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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2007, 12:08 GMT
Shocked into stopping
Lisa Garrity
Lisa feels 'more relaxed' after quitting through the shock therapy
The fight to quit smoking can take many forms, but shock tactics worked for Lisa Garrity. Here she tells how a radical approach, including touching a tumour, helped.

I'd always hated smoking.

I ran track and cross country, played in a band and did cheerleading, so being a smoker didn't fit with my self-image as a healthy person, but I did it anyway.

It was only when I tried to quit last year after about 15 years that I realised I was a truly addicted smoker.

Smoking was something I felt I should stop doing. Like I should start running, and eat more vegetables and fruits. My hobby is the trapeze but I needed breaks that no-one else needed.

Over the years, I've tried to quit with varying degrees of effort and success.

Last October, my friend Kate asked me if I still wanted to quit smoking. She works on the smoking ban campaign and they'd had a request from the BBC for a case study. I jumped at the opportunity.

Gunk-filled lungs

Meeting the doctor, Alice Roberts, was great. We talked about how the lungs work. Smoking paralyses the cilia which are used to clean out your lungs. So, a smoker's lungs don't get cleaned out like everyone else's.

In my mind, I saw a cesspool of gunk coagulating at the bottom of my lungs.

Cancer tumour in lung
At the tumour's core, the colour was the same as the ashes in my ashtray at home
Lisa Garrity

I also watched a lung cancer surgery on Christine, a woman in her fifties.

It was scary. I expect to be working until 65, then travel during retirement. The reality of my own mortality really hit me: I could easily be in her place.

The surgery was fascinating as well as invasive and rough; especially pulling apart the ribs and seeing the surgical implements poke through the skin. Surgery is not something I want to go through. Pain and I don't mix.

Watching surgery on screen felt distant and theoretical. Going in to see the cancer afterwards was emotional. I wanted to cry. It was a real struggle to maintain composure.

There was no way I could kid myself anymore. You can't breathe through that chalky, hard lump and you don't have to be a surgeon to see that. They let me touch the tumour and I still can't believe I touched cancer.

When the surgeon cut it open, I couldn't speak. I couldn't comprehend breathing around a tumour the size of a tennis ball in my lung.

Inside, it looked like the cross-section of a huge piece of chalk - except for the black area. At the core, the colour was the same as the ashes in my ashtray at home.

There was no way I could put a cigarette to my lips without seeing the cancer and imagining my own, identical cancer, lurking in my lungs and blowing up like a balloon.

Scared and ashamed

It scared the hell out of me and I felt cold and clammy. I felt I'd be the most irresponsible person in the world if I didn't stop smoking.

I thought of a friend who'd passed away in an accident and here I was playing Russian roulette. I felt ashamed.

I worried about Christine for days. My grandmother was much older than Christine when she had chemo for breast cancer, but I saw the results and she did not survive.

I joined the NHS and the Together free stop smoking programmes. The group programme was really good because you find other people who feel the same way.

There were a lot of times when I wanted a cigarette. And a month where I turned into Evil Me - I was quick to anger, which frightened me because I'm not usually aggressive.

Turning point

Most of my friends hung in there. Kate reminded me that it was the addiction talking, not my personality. It helped that she treated it as an addiction rather than a character flaw.

The biggest turning point was travelling with my friend, Elizabeth, who discouraged me when I wanted a cigarette.

I've now had almost four months as a non-smoker. I think about it less, the scary flashes of anger have gone and I save money by not buying cigarettes and on dry cleaning.

My attitude is much better, I feel more relaxed and endurance during trapeze feels easier. I've tried bikram yoga and survived. They say it increases lung capacity, so maybe I'm correcting those 15 years of smoking.

And, so far, I really am a non-smoker again.


Lisa gives up smoking in this week's edition of Don't Die Young, Tuesday, 23 January on BBC Two at 2000 GMT.


