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Set the Stage for a Smoke-Free Life

by Amanda Palmer, BA, and Benjamin Toll, PhD

Photo by Cancer Type

Many people with cancer who smoke feel it is too late to quit smoking. The truth is it’s never too late to quit. And quitting smoking may actually improve the effectiveness of your treatments while helping you live a healthier life.

Once you quit smoking, the benefits are immediate. Just going one day with­out smoking cigarettes brings your blood pressure and pulse back to nor­mal, and your body replenishes its oxygen levels. In the next few months, your body begins to heal itself, and your risk of other smoking-related illnesses decreases, adding to the longevity of your life.

Quitting smoking also helps your cancer treatments work better. Research shows that the outcomes of chemo­therapy, radiation, and surgery improve after you stop smoking. Quitting smok­ing improves the mechanisms that make these treatments work and allows your body to respond better to them. The risk of complications from these treatments is dramatically lower in tobacco-free individuals, meaning that chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery can be more effective and successful in treating your cancer. Your risk of recurrence or second cancers will also decrease. One of the best things you can do to give your cancer treatment a boost is quit smoking.

Once you quit smoking, the benefits are immediate.

Author of Article photo

Amanda Palmer

Not only does quitting smoking im­prove your health, but it also improves other areas of your life. Living a smoke-free life may allow you to spend more time with friends, family, and other supportive people in your life. And the more time you spend with important, supportive people in your life, the happier you will feel. Your physical environment improves as well; your home, car, and belongings will no lon­ger smell like smoke. Quitting smoking will also save you money – an added bonus. Plus, when you don’t smoke, you have more time for activities and hob­bies that keep you active and fulfilled. All of this adds up to a more positive outlook on life. Cancer survivors can tell you how important it is to have a positive attitude.

You should talk with your doctor about smoking cessation aids that can help you stay tobacco-free. It’s OK to ask for help; you don’t have to go cold turkey. Some aids, like nicotine patches, gum, and lozenges, are available over the counter and are a safe and effective way to cope with cravings. Your doctor can help you determine what might work best for you. He or she can also prescribe medications to aid you with the quitting process.

Dr. Benjamin Toll

After you have met with your doctor, pick a day to stop smoking and call it your Quit Day. (After you quit, you will never forget this date.) It’s best to choose a day before your treatments begin or before you have a major procedure, but quitting at any point will be beneficial. The day before your Quit Day, dispose of your remaining cigarettes, get rid of your lighters and ashtrays, and use some air fresheners to remove the smell of smoke from your surroundings. Plan positive activities for your Quit Day to keep you busy, and enlist friends and family for support. Come up with a way to reward yourself at the end of the day if you reach your no-smoking goal.

When you make it through your first day without smoking, congratulate yourself for staying strong. Once you have quit, you will need to work on staying smoke-free. The supportive people in your life can help you during times of need. Watch out for things that might trigger a relapse. While bad news and stress make many people want to smoke, good news and happy occasions may also trigger cigarette cravings. When a craving hits or during times when you would normally light up, try to engage in a positive activity instead of smoking. Check in with your doctor, nurses, social worker, or counselor about your progress at every visit.

One of the best things you can do to improve your health and the effective­ness of your cancer treatments is to quit smoking. And there are plenty of re­sources available to help you give up tobacco for good.

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Amanda Palmer is a research assistant at the Yale School of Medicine and Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven in New Haven, CT. She works with Dr. Benjamin Toll, associate professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, full member of Yale Comprehensive Cancer Center, and program director of the Smoking Cessation Service at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven.

For additional resources on smoking cessation, visit Smokefree.gov, or contact your local quitline by calling (800) QUIT-NOW (784-8669).

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2013.

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