A Diagnosis of Cancer Helped Me Stop Smoking - James' Story

"I had low self-esteem and despite the dangers, I started smoking to fit in..."


It's not often we hear such a compelling account about quitting smoking from someone so young. The fact is, most of us don't get serious about kicking nicotine addiction to the curb until we've given 20, 30, or 40 years of our lives to smoking. James is decades ahead of the game in that regard.

Keep up the good work James, and thanks for sharing your story.

From James:

This is an open letter that I pray will inspire people, especially those who are making the painful decision to quit something that has been such a massive part of their existence for so long.

I hope this reaches those who are new to their quit programs, as well as those who are now getting comfortable and familiar with their smoke-free lives.

Anyone on About's smoking cessation forum between 2006 and summer 2007 may remember me. My name is James. This year I turn 22 (please do not let my young age fool you) and I am from southern England.

I began smoking as a very young teen.

I had low self-esteem and despite knowing the dangers, I started smoking to fit in. It's a common story, played out the world over. For some reason, a rolled-up paper with nicotine-laced tobacco inside is supposed to make you popular, or confident, or cool. It doesn't.

By the age of 15, my addiction to nicotine was so strong I was smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. Soon my ex-smoker parents found out (my dad once worked for the company that made Marlboro cigarettes, and each of my parents smoked between 40 and 60 a day in their early twenties!) and despite their intense disappointment, I continued.

It was my rebellion, along with with alcohol, drugs, skipping school and fighting.

I had so many internal issues going on, I thought acting out would distract those I loved (and myself) from them. Smoking was the main distraction though, because it soon became all I thought about, day and night.

When I was 19 years old, I was smoking up to 30 cigarettes a day at University, and with a night out, it could easily reach 40 a day.

I switched to a stronger brand, yet still smoked more and was in constant pain. A University doctor told me I had the lungs of a 40-year-old smoker and I wasn't even 20. Yet still, the strongest part of my addiction lay within the need to feel "adult." I felt smoking made me mature. How wrong I was.

I remember moving my dormitory room around so that my bed was next to my desk. First thing in the morning, all I had to do was sit up in bed and I was at my desk with a cigarette checking out the news on the Internet. If I didn't have my cig within a moment of waking I felt the veins in my arms and legs throb -- I needed that cigarette. What a disgusting thought, but one we can all relate to, I'm sure.

My rebellion was over but I was left a heavy smoker.

I tried to quit in 2005 and lasted a week when the doctor told me how bad I might feel (I already did) from nicotine withdrawal. I tried again in 2006. My second quit was unsuccessful but the best attempt so far, as I joined this wonderful forum. However, within a few weeks away from the forum I was back to 30 cigarettes a day.

As the year 2007 started, I was looking forward to turning 21. There was to be a big party thrown in my honor, I was getting set for a career, school was going better than ever and I was engaged to my wonderful boyfriend Ashley.

What should have been a great time of transition ended up as a painful and demoralizing (there are no other words) period that I think will always be known as the worst months and year of my life.

I was diagnosed with testicular cancer just before my 21st birthday.

I spent months dealing with treatment and still am, with ongoing recovery. I should stress, this was almost certainly not linked to smoking; however, cancer is cancer, no matter the cause, and it is no easier to deal with, whatever the circumstance. The negative impact of the word "cancer" feels like an immediate death sentence regardless of the cause, type or stage.

It is a word that embodies death, misery, suffering and, very often, regret.

The fear that I could eventually be told I have lung cancer is too much to even begin to imagine and was all the reason I finally needed to get rid of this horrible smoking habit. The thought of being told I had emphysema or cancer because of a habit I was addicted to would be too much. I would not be able to cope.

I had quit smoking in March 2007 shortly before my diagnosis, however, the occasional cigarette crept in here and there. On 14th July, 2007, I vowed never to smoke another cigarette. I am proud to say that I have stuck to that vow ever since.

I can honestly say that I attribute almost 6 months without cigarettes not to willpower, but to exhaustion. I was exhausted from smoking. I was tired of the need, the cravings, the smell, the taste. I was tired of the looks others gave me, the shame I felt, the pain inflicted on those I loved ... the list is endless. I was so tired of smoking, I didn't need willpower. I truly believe the secret to a successful quit lies in the desire to quit. No quit program will work if you don't really want to stop smoking.

You don't want to smoke? Then don't!  It's as simple as that. Is it tough? Yes!  But if your desire to quit is greater than your need to smoke, you will succeed.

We all deserve a smoke-free life.

No matter what triggers us to quit smoking or spurs us on, we deserve the health and happiness that being smoke-free provides. Cessation does get easier and very quickly. It's a wonderful existence without nicotine addiction.  If you still struggle with cravings months after you've quit, then I believe you need to re-examine your reasons for quitting in the first place.

I hope my story inspires someone.

Despite my young age, 8 years of smoking took 2 years of trying to quit and a diagnosis of cancer to wake me up.

I leave you all with a final message:

Do what you can now to decide your fate. Stop smoking while you can before it's too late. You decided to smoke, no matter the excuse, and you have to choose to stop, no matter the reason.

Don't wait for a profound reason; any reason will do.

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