Tobacco-free for years, he fell ill
Barbara Phelps could scarcely believe her eyes.
The scan of her brother's brain showed nearly the entire center was filled by a mass of cancer, which had spread from his lungs.
Philip Cullings had gotten good at hiding his ailments from his sister. But now, he didn't have much time.
That was in April, 12 years after his original lung cancer diagnosis - which was made more than two decades after he quit smoking.
The 72-year-old North Fort Myers man died in July at his sister's home, his 2007 Engle lawsuit against big tobacco pending.
"I believe smoking was a choice he made, but would he have started if he knew how it would all end? I truly don't know," Phelps said. "At the time when he started, it was the cool thing to do, and there was no bad stigma to it, no health risks we knew of."
For decades, Cullings smoked heavily. He was a handsome Air Force crew captain with a square jaw, olive skin and bright smile, his sister recalls.
In his teens, he, Barbara and their friends would climb into the rowboat docked at the lake behind their Michigan home and row far enough out of their parents' sight to smoke.
Philip was soon lighting up at every opportunity. He continued until he was married and in his 40s. Then suddenly, in a move that puzzled both his wife and Barbara, who both smoked, Phil announced one day at lunch he was quitting.
"He just got some Nicoret gum and the patch and just quit," Phelps said. "And he turned into the biggest advocate for quitting you've ever seen. He actually drove everyone kind of crazy with it. He would preach to anybody that would listen about how bad it was."
For the next 20 years, he embraced the fresh, smoke-free air of the Florida outdoors, especially traversing the waters on his boat.
Then came lung cancer.
"It was hard to believe so long after his quitting," said his sister.
The next year, it had spread to his brain.
While he appeared to have beaten it, Phelps said he was never quite the same, and his judgment appeared to have been affected. He suddenly divorced his wife. He abruptly moved to Kentucky, only to move right back. Once easy-going and gregarious, he became stubborn and reclusive.
"The last 10 years were very difficult because he never quite regained his strength, and I think his brain was damaged, so emotionally, he just wasn't the same Phil," his sister recalled.
It wasn't until earlier this year, though, after a fall, that Phil was brought to the hospital and given an MRI, revealing both the lung and brain cancer were back - and terminal. Suddenly, her brave older brother was afraid to go to sleep.
Painful as it was to watch him fade, Phelps, who herself suffers from emphysema, never agreed with her brother's lawsuit. She compared it to suing a knife company after being stabbed. But Phil believed tobacco companies should be accountable for what he said were deceitful tactics to hook new smokers.
Barb hopes her brother's death serves as a warning.
"He suffered so bad," she said. "I can honestly say our lives would have been different if he had never smoked."