Women from the Mayfield, Ballyphehane and Togher areas came together to embark on a journey to quit the habit of a lifetime — cigarettes. CHRIS DUNNE talks to three of the women who took part in the Irish Cancer Society’s We Can Quit Programme recently
LIKE lots of ex-smokers — such as myself, Mary Moon, Linda Corcoran, and Caroline Long — we always knew that cigarettes were bad for us, that the habit cost us an incredible amount of money, and that ultimately, it was likely to kill or disable us.
“I knew it was bad for me,” says Mary. “But it didn’t stop me doing it. Nicotine is like alcohol. It is addictive.”
Now, with the help of a 12-week We Can Quit Programme, the three Cork ladies, Mary, Linda and Caroline, are nicotine-free. They graduated in December.
“My mother died of lung cancer when I was a teenager,” says Mary, who is from Montenotte. “After my mother died, my smoking escalated. I used cigarettes as a crutch.”
Mary is among a number of successful candidates who kicked the habit when she signed up for the We Can Quit Programme, run by the Irish Cancer Society. Participants attended weekly group sessions and received one-to-one support. They were also offered 12 weeks of free Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT).
“I learned how to deal with the cravings,” says Mary. “Now, I take out my Nicolette inhaler when I get the urge to smoke. It helps to have it in my hands.
“I’ve replaced smoking with healthier habits. I bought myself an exercise bike and I took up yoga. The support from the group was fantastic.”
In 12 weeks, Mary’s life changed for the better.
“My skin and hair improved,” says Mary. “I can breathe easier when I exert myself. My hair smells a lot nicer. The dirty ash-trays and the cigarette lighters disappeared out of the house. My family are so proud of me.
There was another nice benefit.
“And I’ve made lovely new friends.”
The ladies formed a common bond at the weekly meetings, running for the first time in Cork; in Mayfield, Ballyphehane, Togher and surrounding areas. The initiative, in partnership with Mayfield CDP, Lotamore FRC, Newbury House, Health Action Zone HSE Health Promotion and Improvement and Irwin’s Pharmacy, invited women to embark on a quitting journey.
“The Irish Cancer Society’s We Can Quit Programme offered valuable advice and wonderful support to all of us,” says Linda, from Ballyvolane.
Like a number of the participants on the programme, Linda had tried to stub out the habit without continued success.
“I tried to quit cigarettes before,” says Linda, from Mayfield. “Before Christmas 2016, I lasted six weeks, until New Year’s. I smoked 12 to 15 cigarettes a day. I loved my cigarettes,” she adds.
“The first one in the morning with a cup of coffee was the business. I smoked outside the back door, which was a bit of a nuisance. But I got used to it.”
Her daughters, Amy, 20 and Megan, 17, never got used to the lingering smell of stale smoke. Linda had to try and give up the fags.
“When I tried giving them up before, I tried changing my routine,” says Linda. “I ditched the morning coffee so the craving wasn’t as bad in the morning. It went away.”
But the extra pounds arrived.
“I put on a stone and a half in weight,” says Linda. “I could almost feel the weight piling on as I got heavier. I felt really unhealthy with the extra weight.”
Linda succumbed to the temptation to light up again.
“I reached for the packet of Silk Cut Purple again,” she admits.
Did the price of them deter her at all?
“No. that didn’t influence me.”
But her daughters did.
“They nagged me to death,” says Linda. “They reminded me that I was shortening my life every time I lit up. I got sick listening to them.
“My husband, John, smoked too. That didn’t help. We did feel guilty and think about it though.”
Eventually the realisation of the harm that Linda was doing to her health sunk in.
When Linda’s sister-in- law spotted the poster in the locality advertising the We Can Quit Programme, Linda decided to give it a go.”
It was the best thing she ever did.
“I’ve never looked back,” says Linda. “I thought when I started the first class; I’m ready. I had my last cigarette on September 19. I gave up on September 20.”
Linda found the nicotine patches were a great help in her bid to stamp out the horrible habit.
“They worked for me,” says Linda. “They gave me the kick-start that I needed to quit.
“There was a great group of people on the programme with me. They were so down to earth and so positive. We egged each other on. I was inspired.”
How did Linda deal with the inevitable cravings?
“I applied the four D principles,” she says.
“Deep Breaths. Drink water, Distract and Delay. It worked for me.”
What about willpower?
“Yes, you do need a certain amount of willpower too,” says Linda. “But the group support really helps.”
And Linda helped somebody else give up too. She smiles.
“Yes. John gave up the cigarettes as well. The girls are delighted.”
What about the festive period, which brings the socialising, the tipples, and the inevitable stresses?
“I hope to get through that time OK,” says Linda. “And I plan to join Unislim in the New Year.”
The pluses far outweigh the minuses.
“I have more money in my pocket,” says Linda.
“I can go into a shop to buy something and not think; how many cigarettes have I left?
“I don’t have to run outside every time I want to light up. There is no smell of smoke off my clothes. Everybody in the house is happier.”
Linda says the group helped her enormously in her quest to quit.
“I don’t think I could have done it without the support of the group,” she says.
“We learned together how to deal with things. The encouragement was fantastic. On a bad day you could reach out and have a chat with the girls.
“After 33 years, I have a new lease of life and I can breathe easier.”
Caroline Long finds that kicking the habit of 37 years is like a breath of fresh air.
“I had my first cigarette at the age of 10,” says Caroline, from Dublin Hill.
“Then I experimented with them more as a teenager. You either take to cigarettes or you don’t.
“I was one of the unlucky ones. I took to them. I smoked No.6, Major, John Player Blue and Rothmans over the years.”
Caroline became a heavy smoker.
“I smoked 20 a day for over 30 years,” she admits.
Unlike many smokers, Caroline did not have a love affair with cigarettes.
“I hated the habit,” says Caroline. “But I was a slave to it.”
How did she get on the We Can Quit Programme?
“My sister told me about it,” says Caroline. “She said; why not try? I decided to give it a go.”
Caroline really enjoyed the first night of the meeting in Newbury House, Mayfield.
“The first night was fabulous,” says Caroline.
“For ages I knew I needed help to give up. Previously, when I thought about giving up cigarettes; I panicked. I read loads of self-help books. I still wasn’t able to quit. I was disgusted,” says Caroline.
“When I started the We Can Quit Programme, I decided on a date to stop smoking. After that date, I was ready. I said; I’m done.
“I used the nicotine patches for a couple of weeks and then with the help and support of the group, I just went cold turkey.
“I have taken back the power. It is a wonderful feeling. I used the four D’s to great effect,” she said.
Caroline is a new woman.
“The benefits to my health and the financial benefits are massive,” she says.
“When I visited my GP recently, I found out that my cholesterol has dropped dramatically. I’m now on the right road. The programme helped me to get on it.
“I would highly recommend the programme to others who are trying to give up cigarettes.”
Eimear Cotter, Community Cancer Prevention Officer at the Irish Cancer Society, said: “We want women to know that with ‘We Can Quit’, you are not alone when you embark on your quitting journey.
“Joining a group of women who have a common goal, together with our support, you can quit smoking for good.
“We Can Quit has proved hugely successful in other locations and it is fantastic to see the joy and the confidence of the participants who have quit with the help of this programme. It is a completely free programme.”
For further details on We Can Quit future programmes register online at www.cancer.ie/we-can- quit or contact Eimear Cotter on: 021-4324521.