‘Shock of hearing the word cancer was huge fear factor’

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Leona Donnan’s story.

I have recently started working for REACT in Banbridge as a Youth Advice Outreach Worker, previously I was a Lecturer at Southern Regional College, Newry. I am married 11 years with two children. My hobbies include reading and exercise.

I started smoking when I was 18, shortly after I moved to America to work as a nanny for a year. I had tried smoking prior to this with friends who smoked. I think the reason I began smoking full-time in America was due to the fact that the friends I went with smoked and the people I befriended there also smoked, so it was just to ‘fit in’ and go with the flow! Silly I know, but at this stage I didn’t realise how quickly I would become ‘hooked’, and physically l felt fit and healthy and didn’t see the potential consequences to my health. It was more a ‘social’ thing!

My first smoke was horrible, but because I was with friends I didn’t allow them to see this reaction. To be honest I never really enjoyed smoking. I think whilst in America I was quite a heavy smoker, smoking maybe 10 per day (to me that’s heavy), however, when I returned home to Ireland I cut down. It’s strange because I really never wanted anyone to see me smoking, by this I mean the people who didn’t know I smoked. I felt it always looked bad to see a girl smoking. I personally didn’t like the look of girls smoking, so felt I looked bad.

I quit with both my pregnancies, but started smoking again straight after the babies were born. I never smoked when with my children or indoors.

I had wanted to quit smoking for quite a while for lots of reasons; lack of energy, the smell, the effect it had on my chest, sinus trouble, cost, my children, health risks etc.

However, the kick was when I was diagnosed with level four malignant melanoma. After my surgery I was very run down and continued to take chest infections. My doctor explained to me that my immune system was low in the first instance due to me being a smoker, and secondly, due to the stress of the diagnosis therefore it would be difficult for my immune system to restore itself. I personally also feel that my diagnosis had really given me a new look at life, and I felt somewhat lucky that It was caught just in the nick of time, unlike other unfortunate people. Furthermore, the initial shock of hearing the word ‘cancer’ was a huge fear factor, and I knew that I was increasing my chances of getting cancer by smoking, therefore I wanted to ensure I was not contributing to that increase!

I was sitting one day in Daisy Hill Hospital waiting for a check up appointment and noticed an ad on the wall for the smoking cessation clinic at John Mitchell Place. I immediately noted the number and rang it after my appointment. Within three weeks I had quit! The nurse was so motivating, encouraging me to try various methods, and the weekly contact was very supportive and helpful. I quit using Champax tablets. I felt that the fact there were so many different methods and options available to help me quit meant the process wasn’t going to be so difficult and I was going to succeed. I was allowed to try and test various methods until I finally found one that suited me, and this made me feel positive about quitting.

Since quitting smoking I feel so much more energetic and my exercise regime is much easier to complete.