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Retired nurse Gina used to tell her patients to quit smoking - and yet she could never give up herself, despite many attempts. Then her GP told her about LiveWell and her life changed for good
I was 40 years a nurse, 40 years a smoker. I used to care for patients with the most awful respiratory problems, look after heart attack victims. I would come back from having a cigarette break, load up on Polo mints - and then sit with patients and talk to them about lifestyle changes, like giving up smoking!
You would think that seeing all these sick people whose health was being massively impacted by smoking would put me off, but smoking was such a huge part of my life.
I started smoking as a young nurse. All my friends and colleagues smoked – in fact most people smoked, it was part of the culture back then in the 1970s. It was just a few cigarettes when I went out socially and grew over time until I was smoking up to 20 a day.
All my close friends used to smoke. There was a group of 10 of us who had all worked together for years and over those years, one by one, all of them gave up smoking. I was the last. Whenever we met up, I would need to pop out and have a cigarette.
It is a terrible feeling to need a cigarette so much you will walk out on your friends and stand alone outside to have it. I put having a cigarette ahead of your friends. In fact, one of my friends said they never thought they would see the day when I would be without a cigarette.
I tried to give up so many times over the years. I have managed to quit for a couple of weeks but always ended up returning to cigarettes when I was under pressure. I used to work on an intensive care ward – one of the most stressful environments you can be in. The first thing I would do when I finished a shift was to go outside and light up.
My other half was a smoker so the temptation was always there. which was so hard. Eventually, though, there was no-one left in my family, no friends that smoked. No-one liked me smoking but I was never put under any pressure to quit. Everyone knew, including me, that it had to be my decision – and I didn’t want to give up.
"I kept smoking, smoking, smoking. At the beginning of the year, I had a couple of heart palpitations. I thought, this is stupid, my body is telling me I have to do something. It was a big wake-up call."
I got in touch with my GP, and he told me about LiveWell. I talked to an advisor who was really helpful and sent to my local pharmacy for some nicotine patches and a nicotine inhaler. I also signed up for coaching from a lovely chap called Dan, one of the LiveWell coaches. He would phone me once a week and see how I was getting on and offer tools and tricks to keep me going.
Some people might feel a bit nervous about coaching but when you are offered any help at all to get on that non-smoking ladder – take it. It is nice to know someone is at the other end of the phone cheering you on. You need that pat on the back and non-judgemental support.
You have to take things day by day. I downloaded the NHS smokefree app and used that to keep track of my progress, see that my body's carbon monoxide levels were going down, my cravings were reducing.
I have noticed a real difference in my skin and hair – no longer dry and nicotine stained. You become so aware of how smoking affects you both inside and out. My clothes and fingers no longer smell of smoke. It makes you feel fresh and new to be smoke free.
"It’s about spotting the weak moments and the triggers and being prepared. I would miss having a cigarette after my first cuppa of the day and after meal. So, as soon as I woke up every morning, I would put on a patch and give it a rub to start releasing nicotine."
After meals I would use my nicotine inhaler to give me the feeling of having a cigarette without the harmful chemicals. It also meant I no longer had to leave my friends on evenings out to go outside and have a cigarette.
In the first couple of months instead of going out to do the food shopping I did it online, and either had delivery or click and collect. That way there was no temptation from the supermarket cigarette kiosk.
I kept my hands busy to distract me. I started doing jigsaws – whenever I wanted a cigarette, I would do a bit more. All my friends started giving me jigsaws! I also started reading and knitting. As soon as the thoughts of smoking came in my brain, I would put them out of my head and do something practical instead.
"Hand on heart, at times it has been hard. There have been days when I just really needed a cigarette and I have thought about getting a packet and having one. I feel proud of myself for sticking it out but admit it is a stupid, stupid habit to have started in the first place."
There was a family crisis and at that point if someone had put a fag in my hand I would have smoked. I was hugely tempted. But I’m lucky to have good friends and family around me that want we me to succeed and stay well.
The smoking app has recorded that I have now been smoke-free for more than 6 months. In that time I have saved more than £2,000 and extended my life expectancy by 14 days. Every one of those days is precious. More days to spend with the people I care about.
"Quitting smoking is a tough journey but such an important one. It is never too late and no matter how many times you may have failed in the past, never give up giving up. With LiveWell Dorset, with the right support, you can do this, you really can."
Be inspired by Gina and get support from our team. We can set you up with a quit package that words for you, including 1-2-1 coaching, nicotine replacement, plus tools and tips to help you succeed.
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