A mother of three, once diagnosed with lung cancer, endured a harrowing experience when she slipped into a two-week-long coma due to respiratory failure during a surgical procedure.
Now, she courageously shares her journey and implores smokers throughout the North East to join the Fresh Smoking Survivors campaign, encouraging them to quit smoking.
Fresh’s Smoking Survivors campaign is sharing the powerful and life-changing experience of hairdresser Claire Oldfield, 50, from Whitley Bay, who had smoked since she was a teenager.
Latest figures published by the Office for National Statistics show adult smoking rates in the North East have fallen from 14.8% in 2021 to 13.1% in 2022. Yet smoking remains the region’s biggest cause of cancer, and the single largest cause of preventable deaths.
Claire was just 49 when she was diagnosed with lung cancer, which required surgery to remove two thirds of her right lung. Unfortunately, due to complications in surgery, Claire went into respiratory failure – and was in a coma for two weeks, leaving her husband and three children wondering if she’d wake up.
Thankfully Claire pulled through after surgery and four cycles of chemotherapy, and she has now been in remission and smokefree for six months.
Claire said: “My little girl has always told me smoking was bad for me and it turns out she was right.
“When I was in a coma my husband sat by my bedside every day and my grown-up son came home to look after me once I was discharged. It was definitely worse for my family, not knowing if I was going to wake up. My daughter was only 11 at the time. We tried to keep as much away from her as we could but it was very hard for her not seeing me.
“Two thirds of my lung was removed, and I no longer have a diaphragm on the right side so my diaphragm on the left has to do all of the work. I can’t walk too far and can’t lie flat, or I feel like I’m drowning. I know I’ll never be the same again but I’m just glad to be here.”
Claire still gets the urge to smoke so she uses a vape to make sure she doesn’t start smoking again. Her advice for anyone still smoking is:
“Please don’t wait until it’s too late. Try switching to a vape to help you quit for good. It’s less harmful than smoking tobacco and helps you to manage the cravings. I know how hard it is but do it for your family.”
The Smoking Survivors campaign is being run by Fresh, part of a commitment from all 12 North East local authorities and the North East and North Cumbria Integrated Care Board to reduce smoking – one of the region’s leading causes of health inequalities.
Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh and Balance, said: “Smoking is a lethal addiction which often starts in childhood, and ends up killing two in three lifelong smokers – leaving countless others suffering from illness due to smoking.
“Claire is incredibly brave to come forward and share how smoking has changed her life forever. She’s doing this because she wants to spare other families the pain of seeing their loved ones suffer from smoking. This campaign gives smoking survivors like Claire a chance to share their stories and inspire others make a change today.
“If you smoke, quitting is the single best thing you could do for your health. There is so much support out there now to help you quit as well – whether it’s vaping or behavioural support from a stop smoking advisor. So even if you’ve tried to quit in the past and it hasn’t worked, we really urge you to reach out for help and give quitting another go.”
Fresh is urging smokers to visit FreshQuit.co.uk for tips, advice and local stop smoking support.