Nancy's Story: Quitting Smoking Takes More Than Willpower
Nancy started smoking in nursing school. It helped relieve the stress of school. But years later, something happened to make her think twice about her smoking habit.
Nancy was working as a nurse and was exposed to someone who had a bad case of pneumonia. As a precaution, Nancy was checked for pneumonia. The X-ray revealed that she didn't have pneumonia—but her lungs did show early signs of emphysema. "It scared the daylights out of me," Nancy says.
So Nancy started to think seriously about quitting. But quitting was harder than she thought it would be. It took her 3 years and 30 tries before she was able to quit smoking for good.
Struggling to quit
Quitting was a struggle. Back then, she didn't understand that she was addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes. She thought that quitting smoking was all about willpower. And at that time there weren't a lot of tools available to help someone quit smoking. The patch had just come out, and she hadn't heard much about it.
So Nancy found herself in a cycle of quitting and relapsing—smoking for a few weeks between each attempt at quitting. Despite what felt like repeated failure, she didn't give up. "It was the fear of not being able to breathe" that kept her motivated to keep trying to quit, Nancy says.
As a nurse, Nancy knew firsthand what it was like to struggle for each breath. She worked in an intensive care unit where many of her patients suffered from lung disease. "I really made myself focus on the future of my life. I want to be skiing when I'm 70. I don't want an oxygen tank."
Quitting for good
Nancy hit upon a key that helped her quit for good. "Finally what woke me up—after 3 years of failure—was the realization of what happened when I relapsed," she says. She figured out that when she drank alcohol, it made her want to smoke. She decided to quit drinking for 6 months to see if that would help her stay away from smoking. It worked. So Nancy decided to give up alcohol permanently "I quit drinking not because alcohol scares me," she says, "but because when I drink, I want to smoke."
Surrounding herself with people who believed in her and supported her efforts to quit also really helped her. Nancy was lucky to have friends like that. Most of her friends were nonsmokers, and they all enjoyed outdoor activities together. When Nancy was out hiking or biking with her friends, she thought less about smoking.
Nancy hasn't smoked in decades. Now she passes on her success to others by teaching stop-smoking classes.
Nancy's story reflects her experiences as told in an interview. The photograph is not of Nancy, to protect her privacy.
For more information, see the topic Quitting Smoking.
Current as of: March 12, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Christine R. Maldonado PhD - Behavioral Health
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