Claire Tolnai with nurse Siobhan Carney

Two years ago, after her husband, a lifelong smoker, died of lung cancer, Claire Tolnai’s son pleaded with her to stop smoking.  He’d just buried his step-father and witnessing his mother continue to smoke everyday was too much for him to bear. “Do you want to wait until you get cancer as well?” he asked. Claire realized she’d have to quit her habit.

Claire began smoking when she was only 16 years old. “When I was young we didn’t know smoking was unhealthy,” she says. “It was the fashion. It was in the movies. We just didn’t know.” And by the time Claire learned about the harmful side effects of smoking, it was too late. She was already addicted.

Unfortunately her habit caught up with her when she was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Her physician at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), Dr. Arnold Zidulka, immediately referred her to Impact – the Smoking Cessation Program at the MUHC.

She’d tried to quit a few times in her life, particularly when she was pregnant, but she never managed to completely drop the habit. Every time she managed to stop, she was struck by a setback or a tragedy, and turned to cigarettes as a coping mechanism. It was the Impact program that finally gave her the help she needed to take back control of her life.

One of the counsellors at the Smoking Cessation Program is nurse clinician Siobhan Carney, who was an invaluable resource for Claire as she worked to drop the habit. Claire knew she didn’t have the willpower to quit on her own so she relied on the support systems, and the personalized approach of the Impact program. Siobhan enrolled Claire in both individual and group therapy sessions, which gave her the support she needed.

Today, Claire is pleased to say she hasn’t smoked in a year and a half. She remains in contact with Siobhan, and knowing she has someone to turn to in case she feels the urge to smoke is part of what keeps her on the right track. That and the love of her son. She notes that she recently almost relapsed when her brother was diagnosed with liver cancer, and when her mother passed away. But after two puffs of a cigarette she tossed it away, knowing she was better off without it. At this point she truly knew she was finally a non-smoker. “I know now that I can handle even the bad things that before I thought I couldn’t handle. I’m very proud of myself for staying strong, and my son is also very proud.”

Claire doesn’t want to become another smoking statistic, dying of the habit that has taken the lives of so many of her relatives. She notes that many of her cousins continue to smoke in spite of losing their parents to lung cancer. She encourages them, as well as all other smokers, to have the courage to drop the deadly habit.

Click here to make a donation to IMPACT – the Smoking Cessation Program at the MUHC.