Dear Abby: Lung cancer killed my mother, and rude people keep asking if she smoked

It’s as if they think people with a tobacco habit deserve to die.

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DEAR ABBY: Last year my mother passed away after a 15-year battle with lung cancer. When I tell people she died, I am not bothered if they ask what she died from. However, more often than not, when they learn she died of lung cancer, they proceed to ask me if she ever smoked. It’s so upsetting! Why would they ask this? Because she got what she deserved if she did?

Without answering their rude question, I explain that my mother had a rare, slow-growing type of cancer that afflicts nonsmokers (which is true). Am I overreacting to this insensitive question, or is there something I’m missing? And is there a better way to answer so that people realize it doesn’t matter?

P.S. I would normally call my mother with questions like this. — MOTHERLESS DAUGHTER

DEAR MOTHERLESS: Please accept my deepest sympathy for the loss of your mother. People ask this question for a variety of reasons. Curiosity is one of them. However, I think there’s also an element of fear involved — was this the death of an innocent, or did the person do something to bring it on? Because lung cancer is linked so strongly to smoking and secondhand smoke, people often forget that nonsmokers can get it — including individuals who work around asbestos.

While I understand why you would be especially sensitive to the question, I think you should answer it honestly. If you do, you might educate the asker. I can’t guarantee that your mother would advise you to do it but, from my heart, I suggest you do.

DEAR ABBY: I have been in a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend for four years. He works for a company that takes him all over the country. We see each other sometimes once a month for three to five days. Other times we don’t see each other for two months. He is 62, and I’m 55. He has looked for a job in my hometown, but never gets an interview, probably because of his age. I have a stable job with retirement benefits that I cannot leave.

I have broken up with him several times, but we always get back together. He is kind and treats me well. I worry I won’t find that again, but I’m tired of doing things by myself. I have often asked him what the future holds for us, and he can never give me an answer.

Because he doesn’t have retirement benefits, he will have to work until he can get on Medicare. I can’t wait three more days much less three more years. I guess I’m asking you what should I do. I worry about being alone but, in reality, I am already alone. — ANXIOUS IN ARIZONA

DEAR ANXIOUS: Because your gentleman friend can never give you a straight answer when you ask what the future holds for the two of you, you are right — you ARE alone. You didn’t mention whether you and this man love each other or if you are seeing other people, but I’m advising you to leave your options open, because there are no guarantees as far as your boyfriend is concerned.

DEAR READERS: I wish a very Happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere — birth mothers, adoptive and foster mothers, stepmothers, grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren, and dual-role dads. Orchids to all of you for the love you give not only today, but each and every day. — LOVE, ABBY

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Contact Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS and getting along with peers and parents is in “What Every Teen Should Know.” Send your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $8 (U.S. funds), to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Shipping and handling are included in the price.)

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