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Vickie's Path to Freedom

Vickie Christie knew all the health reasons for quitting smoking.  She learned them back in nursing school, where she first lit up.  She saw the pictures of black lungs.

She met people with lung cancer, and knew all about her increased risk for cancer, heart attack, stroke, osteoporosis and other ills.

No matter.  Like many a blissful smoker, her pack-a-day habit had become a ritual, offering moments of relieve, reward, and relaxation from the stress of family and work as a labor and delivery nurse.

For 24 years, cigarettes were with her during telephone conversations, as she drove her car, after a fine meal.  They comforted her between two marriages, and after the divorces.

“Cigarettes were my best friends; they were with me morning, noon, and night.  Good times and bad times,” Christie said.

So when she finally quit in 1995, she was lonely.  And, though she was tempted and frustrated, she stuck to her vow and found a new way to live – moment by moment, day to day.

Christie credits her success to the multiple coping mechanisms she used – including becoming a teacher in smoking cessation classes.

“It was the hardest thing that I ever did in my life, but it was one of the most rewarding,” Christie said.  “I gained such a sense of freedom and power.”

At 48, she is in better shape now than when she was 20 years ago.  She can now ride her bike for more than 100 miles a day and run up to six miles.

The Houston resident doesn’t imagine ever going back to her old “friends” and yet she knows that some people return to smoking 25 years after quitting, sometimes just on a whim, other times during a major catastrophe. 

So Christie imagined the worst thing that could happen – the death of one of her children – and wrote herself a note that she still carries in her wallet: “Avoid the one cigarette and you will avoid all others.  Smoking does not, will not, ever help out in a crisis.  It can only lead you to another. Stinks, unhealthy and nasty.”

Christie had quit smoking during her pregnancies and about a dozen times for short periods, but she said they didn’t take until the last time when she outlined a specific strategy.

She set a target quit date, wore a patch for three weeks, and started walking briskly each day.  She stopped hanging out with her smoking co-workers outside the hospital, but instead took a walk around the parking lot so she could still enjoy a break.

In addition to the note in her wallet, she carried a patch in her purse and her car for a year, just in case she got a nicotine urge.  She also filled her house, car, and workplace with mints.  She took deep breaths – lots of them.

Within a year of quitting, she became trained to lead smoking cessation classes called “Fresh Start” for the American Cancer Society, a move she did as much for herself as for others.


Written by Mary Ann Fergus, New York Times News Service and printed in The Reporter, Tuesday, January 29, 2002