It was easier to smoke than find food
Jane didn't manage to quit smoking until after she got COPD. But giving up cigarettes was the best thing she ever did.
When I was diagnosed with lung cancer, I really thought it was all over.
Then one of my friends told me “nothing is set in stone”. And I’m still here, 16 years later.
Cigarettes were easier than food
I started smoking young, and by the time I was 12 I was addicted. My home life was going pear-shaped. My mum went absent, and I didn’t like being there much after that. I would often go away on the weekends.
I was hungry so often. It was easier to beg for cigarettes than food, and they helped with the hunger pangs. Things were different when I was a child – I could go into any shop and buy 5 Woodbines if I had enough money.
Smoking made me look older, which I liked because I was going on political marches and spending time in Trafalgar Square with the homeless young people coming to London.
At the time, I didn’t know it’d be 30 years later until I stopped for good.
Singing in the 60s
As I got older, singing became a big part of my life. I loved it! It was the 1960s folk revival and soon enough I found myself singing in folk clubs, eventually in bands with my friends.
But I started to notice that smoking was affecting my singing. Then my mother, a smoker of many years, died from lung cancer at the age of 62. That frightened me so much.
I tried to stop so many times - but gave in every time, thinking it was impossible.
Then one of my singing friends got emphysema.
He was in such a bad way. He couldn’t sing at all anymore or play his melodeon. It was awful. He was so frail, and his wife would have to look after him everywhere he went.
But I still couldn’t stop smoking.
My last cigarette
A few years after that, in the winter of 1996, I was taken into hospital with pneumonia. My chest x-ray showed I too had emphysema, plus ‘moderate’ COPD. I smoked my last cigarette that day.
Quitting was so hard, but I overcame my cravings using nicotine gum. But then I became addicted to that instead! Instead of smoking for England, I was now chewing for England! I bought so much gum. For 4 years, this went on.
After I quit, I found I was feeling better and better! And not only that, but my singing got much better – a whole upper octave that I couldn’t reach before.
In early 2000 I came down with a bad flu and a cough that just wouldn’t clear. After lots of back and forth from the doctors, I found out some awful news - I had lung cancer.
Words can't express the terrible devastation I felt.
I love my husband so much, and I didn’t want to go to sleep anymore because I felt like it was using up the time I had left with him. He just hugged me all the time. My mum had died of lung cancer. I was positive I was going to die as well.
Then I found out a month later that the cancer was operable.
You wouldn’t believe the relief – to go from feeling like you have a death sentence, to feeling like you’ve been given a chance to live again. It was wonderful.
Recovering from my operation
In the end they removed my entire lung. At first I felt too weak to eat proper food let alone chewing gum – hence I was weaned off the gum and became a proper 100% non-nicotine addict for the first time since I was 12.
It’s been a hard road, though my oxygen saturation was really good for a long time, even by the standards of a healthy person!
But a chest infection in 2012 took its toll on me. I’m still singing though, even with just one lung! I have my own choir in Ramsgate, and sing all the time with my husband, and even in some bands. Everyone should sing!
I'm so glad I quit when I did
I just feel really lucky. Life is so valuable.
My sister tried to quit smoking so many times. She died in 2011 of respiratory failure and I saw what happened to her. She couldn’t stop. She went very quickly after getting COPD - about 5 years, then she was gone. My mother died too, in 1983 from lung cancer.
For years I felt like cigarettes were my best friends. They were always there to comfort me. But all this time, they were actually my worst enemy!
I smoked when I was frightened - then I'd feel more frightened, so I'd smoke more.
Thank goodness I told these false friends where to go. Because I quit, I'm still here now, 16 years on.
I came so close to death, and life is all the sweeter as a result.
- Read our information how to quit smoking