Teresa Cecil, from Highland Heights, KY, just won the fight of her life – the battle to stop smoking. Teresa hopes her story will inspire others to quit, too.
Like many smokers, Teresa got hooked early in life. She smoked her first cigarette at age 12, back when it was the “cool” thing to do.
“Lots of people did it. We didn’t know the dangers back then,” remembers Teresa.
So Teresa smoked for the next 42 years. Ironically, as she became addicted, her cigarettes felt like a good friend – someone who was always there to keep her company or offer support.
“Smoking cigarettes gave me a calm feeling. It helped relieve stress. I smoked when I woke up, when I drank a cup of coffee, at lunchtime and on breaks,” says Teresa.
But the smoke and nicotine didn’t do her any favors. In recent years, she experienced shortness of breath and lack of energy. What’s more, this once “social” habit became inconvenient.
“Nobody lets you smoke,” says Teresa. “It’s hard to go anywhere. You miss things.”
Yes, Teresa tried to stop a few times, but she wasn’t serious. Her relationship with cigarettes had turned dysfunctional – hard to justify any longer, yet hard to quit.
A new incentive to quit
Teresa’s first real wake-up call hit her in the paycheck.
She works as a housekeeping supervisor at St. Elizabeth Healthcare. One day, she realized that not only was she paying a lot of money for cigarettes, but her health insurance rates were going up.
“It was costing me $40 a pay period because I was a smoker,” says Teresa. “The money got my attention.”
As an incentive to help associates quit smoking, St. Elizabeth offered a discount on insurance premiums for participating in a program called Freshstart.
Freshstart is a free, four-week program designed to help people overcome their addiction to cigarettes.
“Nicotine is highly addictive. It’s not that people don’t want to quit; it’s hard,” explains Joyce Jacobs, RN, MSN. “Seven seconds from the time you smoke, the nicotine goes to the pleasure center of the brain. For some people, it’s like being addicted to drugs or alcohol.”
Jacobs facilitates the Freshstart program. During class, she helps smokers think about key issues:
- When and why do I smoke?
- What triggers me to want a cigarette? (Stress? Driving? Coffee breaks?)
- What does smoking do to the body?
- How much does smoking cost?
- Which stop-smoking method is best for me? (Cold turkey? Tapering off? Scheduled quit date?)
- Will nicotine gum, lozenges or prescription medication help me quit?
Jacobs also encourages people to pick a date and stop smoking, but they don’t have to.
“You have to be ready,” says Jacobs. “It doesn’t matter how much your family wants you to quit or your employer wants you to quit. Unless you are ready, it will be much harder.”
What finally convinced Teresa
Initially, Teresa attended Freshstart only for the insurance discount.
But that changed when Teresa mentioned that she smoked outdoors, because she didn’t want her new condominium to “smell like an ashtray.”
Jacobs challenged her, saying, “So the inside of your home is more important than the inside of your body?”
“It really made me think,” remembers Teresa. “Wow. My stuff was more important to me than my health.”
Finally, Teresa was ready. She quit smoking the day after her 54th birthday.
Conquering the cravings
Giving up cigarettes was tough. Teresa had a few headaches, but the emotional side effects were even worse.
“I cried; I was irritable,” remembers Teresa. “Smoking was my friend for a long, long time. My go-to. I was very depressed.”
To help fight the urge to smoke, Teresa used a medication called Chantix, which blocks the effects of nicotine on the brain.
Still, quitting took willpower.
“That pill helped a little bit, but it didn’t make me quit smoking,” said Teresa. “I made me quit smoking. I did it.”
Along with medication and willpower, Teresa used an arsenal of tools from the Freshstart program. First, she identified her triggers.
“I can’t drink black coffee anymore. It went with the cigarettes, it’s one of my triggers. I use creamer now.”
Another trigger was talking on the phone with friends. So she cut conversations to a minimum.
Meanwhile, Freshstart taught Teresa how to change her habits and postpone the urge to smoke.
“Instead of picking up that cigarette, find something to do with your hands,” recommends Jacobs.
“I cleaned the house and the garage,” says Teresa. “I had to stay busy.”
Other stop-smoking tricks:
- Put off the urge for ten minutes. Often, the urge will pass.
- Drink eight ounces of water instead of smoking.
- Put something in your mouth, like a straw or a carrot stick.
- If you like to smoke while driving, lock your cigarettes in the trunk.
- Tell family and friends so you feel accountable.
Fight the “the bad stuff”
Teresa has been smoke-free for over a year now. Looking back, she realizes the withdrawal symptoms and the feelings of loss were a necessary part of the battle.
“You have to work your way through the bad stuff,” says Teresa. “Keep your eye on the prize. It gets better.”
Teresa also credits her friends and co-workers at St. Elizabeth.
“I told everyone throughout the hospital that I had quit smoking, and they asked me daily how I was doing,” says Teresa. “They helped me to stay on track and be accountable.”
Today, Teresa has more energy and feels good. She’s relieved that her granddaughter won’t have to see her smoking.
She encourages others who want to quit to stay strong.
“Don’t give up. You can do it.”
The Freshstart program was developed by the American Cancer Society and is offered by St. Elizabeth at locations around Northern Kentucky. Classes are FREE, and they meet once a week for four weeks. The next one starts September 5. For information, click here.