Mary Miller and her husband, Gerald, smoked since they got married almost 50 years ago. She has COPD; he died in May 2015 at age 65 – "from everything," Mary said. "He had open heart surgery. He had diabetes real bad. Then he got ductal cancer in his pancreas. By the time they found it, it was too late to do anything. He stopped smoking a month or so before he passed away but only because he was so ill."
Mary, 68, quit smoking in early November, though first, after her husband died, she ratcheted up to 1½ packs of L&Ms a day. She stopped with help from the New York Smokers’ Quitline, based at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center (866-697-8487 or nysmokefree.com). The decision improved not only her health, but the well-being of her 8-year-old Chihuahua, Buffy.
Q. How many times did you and your husband try to quit?
I tried two or three times after he passed away. Before that, I didn't want to quit. I enjoyed my cigarettes. Gerry even went two or three times and was hypnotized to quit. He'd leave and light a cigarette. When he passed away, half of my income was taken away. To spend $100 or so a week on cigarettes? There's better things I can spend that money on.
Q. How has the Quitline helped?
A lot. After my husband passed away, I wanted to quit. I went to get the patches and they were 40-some bucks. I'd take the patch off and light a cigarette. I think it didn't work because I didn't have any support. This time, three of my girlfriends quit with me.
The patches and gum were free with the Quitline. Roswell called me once a week to see how I was doing, and they'd give me more stuff to do, like, "Mary, if you feel like it, clean your walls, wash your drapes, get that smoke out of your house. Take the car up and have it detailed inside and out." When you smoke, you don't smell it in your house or in your car because you're so used to smoking. I think that helped a lot.
Q. Did all of your girlfriends use the Quitline?
No. One used (the drug) Chantix. Another said, "I'm not smoking anymore, that's it." She quit cold turkey. They're still not smoking. One broke down and had a cigarette one night when her mother was really bad, dying. For the next three or four days, during the funeral and stuff, she was smoking.
Q. How are you doing?
Right now, I don't use anything. They gave me gum but I stopped taking it when I found out there was nicotine in it. I switched to regular Freedent gum and a lot of hard candy, but my biggest downfall is Tootsie Roll pops. I can hold them in my hand like I do a cigarette. I keep 'em in my Jeep and in the house.
Q. What would you like to say to others who choose to smoke?
Quit. Somebody told me that at my age it’s too late to stop smoking. I’ve already got COPD. I’m already on oxygen. It’s never too late.
A week after I quit, I was doing better already. I used to take oxygen with me when I’d leave the house. I don’t do that anymore. I still have the container at night. I’ll put it on if I have a hard time sleeping or have a cold, but as far as taking the tank along with me, no. I can clean my whole mobile home in one day now because I don’t get out of breath.
Before, when I went shopping, I had to grab a cart, put my oxygen inside the basket and wheel that cart around the store. I could not walk without the cart. Now, I can get out and go for a walk around the neighborhood with my little doggie. I live in a mobile home park and used to have to drive about a mile to get my mail. I could not walk it. A woman across the street is 90 years old and she walks up to get her mail every stinking day (in reasonable weather). Now, I put Buffy's leash on her and we walk up and get it. That's helped because I was putting on weight, and getting out in the fresh air, you feel better.
BENEFITS OF QUITTING
As soon as you quit, your body begins to repair the damage caused by smoking, according to the American Lung Association. These are the health benefits you'll experience.
20 minutes after you quit: Your heart rate drops to a normal level.
12 hours after you quit: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
2 weeks to 3 months hours after you quit: Your risk of having a heart attack begins to drop and your lung function begins to improve.
1 to 9 months months after you quit: Your coughing and shortness of breath decrease.
1 year after you quit: Your added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker's.
5 to 15 years after you quit: Your risk of having a stroke is reduced to that of a nonsmoker's.
Your risk of getting cancer of the mouth, throat, or esophagus is half that of a smoker's.
10 years after you quit: Your risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a smoker's. Your risk of getting bladder cancer is half that of a smoker's. Your risk of getting cervical cancer or cancer of the larynx, kidney or pancreas decreases.
15 years after you quit: Your risk of coronary heart disease is the same as that of a nonsmoker.
Sources: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Surgeon General. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health.
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon