Quitting smoking transforms health and well being

20 January 2016

Charlottetown, PE -

Quitting smoking transforms health and wellbeing.

 “Cigarettes controlled my life and made me lose sight of my goals,” says Mary-Helen McLeese.  “I’m so relieved that I finally took my life back.” 

The Stratford woman was always an above-average athlete.  As a young adult, she was a competitive swimmer, a member of the Canada Games team for cycling, and a lifeguard.  She was very active and loved trying new things.

In junior high, she started smoking occasionally.  “I’d buy cigarettes at the corner store,” she said.  “They sold them individually at the time and there were no age limitations.  I’d get a buzz from them and it became fun; all my friends were trying them.”  She continued to smoke casually with her friends through high school.  By the time she was in university, she was smoking a pack-a-day or more.

McLeese admits it was at about that time in her life that she gave up on her active lifestyle.  She said she felt like a fraud.  “I thought people would judge me and question why I was there when I was secretly smoking at home.  So I stopped doing the things I loved.” 

This week, January 17-23, is National Non-Smoking Week.  During National Non-Smoking Week, the Canadian Cancer Society encourages people to think about why they want to quit and celebrates those who have successfully quit.  “We want to raise awareness of the benefits of not smoking and encourage people to quit,” says Lori Barker, executive director of the PEI Division of the Canadian Cancer Society. 

Barker hopes this week encourages smokers to think about their personal motivations to quit.   “When you are ready to take that step, we have a number of services available to help you.”  Barker explains that the Smokers’ Helpline works with individuals to develop plans around dealing with cravings and how to deal with the negative thoughts in your head that might be holding you back.  “Many people are like Mary-Helen.  Their negative self-talk makes them think it is useless to try or that they can’t do something because they smoke. That isn’t the case and we can show them how to turn those thoughts around.” 

Mary-Helen decided to take her life back when she neared 30.   “I always told myself I’d quit before I was 30.”  When thirty loomed near, the rising costs of cigarettes and her self-imposed deadline were her motivation to quit.   “It wasn’t easy…but quitting is a lot about your mindset.  I kept a full pack of cigarettes in my house.  A big part of it for me was knowing they were there.  As a smoker, having the pack meant I had the option of ‘breaking the glass’ if I needed to.  I kept that full pack for over 6 months.” 

In 1997, after quitting smoking and moving to New Brunswick, Mary-Helen got back into the active lifestyle that she had left behind as a smoker.  She started swimming to get back into shape, and within a few months was swimming competitively again.  She also started running and cycling. 

Many would think that getting back in the game after years of inactivity would be impossible but Mary-Helen completed a triathlon within 18 months of quitting.  She had taken her life back.  “Before I knew it, a year-and-a-half had flown by.  I had totally transformed myself and was just about to complete a triathlon!  I felt pretty terrified but also very excited. I knew I could do it, I knew I had trained very hard and that I deserved to be there.”

The Canadian Cancer Society is committed to helping Canadians become and stay smoke-free.  It reports that tobaccos products are the leading cause of preventable death in Canada, killing about 37,000 people annually.  More than a third of cancer deaths are directly related to smoking.  “Mary-Helen is the perfect example of how resilient our bodies are.  Your body begins to repair the minute you stop smoking,” say Barker.  Within a month of quitting circulation improves and energy levels increase.  After 10 years of quitting, a person’s risk of lung cancer is half that of a continuing smoker. 

Mary-Helen channeled her competitive side and used that to push herself to stay smoke free and to regain the lifestyle she was so used to. She has been a non-smoker for almost 20 years now and still remains very active.  In 2014, she was the only Islander to swim in the Big Swim, a fundraiser that required her to swim across the Northumberland Strait.

“Even though giving up smoking for good was something I did almost 20 years ago, I have vivid memories of how much smoking dictated my life before I was able to quit,” says McLeese.  “A key lesson I’ve taken away from my journey is that you have to be determined.  You can’t fool yourself into something like this.  You need to want to do it.  You need to set goals and put your mind to it.  Smoking will not get you where you want to go and might just make it impossible as long as you let it control your life”.

“My advice to others struggling with their smoking addiction, is to try something new to get your mind off smoking.  Learn how to swim if it’s new to you or start walking, running or biking.  Begin slowly and you will be thrilled with just how quickly things improve.  Soon you will start to feel good about what you are doing and giving up smoking will not be as impossible as you once thought.”

About Canadian Cancer Society Smokers' Helpline

Smokers' Helpline is a free, confidential service that provides personalized support, advice and information about quitting smoking. Operated by the Canadian Cancer Society, Smokers' Helpline helps Islanders quit via phone support at 1-877-513-5333 and via

About the Canadian Cancer Society

The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer.

For further information contact:

Julia Pike, Canadian Cancer Society (902) 566-1713 (x2240), jpike@pei.cancer.ca