Lifelong smoker quits after meeting cancer patient

By Eudore Chand

DUBAI 7 June 2021: A young Emirati man, who quit his 20-year-long smoking habit from his teens, says his encounter with an old man’s unbearable sufferings from smoking-induced throat cancer was as an eye-opener.

“I wanted to have a try [to quit smoking] and visited SEHA’s smoking cessation clinic in Abu Dhabi after warned by my doctor that the chest pain I felt a few times was caused by smoking. Still I was not very serious because I had heard this medical opinion earlier. I believed that my fitness, thanks to a good lifestyle with healthy diet and regular rigorous exercise, would tackle the negative effects of smoking,” says Khalifa Hamed Al Darmaki, 39.

Therefore, he continued to smoke around 15 cigarettes a day despite often having chest pain and related discomforts. “I have been enjoying it since the age of 16.”

Cancer patient who struggles to speak

However, while waiting for the doctor at SEHA’s smoking cessation clinic on the first appointment, a 60-year-old Arab man, who approached him for a favour, totally changed his attitude towards smoking.

“He wanted to ask me whether he could take my turn as he had to pick up his daughter from her university. However, his voice was not coming out, although he was using a device that he pressed against his neck [electrolarynx, a battery operated machine that produces sound],” recollects Al Darmaki, who is a government employee.

“He was talking like a robot as he had lost his vocal chords to cancer. It was a scary experience. The man’s misery started to haunt me!” says Al Darmaki about his experience three years ago.

He curiously asked the doctor about the previous patient who had just left the clinic and the doctor replied, “You had the right experience on the very first day.”

Smoker for 30 years

The doctor revealed that the old man had been a smoker for more than 30 years and his cancer-infected larynx (voice box) was removed by a surgery and hence he had to use that device to speak.

Al Darmaki was shocked to find that the old man was still unable to stop smoking. “It was such a deep-rooted addiction in him.”

The doctor told Al Darmaki that a similar fate would be awaiting for him if he did not give up smoking.

That experience made him determined to start a new life and he diligently followed the doctor’s instruction in the next three months.

The medication started generating an aversion in him against cigarettes. “I think that is the way the medication works. I used to pick up cigarette but I started to throw them into dustbin!”

Overcoming temptation during treatment

Still there was a temptation and it was not easy to tackle it. “I focused on my healthy diet and regular exercise.”

After a month-long medication, he overcame the temptation to touch cigarettes. “I was determined that nothing would shake my resolve to quit this habit and continued the treatment. After almost three months, I did not need the medicine at all, as I was able to quit the habit completely.”

It was a completely new life. The first difference was he started enjoying the “real taste of food and good feelings of exercise. It seems smoking was preventing me from enjoying the positivity of my diet and regular exercise.”

There was no more chest pain and related discomforts. “It has been a perfectly normal life for over three years since I quit smoking in 2017.”

SEHA’s smoking cessation clinics

Al Darmaki is one among hundreds of people who quit smoking with the support of the smoking cessation initiative of Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA), the UAE’s largest healthcare network.

As per SEHA’s latest statistics, over 4,300 people enrolled from the start of 2019 to-date in its smoking cessation program and recent success rate among those enrolled in the program is between 55 and 60 percent, double the global rate of 30 percent.

SEHA’s specially designed smoking cessation program is available at six clinics across Abu Dhabi: Baniyas Healthcare Centre, Al Bateen Healthcare Centre, Madinat Khalifa Healthcare Centre, Al Muwaiji Healthcare Centre, Oud Al Tawbah Diagnostic and Screening Centre, and Al Jahili Healthcare Centre.

Success inspires 4 others to quit smoking

For Al Darmaki, it was a good-bye to the 20-year long habit he started during his school days.

“I remember boys like me started this habit to portray the image of a tough rebellious guy who does not care the rules and regulations in school. That was the culture in 1990s.”

However, he says such a culture has been changed thanks to the increased awareness among children.

His experience also inspired his two younger brothers aged 37 and 38 to quit smoking. “My mother always used to tell me that my younger brothers would follow me in life. She was very happy when my experience encouraged them to give up smoking,” says Al Darmaki with a smile.

Two of his friends also quit smoking after witnessing his success story. “Now I can’t see anybody smoking. I feel disgusted!” he says.


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