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5 ways I tried (and failed) to kick the cancer stick
January 31st, 2012
01:53 PM ET

5 ways I tried (and failed) to kick the cancer stick

Editor's Note: Rick Morris is one of 7 CNN viewers selected to be part of the Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge program. Each participant receives all of the gear and training necessary to compete in a triathlon, and will finish his or her journey at the Nautica Malibu Triathlon in September.  Rick's biggest challenge, he says, is kicking "the cancer stick."

Two o'clock in the morning.  A couple bottles of my strong pale ale Belgium style home brew.  Got the '80s rocking on Sirius Radio.  What better time to write about my smoking cessation progress?

Perhaps it's a corny way to start a blog, but I don't care.  I'm in the mood for reflecting on the “good ol' days” when I was a non-smoker.   You know, the younger years... the energetic era.  Those were the days when responsibilities were minimal and my poison was nothing more than sweets.

Sure, I had to do my homework, mow the grass and clean my room.  But, generally speaking, I didn't have the slightest concern for personal health.  I was cut like a knife – all 126 pounds, a member of the great Pisgah High School wrestling team, and didn't think twice about running 2 miles to the store for a pack of gob-stoppers and various “junk food."

I could bench press twice my body weight, run full-court b-ball at the Canton, North Carolina, YMCA all day long, and still have enough energy left to make some football card money by hunting nightcrawlers (worms) until the wee hours in the morning. If you ever wondered where your fishing bait comes from, it arrives via “head-lamp-wearing” teenage fools like me.

But for some reason, I ruined my pristine health when I was 29 years old by choosing to “be cool” with my motorcycle friends and lighting up.  I mean, what's one lousy cigarette going to do?  I'm still young.  I have self-control.  I can smoke only when I'm around the biker boys.  Right!  It was only a matter of days before I rationalized buying a pack so I wouldn't have to bum off my friends.  Pretty soon, I was smoking a pack a day.

Since 1998, the cigarette has had an iron-clad grip on my soul.  I couldn't eat a meal without “rewarding” myself with a nice after-dinner toke.  I couldn't hang out with the guys, enjoy a football game, or even drive without a smoke.

I started thinking about quitting perhaps five years into the habit.  It seemed everywhere I turned, people were telling me how unhealthy smoking had become – as if it wasn't unhealthy in the past and only recently became dangerous!

I noticed the social changes, too.  Airlines quit asking if I wanted smoking or non-smoking.  Restaurants, where there were smoking and non-smoking sections, soon became entirely smoke-free.  Prices went from $1 a pack to $5 a pack within a few years.  Even tobacco companies were publishing campaigns on smoking cessation.

So, I thought, I'll give it a whirl... I'll stop smoking.  How hard can it be?

I started with the patch.  You know, a trans-dermal method for injecting just the nicotine and “not all the other harmful chemicals found in cigarettes."  I dealt with the vivid dreams and headaches and was able to stay smoke-free for a couple months.

But at the first sign of stress I was back at it.  The trigger?  Nothing more than a friend who lit up in front of me.  “Hey, can I get one of those?” I asked.  That one cigarette was all it took.  Within a week I was back up to a pack a day.

Next, I thought I'd try it “cold turkey."  That was a complete waste of time.  I think I made it through 2 days before I wanted to squeeze someone's neck.  It didn't matter to me... wife, son, daughter, friend, pet... any neck would do!

How about some tasty nicotine gum?  Sure, if you like freshly-cut rubber from a gum tree with a delightful feet-juice additive, then this is probably the best route a smoker can take towards their smoke-free life.  That idea lasted about two pieces of gum.

After another year of feeling like I was breathing through a box of grits, my new quitting scheme became a calculated science.  I opened up Microsoft Word and looked at the calendar for a stop date.  1 month from today.  If I smoke 16 today, and hold myself accountable for those 16 cigarettes, I can smoke 15 tomorrow.  My plan had me outlining what I call the “draw-down."

I mean, hey, if I built up my physical dependence on this crap, then I can forgo all the gimmicks of gum and patches and cleanse my body the natural way.

This, I rationalized, would reduce my daily dependence and I would be able to call it quits at the end of the month.  So, I created a chart.  Day 1: 16 smokes.  Day 2: 15 smokes.  Day 3: 14 smokes.

I calculated the exact time  I would smoke based on the day's allowance, divided by the number of “awake” hours I had in my typical day (for some reason, I had no trouble being smoke-free while I was asleep!).  This actually worked for me.  I would place my initials on one of the allowable spaces each time I had a smoke.  I finally had commitment.  I had viewable control.  I drew down and kicked the habit.  For 4 months.  Then, I relapsed.  I don't recall why, but I did.

So, I continued moving right along with my happy self.  Life was good.  I had my tobacco security blanket.  It solved any problems I encountered.

But as I neared my 40s, I started noticing subtle changes in my health.  It took longer to fall asleep.  Coughing became a constant nuisance.  My $50 cologne was overshadowed by “Eau De La Forest Fire."  There was never enough flavor in my food.  The term “renewable energy” made me laugh.  And, I found myself becoming lazy.

Ten years into my habit, I saw the next big “quit-smoking” tool on late night television.  It was amazing!  An electronic cigarette!

This thing gave you the nicotine, produced the “smoke," and even lit up with a glow when you puffed.  I could smoke it anywhere – the restaurant, on an airplane – without repercussion.

What a complete waste of money.  While the e-cig addressed my habit of toking, I really didn't find it useful in actually quitting.  Probably the best thing that happened with this approach is my wife accidentally washed it, and I had an excuse to buy a pack of real smokes.

So there you have it - five ways I tried, and failed, to kick the cancer stick. But since being chosen as one of the Lucky 7 in the CNN 2012 Fit Nation Triathlon Challenge, I've been shown a completely new approach in becoming smoke-free: I've finally admitted that I'm unable to go it alone.

My personal trainer, Bill Wilkins, enrolled me in a Freedom from Smoking class at the MedWest Fitness Center in Waynesville, North Carolina.  Today was my second weekly class.

Our “teach” and Dr. Sanjay Gupta fan, Kathy, has a sincere approach in seeing us succeed, and has already enlightened me concerning some very interesting smoking facts and alternative methods for cessation.  In two weeks, we are scheduled for our quit day.  For some reason, I'm buying into what Kathy is teaching us and truly expect to succeed this time around.

I feel somewhat embarrassed that for the first time in my life I require outside assistance in accomplishing something important. However, I have a confident outlook on this humbling endeavor in becoming smoke-free forever.

Unlike my younger years, today I have far greater responsibilities.  People rely on me.  Plus, I'm still young, and I'm not going to allow tobacco to rob me of my prime any longer.

Who's with me?


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.