Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital
Robert O'Bryan's Tobacco Cessation Journey
Robert O’Bryan, a United States Army Veteran, began smoking cigarettes as a teenager. His use of tobacco continued throughout his enlistment. However, Robert decided to quit smoking by his mid-20s because of newfound spiritual values. He didn’t have a single cigarette for 35 years.
At the age of 59, and out of curiosity, Robert tried a pipe that belonged to a friend. Although he found the experience to be unpleasant, it did produce an urge for him to buy a pack of cigarettes. After 35 years of smoking cessation, Robert redeveloped the habit and was back to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
Unfortunately, Robert discovered that restarting tobacco use at his age quickly took a toll on his physical and emotional health. Within a year, he was experiencing shortness of breath without overexerting himself. He also found it difficult to concentrate and think clearly. Robert was embarrassed and felt guilty about his renewed habit. As a result, he began to hide his smoking from friends and family, which only worsened his feelings of guilt.
Before long, Robert wanted to quit again. However, after several failed attempts — along with stress from caring for a family member and a lack of tobacco cessation support — he began to lose hope he would ever be able to quit.
Robert learned about the tobacco cessation programs offered at Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital from his primary care physician. After attending Truman VA’s “Thinking About Quitting?” class, he began to learn successful cessation strategies. He also received coaching and support from Truman VA providers. In November 2016, Robert enrolled in Truman VA’s “Quit Program.”
“I really wanted to quit,” Robert said. “I knew it was very unhealthy and I felt guilty about starting up again after all those years.”
Although he did quit for a few months, stress and low self-confidence made him unsure he could stay away from tobacco. He continued to struggle with urges, had numerous slips and eventually relapsed.
Finally, Robert recognized that if he was going to be successful, he had to accept that there was no safe level of tobacco use. He could no longer give himself permission “to have just one” when he felt stressed or upset.
In November 2017 Robert re-enrolled in the Quit Program.
“This time I felt more prepared to quit for good,” Robert said. “My lungs were congested, I was having trouble breathing and I coughed a lot. I thought, ‘If I don’t quit, I am going to die.’”
During the first three sessions, Robert developed a personal cessation plan to manage the physical, psychological and habitual components of his addiction. He also received support from his fellow Veterans and Dr. Joe Hinkebein, a health behavior coach and lead tobacco clinician at Truman VA.
Robert’s quit day was Nov. 29, 2017. As part of his cessation plan, Robert participated in a “quitting” ceremony by reading a personal “goodbye to tobacco” statement. He finished with the words, “I am a non-smoker!” He has been tobacco-free ever since.
It’s now been almost a year since Robert stopped smoking.
“My overall health is much better and I am able to concentrate again,” Robert said. “I also am happier with myself and proud of what I have accomplished — and, I no longer have to feel guilty about hiding a smoking habit.”
Robert wants every Veteran who has doubts about quitting tobacco to know that if he can quit, anyone can quit.
“If you are a smoker who wants to stop, please give Truman VA’s Quit Program a try,” Robert said. “For me, being with other Veterans who were motivated to quit helped me stay motivated. Also, the encouragement and support from others really does help.”
Robert now knows there is no safe cigarette — no matter how long you have been tobacco-free. He also knows that life is better without tobacco.
To learn how you can successfully quit tobacco, consider attending Truman VA’s Thinking about Quitting? class. A physician’s referral is not needed. Simply call (573) 814-6000, extension 52489, and ask to be scheduled.
For online information about tobacco cessation, visit the VA’s Tobacco and Health site.