My back was wide open. They installed a whole frame in there.

Warrior Vincent Bloothoofd (45) started smoking in high school. He was 14. A pack of Barclay cost 3.65 guilders. “A very healthy cigarette, people said.” Smoking was bad, he knew that, but lung cancer was something for old me. Nearly 30 years later, Vincent is recovering from lung cancer and major and particularly complex surgery.

“A few weeks ago, I saw the photos from the surgery. My side was completely open. From a large, spread-open incision, two vertebrae, the top of my lung, a rib and a piece of meat came out. The only thing lacking was a pig’s head.

My back was also completely open. They installed a whole frame in there. It’s like watching the butcher work… Yes, a butcher. I don’t say it any more flowery than it is. It’s definitely not pleasant.

That is also my message to the youth who start smoking: there is a chance that in 30 years—or perhaps sooner—you will be lying on an operating table in just the same way. And you’ll be lucky then. Most people with lung cancer just die.

In June 2015, I started being bothered by my right armpit, my back and my arm. That awful nerve pain. No painkillers helped. There was nothing to see on the x-rays, and nothing on ultrasound. My lungs were good. Fine.

Only not. The CT scan finally showed where my pain was coming from. In the top of the lung, between my spine and neck vertebrae, there was a tumor. They call it a Pancoast tumor. A tumor that presses against the nerves. That caused the pain in my back, arm and shoulder blade.

The chemo treatments and radiation went well. It took a lot: 24 straight days with an hour of chemo, an hour of rest and then radiation. My hair fortunately did not fall out.

When I was sufficiently recovered, I could undergo surgery. The operation would be difficult and quite risky. A whole team of surgeons from the VU worked on me for two full days. They removed two vertebrae, the top of my right lung, a piece of the chest wall and lymph nodes. A whole metal structure was placed inside of me, to provide stabilization.

Rehabilitation is supposed to take at least a year, but I’m not going to make that. It’s been 9 months, and a part of my back and torso still have no feeling. I can only lift 2 kilos. I can tell you: that’s not many groceries.

I’m a young man of 45. But I am also a lung cancer patient and now a wreck. My 12-year-old daughter helps to clean the bathroom. She does the wash. I have a 15-year-old son as well. It’s beautiful to see how the children handle it.

When I started smoking, I knew that it wasn’t healthy. But lung cancer? Old men get that. As a teenager, you don’t think that far ahead. And I still see children of 13 or 14 lighting cigarettes. You can’t blame them. They don’t know any better. Cigarette manufacturers do. Really awful that they get young children to smoke and make them addicted.”