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Kicking the Addiction

Steps to Help You Stop Smoking for Good

by Linda Thomas, MS, CTTS-M

Photo by Cancer Type

You have heard the dreaded words. You have cancer. Then comes the rush of emotions: fear, anger, sadness, hope. Inside, you feel a panic building, and your next thought is, “I need a cigarette.” A part of you rebels at that thought, but still you smoke. And as you smoke that cigarette, a war rages inside of you – one side wants to quit and the other wants to keep smoking.

For some, a cancer diagnosis can be a moment when they quit and never look back at smoking. With that news, a change happens within them, and quitting comes in a way that it never had before. But for many, cigarettes are a way to cope with stress, and the thought of not smoking seems almost impossible. Worse still, some may even say to themselves, “Why bother now? The damage is done.”

Regardless of whether your cancer is smoking related, quitting cigarettes is one of the most important things you can do as part of your cancer treatment. Smoking during treatment can lower the effect of two of the major cancer treatment methods: radiation and surgery. Additionally, smoking during treatment can also increase the treatment side effects and interfere with wound healing. Smoking likely has similar effects on chemotherapy as well. The research is clear. Quitting smoking can increase survival rates, decrease the risk of secondary cancers, and improve the quality of life for people with cancer.

Write down the reasons why you want to quit, not why you should quit.

Author of Article photo

Linda Thomas

Right now you are full of the “you shoulds” – you should do this or you should do that. Part of you wants to quit, but with the stress of treatment, you may feel quitting is impossible. It’s true that the process of quitting can be stressful. When you quit smoking, you are changing longstanding behaviors and routines. You may see smoking as a part of your identity. You may see your cigarettes as your best friends or your confidant.

So how do you quit now? Take small steps and focus on ten minutes at a time.

  • Write down the reasons why you want to quit, not why you should quit. When you are doing something for yourself rather than out of a sense of obligation, you are more likely to stick with it.
  • Work out a plan to deal with temptations. Identify two or three coping strategies that work for you. You may have to alter some of your routines, especially if they are closely associated with smoking.
  • Ask your doctor about tobacco treatment medications. While you may not be able to use some of them, your doctor will be willing to help out as much as possible in your attempt to quit.
  • Identify your support team, and let them know what you need from them to help you quit.
  • Stock up. Look at your plan. What do you need to fulfill it? Puzzles or games to keep your mind busy, celery sticks or sugar-free gum to use as an oral substitute? Before you quit, make sure you have what you need in the house, in the car, and at work.
  • Set a quit date, and make sure you have no tobacco or tobacco-related materials in your house, car, or workplace by that date.
  • Follow your plan. Stick with what is working and adapt when needed. Read your reasons to quit often.
  • Give yourself rewards for making target dates. You pick the dates and the rewards. Rewards don’t have to be expensive; they just need to be something special for you and your efforts.

Above all, remember you became the smoker you are today over time; becoming an ex-smoker is also a process. Be gentle and patient with yourself. Of course, you will want to smoke. Acknowledge your urges, take some deep breaths, and tell yourself that for the next ten minutes you are going to focus on a distraction technique from your plan. Most urges will go away in less than five minutes.

Stay focused on today; you have a lot going on now. Don’t worry about tomorrow’s urges; deal with them tomorrow. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you will always feel urges. You won’t. Focus on the present moment and what you need to do right now to not smoke. Congratulate yourself for those moments when you don’t smoke. And remember, an urge goes away whether you smoke or not. Quit for today. You can do it.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Linda Thomas is the manager of Tobacco Consultation Services for the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, MI.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2009.