Tragedy and pain so often beget the start of many a story. We all have a story. When someone asks me Why I do, What I do, it is this story that echoes through my life, driving me forward. You see I am transported back to 2 events that changed my life, and I live with them every single day.

 

COLIN

 

I was 23, my partner at the time Colin was 25 going to be 26 the following week.  Colin was a hard worker, but when he wasn’t working, he liked to have a drink and a smoke.  He started smoking when he was around 12, just something that all the kids he hung around with did at the time, so of course, he did it too.  As time passed and he left school and started work. Just about everyone in his trade smoked, so the habit is reinforced. Such is the insidious nature of smoking.  Colin had dreams and goals and was working hard to get ahead to achieve them. Other than the smoking he appeared relatively healthy.

 

One Tuesday evening Colin came home from work with a massive headache, took a couple of pain killers and went to bed.   A few hours later after his mate check on him, Colin could not be woken and was rushed to emergency with every test you can imagine run to find the cause. He had been a pack a day smoker for many years, and smoking caused a blood clot to his brain.

 

He would never wake up; there were no good-byes, no I love you, I’ll miss you  - nothing, there was nothing.  He passed away without fanfare and alone, in hospital in the very early hours of Thursday morning.   He was my best friend; he was just gone. No more. Colin was buried 5 days later on what should have been his 26th birthday.  It was almost impossible to get my head around it.

 

All these years later, the hurt and pain of how quickly it happened have never left me.  The complete unfairness and waste of life because Colin chose to smoke.  For one moment of supposed pleasure from smoking a cigarette, caused the premature death and dreams of a hard working young man who would never reach his prime.  But with his death also came the death of my dreams, our dreams.  There is a perpetual sadness, an emptiness that never leaves.

 

 

MUM

 

My sisters and brother all arrived at the Epworth to support our Mother as a specialist gave test results from tests taken the previous week.  We all suspected it wasn’t going to be a positive consultation.  She was frail, tiny but so very strong, but beneath there was fear.

 

My family is no stranger to tragedy, we have had more than our fair share of it over the years.  We lost our father suddenly and unexpectedly when we were all much younger which left my Mother a widow at 46 with six children (one intellectually challenged) and no income.  It was hard, really hard and I am in awe to this day at how she kept us all going while dealing with her grief.  

 

Life was not easy for my mother and in an era when smoking was perceived as grown up and sophisticated, everyone smoked! They smoked in the movies, the workplace, anywhere, anytime, without restriction. My mother smoked right through all 6 of her pregnancies.

 

My Mother tried to stop smoking so many times, patches, gum, anything at all she could get her hands on to help stop, she did it. To no avail. After losing my Father, my mother lost her soul mate.  Cigarettes got her through, at times I am sure she thought cigarettes were all she had.  And as strange as that sounds, this is true for many people.  

 

My Mother was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, it spread to her bones and just about everywhere else.  She weighed about 45kg, and chemo wasn’t an option, radiation was done to try and give her more time.  She was given perhaps 6 months.  What a concept. Time to live, time to die. Time to be sick.

 

This strong and stoic woman who had created us knew before the prognosis that it wasn’t going to be good, but she coped with it by telling herself she had TB, which she had had many years earlier, because she could cope with that, she somehow couldn’t cope with the real prognosis because she said that she would have to admit that she was somehow responsible.   Whatever she wanted to do was fine with us.   Years of smoking had taken their toll and now those insidious cigarettes would take my Mother. Whatever was to come, we were needed to help her get through with as much dignity and as little pain as we could. This would be one of the biggest challenges of our lives.

 

She had to have her medication stabilised and at the time in Victoria, there was a chronic shortage of hospital beds.  The only available bed? The very hospice her own mother and sister died in. Depression soon set in and we decided that Mum would come to live with me and I stopped working full time.  

 

A room was created to allow her to see who was coming up the driveway through the large windows. We made a sign which read “PENTHOUSE” and stuck it on the bedroom door.  What became important too was that sense of humour. Her end time was going to be as happy, fun and healthy as we could possibly make it.

 

An oxygen bottle had been her constant companion for a couple of months now – and what followed was a myriad of Palliative care programs, daily visits from nurses, doctors, etc.  A bombardment of paperwork to fill out.  As per primary caregiver, I helped with the endless administration of medications etc…other siblings would drop in throughout the week whenever they could, and those that worked nearby came around at lunchtimes.   We would take her out with us as much as we could but it was always limited to a couple of hours at a time.  

