I started smoking when I was 13 or 14 years old, and after 40 years I never thought I would be someone who quit. Even after the first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I still didn’t stop smoking. I was overwhelmed and felt my life was coming to an end. I couldn’t deal with that and trying to quit.
When I was later diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I realized I had to make a change. I wanted to be the one in control of the rest of my life, not cancer. I knew cancer could be the beginning of a new life for me, but I knew I had to quit smoking to really start living. I knew that I would never be able to heal as well if I didn’t clean out my body and get rid of the cigarettes. However, I also knew that I needed help.
Success in MD Anderson’s Tobacco Treatment Program
When I told my doctor about my decision, she referred me to MD Anderson’s Tobacco Treatment Program, which provides tobacco cessation counseling and support to patients and employees.
If I had not gone into the program, I would still be smoking today. I’d previously tried to quit four or five times on my own with the gum and the patches, but nothing helped. When I tried the program for the first time, I quit smoking.
The program’s counselors were even there for me a few years later when I stumbled and started smoking again. I went right back into the program and was able to quit a second time.
The counselors were so helpful. You have to be willing to work with the program and change your lifestyle, but they can provide the support you need to help you quit.
They prescribed a medication called Chantix to help reduce the cravings and taught me strategies to overcome them in the future. They called and checked on me all the time to make sure I was OK, and were available if I just needed someone to call and talk with.
Addressing my smoking triggers
One of the biggest lessons I learned was what my smoking “triggers” were. Triggers are the things throughout the day that might make you crave a cigarette. Once you know your triggers and how to deal with them, quitting becomes a cakewalk.
A major trigger for me was missing the feeling of a cigarette in my hands. To keep my hands and fingers busy, I often carried a stress ball and even started crocheting.
I also realized that chewing gum or a peppermint helped to give me a fresh new flavor when I was craving nicotine. I’d never realized all the flavors and other simple things I’d missed while smoking.
It’s important to avoid people, places and things that trigger your cravings. Don’t hang around people who smoke or places where smoking is common, especially in the beginning.
I still get cravings from time to time, but I can distract myself by popping in a peppermint or just twirling a pencil around in my hands.
Free from cigarettes
To those out there trying to quit, never give up hope. I’m now a four-time cancer survivor and am once again tobacco-free. I fought through esophageal cancer twice after I quit smoking, and it was unbelievable how much faster I was able to recover from the treatment.
I feel so much better and so much younger now. I can exercise more and take my dogs on much longer walks in the park than I could before.
Like I said, a cancer diagnosis can be the beginning of a new life. As I’ve learned, that new life is even better when you’re smoke-free.
The Tobacco Treatment Program offers tobacco cessation services, including in-person behavioral counseling and medications, to MD Anderson patients, employees and dependents at no cost. Patients should ask their MD Anderson doctor or nurse for a referral.