As I write this column, I have been a non-smoker for 72 days. I can breath easier, I smell better, and for the first time in 16 years, I have been able to sport a cancer awareness pin without any guilt.
I remember once covering a Relay for Life event while I was a smoker. I happily cheered everyone on, heard heart-wrenching stories of loss and then hid behind Roberts Creek Elementary School to light up. I felt horribly guilty, but also felt I "needed" the smoke.
Now that I have a little distance from my addiction, I can really see the stupidity of it. But while I was in the midst of it, all I could think about was getting my next fix.
I organized my entire life around smoking. I couldn't start my day without a cigarette. I couldn't feel satisfied after a meal without a cigarette. I couldn't relax without a cigarette in hand, and I certainly couldn't go out and enjoy an evening without a full pack of cigarettes. If I was drinking, I was likely chain smoking, because that's what I did.
I never really thought about the negative health effects and had that "it won't happen to me" attitude.
I even called it a cancer stick jokingly, but never gave the statement any real thought.
I figured my Mom had smoked two packs a day for 20-plus years, and she never had any negative health effects - so I wouldn't, either.
That all changed recently when my Mom was diagnosed with lung cancer.
It has been about 30 years since she had her last cigarette, but the doctors said it doesn't matter. Once you've been a smoker, you are apparently susceptible to cancer at any time, and lung cancer often shows up after the smoker has quit. The longer you smoke, the more likely you'll get cancer.
Those of you who have dealt with the deadly disease know the devastation of getting that diagnosis and the kind of strength it takes to go through the treatments. I think it also takes a lot of faith and prayer - and I would ask anyone who's reading this who is a praying person to offer up a prayer for my Mom.
I originally decided to quit smoking because I was going through surgery, and it was an ideal time to kick the habit. My husband has always hated it, and I knew deep down I couldn't do it forever. But when the news of my Mom's diagnosis came in, I had a new reason to stay smoke free.
My Mom is the most important woman in the world to me. She has supported me and loved me through some pretty rough times, and now it's my turn to support her. If part of that means staying away from cigarettes so she doesn't have to worry about me, it's a small price to pay.
I won't lie - quitting smoking has been the hardest change I've ever made in my life and I still crave that destructive "friend" every day. But the reality is it wasn't helping me. It wasn't making me relax or helping me focus. It wasn't helping me cope or making life more enjoyable, although these are the things I told myself. It was slowly killing me and taking over my life, putting itself at the centre and demanding I stop and light up whenever the craving called, brainwashing me to think I needed it.
Smoking is a deadly habit and I'm glad it's one that is over for me. I just pray that down the road I won't have to suffer the consequences of my stupidity.