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

When are they going to introduce pictures of lung cancer and diseased hearts on the face of cigarette and cigar packets - that will spread the 'shock' message to every smoker in the land.
James Baller, Sutton, England

I too have struggled to quit smoking - at 17 years old I never thought it would actually be difficult. Boy was I wrong! I'd recommend that everyone should set a quit date, since that really helped me.
David Blair, Stockport

I was a 20-a-day smoker until I finally managed to quit in October 2005. I had always enjoyed it and would tell myself that life is too short to worry about lung cancer. But one morning I watched a news report on Jack Wild who had mouth cancer from smoking and had his tongue removed. This stopped me immediately. Although it was at times almost impossible, I thought back to that news report each time I craved a cigarette. Please, if you want to quit, do, it's so much easier over time, you can do it.
Tamsin, Douglas, Isle of Man

Lisa, you are not a real non-smoker yet if you include the words "so far". You have not actually decided "that is it, I don't smoke" so I fear it will not last, but I applaud you for trying. One day it will stick - and you will know it.
Judy

I haven't had a cigarette now for 8 years, but occasionally I suddenly find myself tempted. I have come to the conclusion that I am just a smoker who hasn't had a cigarette for a very long time. It helps me stay vigilant even after the physical cravings have gone. Good luck.
Richard, Woking

I'd like to send best wishes to Lisa, good luck! I gave up three years ago after 13 years. I spent two solid weeks reading up on all the facts about smoking, the chemicals, the diseases, the statistics, it all helped. I went on patches for two weeks, then cold turkey from then on. Always amazes me how this lethal past-time is still legal!
L.E. Birmingham

Smokers should be aware that they're killing the people they smoke around as well as themselves. So if you do stop puffing away for a second to think about cancer, remember you're giving it to your friends too. If that doesn't work - remember, no-one wants to kiss a smoker. It's like snogging an ashtray. It's utterly foul. (If death doesn't work, sex might)
Michelle, London

Cancer is only a relatively small part of the horrific risk that young people expose themselves to by smoking. Heart disease kills and maims many more than cancer; and some are left so short of breath that they cannot even eat or drink without oxygen flowing into them for 16 hours a day due to chronic lung disease. Watching young, previously attractive teenagers plastering thick make-up over their faces in order to cover up their grey pock-marked deoxygenated smoking-related damaged skin might also deter a few smokers from starting.
Mark, Wiltshire

I gave up smoking a week today and am finding it tough. I have printed this out to read every time I feel the urge. I know it will help.
Sarah McCarthy, Middlesex

I gave up smoking three years ago after more than 30 years of smoking 20-plus a day. God it was hard, the hardest thing I have ever done, at times I was climbing the walls. But I was determined to succeed as I had watched my beloved father die of cancer and didn't want that experience for my children. And I wanted to see my grandchildren grow up. Unfortunately I was diagnosed with cancer 18 months ago, but the oncologist tells me if I hadn't given up when I did I would not be here now. So my message is DO NOT WAIT, GIVE UP NOW.
Mike Blackmore, Gravesend, Kent

I'm not convinced that scare tactics really work to be honest. Every one knows that smoking is bad for you, and can cause cancer and other diseases. People just put that to the back of their minds - after all, it's not happening now, right? I gave up after reading a well known book called "Easy Way to Stop smoking".
Isabella, Bristol,

I was a hardened smoker since the age of 15 (I'm now 45) and I tried several times to give up the dreaded weed, it took a massive asthma attack and subsequent heart attack to shock me into giving up. It was the wake up call I so desperately needed. It's been four years since I last smoked and I feel so much better - I can breathe, I can walk without getting breathless and cigarettes now smell disgusting to me. Well done Lisa for joining the non smokers club.
Linda, Sussex UK

When will they start to do as much about alcohol addiction as they do smoking? There are vast resources to help smokers who want to quit but very little for those who want to give up alcohol.
Graham Fuller, Hemel Hempstead

I gave up smoking on Monday. I know it's only 2 days but I feel so proud of myself that I haven't already given in to the cravings. Well done to Lisa for stopping smoking - I hope I can follow in your footsteps.
Michelle Blake, Liverpool

I wish my Mum could have seen what Lisa has. Unfortunately she died of lung/liver cancer last year aged 49 after smoking heavily for over 30 years. I think the shock treatment may have worked for her where nothing else did. Smoking devastates families, and I for one would be pleased to see a law passed making it ILLEGAL to smoke around children. I get so angry when I see parents pushing tiny babies in prams and smoking all over them. Good luck to you Lisa.
Emma, Reading, UK

Just before Christmas I got a nasty chest infection so I stopped smoking, thinking I would start again when my chest was better. However after about two weeks I felt great and simply didn't have the cravings for a smoke, still now no cravings either. And I used to love smoking so much that I would crave for a ciggy even when I was smoking one.
Nick, Bedfordshire

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