The puff stops here

Twenty years later af­ter quit­ting smok­ing Mary-He­len McLeese tells how this act has trans­formed her life

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - CLASSIFIEDS / HEALTH -

Quit­ting smok­ing trans­forms health and well-be­ing.

And no one knows that more than Mary-He­len McLeese.

“Cig­a­rettes con­trolled my life and made me lose sight of my goals. I’m so re­lieved that I fi­nally took my life back,” says the Strat­ford res­i­dent.

McLeese was al­ways an above-av­er­age ath­lete. As a young adult, she was a com­pet­i­tive swim­mer, a mem­ber of the Canada Games team for cy­cling and a life­guard. She was very ac­tive and loved try­ing new things.

In ju­nior high, she started smok­ing oc­ca­sion­ally.

“I’d buy cig­a­rettes at the cor­ner store. They sold them in­di­vid­u­ally at the time and there were no age lim­i­ta­tions. I’d get a buzz from them and it be­came fun; all my friends were try­ing them.”

McLeese con­tin­ued to smoke ca­su­ally with her friends through high school.

By the time she was in univer­sity, she was smok­ing a pack-aday or more.

It was at about that time she gave up on her ac­tive life­style. McLeese felt like a fraud.

“I thought peo­ple would judge me and ques­tion why I was there when I was se­cretly smok­ing at home. So I stopped do­ing the things I loved,” she says.

Dur­ing Na­tional Non-Smok­ing Week, Jan. 17-23, the Cana­dian Can­cer So­ci­ety en­cour­ages peo­ple to think about why they want to quit and cel­e­brates those who have suc­cess­fully quit.

“We want to raise aware­ness of the ben­e­fits of not smok­ing and en­cour­age peo­ple to quit,” says Lori Barker, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the P.E.I. divi­sion of the Cana­dian Can­cer So­ci­ety, adding when some­one is ready to quit, there are ser­vices avail­able, in­clud­ing the Smok­ers’ Helpline.

“Many peo­ple are like Mary­He­len. Their neg­a­tive self-talk makes them think it is use­less to try or that they can’t do some­thing be­cause they smoke. That isn’t the case and we can show them how to turn those thoughts around.”

McLeese de­cided to take her life back when she neared 30. The ris­ing costs of cig­a­rettes and her self-im­posed dead­line were her mo­ti­va­tion.

“It wasn’t easy...but quit­ting is a lot about your mind­set. I kept a full pack of cig­a­rettes in my house. A big part of it was know­ing they were there. As a smoker, hav­ing the pack meant I had the op­tion of ‘break­ing the glass’ if I needed to. I kept that full pack for over six months.”

In 1997, af­ter quit­ting smok­ing and mov­ing to New Brunswick, McLeese started swim­ming to get back into shape. She also started run­ning and cy­cling and went on to com­plete a triathlon within 18 months of quit­ting. She had taken her life back.

“Mary-He­len is the per­fect ex­am­ple of how re­silient our bod­ies are. Your body be­gins to re­pair the minute you stop smok­ing,” says Barker, adding that within a month of quit­ting cir­cu­la­tion im­proves and en­ergy lev­els in­crease. Af­ter 10 years of quit­ting, a per­son’s risk of lung can­cer is half that of a con­tin­u­ing smoker.

A non-smoker for al­most 20 years, McLeese re­mains very ac­tive. In 2014, she was the only Is­lan­der to swim in the Big Swim, a fundraiser that re­quired her to swim across the Northum­ber­land Strait.

“My ad­vice to oth­ers strug­gling with their smok­ing ad­dic­tion, is to try some­thing new to get your mind off smok­ing. Learn how to swim if it’s new to you or start walk­ing, run­ning or bik­ing. Be­gin slowly and you will be thrilled with just how quickly things im­prove. Soon you will start to feel good about what you are do­ing and giv­ing up smok­ing will not be as im­pos­si­ble as you once thought.”

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