life. I was her caregiver for four years before she got so sick she required round-the-clock care. She was in the nursing home just shy of a year. I scattered her ashes two weeks ago Sunday. I am inconsolable…beyond devastated. It was so avoidable. All she had to do was listen to the doctors and quit while she still had time. My condolences on the loss of your own beloved mother. Nobody should ever have to watch their loved ones suffer and die the way we had to. It’s still ripping my heart out, and it always will.

  19. Sandy

    Rebecca, we are so saddened by your loss. We can’t begin to imagine how the last four years effected you. We send you an abundance of healing wishes. And we want to thank you for posting your experience. We wish everyone who smokes would “REALLY” get how cigarettes rip people off on so many levels. Our heart goes out to you.


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