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    Posted November 7, 2013 by
    Los Angeles, California
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    The last cigarette

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    Trying to fit in...


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Lcgonsalves told me, 'My life is "different" since quitting. I have to be very aware of smoke as I can't be exposed to it for a very long time. In my mind, I will always be a smoker. I can't say that I don't crave it - especially when I am stressed out. I do have to constantly remind myself of the pain and the feeling of drowning because I couldn't breathe to keep me from running out and getting a pack. It is a very mental game I play every day but I get stronger and stronger every day without a cigarette.'
    - hhanks, CNN iReport producer

    I started to smoke when I was in my teens. My mom smoked and so did both of my grandmothers. At that time, it wasn't a bad thing to smoke and for a teen, it was the cool thing because it made you seem so grownup.

    As I moved into adulthood, having a baby made me pause my habit but didn't inspire me to quit. Seeing my mom have a stroke at 50 and my grandmother have a heart attack made me think twice about quitting but also added more stress.

    It took me a while to realize I was a stress and social smoker. Pressure from work and going out to happy hours fueled my habit, but smoking made me feel better for just a moment. What is worse is that I knew better - I worked in healthcare and saw the effects of long term smoking.

    I was in big time denial. I kept telling myself; they are ultralights, they aren't as bad; I don't smoke that often, just one in the morning and one at night. Physically, I didn't feel bad and I could still breathe. I was able to exercise without any problems. I didn't see the problem with it.

    Then one day in 2005, it was my health's perfect storm - overworked and stressed, flu season, cold weather, and the Holidays. It started out as the flu and I thought nothing of it at first. I decreased the amount I was smoking. New Year's Eve, the only way that I could breathe was sitting up in a chair.

    I was treated but it was almost too late. I ended up in the hospital for 12 days with 2 chest tubes and the potential of having my chest cracked open just to get the "gunk" out of my chest. I was lucky to get back to health and avoiding surgery. My recovery was long and tedious.

    I finally was scared straight. My thoracic surgeon has told me that I will live with scarring in my right lung for the rest of my life. He said that each year I get older, pneumonia will be a possibility annually during the flu season. I will be on inhalers and medications to help keep me breathing. I have to be diligent with my meds; already found out a few times what happens when I don't.

    Not so cool anymore. Smoking? Nope, not worth the long term problems.
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