Nov. 21 is the annual Great American Smokeout, when smokers are encouraged to quit, even for a day, and maybe longer. This is the story about two who tried and tried again, and finally succeeded.

Heart attack led Dave Cyr to stop

LEWISTON — Dave Cyr, 57, started smoking off and on when he was a boy growing up in Auburn.

“They’d give us a note, we’d go into Ouellette’s Store and buy a pack of cigarettes. We’d sneak some.” Sometimes he and friends would sneak a smoke while waiting for the school bus.

By age 18, he smoked steadily, a pack or more a day. In his 20s and 30s, he tried to quit. “I wasn’t ready,” he said. “You have to be committed.”

His wife, Ruth, quit when she lost her father from lung cancer. Dave stopped smoking in their home after he and Ruth got home from a trip to Arizona. “The house was closed for a week,” he said. “When we walked in, I said, ‘What’s that smell?’”

His wife told him it was the cigarettes.

“It was awful,” he said. He started smoking outside. He liked smoking. “It was relaxing. Then I had a heart attack.”

On March 7, 2011, he was at work. “I do maintenance on buildings. I had indigestion.” He sat to eat his lunch. One bite into his sandwich, “it was like a sledgehammer, right here in the chest.”

He knew what was happening. Still, he lit up, took a drag or two, and started to drive himself to the hospital. He couldn’t. The heart attack took over his body. “I went into the office and said ‘I need some help.’ I wasn’t going to make it.”

An ambulance whisked him to Central Maine Medical Center’s emergency room. “I knew I was in big trouble when somebody at the hospital said, ‘We need next of kin.’ I said holy s—!”

He quickly found himself in the operating room. “They put in stints,” Cyr said. “I quit that day. I haven’t smoked since. If that’s not a wake-up call, I don’t know what is.”

Unlike the other times he tried to quit, this time he was committed, Cyr said. His cardiologist told him if he didn’t change his ways he wouldn’t see his next birthday.

Even two years after, Cyr said it’d be very easy to start. “You always have urges. Even with everything I’ve been through, there are days you just feel like smoking. You have to remind yourself it’s not worth it. You’ve gone this far.”

He hasn’t smoked for two years and eight months.

“I’m alive,” he said. His advice to smokers who want to quit is “keep trying. The only way you’ll fail is if you stop trying. If you can’t make it today, you might make it tomorrow.”

Keith Pray: ‘I smell better,’ saved thousands of dollars

Keith Pray, 39, of Lewiston, started smoking at 14 “based on a dare, ‘I’ll smoke one if you smoke one.’ We found my friend’s mother’s cigarettes, Old Golds. Pretty nasty.”

In 1999, his mother, who was a heavy smoker, died at 49. He wondered if he better understood how dangerous tobacco was, could he have urged her to quit, could he have saved her?

Pray didn’t quit smoking at her death, “but my journey to quit started that day.”

He started volunteering for the American Cancer Society while going into the store to buy Marlboros.

Someone recommended he consider the Healthy Androscoggin’s “Quit and Win” challenge, where smokers who become tobacco free for so long can win money.

He quit and joined. When tobacco free for five weeks “I put in for a cash drawing. I was the recipient of $250. That was neat.”

When tobacco free for a year, he spoke to the board members. He went on to give talks at schools about becoming tobacco free, and is a facilitator for Thursday night support groups at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center.

Quitting was hard, Pray said. The first few months, even a year, were rough. “It’s one of the worst feelings. Having that cigarette is like your first love. Now it’s gone.”

He felt stressed, irritable. He ate more and gained weight.

An employee of Bates College Dining Services, Pray said he got support from his colleagues. “They were a huge support.” One day his boss looked at him and said, “‘If you need to be grumpy, come in, shut the door and yell at me.’ That’s what I needed to hear.”

Before Maine outlawed smoking in bars, he was out with friends one night when they were about to light up. He decided he needed to walk away, and did.

“It was good for me. I realized I could walk away.” At that point he knew he’d be able to quit.

But not smoking is a constant battle, Pray said. “You go through a lot of mental debate, ‘just one, just one.’ Even a year ago I had a dream I was smoking.” When he woke up “I could have easily picked one up and smoked.”

He’s happy he’s stayed tobacco free.

“I’m healthier. I smell better. It’s great,” he said.

He recently ran the 10K Dempsey challenge, “something I couldn’t do when I smoked.”

He’s saved thousands of dollars by not smoking. His smartphone has an app that records how long it’s been and how much he’s saved by not smoking.

“I’ve been smoke-free for 12 years, 314 days, 12 hours and five minutes,” Pray said. “I have not smoked 140,925 cigarettes. I’ve saved $42,277.”

[email protected]

Thinking about quitting?

LEWISTON — Deaths caused by tobacco are estimated to total 443,000 a year and smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

If you smoke and have thought about quitting, you have lots of company.

Emily Dooling, tobacco coordinator of Healthy Androscoggin said in Maine about two out of every 10 adults — 22.8 percent percent — smoke, compared to 19 percent nationwide. Last year, more than half of Maine smokers tried to quit.

There’s a weekly support group to help smokers quit, or help ex-smokers stay tobacco-free. Dave Cyr is a member. His friend, Keith Pray, is a facilitator.

“We encourage, not discourage,” Pray said.

“We’ve been there,” Cyr said.

The group meets from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursdays at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, lobby conference room, 93 Campus Ave., next to the main lobby and Dunkin’ Donuts. The group is free and no preregistration is required.

There also is a five-week tobacco cessation program in January at the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope and Healing. The class will meet from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Jan. 15, 22 and 29, and Feb. 5 and 15. The class is free and designed to help smokers become tobacco-free by helping them get ready to quit, get through the first few rough days and avoid triggers to smoking.

For more information about becoming tobacco-free, contact Healthy Androscoggin at 795-5990, or email [email protected]

To get support from the Maine Tobacco Helpline call 1-800-207-1230.

For information about the Nov. 21 Great American Smokeout:

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