On the morning of Jan. 13, 2013, Pam DeGroot got up and went out to her garage to smoke her last cigarette.
And she did. Right down to the filter. It was over.
She stopped smoking as easily as she had started as a teenager 45 years before.
“No pills or patches,” she said. “I just knew it was time to stop. I feel great now. It’s the best thing I ever did for myself.”
DeGroot, 65, of Marysville, walks four miles, five times a week. She does deep-water aerobics in the winter and rides her bike on the Centennial Trail in the summer. She spends time with her grandchildren, helps out in the gift shop at the Colby campus of Providence Hospital and plans to become more active in her church.
DeGroot essentially bought back years of her life by not spending a fortune each week on a carton of cigarettes.
She started smoking soon after graduating from Lake Stevens High School. Back then, a pack of smokes was 25 cents, and it seemed that everybody was doing it.
“Smoking was the last thing I thought I would ever do. I was raised in a strict home,” DeGroot said. “I went to beauty school, and we all smoked. I got married and my husband smoked. I worked 23 years at Bayliner in Arlington and nearly the entire crew smoked.”
After her husband died three years ago, DeGroot thought more seriously about her mortality.
“My kids never nagged me, but I know they were concerned about my age and my smoking,” she said. “And I did not want to be one of those old ladies with a cig hanging from my lips.”
Then DeGroot found out she had breast cancer. Her oncologist made an early diagnosis, and she’s been cancer-free for a while now. But the idea of smoking during chemotherapy is just as distasteful to DeGroot as the picture of the elderly woman with a cigarette in her mouth.
“Besides, I was embarrassed about how I smelled,” she said. “I hated coughing up phlegm each morning, and I did not like how my voice had changed over the years. Smoking is no longer socially acceptable.”
DeGroot sat down with a book about how not to gain weight during smoking cessation. She made her New Year’s resolution. She plotted how she would handle the urges to smoke. She planned out her meals and all of her activities, leaving little free time.
“Smoking was my friend,” DeGroot said. “I needed to learn how to drink coffee or a glass of wine without smoking.”
When she was ready, DeGroot smoked for the last time.
“Afterward, I started crying,” she said. “I knew I would never go back. I felt it was God’s will that I stopped. I grieved for all the years I smoked and all the money I spent.”
The overwhelming feeling, though, was one of freedom, she said.
“I have never felt so free,” DeGroot said. “I’ve gained a little weight, but not much. I have more stamina. My senses of taste and smell are coming back. My kids and my grandchildren are proud of me.”
Not all smokers can go cold turkey, as DeGroot did.
Legend has it that Mark Twain once said, “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times.”
The American Cancer Society agrees that the battle against nicotine addiction is difficult.
There are support groups, call-in counselors and nicotine replacement therapy in the form of gums, patches, sprays, inhalers, lozenges and prescription drugs. People also use hypnosis, acupuncture and electronic cigarettes to help themselves stop smoking.
The truth is that, like other programs that treat addiction, most quit-smoking efforts have low success rates. The American Cancer Society’s consulting doctors urge people to keep trying and to feel good about cutting back, even if they don’t make a clean break.
Less than 10 percent of people are able to quit smoking without medicines or other help. Studies in medical journals have reported that about 25 percent of smokers who use medicines can stay smoke-free for more than six months. Counseling and other types of emotional support can boost success rates higher than medicines alone.
Behavioral and supportive therapies may increase success rates even further. They also help the person stay smoke-free.
The American Cancer Society’s literature lists the four things people need to have in place in order to quit.
There’s no one right way, but four factors are key: Make the decision to quit; pick a “Quit Day”; deal with withdrawal by planning for it; maintain your smoke-free habits.
Still, DeGroot wants to encourage people to just stop.
“You are never too old. If you want to stop bad enough, you can do it. Find an exercise you like. Plan it all out. In the long run, you won’t miss it.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.