 

Even my German Shepherd dog Shadow was looking after her.  He slept in mums room, and if she moved or made a strange sound he would be up like a shot licking her face, touching her with his paw,  he was a truly remarkable dog and I can still see him just sitting there with his head resting on her bed looking at her with those big brown eyes.  One time we even tied shadow to mums wheelchair and he took her for a ride down the street – it was just like a sleigh.  He was a big dog and he was always just so very loving and gentle to her.  But he knew, he knew she was sick.  He never left her side. Breaks my heart thinking about that as I write.

 

Ambulance and emergency department visits increased due to temperature and breathing problems.

 

My mother had stopped smoking a couple of days before her terminal diagnosis.  She stopped cold turkey, just like that.  No cravings, no urges, no thought of smoking again.  But it was just way too late.  It was so too late.  

 

Then came the morning for her to go to the hospital for a week then she would be back home.  My mum was standing up just getting ready to walk down a couple of steps to the front door to get into the car.  Shadow came up to her – he jumped up and put his paws on either side of her shoulders, he was towering over her now, and licked her face and rested his head on one of her shoulders.  It was the most amazing thing to witness.  She was so frail and yet he was so gentle, he never pushed her over or hurt her, and as quickly as it happened, it was over.  He knew, he knew she wouldn’t be coming back home.

 

So we arrive at the hospital, mum was greeted like she was the Queen.  The Doctors and nursing staff were unbelievably wonderful to us.  She never wanted for anything, and they looked after our welfare as well.  It was to this day the most extraordinary experience.  They took her into her own room and immediately it was full of flowers, and we left leaving them to start the process of adjusting her medication so that she could come back home in a few days.  Back in the next morning and she was looking even smaller, the bed seemed to be so big, but it was just that she was ravaged with this hideous cancer from smoking cigarettes.  

 

There was no one from the tobacco company there to help her, to get her medical treatment, they didn’t care and even if they had known they would still have said that smoking doesn’t kill.  They have been guilty of so much propaganda, lies and deception that, well… best I leave it there.  But I was angry; I was angry that my mum smoked, I was angry that she was lied to like all other smokers, that cigarettes make our life better, I was angry that my mum who had never hurt anyone,

 

I am still angry.  

 

I am angry for all those before her and all those after her that have an illness or have died from smoking related illness.  

 

I am angry for the family that is left behind for the total waste of lives, just for one minute of perceived pleasure from a cigarette.  

 

But mainly I am angry for myself and my siblings, for this insidious cancer will take her from us within days.

 

Over the next two days, my mother's health deteriorated, and we all met with the Doctor, he informed us - they have made her comfortable, and as pain-free as possible, there are only days left.  She is somewhat delirious at times.  

 

She will not be coming home.  

 

We are in and out of the hospital and early Friday morning when I go in the doctor grabs me and says that she won't last the day.  Siblings arrived as quickly as they could.  We all spent alone time with her.  Whether she was hearing us or not, we didn't know, but we kept talking.  They increased her medication.  

 

We were left with our mother, this tiny skeleton that is our mother.

 

My mum was an attractive woman with a lovely figure, not too thin, but a gorgeous figure especially for someone that had had six children.  She loved life and loved a good laugh.  We didn’t have a lot of money growing up but we had love and laughter in abundance.  We were a strong close family and still are to this day.  

 

 

It became dark outside, and we were around the bed each of us holding her hands and each other's hand.  Her eyes opened and she looked at each of us – smiled – and then closed her eyes for the last time.  It was the saddest thing and yet it was so beautiful.  This little skeleton that was our mother, took her last breath on this earth with her children by her side.  

 

The doctor who had stayed way past his time to go home to be with us came in and pronounced her passing.  There was not a dry eye in the room.  

 

At the invitation of the nursing staff, we dressed and cleaned our mother. Dressed in a blue robe that matched the colour of her eyes, she looked so very peaceful.

 

And then she left us again.  

 

It was a freezing July evening outside with a bright full moon,  and as we stood in the carpark saying goodbye to each other, we huddled in a circle and just hugged and cried. I went home that night to find Shadow laying on my Mother's bed and that’s where we stayed, together all night.

 

I do what I do so that hopefully others don’t need to go through what my mother did, what my partner did.  I at least said goodbye to my mother.  But it was a goodbye that should not have had to have been said for at least another 20 years or more.  I never got to say good buy to Colin.

 

Everyone has the right to.  An absolute right.  But my wish is that to those of you that smoke, that you stop and see there is nothing a cigarette can do for you except to make you very very sick.  You don’t deserve that and neither do your loved ones.  

