While browsing through Reddit’s electronic_cigarette forum, I came across an interesting post titled: “Today is my 41st birthday and my 3rd anniversary of being cigarette-free” by Reddit user LonesomeRhodesTN. After spending two months in hospital, six weeks of which were spent comatose, he eventually switched to vaping. Quoting the post, LonesomeRhodesTN said “I fully believe that by switching from cigarettes to vaping I have prolonged my life even more.”

 

The post intrigued me and I wanted to hear more of  LonesomeRhodesTN’s story. I reached out to him through Reddit and he was happy to share his story with Vapr. Asking him about the origins of his username, he explained “Lonesome Rhodes – a character played by Andy Griffith in a movie called A Face in the Crowd (great movie if you’re into classics). My real name is Kevin Rhodes.”

 

This is the story of Kevin Rhodes.

 

Vapr:  Could you tell us a little about yourself and your battle with cancer ?

I’m 41 years old and an elementary school teacher (4th and 5th grade – ages 9-11). At age 26, I had moved back to my home state in 2000 after my first wife passed away in a car accident. I was in school at the time, and, after losing my wife, was unsure of what I wanted out of life. I eventually went into business with a friend opening a comic book store in a relatively small college town in Tennessee. I met a woman, fell in love, and remarried in 2002. My daughter was born 8 months later. All the while, I was a heavy smoker (around 2 packs a day). I had been smoking since I was about 10 or 11 years old.

 

In August 2003, I began to have some odd symptoms; strange rashes, bed-drenching night sweats, swollen lymph nodes but the worst was how easily I would get out of breath. I’d bend over to pick up my daughter, walk up a small flight of stairs, even taking a shower and I’d be panting – just completely out of breath like I’d been sprinting. I decided that I need to go to the doctor. At the time, I didn’t have insurance for myself. I could only afford to pay for my wife and child’s insurance, so trips to the doctor were something I tried to avoid.

 

I went in and had a chest x-ray. The doctor gave me the grim news. He showed me my x-ray and explained that one of my lungs was 90% full of fluid and the other was about 30% full of fluid. The doctor stated that I was the sickest person that has ever walked into his office, and it was a miracle that I hadn’t drowned in my sleep. He then told me I had cancer. He said worst case scenario was lung cancer, best case was Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He did a biopsy of a swollen lymph node in my neck, and I waited for the results. I was admitted to the hospital and I began calling family members to give them the news. My family came to my side. I remember bits and pieces of the days following my admittance to the hospital. I remember them draining large bags of fluid from my lungs, CT scans, x-rays.

 

During my last x-ray, a doctor came in and informed me that I had fluid around my heart that had to be removed before I could begin any kind of treatment. I called my wife who was home with the baby and told her I was going to have what was described as a simple procedure and that I’d see her later when she planned on coming back to the hospital. I remember them shaving my chest for the procedure and then, nothing. The next memory I have is of waking up as a trach tube was being removed from my throat.

 


 

A month and a half had passed. It was October 2003. All of the following was related to me by friends and family members in the months that followed:

During the procedure both of my lungs had collapsed. They did what they could to get my body breathing again and told my family that they had done all they could but didn’t expect me to make it through the night. My family started reaching out to other family and friends for prayers. I made it through the night, but my oxygen levels would not stabilize so I was placed in a medically induced coma. I was eventually stabilized as best as I could be in the state I was in. While in the coma, doctors began an aggressive chemo therapy. All the while, my wife and mother took turns living in the hospital beside me, alternating between staying home with the baby and staying at the hospital with me.

 

When I finally awoke, I had lost 100 lbs, all of my hair (first time my face had been beardless since ’97), the strength to walk or talk. The amount of muscle atrophy was astounding, with the chemotherapy and muscles just not being used. I did not recognize myself. I couldn’t walk or make my mouth move to talk. I couldn’t feed myself. I had a hole in my throat from the breathing and feeding tube and a hole at the base of my spine (a massive, deep bedsore that was a result of them being unable to move me much due to the way my oxygen levels would drop whenever they attempted to roll me).

 

surgery

Credit: Photo by John Chew – Flickr

 

I was finally released from the hospital a few weeks after waking up. I went home and continued chemo followed by radiation. Within the year my tumor, which was about the size of a football between my lungs and on top of my heart, began to shrink at a very fast pace. My doctors had formulated the perfect treatment to fight my cancer. My oncologist called my survival a miracle. I still had the bedsore and had to go to physical therapy to get the strength back in my legs and arms.

