Marie began smoking in high school with her friends. They would congregate regularly to smoke the cigarettes they took from family members. “It was the thing to do,” says Marie. “We thought it made you look older.”
Marie smoked for 40 years, although she tried several times to stop. She would quit smoking for up to 9 months at a time, but something—an issue at work or a problem with the kids—would inevitably trigger a relapse.
The mother of two smoked two packs a day. “I was a key puncher for a brokerage house in New York City, and back in those days, you could smoke in the office,” says Marie. But she would also enlist colleagues to walk and get exercise during their lunch breaks. It was during these walks that Marie felt something wasn't right. “My legs were stiffening up,” she recalls.
Although she was concerned, she didn't think the problem was serious. But her symptoms continued to get worse and she went to the doctor. In 1993, she was diagnosed with Buerger's disease, a disorder linked to tobacco use that causes blood vessels in the hands and feet to become blocked and can result in infection or gangrene. It took a year for the diagnosis to be confirmed. “I was in so much pain that I had to take painkillers every day,” says Marie.
Over time, parts of Marie's body, such as her feet, fingertips, and lower legs, required amputation. “At age 44, half of my right foot was amputated. When I was 45, I had a below-the-knee amputation of my left leg. Then my fingers began to go.”
In 2006, Marie quit smoking for good with the help of patches. “I want to see my grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow,” she says. Today, at 62, Marie is a voracious reader and loves to spend time with friends. Through the Tips From Former Smokers campaign, Marie hopes that telling her story will help motivate smokers to quit. “If you had an unsuccessful attempt, try and try again,” she urges.
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- CDC/Office on Smoking and Health
4770 Buford Highway
Atlanta, Georgia 30341-3717