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Jo's story: shifting beliefs

"It was my firm belief that when everyone else on the planet had given up, we three would be loyal to The Fags."

My GP smoked, my teachers smoked, my father smoked at the back of the church, and we were taught that "smoking causes cancer" was an example of NOT clear thinking, because not EVERYONE who smoked got cancer. Ah... the 1950s and 60s...

I started smoking at the end of school, during the time I was preparing for my October tests. I took to smoking immediately, as had everyone else in my family. My plan was to give up after the tests, then after the final year exams, then when I found out if I had got into university, then after my first term... and so it went, on and on for 36 years. Creating and missing deadlines. 

My second degree was in social work, and after one session with our 'community and mental health' lecturer, nearly everyone in the class gave up smoking, but not me. I smoked in class, in cars, in bed, in trams and in trains. I swapped meals for cigarettes to keep thin.  I smoked through double pneumonia, pregnancy, in a small office with two non-smokers, in hospital, in hospital while pregnant (!), and switched from filters to rollies thinking they were healthier (!!). 

In 1981, a quick calculation showed I had spent $10,000 on cigarettes; you could buy a three bedroom house in Brunswick for $30,000. I didn't give up though. My doctor refused my request to tell me I had emphysema (I'd seen people dying that particularly unpleasant way.) Hypnosis and a quit smoking course didn't help, but I chewed the nicotine gum from 1984 and picked up the nicotine patches when they came on the market. 

At one point, I did give up for a while. I got pregnant during that time, so I stayed nicotine-free until the baby was born. Then I fell under the spell of nicotine again.  I would alternate smoking with wearing a patch. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed regular chain-smoking with friends all the way through the 90s, especially with two good friends Chris and Anne, and it was my firm belief that when everyone else on the planet had given up, we three would be loyal to The Fags. 

Then my understanding of the world was severely disrupted. My two friends gave up smoking and I was shocked to the core. It suddenly seemed possible that I could do it - in fact I knew I could because I had done it before the birth of my second child. My habit then was to check in the mirror where the patch was (too often in the same spot would cause skin irritation) and to my astonishment I saw I had gone a whole day without either a cigarette OR wearing a patch. So for those months, in the mid 1990s, I had managed to keep reminding myself that I could go one day without nicotine in any form.

When my two friends told me they had given up, I figured I could too. They used Champix, so I did too, and I needed less than one script to kick the habit, having already made up my mind.

For the next 10 years or so, I dreamt regularly that I had started smoking again. I would wake up in a panic, and then vastly relieved.  The first time I was tempted to have a cigarette, I rang the Quitline and the counsellor was perfect. I felt like she completely understood how I felt and was respectful and kind, constructive and helpful: I really felt like there was help available when I needed it, and that helped my resolve. 

Fifteen years later, every aspect of my life is better: finally, I have had money to travel. Before COVID I was probably as addicted to travel as I had been to nicotine!  On a sadder note, my friend Anne died of lung cancer. 

Now I'm at a point in my life where I want to help and support others to get off and stay off the smokes.

Wherever you are on your quitting journey, Quit is here to help. For support or tips tailored to you and your lifestyle chat with one of our friendly Quitline counsellors on 13 7848 or SMS the same number. You can also request a call back.


If you have quit story you'd like to share, email us at quit@cancervic.org.au.


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