When Sandy Kellerman started smoking, she was 17 years old. She didn't need a reason to start. In fact, she had no reason not to. "Every adult I knew smoked," she said. Movie stars made smoking look glamorous and celebrities starred in cigarette ads. Many of those celebrities have since died of cancer. But 50 years ago, most people in Kellerman's circle of family and friends didn't think of smoking as a serious health hazard.
"I found an old McCall's magazine in an antique store," Kellerman, a Hot Springs Village resident, said. "One advertisement said that doctors recommended Camels for soothing the nerves. Another one said the same thing about Pall Malls."
Besides, smoking could come in handy, particularly on dates.
"When you needed an excuse to break up the clench, you could just say, 'Oh, I need a cigarette,'" she said with a laugh.
But through the years, smoking lost its charm, for society in general and for Kellerman personally. She tried to quit several times and eventually became a "closet smoker" — smoking about a pack a day after telling her grown children, her mother and other family members that she had kicked the habit.
Then in June 2005, her husband, a fellow smoker, was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). He had to quit, and his wife wasn't about to expose him to second-hand smoke. Besides, she was tired of living a lie, so to speak.
So at age 67, she did what she'd started out to do more than once. She quit smoking in August 2005 and doesn't plan on lighting up again.
"I still have flashes of wanting a cigarette, but it wasn't as hard this time. I had a lot more incentive," she said. "No way was I going to smoke around my husband."
To get past the physical part of her addiction, Kellerman used a nicotine patch. "I ignored the recommended timeline," she said. "When I started forgetting to use the patch, I just stopped."
Breaking the psychological part of the smoking habit can be even more difficult for longtime smokers. When the going got rough, Kellerman found herself repeating the words of advice from a friend, "The urge to smoke will leave whether you have a cigarette or not."
"That helped me more than anything, I think," she said.
To anyone who thinks it's not worth quitting after age 65, Kellerman says, think again.
"People with any sense are going to be afraid of what they're doing to their health by smoking," she said. "And it was awkward to be the only couple who had to leave a concert and go outside to smoke."
She's also saving money and setting a good example for her loved ones — without having to lie. And she feels better about herself.
"I smell better, my clothes smell better, my house smells better and I no longer get that 'stupid' feeling that you get when you light up," she said. And that feels good at any age.
If you would like some help to quit smoking, you may attend a four-part series of discussions to be held at Rutland Regional Medical Center on Sept. 12, 19, 26, and Oct. 3, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in Room 6. Call 747-3768 for more information or to register.
Smokers, there's help to quit