Resisting the Urge: How One Smoker Quit a Decades-Long Habit

Jan. 5, 2024
Jack Pilarski and family cropped
Jack Pilarski with his wife, Paula, and son, Ian Pilarski.

The primary mission of Wilmot Cancer Institute’s Community Outreach and Engagement (COE) office is to help reduce the burden of cancer in the Rochester region and improve the health of residents through community partnerships. Tobacco-related cancers are a major problem in the 27 counties from which Wilmot draws patients. Smoking is not just a primary cause of lung cancer, it is also related to other cancers, including bladder, colorectal, and acute myeloid leukemia. The COE’s Tobacco Quit Center was designed to address the issue. 

Jack Pilarski, of Pittsford, represents a success story. He had been smoking for 60 years. After receiving information about Wilmot’s Tobacco Cessation Program, he decided to take the plunge. Below he shares insights on how he quit. 

Why did you decide to quit?

I had been, not pressured, but encouraged by my wife and son for the last several years. I kept saying, I will, I will, and then my wife sent me this thing she received, regarding a quit-smoking program at Wilmot. I took it upon myself to write an email and asked for more information and out of that, I got a call. Then, I went through a quick interview with a specialist and we talked about what would be involved. She offered nonsmoking aids, so I opted for lozenges. I figured I’ll take any help I can get. She also offered text messages to be sent to help with the process of quitting. So, we started the program. As of June 6, 2022, I stopped smoking. And that was it. 

How did you do it? What worked for you? 

Probably a combination of many things. The lozenge itself is more of a crutch, which helped me as opposed to just going cold turkey. The first day in the program, it calls for taking one lozenge every four hours, six a day. On the first day, I tried that. After the fourth one, I got nauseated. Maybe it was a little overdose of the nicotine. So, I said, I’m just going to back off if that’s okay, which I did. If I had an urge, I could take the lozenge, but I found that I didn’t need to take it every couple of hours. I just went on an as-needed basis. 

I also found the text messages to be very helpful. It was a reminder that I wasn’t doing this all on my own. The messages were probably three or four a week. Each one was different but all were encouraging. They covered a variety of topics: encouragement, to be aware of triggers or times when you want a cigarette, and then reiterating that you are a nonsmoker. For me, I would have a cigarette with my morning coffee or sometimes when I was away from others. Stressful situations also created urges to smoke. 

Once I recognized those times when I always smoked, I would try to skip past them. The text messages encouraged me to visualize myself as a nonsmoker. The urges became less frequent. In each instance, it became easier. With stress, deep breaths helped and convincing myself that I could get through this situation without smoking. With each passing day of not smoking, it became easier and when I realized that I was in control, not smoking became my new habit. 

I eventually weaned off the texts. I opted for less and then got used to not having them and quit receiving them months ago. With encouragement from my wife along the way, I am now at a point where I don’t have those urges. Even with the recent passing of my sister, I was able to avoid the urge to smoke. 

How does it feel to have quit? 

It feels great! There are times when I will stop and just take a deep breath and realize how nice it is to take a full breath. My time of being a smoker is now a thing of the past. I don’t miss the smell or all of the games I used to play, sneaking around to get away and have a cigarette. There’s a time every year where I join some high school friends in Georgia to play golf and stay at someone’s house. I would have to sneak out of the house to have a cigarette. Last time we went, I didn’t have to do that and it was so great. 

What can you tell others who are thinking about quitting?

When the urge arises, or when those habit times occur, you can get over the hump and feel good about doing so. Eventually, it becomes a reality. The self-satisfaction of not smoking makes you feel great. You have been able to do something positive not only for yourself but for those who care about you. It’s a great feeling. A great accomplishment. 

Wilmot Cancer Institute’s COE Office has a free smoking cessation program that is open to anyone living in the 27 counties around Rochester. To learn more or sign up, call (585) 504-9461 or email quitcenter@urmc.rochester.edu or visit wilmot.urmc.edu/quitsmoking.