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Making a change: She succeeded in quitting after a cancer diagnosis

After more than 30 years as a smoker, Peggy Strong quit. November 2019 marks her second year as a non-smoker. (photos by Susan Kahn) After more than 30 years as a smoker, Peggy Strong quit. November 2019 marks her second year as a non-smoker. (photos by Susan Kahn)

This is one of a series of articles focusing on lung cancer.

When Peggy Strong, 47, of Liverpool was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, “my first reaction was to have a cigarette.”

She had smoked since the age of 14. Her radiation oncologist brought up the idea of smoking cessation. Even though she had long wanted to quit, Strong says quitting wasn’t an option for her then because of the added stress of her cancer treatment.

Then her mother was hospitalized. She was under the influence of pain medications when Strong visited. “She doesn’t remember saying this to me, but she said, ‘Of all people, I can’t believe you continue to smoke — after having cancer.’ It struck a nerve. It was like, I have to make a change.”

HealthLInk on Air logo(Hear tobacco treatment specialist Theresa Hankin explain some of the best methods for quitting smoking, as well as the risks of vaping.)

Strong contacted Upstate’s Smoking Cessation Program and quit in November 2017. Strong met with Theresa Hankin, a respiratory therapist and tobacco treatment specialist. She used a nicotine replacement patch for a while, and she had lozenges and a nicotine inhaler that she used a few times. She’s also got Hankin’s phone number in case she ever feels as if she’s going to slip.

“I don’t know how or why, but I have no desire to pick up a cigarette again,” Strong says.

She took up crocheting because she didn’t know what to do with her cigarette-free hands. “I made the world’s longest blanket,” she describes, and gave it to her oldest son. He’s a smoker, and she hopes that he will decide to quit someday.

She underwent a low-dose computerized tomography (CT) scan that showed no abnormality in her lungs. She had no signs of lung cancer, she says. She takes a medication to help prevent recurrence of the breast cancer, which was discovered early and successfully treated.

They quit smoking, too

Sheila Devaney

Sheila Devaney, 56, of Baldwinsville

Started smoking:at age 11.

What prompted her to quit:The surgeon who removed her gallbladder last spring introduced her to Theresa Hankin,

a respiratory therapist and tobacco treatment specialist for Upstate’s Smoking Cessation Program. “I wasn’t ready then,” says Devaney. “But when I was ready, I called this woman. From the moment I met her, not once did I feel like a jerk for smoking.”

How she’s doing:Hankin offered encouragement, and the Upstate Foundation helped pay for Devaney’s medication, varenicline. “I’m still trying to figure out a way to thank her. Without her, and the foundation, I would still be smoking.”

Richard Neufang

Richard Neufang, 59, of Syracuse

Started smoking:at age 30.

What prompted him to quit:“I wanted to increase my chances of living longer” after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. “And, I knew I would feel better. I always thought it was stupid that I started smoking in the first place. I despised it all my life.”

How he’s doing:“The last cigarette I had was March 17, last year.”

Rick Shattell

Rick Shattell, 69, of Redfield

Started smoking:at age 16.

What prompted him to quit:During treatment for prostate cancer, Shattell had to undergo regular phlebotomies, an uncomfortable procedure in which a needle makes an incision in a vein. “Dr. (Rahul) Sethtold me, ‘if you quit smoking, we won’t have to do this anymore.’ That was huge for me.”

How he’s doing:Sometimes he still craves a cigarette, but he’s learned how to shift his thinking to something else. “It’s very hard to do in the beginning,” he admits.

Terry Tourot Terry Tourot

Terry Tourot, 62, of LaFayette

Started smoking:at age 13. “I’ve been trying to quit forever, since I got pregnant with my son, and he’s 33 years old.”

What prompted her to quit:Her lung cancer screening

included a connection with the Smoking Cessation Program, where she received counseling and the medication bupropion.

How she’s doing:“I’ve been struggling with my health, but this is one thing I’ve done right. I feel so much better now. I can sing a whole song now, and I don’t lose my breath.”

To reach the Smoking Cessation Program, call 315-464-3519 or email hankint@upstate.edu

Did you know?

-- 80% of the lung cancers discovered through screening are early stage and mostly curable.

-- 2% of people eligible for lung cancer screening undergo the test.

Cancer Care magazine fall 2019 issue coverThis article appears in the fall 2019 issue of Cancer Care magazine.