Soldotna woman celebrates smoke-free anniversary
Kandy Dushkin has overcome many challenges in her life. She can add quitting a 40-year habit to the list.
Dushkin recently celebrated a year of being smoke-free with a gathering at the Dena’ina Wellness Center.
“I had been trying since 2004,” Dushkin said. “… I’ve tried two weeks, a day, I even made it four months back in 2017.”
Dushkin said she started smoking when she was 15. She had a rough childhood, and she said smoking provided a sort of release. She says she didn’t actually like smoking, and was embarrassed to smoke in front of other people. But she also couldn’t stop.
“I smoked outside, but I was like a chain smoker. I was outside constantly having a cigarette. If I wasn’t busy doing something, I was smoking,” Dushkin said.
Still, Dushkin said she was determined to quit before smoking led to major health complications. Her father, a smoker, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Dushkin said she offered to quit with him, but he’s still smoking.
Dushkin said she’s used the Alaska Tobacco Quit Line, but found the face-to-face support from Wellness staff at the Dena’ina Wellness Center to be invaluable.
“Tia, Levi and Gavan, they’ve all been great,” Dushkin said.
Tia Holley and Levi Sutton are Wellness Consultants and Tobacco Treatment Specialists. Holley also earned her National Certificate in tobacco Treatment Practice earlier this year. Gavan Ivanoff is a Wellness Management Technician.
Dushkin said they’ve always been supportive and uplifting when she stops by for visits or needs to talk on the phone.
“I would call Tia and talk on the phone, and then when I come in for visits, I talk with her,” Dushkin said.
Dushkin said her children have also been her inspiration. She has lost two sons, but one was able to see her quit for four months back in 2017.
“I know he looks over us in heaven and is smiling down on me,” Dushkin said. “… My children are my first loves. They’re my number one fans.”
Sandra Simons, one of Dushkin’s two daughters, was able to join her for the anniversary celebration.
“She didn’t know if she could quit smoking, but I knew she could,” Simons said.
Dushkin said it’s hard to believe it’s been a year since she’s had a cigarette. Sometimes, she’ll encounter a trigger that makes her think about having a cigarette, but has found that she’s able to overcome those urges.
For example, last Thanksgiving, she put the turkey in the oven and then started to head outside without even thinking about it.
“You get triggers, and I have to tell myself, ‘I don’t smoke anymore,’” Dushkin said. “I had a lot of urges, like seeing other people smoking, but they went away.”
Dushkin said that physically, she feels good a year after quitting. She said she did gain a few pounds, but she’s also started power walking and dropped 10 pounds already.
The biggest change, she said, is being able to breathe through her nose. She said she thought she might have scar tissue from a childhood incident that was preventing her from breathing freely.
“I notice myself breathing through my nose now, and I’m not as congested,” Dushkin said. “Breathing through my nose, it’s a big thing.”
Simons said she’s proud of her mother for everything she’s been able to overcome.
“She makes a good example that tragedy can happen, but that doesn’t mean your life is over,” Simons said. “You can make changes, and you matter to other people.”
Dushkin has even written a book about her life experience. “Through Her Tears,” by Kandy Rae and Candy Elmore, is available through lulu.com.
Dushkin’s future plans include sharing her life experience to help others. She is studying at Alaska Christian College in Soldotna, where she has three more semesters to go.
“I used cigarettes for negative things. There’s so much more positive now, I don’t think about smoking,” Dushkin said.
Freedom From Tobacco, a support group for living tobacco-free, meets from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesdays in the Skilak Lake Kitchen in the Dena’ina Wellness Center. The group is open to the community. Wellness Consultants share curriculum-based information from noon to 12:30 p.m., followed by a half-hour of open discussion. All are invited to bring a lunch and join the conversation.