Great American Smokeout will hold special significance for UMFK wellness coordinator

November 12, 2004

For Caroline Williams, UMFK's assistant director of residential life and wellness, Thursday, November 18, the 28th annual Great American Smokeout, will be marked with a flurry of activity as she leads a campus-wide effort to get smokers to quit for at least the day.

On November 17 and 18, Williams will be stationed in the entrance to Cyr Hall, UMFK's main classroom and administration building, getting the message out about smoking cessation to the campus community.

On Wednesday, the eve of the Great American Smokeout, she will be joined by members of the Kappa Rho sorority signing smokers and tobacco chewers up to take the challenge of quitting for one day. The team will be armed with toothpicks, sugar-free gum, lollipops, paper clips for the stressed out smokeless to fidget with, and other items to help smokers make it through the next day.

The display on Thursday will change to feature tobacco use information boards from Northern Maine Medical Center and other material about smoking cessation and support available to individuals who need help to quit.

However, working to convince University students, faculty and staff who smoke to kick the habit is taking on added significance and special meaning for 22-year old Williams, who recently quit smoking and will celebrate her two-month smoke-free milestone in a very public way on the same day.

The most personally rewarding moment of this year's Great American Smokeout will happen early in the day, when the former pack-a-day smoker turns the number seven over to reveal the number eight on a public bulletin board in Cyr Hall that is allowing the campus to track the weekly progress in her own battle to remain smoke-free.

"I posted my quit date on the wellness board in Cyr Hall, which allowed me to change to how many days or weeks I've been smoke free. I also told all my friends and colleagues, my teachers, my parents, anyone that I saw on the street, I wanted the whole world to know that I was stopping," said Williams. "I also swore to myself early on that if I slipped up, I'd have to change the count on the wellness board so that everyone would know that I hadn't quit,I promised myself that I'd be honest, and that's made it easier to stay tobacco-free."

William's initial impetus to quit came both from within, and as a result of a UMFK course in which she is currently enrolled entitled promoting personal health, instructed by Jenny Radsma, associate professor of nursing.

One of Radsma's course requirements tasked Williams to create and implement a personal health plan for the semester.

"I figured that professor Radsma would look through any plan I made that talked about diet and exercise, and say, 'What about the smoking?'. I was also getting sick of walking up a flight of stairs and gasping for breath, waking up in the morning and coughing up blood, feeling chest pains at odd hours of the day, I had abused my body for long enough, and it was just time to start saying no," said Williams.

Having made the decision to quit, Williams then took the necessary steps to kick the habit.

"I went all out. I set a quit date two weeks in advance and got a prescription for nicotine patches, made my minivan a nonsmoking area, bought all the lollipops Paradis Shop-n-Save had, stocked up on gum and chewy candy, dried fruit, nuts, popcorn, all sorts of things I could eat when I was craving," said Williams.

The young woman, who had smoked regularly since the age of 16, also turned to Radsma, her professor for further advice and assistance.

"Professor Radsma asked me a series of questions that identified my addiction level, my intense-craving times, and a variety of methods that would help me personally in quitting. Smoking is a coping mechanism, and it's very personal and different for each smoker and Jenny helped me figure out what help I specifically needed, as opposed to what smokers in general need when they try to quit," said Williams.

"She also gave me a card and homemade apple pie when I'd made it 48 hours smoke free and trust me, that helped tremendously. The hardest part about quitting can be the lack of support. Nonsmokers can be critical, and say, 'Well, yeah, so you finally wised up!' while smokers can be noncommittal in the sense that they're proud of you but wondering perhaps why they aren't following in your footsteps. I was extremely lucky, and received support from both the smokers and nonsmokers while quitting," added Williams.

Now Williams is hoping to offer that same support to others. Because of her very public smoking cessation campaign, she has been approached by individuals seeking advice on quitting.

"Two fellow students in my personal health class tell me that I was their 'inspiration,' and professor Radsma tells me of other students she has that are trying to quit, and are watching the wellness board to see how I do. Staff and faculty members ask how I'm doing, and sometimes say, 'I wish I could quit.' And I tell them, You can. Go see Jenny Radsma."

Williams is further sharing openly her own personal testimony about the difficulty, as well as, the positive impacts of quitting.

"Well, it's been hard. I often talk about quitting as if it weren't that hard, and as if I could do it again, no sweat. But in reality, it was hard, and the first two weeks took forever to go by. That first smoke free day must have been several years longer than most days. But now, it's easier not to smoke, and it certainly helps that tobacco smoke smells really bad to me, and it helps that restaurants and bars have gone nonsmoking. If I were constantly confronted with cigarettes and smoke, it would be a struggle. Instead, I try to prevent being put in any situation where cigarettes are readily available to me in times of stress. So I stay away from gas stations and their Marlboro advertisements when I'm discouraged or upset," said Williams.

The positive effects have, however, outweighed any of the difficult moments.

"I can breathe properly; my mother doesn't 'tsk' at me anymore; and I am honestly very amazed at how easy it actually was and how excited I am to be able to do yoga here on campus, play intramurals, and feel my body re-awaken. My feet and hands are warmer than they were just a few weeks ago, my chest pain is almost nonexistent, and I don't feel like a hypocrite when I do an aerobic workout. I can taste flavors I had forgotten about, smell trace scents, and sing without a constant catch in my throat. I feel so much better than I've felt in years. I had completely forgotten what it's like to be this healthy. And it's only been two months, I can't imagine the changes after a year," she added.