In our Snapshots blog series, we turn to Maine Cancer Foundation constituents - from staff, board members and other volunteers, donors, grant recipients and beyond - to share important moments in their lives related to cancer. Our series will paint a broad stroke of the cancer landscape in the state, while narrowing the focus into the rare and intimate moments that bring us all together.
Snapshots #7 is the story of Mike Monahan as he shares his struggle with tobacco and the resources helping him quit.
“I’ve been quitting for the last 35 years,” joked Mike Monahan. He is a gregarious 67-year-old sign painter who has lived in Kingfield and now Farmington for over 30 years. On a painting job in Rangeley, he noticed Healthy Community Coalition’s (HCC) mobile health unit – funded by a 2015 Maine Cancer Foundation tobacco prevention grant called Tobacco Free Franklin – and he struck up a conversation with Program Coordinator, Cheryl Moody. In their brief talk, she smelled tobacco on his breath and gave him her card.
A few days later, Mike finally called Cheryl. She introduced him to the tobacco cessation services provided by HCC, and he shared the trials and tribulations of nicotine addiction. They strategized different coping mechanisms including writing down each cigarette and rating it on a need and pleasure scale, journaling to recognize triggers, and even substituting the oral fixation with toothpicks. “Tobacco is mind-altering, no two ways about it,” shared Mike. “I want to calm down? I light a cigarette. I want to get up and think straight? I light a cigarette. I can’t do my Sudoku without a cigarette because I’ve convinced myself I think better with one in my hand.”
Despite his buy-in to Cheryl’s resources and support, Mike was worried. “I keep sabotaging myself,” he explained. “I had a heart attack and bypass surgery almost twenty years ago, and snuck back into smoking. Three years ago I had a stroke and I still can’t quit.” After his bypass surgery, Mike stopped smoking for nine months; but the dry spell was broken immediately following an appointment declaring a clean bill of health from his cardiologist. “I celebrated with a cigarette.”
Tobacco Free Franklin’s programming takes an individualized approach to combating lung cancer, knowing that everyone who uses tobacco products (which includes cigarettes, cigars, flavored cigars, chewing tobacco and snuff) has their own unique rationales, triggers, and rituals. Cheryl was well-versed in the varied tobacco landscape of rural Franklin County, and she offered consistent and thoughtful guidance to Mike. “Every week or so, I get a call from Cheryl,” said Mike. “She checks in, asks me how I’m doing, and never makes me feel like I should be doing more, or I am not doing enough.”
Mike and Cheryl have now been working together for over six months, and he complements her individual attention with Alcoholics Anonymous’ group support multiple times a week. In his 12-step meetings, Mike often substitutes the word ‘alcohol’ for ‘cigarette.’ “I’m an alcoholic, but I’ve been sober for almost 30 years,” Mike reflected proudly. “The reality for me was giving up alcohol just made my nicotine addiction that much stronger.”
Even with countless sponsors, friends, and family members concerns, Mike has not been able to quit for good. “So many people have said to me ‘Monahan, you’re smoking your beers’. I know it’s true. Instead of drinking, I’m smoking; it’s the same compulsion.” But he remains hopeful, in large part thanks to the genuine concern of his fellow community member, Cheryl Moody. “I can’t believe somebody still cares enough to call me every couple weeks. It’s priceless.”
Thank you to Mike for sharing his story.
Maine Cancer Foundation is currently funding $199,976 over three years for Tobacco Free Franklin. The grant implements community-based approaches to combating lung cancer through prevention and cessation programming in Franklin County. We know that lung cancer, most often caused by smoking, has the highest mortality rate of any cancer in Maine, and the number of new lung cancer cases is significantly higher than the average national. Reducing tobacco use in the state will not be easy, but it is possible. Since 2015, MCF has invested more than $1.3 million statewide to innovative programs that prevent youth from smoking, and that help smokers quit. We know that together, we can make a difference.