OneStepStories-KimmieSI didn’t want to be the grandma with the oxygen tank.

For 20 years, I was a very heavy smoker. Two packs a day was normal.

I would avoid certain activities because they would make me cough. I would lose my breath very easily; if I went into my basement, I would have to sit in a chair to rest after I came back upstairs.

I went for my yearly physical and could not pass a breathing test. The doctor told me I was in the beginning stages of COPD. He put me on an inhaler twice a day. I decided I didn’t want to be the grandma that pulled a oxygen tank around with my grandchildren.

I started by cutting back from two packs a day to just one. It  was very stressful. I was trying to quit a habit I’d carried with me for a long time.

I tried electronic cigarettes but found there were just as bad. Finally, after a tough year, I had reduced the amount I smoked to half a pack a day. I went back to the doctor for medication to help me quit. After just eight days on the medication, I stopped smoking completely. Soon, I was able to start walking a mile every day and could breathe without the help of my inhaler. A few months later, I no longer needed the inhaler. It has been two and a half years since I quit.

My husband, Don, and my son were my biggest cheerleaders. My husband was also my inspiration; he had quit two years before me. My teammates at work also have been a huge support system. They have encouraged me and even have offered to go for walks with me to get my mind off cigarettes. I could not have quit  if I did not have such a  strong support system encouraging me.

Now I love to try new things. I even went skydiving with my son. I regularly walk for exercise and try to encourage others about how quitting smoking can change your life and health. Not only has it impacted my health for the better, but after a year smoke free I was able to buy a new car with the $200 a month I was saving by not buying cigarettes.

I have been working on drinking less coffee and more water as well as walking farther.

I have a much clearer and more positive outlook on my future. I would like to pay it forward and help someone else make the journey to a healthy and happier lifestyle. To start, you have to find that one thing that motivates you to change, and then build a support system of people to help you along the journey to a smoke-free life.

Kimmie Schlaack, St. Joseph, MI

March 29, 2016