 

In all the time that I was fighting the illness, I did not touch a cigarette. In fact, when I woke up, I didn’t even have the craving. However, stress would once again rear its ugly head, and my craving returned. After returning home, my family informed me that they had closed the comic book store while I was in the coma. The guy who ran the store while I was not there (a friend from childhood) had emptied out the bank account, stolen a large amount of stock, and moved. On top of that, my relationship with my wife changed in a major way. She became more like a caretaker than a partner. She was under an enormous amount of stress taking care of me and the baby . Long story short, we grew apart.

 

By the end of 2004, I was at a loss with the business, going through a divorce/dealing with custody, and still recovering from my illness. Although, the divorce was uncontested, it was a time of great stress. I decided to sell the store and just get better. I turned back to cigarettes as a way to cope with the stress. I jumped right back in at two packs a day like I never stopped.

 


Vapr: What made you decide to switch to e-cigarettes. You mentioned you were unable to give up cigarettes even after barely beating stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma – how hard did you find it to transition to ecigs? Was it easy to transition to vaping from traditional cigarettes or were you still battling with cravings?

I remarried in 2006, and continued to smoke. At the time, my wife was a smoker as well. She quit smoking, but I couldn’t give it up. I had returned to school to get a degree in education, and school is another stressor. I smoked as much as ever, trying to hide it when I got a job teaching, because it was embarrassing to me to be a cancer survivor who smoked. I had tried the mail/internet-order cigalikes from China in 2009, but was woefully disappointed. I continued to smoke.

 

In February 2013, my wife and I were out for dinner, and she said that she thought I should try vaping again. We went to a local B&M, and she bought me an ego battery and an iSmoka BCC Mega and some 24 mg tobacco flavored juice as a birthday present. I had also recently just bought a carton of cigarettes, which I kept in the car. I promised my wife and myself that I would really give vaping a chance. It immediately took care of that craving. The next day, driving through town, I gave the carton in my car to a homeless man and never bought another pack of cigarettes.

 

Vaping was the answer for me.

 


Vapr:  3 years is a huge milestone and it must have taken a lot of hard work to get to this point. How has the transition helped you physically and mentally?

I can breathe better. My sense of smell is back. I can exercise and not get winded. I enjoy hiking, and when smoking, it was a struggle. Hiking up a steep incline no longer feels like a life-threatening task. I welcome the challenge now. I easily average at least 10,000 steps a day now – something I’m not sure I would have been able to do while smoking.

With vaping, it was easy to transition from higher nicotine levels to lower nicotine levels. I started out at 24 mg and am down to anywhere between 6 mg and in 3 mg liquid. I am happier, healthier, and, truly, enjoying my life more than ever.

 


Vapr: Have you found that e-cigarettes have saved you money or was it more expensive than traditional cigarettes?

Vaping is definitely cheaper. It has definitely saved money. It has become more of a hobbyist pursuit now that anything. I enjoy getting new tanks and dripper and trying out building and wicking techniques. I have a budget that my wife helps me adhere to, because with the growth of the industry I could easily buy a something new every week. I would spend about $10 a day smoking which means $70 a week. $300 a month.. $3,600 a year. If I had to guess, vaping costs me a third of that yearly. Which isn’t a drop in the bucket, but I’m still saving money and loving every minute of it. I moved from ego batteries to variable voltage ego style batteries with tanks like the Aspire Nautilus and Kanger Aerotank. I transitioned to mechanical mods, but for the most part enjoy regulated mods. I mostly use variable wattage mods now. My on the go device is an Innokin Disrupter with various tanks (some sub-ohm but mostly RTAs). I also use an Innokin CoolFire IV as a “driver’ vape for the drive between work and home. I use tanks and drippers at home with a Smok XCube II and a Cloudmaker Technologies Whiteout (DNA 200). I really enjoy building and wicking with tanks. I like mouth-to-lung (Kayfun-style single coil – more akin to traditional smoking) tanks, as well as dual coil “lung inhale” tanks but definitely lean more towards the former.

 


 

Kevin Rhodes, aka LonesomeRhodesTN no longer has active cancer, just a mass of scar tissue from where the tumour was. The switch to vaping brought back his sense of smell, his ability to breathe better and he is now “happier, healthier, and, truly, enjoying my life more than ever”.

 

He is now three years smoke-free ever since the day he started vaping. After smoking since age 10-11 and smoking 2 packs a day for years, the craving disappeared immediately once he was introduced to vaping and he hasn’t turned back since. He estimates that he only spends 1/3rd the amount of money that he would spend on cigarettes saving around $2,400 a year.

 

Kevin’s story not only demonstrates the immense dangers of smoking cigarettes but how vaping can be used as a cessation that can improve your health, your happiness and your financial situation.