 

The time that I am writing this I am helping a client and her family cope with her imminent death at age 42.  It saddens me to my core that this still happens, and whilst my client Quit smoking 8 months ago, some of her last words to me in the hospital were – Why didn’t I Quit years ago? Why did I not stop, I will never see my kids graduate or be there for their milestones.  Will they forgive me, will they remember me?  I just never thought this would happen to me…

 

I would love just 5 minutes with my Mum and Colin, just 5 minutes more…. But there never is just 5 minutes more.  

 

We just don’t recognise the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening, we think, there will be other days, we just don’t realise that was the only day…

 

This is why I do what I do

 

 

 

 

Are you someone who find themselves to be moody, anxious or stressed out from work? Do you find yourself reaching for the rectangular cardboard box every time you feel this way? You may be part of the 12.6% of the population in Australia who make up the smoking rate in adults as found in the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey report. For years and years the deed of smoking has been associated with the relief of stress. The reprieve from everyday life that acts as a form of escape from life's ups and downs and if you find yourself mimicking this behaviour then it is likely that you might be a stress smoker.

 

Here at the Melbourne Quit Smoking Clinic we have a strict no judgment policy. This stems from a life of experience with those who have a love for smoking. Witnessing this occurrence has made us realise that smoking is not the best way to escape the stresses of everyday life and it can’t be as simple as saying quit smoking today, yet it is a matter of re training a stressed out mind to mentally disassociate the feelings of relaxation often paired with taking a breath of a cigarette and put other techniques in their place.

 

Researchers at Cornell have conducted research, suggesting that smoking does not alleviate stress but has been linked to triggering stress. In 2005 a study titled Smoking, stress, and negative affect: Correlation, causation, and context across stages of smoking discovered that “Nearly 25% of the U.S. population smoke tobacco products, many of these people reporting that they smoke more often when they feel stressed, worried, sad, or angry.” http://www.human.cornell.edu/hd/upload/CIWS-module_Smoking.pdf.

 

This is a large percentage of the American population that have mentally linked their smoking habits to stress, yet we are very much advocates that there is nothing contained in a cigarette that helps to relieve stress, in fact it is the opposite. Cigarettes can contain up to 70 cancer-causing chemicals, which can be alarming to discover. http://www.healthline.com/health/smoking/nicotine-withdrawal#Overview1 

 

Feelings of stress often arise when you haven’t had a cigarette for some time, which is termed ‘nicotine withdrawal’. As a smoker you associate the relief of these troublesome feelings with the breath of your next cigarette, thus forcing a positive association in your mind. People often feel they are escaping and take a breath in when they smoke, it is the escape from social situations and the deep breath that gives the idea that one is relaxing. Health Line advises that the changes in mood and anxiety are connected with nicotine withdrawal. http://www.healthline.com/health/smoking/nicotine-withdrawal#Overview1 

 

Nutrition Australia cannot stress enough how important it is for those who have chosen to quit smoking to remain hydrated. “When having a craving for a cigarette, one method to beat the craving is to keep your mouth and hands busy. Sipping on water throughout the day can help do this”. It is also necessary to keep a bottle of water near you at all times to act as a distraction whenever an urge arises and this can also help improve concentration thus reinforcing willpower to stop yourself from smoking a cigarette. http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/sites/default/files/fact-sheet-water-quitting-smoking.pdf 

 

American College of Surgeons addresses the aspect of needing to quit for an impending operation stating “Smoking increases your risk of problems during and after your operation. Quitting 4 to 6 weeks before your operation and staying smoke-free 4 weeks after it can decrease your rate of wound complications by 50 percent. Quitting permanently can add years to your life.,”.

https://www.facs.org/education/patient-education/patient-resources/prepare/quit-smoking

 

While this is true it can also place added stress on individuals as they experience feelings of being boxed in as well as a pressure to change for such an unexpected reason. To remain calm and stress the least, it is important to think of the long-term benefits of making the change. Quitting smoking is not a sprint, it's a marathon and healthcare professionals, family and friends will be more than willing to provide the necessary support to start a change.

https://www.facebook.com/melbournequitsmokingclinic/photos/a.116811242101777.1073741828.116656308783937/269968153452751/?type=3&theater


Everyone will experience stress or anxiety at some point in their life, yet when this stress becomes linked with habits like smoking all hope is not lost. You may be experiencing emotional or physical stress which triggers smoking but with the Melbourne Quit Smoking Clinic you can be assisted to overcome your internal battles in ways that you may not have even thought of without venturing too far from your comfort zone.

 

 

 

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