June 15, 2017
What do cigarettes, grandchildren, dogs and a hospital have in common? For 67-year-old cancer patient Bill Brown, everything. That’s why he is alive and “feeling 100 percent better.”
Between November 2015 and January 2016, Bill estimates he was at Northwest Community Hospital (NCH) in Arlington Heights 40-some days. He says that put the sudden brakes on his 50-year smoking habit. “Nobody would bring me a cigarette in the hospital,” he says.
Keeping off the cigarettes proved another challenge, but Bill had help from the NCH Courage to Stay Tobacco-Free Support Group led by Juli Aistars, a nurse navigator, and Mary McNally, a cardiac rehabilitation nurse. “It’s a lot like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous),” explains Bill. “You go in there, tell your story, blow off some steam and let your frustrations out. That’s about it.”
Thanks to being off cigarettes, “Now, I get hugs and kisses from the grandkids,” says Bill, who was a resident of Wheeling for 44 years before moving to Wood Dale six months ago. “Before, I would smell from cigarette smoke and the kids didn’t want to be around me.”
So, how are dogs involved in Bill’s recovery?
One of the occasions for Bill’s hospitalization was sudden bleeding in his gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Bill had his own dog to thank for alerting nearby friends, who transported him to NCH’s Emergency Department in time for treatment. “That dog was very important to me,” Bill says.
Equally important were the dogs that came to visit him during a particularly long hospital stay at NCH. The animals were part of NCH’s Animal-Assisted Therapy Program.
“When he was in the hospital, he was crabby, depressed; he wanted to sulk,” says Bill’s wife, Mary, who has never smoked. “But, boy, when a dog came into his room, the lights went on. He became a different person.”
Bill recalls, “One of the therapy dogs, Logan, was wagging his tail and started licking my face. He was all furry and fuzzy.” “No, he didn’t lick your face,” says Mary. “You licked his face.”
Every day, Bill would sit in bed and “look down the [hospital hallway], waiting for the next dog to come,” Mary continues. “When he came home from the hospital, I had [dog trading cards] stuck all over the window. That was Bill’s shrine to dogs.”
Bill’s own dog died just a few weeks after he was hospitalized for internal bleeding, but he remains forever grateful to that animal and all the other dogs that cheered him up while he was being treated for large B-cell lymphoma, a cancer that originates in cells of the immune system, at NCH. Today Bill is in remission from the disease – and enjoying life.
He says, “When my doctor told me I had cancer and had to go through chemotherapy and everything else, that was the point at which I realized I had to stop smoking.”
Bill encourages smokers to attend the Courage to Stay Tobacco-Free Support Group at NCH.
To celebrate his one-year anniversary of being tobacco-free earlier this year, Bill bought himself a golf cart – an “investment” that is proving to be a whole lot cheaper than his former pack-a-day smoking habit.