Former Smoker Says Quitting Saved his Life

Scott Hanson - Stories of Hope

Former smoker Scott Hanson survived a heart attack in 2010. His doctor told him it would have killed him had he not quit his 30-year, 2-pack-a-day habit 4 years earlier. “I tell people that I know how hard it is,” said Hanson. “The day will come when you look in the mirror and realize you’re killing yourself. Every doctor tells me if I hadn’t quit smoking I would have been dead. Quitting saved my life.”

But quitting did not come easily to Hanson. He began trying in 1990 when he got married and promised his wife he’d quit. He tried several different methods over the years, but nothing worked. He tried nicotine patches, but as soon as the last patch was off his arm, he’d start smoking again. Then, in 2006 at age 45, Hanson realized he’d been a smoker twice as long as he’d been a nonsmoker. (He started smoking at age 15.) He decided to quit, and figured the only way he could do it was to go cold turkey.

Hanson called the 800-number for Smoke-free Illinois, a free telephone counseling service created to help people quit tobacco. Studies show that getting help through programs such as the one Hanson used or the Quit For Life program, provided by the American Cancer Society and Alere Wellbeing, improve smokers’ chances of successfully quitting. A counselor over the telephone gave Hanson the encouragement, information, and advice he needed to stop smoking for good. The program also provided him with a nicotine patches, but he just carried around the first one in his pocket – for months – without ever opening it.

Hanson says talking to the counselor helped. At first, she called him every day to ask how he was doing and remind him why he was quitting: for his wife and his 11-year-old son. On the third day, she told him, “The initial nicotine is out of your system. Now it’s a mental thing and you have to be stronger than the cigarettes mentally.” After a week, she called to congratulate him on his progress so far. And she continued to call until the day Hanson knew he’d really quit. He was in bed at night and suddenly realized he had not thought about a cigarette all day. Now he says he doesn’t think about them at all.

Despite the challenges of quitting, Hanson noticed benefits right away. He regained his sense of smell and began to taste food again. He gained some weight, but in 2007, he started eating better and began walking, then jogging, and then running. He lost the weight, his lung capacity increased, and he started training for his first 5K race. He ran his first two 5Ks in 2010.

About a month after he ran his second 5K, Hanson woke up at night with a headache and the sensation his torso was being squeezed. The next morning, as he was describing the symptoms to his wife, he suddenly felt ill again. She rushed him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a heart attack. “I had a heart catheter the next morning and a stent was inserted into the vein on my heart called the ‘widow maker,’” said Hanson. “I had a cardiologist and my family doctor both tell me that if I had not quit smoking I would be dead now.”

These days, Hanson is proud that his son, a college student, doesn’t smoke. He appreciates being able to wake up in the morning without coughing. He continues to exercise and eat right, and when he feels stressed, instead of reaching for a cigarette, he goes for a walk.

Hanson said he wouldn’t have succeeded without the support he received from his wife and son encouraging him to quit. And he has a message for other smokers:

“Quit thinking about yourself and think about the people who love you and need you. You’re hurting the people around you. I understand addiction. You think in your head – ‘No way I can stop,’ but I’m living proof that you can.”

"You think in your head: 'No way I can stop,' but I'm living proof that you can."

Scott Hanson

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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