Leigh’s story – Make Smoking History

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Leigh’s story

When I found out it was lung cancer, it was a huge shock. I just kept thinking this could be the end, how on earth am I going to tell my two children.

Leigh Webber, from Trafford, quit smoking in November 2016 and two months later she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She has been in remission for five years, and now focuses on her health and wellbeing enjoying activities such as running and hill walking. 59-year-old Leigh started smoking at the age of 13 which, over time, led to her smoking 20 cigarettes a day.

She said: “When I became a teenager, it was as if I’d been injected with something to say let’s be rebellious, daring and get up to as many adventures as you can. I can remember trying my first cigarette at the park as it seemed the cool thing to do at the time. I just carried on and it turned into 40 years of smoking. I did want to stop and tried a couple of times, but it always felt like torture, so my quitting didn’t last for long.”

In November 2016 Leigh decided to finally quit for good to improve her health and wellbeing after having a persistent chest infection.

Leigh explains: “I went to the doctors because of a chest infection that wouldn’t go away. Despite having two lots of antibiotics, I was still coughing. The doctor sent me for X-rays and then scheduled a CT scan.

“I knew I had to do something about my smoking as it certainly wasn’t helping. When I’d tried giving up before, I always felt deprived and really negative. This time I knew I had to change my approach and look holistically at my lifestyle and attitude.

“I did lots of research and turned it into a three-month project on myself. I reviewed all my triggers and changed them so, for example, I stopped drinking tea because I associated it with smoking, and I stopped taking cigarettes to work. Gradually I cut down and became much more active. I started running and swimming and began to eat healthier.

Then in January 2017, Leigh received the devastating diagnosis that she had lung cancer. The news made her stop in her tracks and she was determined to recover.

“My chest cleared up and I was feeling much better so when my CT scan came around, I was in two minds whether to go or not and considered cancelling my appointment. Thank goodness I didn’t. The CT scan revealed a 1.5cm tumour in my lung. When I found out it was lung cancer, it was a huge shock. I just kept thinking this could be the end, how on earth am I going to tell my two children?

“I had an operation – a lobectomy – to remove the tumour and top half of my left lung and stayed in hospital for three nights. I feel incredibly lucky as they caught my cancer early – only 20% of people are diagnosed with lung cancer as early as mine. The doctors have told me, it was a slow growing cancer so could have continued for another ten years before being detected, which may have been too late to do anything.

“After my diagnosis I joined the Roy Castle support Group and whenever I was annoyed or upset, I would do something positive like going for a walk or a run, rather than reaching for a cigarette.

“I’m a very determined person and entered the Great Manchester 10k Run to keep me focussed. Three months after my operation, I successfully completed the run in one hour and 22 minutes. Then in 2019, I ran the Manchester Marathon in six hours. It was amazing.

“Every year I go for a CT Scan to check on the cancer and I’m delighted to have the all clear and am still in remission.

“I now take my health and wellbeing extremely seriously and have more respect and care for myself. Although I’m not running as much as I used, I’ve taken up yoga and also go hill-walking in the Peak District.

“When you’re young you think, nothing is going to happen to you. I’m proof it definitely can. I very rarely think about smoking anymore – only very occasionally when I’m somewhere I associate with cigarettes. Although I would never have believed it – I’m now a very happy non-smoker. Everyday feels like such a celebration. For anyone struggling to give up, you need to somehow believe that you can do it, even though it’s going to be hard and probably the toughest thing that you’re going to do. Don’t give up on yourself.”