Cancer patient Jill Tsang is urging smokers to stub out the habit and Make March your Month to Quit.
The 38-year-old Belfast mum stopped smoking on September 23, 2020, with help from the Cancer Focus Northern Ireland stop smoking service after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Cancer Focus NI says quitting is one of the best things you can do for your health, your looks, your finances and your relationships – and during Covid-19 it’s more vital than ever to quit. They are encouraging smokers to stop the habit during March, No Smoking Month.
For my son
“Getting cancer was such a shock, I desperately wanted to get healthy again and I knew that stopping smoking was one thing that I could do both for me and for my nine-year-old son Tyler,” Jill said.
“I was diagnosed during lockdown on July 23. I’d found a lump between my arm and breast back in March just before Covid hit. At first I thought it was a cyst but by June I realised it was getting bigger and I became concerned. I had my first biopsy at the end of June and was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. I had 38 lump nodes removed from under my arm and then started on chemotherapy.
“I decided I couldn’t put my body through anything else. Stopping smoking was one thing I knew I could do to help myself. I’d been having problems speaking for too long because of a shortness of breath. Even as I was going through treatment I felt so much better having stopped.”
‘I promised to stop’
Jill continued: “I’d been smoking for about 20 years, 10 to 15 cigarettes every day and up to 25 if I was out socially, so I was quite a heavy smoker. I have given up a few times before but always went back to them when something bad happened – it was always stress that made me pick up a cigarette again.
“I knew psychologically I was doing something good by stopping but I’d also promised Tyler for the last year and a half that I’d stop. I agreed I would give him something every time he saw me with a cigarette in my hand or even saw them in the house. I thought it was going to cost me a fortune but he didn’t make much out of it as once I stopped I really stuck to it.”
Stop smoking service
Someone told Jill about the Cancer Focus NI stop smoking service and she thought she’d give it a go.
“It’s held remotely rather than face to face because of Covid. I found it really helpful. I had weekly phone calls with a stop smoking specialist for 30 or 40 minutes every Monday. It was brilliant having someone to keep tabs on me and see how I was doing, to give me encouragement and tips on how to make the break, such as changing my routine.
“I used to have two cigarettes in the kitchen as soon as I got up each morning. I’ve stopped doing that. I also got the kitchen redecorated and I don’t want to ruin it with smoke. One of my friends who I’d have video called for a smoke and a chat refuses to do that anymore, which also helped. She’s trying to stop now too,” she said.
Don’t give in
“I used about two nicotine patches but decided I wanted to go cold turkey. I got a bit moodier and the odd day I thought I could kill for a cigarette but I didn’t give in. I don’t even think about it anymore.
“I’d advise anyone to use the Cancer Focus NI service, you’re four times more likely to quit with support. Don’t just do it for you but do it for your family too.”
Cancer Focus Northern Ireland has led award-winning stop smoking campaigns for 50 years. Gerry McElwee, the charity’s head of cancer prevention, said: “During the coronavirus pandemic we’ve all realised just how important our health is. In addition, there’s evidence that smokers are more susceptible to coronavirus and to serious illness from Covid-19.
“No Smoking Month in March is a perfect opportunity to consider giving up smoking, not only to reduce your risk of contracting Covid-19 but to reduce the risk of severe disease associated with the infection and to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.”
Gerry added: “We know quitting can be difficult for some smokers. However, our message to smokers during the pandemic is that our support services are still here. We’ll increase your motivation and help you identify methods that will work best to help you stop. Remember with support, you’re four times more likely to succeed.”
Cancer Focus NI’s face to face services are currently on hold but the charity is still offering zoom and phone support and has set up a private Facebook group where smokers can get hints, tips and information on how to quit. To join simply look up Stop Smoking Support NI – Cancer Focus NI on Facebook and ask to join.
Over the years local stop smoking services have already helped nearly 300,000 Northern Ireland smokers to quit. Cancer Focus NI’s stop smoking support service is funded by the PHA and you can also find services in many community pharmacies, GP practices, HSC Trust premises, and community and voluntary organisations.
No Smoking Month is coordinated in Northern Ireland by Cancer Focus NI and includes a partnership with the PHA, the Health Living Centres Alliance, Health and Social Care Trusts, and local councils.