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Debbie: Breast Cancer Survivor

Dedicated to tomorrow's new beginning
Debbie Ellis, a breast cancer survivor with a stressful job, has been a smoker for over 20 years. Since 1994, Debbie has used cigarettes as a way to relieve her stress. And although she did quit once, for almost four years, she relapsed. 

At one of her follow-up visits, her oncologist asked her an important question. “Would you like help to stop smoking?”  

When Debbie answered “yes”, she was referred to the Tobacco Treatment Program, a program offered to all patients treated at Smilow Cancer Hospital and its Care Centers throughout Connecticut.

The Tobacco Treatment Program helps patients quit through evidence-based treatment options, including medications and behavioral strategies. It combines counseling and drug treatment tactics and is structured to meet the individual needs of each patient.

“I was assigned to Margaret, a counselor who works for Smilow,” noted Debbie. “She has been just fabulous. She has helped me so much.” 

The program works by identifying what triggers a person to want a cigarette and includes a nurse practitioner who works with patients individually. Debbie identified her biggest trigger as stress from her job. 

“I work for the State of Connecticut as a court monitor. All day, I monitor and record courtroom proceedings and prepare transcripts to maintain a record of the proceedings. I sometimes need to understand the complex terminology and be able to produce overnight and expedited transcripts when requested. Most days there are over 200 cases on a docket per day. My job is often stressful and demanding.” 

“Margaret made me look at other times I wanted a cigarette … times that I was most in need, such as after dinner and first thing in the morning. Also places that were triggers, such as when I’m driving in my car.” 

“Then, Margaret had me write down some ideas of what I could do, both at work and at home, instead of having the cigarette. For instance, sucking on a sugar-free candy, licking a lollypop, or using a stress ball or a toothpick. Margaret gave me a small prayer shawl I could keep in my pocket, knowing it is there for me to hold onto when I am feeling anxious has helped me a lot.”

“We did all of this at Smilow … it’s such a useful program for the Hospital to offer for free as part of my follow-up care.”

The Program at Smilow operates on the principles of the U.S. Public Health Service Clinical Practice Guidelines. All treatment components are evidence-based. All patients are treated with FDA approved first line medications for smoking cessation and smoking cessation counseling that stresses appropriate coping skills. The program utilizes the appropriate treatment based on each patient’s individual situation and history with smoking.

“The most important thing I needed to do,” noted Debbie, “was to set a date for quitting. I procrastinated quite a bit. We talked about my lungs, how they worked and what they did. That was very informative for me – to understand what I was doing to my body. With Margaret’s help I finally set my Quit date – March 1, 2019.” 

“I am so proud that I made that date. I fulfilled my own pledge by quitting on March 1. I continue to take Chantix (a prescription smoking cessation aid), twice a day, morning and night. It has some side effects like weird dreams, but I can deal with those. What is most important is that it continues to help me deal with my stress.” 

The program also offers follow-up messages to help patients after they have quit. 

“I get text messages to check in and ask me how I’m doing,” said Debbie. “If I say I have had any problem, such as that I am feeling stressed, I get an immediate text back with ideas of what I can do to deal with it. Those texts have been so useful to me, keeping me on the right path.”

“I can’t say enough about how this program has helped me. The people involved are so generous with their time and so supportive to all of us. And for Smilow to offer this important program as part of my follow-up care has been a real blessing for me. It has changed my life and I am forever grateful.”