My name is Emily, and I first found the WhyQuit site in August 2011. I've read a lot here, and watched some of the videos - my official last day of smoking was 11/15/11.
I'm 41, and I started smoking when I was 14 years old, right after my mother died of cancer. My mom took up smoking a bit later in life, after her divorce and during her attendance at nursing school, and she smoked in the house and car with me all the time. I had severe asthma as a child, and was often hospitalized - the doctors suggested removing the stuffed animals from my room, but nobody ever suggested not blowing cigarette smoke in my face.
When my mom died, at the age of 47 (cancer of the spinal cord), I put her leftover pack of cigarettes in my room, to remember her (pretty creepy!), and even as a teen, figured that my grief gave me a good reason to try smoking them a few months later.
I have pretty much been a closet smoker, always associating shame and guilt and rebellion with the act, and I have quit for long periods many times, namely when I was pregnant with each of my four children and during their babyhoods. I was thoroughly disgusted by the idea of harming an innocent child's health, but somehow dismissed that by smoking/harming my own health I could leave the kids prematurely motherless (like I was!), or that it may be harming them psychologically to have a mom with an addict mentality.
Once the kids each became toddlers, I was sneaking out behind the garage as much as I could for my 5 minute "mama-break" that of course I convinced myself I "deserved", and yet the sneaking from and lying (and trying to cover up the smell!) to my never-a-smoker husband really took it's toll on our relationship and me emotionally over the years. And, I was very often in that early withdrawal, as I couldn't predictably feed my addiction - sometimes I would smoke 5-6 in one hour if I got time alone (with enough time for a shower afterward!), knowing that I might go a couple days without getting a chance, and then wondering why I was suffering from such intense irritability and depression and mood swings!
My asthma and bronchitis worsened over time of course, and I began to get pneumonia regularly. My father (a non-smoker) died of prostate/bone cancer at the age of 62, and once again I used my grief as an excuse, a justification to keep reaching for my drug of choice, rather than a reason to quit, so my own children wouldn't have to lose me early or see me die a painful death. I felt that cigarettes were my trusted friends - when nobody else understood - they were my only family left. I continued the self-destruction and selfishly so, seeing as I was a mother. I smoked right through chronic asthma attacks, puffing on my inhaler between puffs on my cigarettes at times.
The story from here on out is very difficult to write, but I want to tell you all my story. I think only other ex-addicts will understand this part below, but maybe it will seem unforgivable even to them.
I started suffering with breathing problems - worse than asthma, I had pneumonia in my lung that would not heal, and I felt something was very wrong - became sort of obsessed that I had given myself lung cancer, and finally convinced my doc to order a chest CT scan. I figured I would still smoke until the day of the scan - that I would simply quit smoking after I got the "all-clear" (I know, so classically addict-speak and completely illogical!). Later the same day, as I was out tending the chickens and smoking away and coughing, I got the call - there was something in my right lung, a mass, and they wanted to schedule a bronchoscopy for the next day.
I was terrified. So much so that I had one last cigarette that afternoon. Cannot even believe I am admitting the depth of my addiction. The next day I had the bronchoscopy, with not enough sedation, and it was a terrible procedure - I gagged and coughed and they had to put down the scope twice - they couldn't take a biopsy due to the risk of bleeding, but said that I had a large vascular tumor blocking my right bronchi and would need lung surgery. Then they sent me home.
I didn't smoke for a couple weeks. I was scared straight. I was sure I would be dying soon and leaving my dear children and husband. I mean, who survives having a large bloody lung tumor? But after our consultation with the surgeon, who said he thought it was probably a carcinoid tumor, I went back to smoking one or two when I could get a chance each day, to relieve my stress about the upcoming lung surgery. INSANITY. Carcinoids are neuroendocrine tumors, malignant but slow-growing, NOT caused by smoking (what!?) and even though mine was large and was obstructing my breathing, etc. it could likely be taken out and I would be OK.
So, the doc said my lung cancer was not from smoking, but the lung surgery I went through was very intense and risky nonetheless. I had a complete open chest thoracotomy - they broke ribs and tore muscles to get in there - that whole side of my body will never be the same. They took out the tumor and had to remove 2 lobes of my lung. I was in ICU for 3 days, ventilator, etc. then in regular critical care for 12 days with chest drainage tubes, a pic line, O2, all of it…and I suffered with excruciating pain for 8 weeks at home (with 4 kids to take care of!) and then had reactions when I stopped taking pain meds. I just knew I would never smoke again after all that I went through in April 2010.
But, before my surgery, I had a few clove cigarettes left in my pack - and I put them way back in a drawer in my house before I went in - and as I sat around recovering I kept thinking of them there. For THREE MONTHS I just thought about them. Twice during that period I stopped outside the mini-mart to buy some, but never went in. I wish I had found WhyQuit at that time! And one day I was home alone, and took that one puff. And of course before I knew it I was back - with one lung I was heading to the yard and getting my fix, but way more guilty and sneaky and ashamed than before!
For the past year and a half I have been suffering again with asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and even going through the pain of broken ribs (due to coughing so hard with one lung + weak bones from the surgery) nobody could understand because everyone thought it was the tumor causing me all those problems - of course having a tumor was causing obstruction, but only I knew it was still the clove cigarettes! I coughed up mucous with streak of brown in it, sometimes blood streaks. I have iron-deficiency anemia, reflux, chronic diarrhea, constant headaches, all of it - because I was insisting on inhaling poisons into my body - my already sick body. Clove cigarettes are more expensive than regular cigarettes, and only come 12 to a pack, but there was something about the numb spicy taste on my lips, the crackling sound, that became an important part of my addiction.
For a while I was making a pact with myself and breaking it - smoking one and then "quitting for good" (so easy to say right after your nicotine fix!), but it never lasted more than 2 days - until now. My story is similar to the ones on the memorial page. I became JUST LIKE that addict who smokes through a tracheotomy, or asks to be wheeled outside in a wheelchair, or un-hooks their O2 to have a smoke! I am no longer surprised by those stories, as the power of nicotine addiction is VERY clear to me, it is terrifyingly scary to have JUST ONE after you have been an addict. I pray that I quit in time to still be a grandmother one day. I am thoroughly dismayed that I almost chose cigarettes over my life with my children and husband and friends.
Because my smoking, especially after my surgery, has been a huge secret, this is the only place I can come for support.
Since Tuesday evening, I have only needed my inhaler once (compared to 10+ times a day), haven't woken up in the night coughing my lungs out, peeing my pants due to coughing, suffering with chest pains, dizziness, or any of the other nasty painful and embarrassing results of smoking. I can skip up the stairs in my house to tend to my children! In just a few days! I feel so free and healthy - who knew that could happen so fast?!
Thank you for your stories too - I have read so many - and for all of the important information here, and for listening to my story. I also hope to offer my support to others, for many many years to come.