On National No Smoking Day, Donegal woman Mary Mc Ateer decribes how she quit the habit after 63 years of smoking and three episodes of cancer.

Mary started smoking in the 1940s, when she was 17, and was an addict right up to the age of 80. She battled cancer three times before deciding that enough was enough.

Mary sought help to stop smoking seven years ago and hasn’t looked back since. She is hoping that by telling her story it might encourage others to think about doing the same.

This week Mary catches up with Fiona Boyle from Donegal Smoking Cessation Services to tell her story:

Mary Mc Ateer relaxing at home

How did you cope giving up? Was it hard?

It wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. I made up my mind to do it and I was in hospital so that made it easier.

I got patches from Elaine, the smoking cessation nurse, and plenty of support from the nurses and other staff. I then went to a nursing home to convalesce for a few weeks so I was off the cigarettes a good while before I came back to my own house in Rathmullan. My family were also very encouraging to me to remain a non smoker so all in all it wasn’t too bad.

What held you back until now to quit?

I didn’t really feel cigarettes were affecting me in my early days of smoking and we weren’t as aware of the dangers as people are now. Also anytime I was ever in hospital before there had always been a smoking room so it was always very easy to smoke and you didn’t really have to think about it.

How did you know you had to give up?

I had my 3rd bout of cancer and was about to undergo an operation that I know I would not have survived if I was still smoking. I didn’t want to take the risk so I decided I would give it a go. Elaine also told me that I would be better off if I quit.

Does it still feel as hard now?

No I am coping fine and I rarely think of cigarettes these days and when I do I am glad to be quit as I know I wouldn’t be here now if I was still smoking.

Did you have any support quitting?

I was very determined and the hospital staff were very supportive especially Elaine and Dr Janice Richmond from the Oncology team. Then when I got home my family were very good.

The fact that there was no smoking room on the ward I was on helped as it made it very awkward to smoke. Also when I got home the smoke free bars and other smoke free environments helped as I wasn’t in the company of any other smokers. I think one of the best things that ever happened was the bars going smoke free. My family have run a bar for years and I live above the premises.

What did your family and friends say when you told them you were quitting?

They were delighted when I told them as they had wanted me to stop smoking for years. None of my children or grandchildren smokes as far as I know and they never liked me smoking either.

Did you use the Quit services?

Yes I used the Smoking Cessation Service in Letterkenny University Hospital initially.

Did you use Champix, NRT or other treatments to help you quit?

I used the patches and found them helpful. I had been advised to quit when in hospital many times in the past but when I quit in 2010 it was the first time I was ever offered patches when I was in hospital.

Did you have any unique ways of coping when you were most desperate?

I used to keep myself busy and any time I thought of a cigarette I got up and did something else instead. I love knitting and found that very helpful and I also enjoy reading so I had plenty to keep me occupied. I also started exercising and still enjoy going out for a walk most days here in Rathmullan.

What advice would you give to someone who’s finding it hard?

You have to make up your own mind to quit but stick with it and it will be worth it as if you don’t it will affect you in later life. It’s never too late to stop smoking but I think the earlier you stop the better.
If you can throw them away and say goodbye to them otherwise they will affect you if you continue to smoke. I didn’t want to be breathless and sitting in a corner I would much rather be independent and able to do my own thing.

How did you stay off?

I did it one day at a time and I was frightened that I would get more short of breath so that helped me as well. I knew that the cigarettes were causing me so much harm so I decided even if I was tempted to have a cigarette that I wouldn’t give in to them.

They are also so expensive now that I don’t know how I ever managed to afford to smoke. Eventually I forgot about them. My family were also very persuasive and really wanted me to stay off them.

How do you feel about your life as a non smoker now?

I feel great and very proud of myself for sticking with it. Everything is cleaner and I have more money so that’s good too. I would encourage others to consider doing the same.

I now know that the smoking I did caused me to be short of breath at times and I sometimes have to use an inhaler.

Are there things you can do now that you couldn’t before when you smoked?

My breathing and energy levels are a lot better and I go for a walk most days now which I didn’t do when I was smoking. I also found that my hearing improved which I was surprised about.

I always ate well but I can smell and taste my food better now. I feel good and very proud of myself for achieving this.

What does being a Quitter mean to you?

I have the freedom to do what I like and don’t have to worry about how I will get my next cigarette. Also I don’t know how I was able to afford to smoke as I used to smoke between 20 and 30 cigarettes each day.

If you could say something to yourself 10 years ago (or whenever you smoked), what would you say?

I would advise myself to get support and use medications to help me get started with quitting as both of these really helped me.

Do you miss cigarettes?

Don’t miss them but occasionally think about them especially if I am bored or have nothing to do. I would go mad now if anyone smoked in the bar downstairs or here in the house.

I was in Letterkenny University Hospital last week for an appointment with the Oncology team and I was delighted when Dr Janice Richmond told me that I don’t have to come back to see them again and that they are discharging me as I am doing so well. I threw my arms around her and gave her a big hug as Janice would have been very supportive when I quit in the early days. That news made stopping smoking worth it for me.

If you live in Donegal and are interested in quitting smoking you can join any of the 13 free Smoking Cessation Clinics by contacting Fiona on 0872514790 or Catherine on 0860492465 or Elaine on 0749123678. You can also contact the QUIT team on 1800 201 203.