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Part-skim mozzarella cheese sticks are my new best friend. I’ve always been fond of cheese in all its forms – from mild cheddar to the stinkiest blue – but four weeks into my new life as a relative non-smoker, these whitish, cylindrical, cigar-length snacks have never looked so good.
I was already more or less a member of the carrot stick crowd and I prefer my almonds raw and unsalted, the way nature intended, but paying particular attention to everything I eat – and how much of it – is a new obsession I’m developing now that feeding a half-pack-a-day habit is no longer an option.
Thanks to the smoking cessation program at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH), a McGill University teaching hospital, I feel well on my way to experiencing what the program title promises, Freedom from Smoking.
But I’m not there yet, even though I’ve just received my “graduation” certificate from the month-long program.
As counselor Joseph Erban has repeatedly said since the first of the twice-weekly sessions, nicotine addiction is a chronic condition that cannot be cured, only managed. So far, I think I’m managing fairly well, though I still struggle without the cigarettes that mattered most to me, the ones I call my “gear-shifters” – the midday smoke, the puffs I would take while walking to the metro after work and, of course, the all-important first cigarette of the day with a steaming-hot cup of coffee.
The rest of the 15-odd cigarettes a day I can, quite frankly, do without, but it’s still too early for me to feel totally free.
Quitting is a process, I’ve learned, and by no means an easy one. That’s why programs like Freedom from Smoking, a collaboration between the JGH and McGill’s Department of Oncology, exist.
The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) also offers a smoking cessation program at the Montreal Chest Institute, so it’s clear the help is out there. It’s just a matter of seeking it out.
“In any kind of addiction, we talk about the pre-contemplative state, before someone starts to think about quitting, and then there comes a pivotal event that happens that makes them decide,” explained Dr. Michael Dworkind, director of the Freedom from Smoking program, associate director of the Cancer Prevention Unit at JGH and an associate professor of family medicine at McGill. “If there’s a good program in place with a motivating force behind it, it’s a great combination.”
My pivotal event was more a slow, steady coming-to-grips with what I had been doing to myself by smoking.
At the age of 38, despite smoking all my adult life, I’m still young enough to reclaim much of the health of a non-smoker and to envision many more years without cigarettes. Of course, the drugs help.
When I’m not popping a Zyban pill to suppress cravings – and, as a chemical offshoot, generally feeling happier to be alive – I’m parking a nicotine gum between gum and cheek to extract the full, low dose I still need to get me through the day.
That, and the surprising level of support I’ve received since writing about my plan to quit a few of weeks ago in these pages.
There have been emails and expressions of encouragement, and at least two earnest inquiries about where to sign up for the Freedom from Smoking program. I’m grateful for the first and happy to comply with the second. And I’m looking forward to the day – one day soon – when I can say I feel truly free.
For more information or to register for the Freedom from Smoking program at the Jewish General Hospital, visit www.mcgill.ca/cancerprev/clinical/smoke/ or call 514-340-8222, ext. 3870.