How My Best Friend’s Diagnosis Helped Me Kick the Butt

As part of our International Women’s Day celebrations, we present eight inspiring stories that will touch your heart and kindle your soul.

An A-list stylist with a penchant for streetside couture, Tanya Noronha is a regular on the New York fashion scene and divides her time between New York and Los Angeles. Here, she tells us how a dear friend’s fatal diagnosis roused her into embracing a smoke-free lifestyle, and how she now helps other smokers in banning the butt. Tanya has been using OurHealthMate since 2016.

Growing up in a liberal Goan household, smoking was as wonted as a boozy nightcap before bedtime. My father ran a garment emporium, and between his depot runs, inventory checks and vendor meetings, he would burn more than fifteen filter tips a day. You could count on his front pocket being stocked with half a dozen cigarettes at any given time. My mother enjoyed an occasional toot every now and then, but she considered smoking an indulgence and rather un-ladylike, so you’d never find her puffing in public. The first time I smoked was with my dad, on a weekend out on our verandah. I was 18 at the time. And though I didn’t enjoy it that first time, the more I tried it, the more it grew on me.

I moved away from Goa for my undergraduation, eventually going on to settle in Mumbai where I established a career as a fashion stylist. For a big-city tenderfoot, Mumbai was expensive, but I was fortunate to have moved to the city with close friends from college. Together, six of us rented a 3-bedroom apartment in Chandivali, a suburb that straddled downtown proximity and reasonable rents. The Mumbai fashion scene was a welcome outlet for my creative energy, and over the next few years, I was lucky enough to work with well-known names in entertainment and fashion. Our household became an unbreakable unit, with all six of us becoming important parts of each others’ lives. In 2012, five years after we had moved to the city however, our party of six was rudely interrupted. Preeti, my roommate, best friend and confidante, was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition whose onset is typically associated with people in their early forties.

Preeti had been wheezing excessively for several months before we realized there was something wrong. It was only when she experienced breathlessness and tightness in her chest that we rushed her into Emergency. After putting her on oxygen and easing her with antibiotics, the doctors ran a slew of tests. A few days later, Preeti was found to have an alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic condition tethered to COPD. Preeti had been a teetotaler and a non-smoker all her life and I couldn’t help but feel consumed by guilt that she had possibly been a victim of passive smoking. With three smokers in the house, it was likely. COPD was an inflammatory condition that was associated with lung irritants and I knew that the only persistent smoke she had been exposed to was the cigarette fumes at home. At that point, life felt like a courtroom drama that had the wrong person convicted.

Preeti moved back to her family in Bangalore soon after her diagnosis. Without regular therapy, her condition would deteriorate and her family wanted to keep her close to oversee her treatment. She underwent oxygen therapy and was put on an extended course of oral steroids to reduce the inflammation in her airways. In time, her health improved enough to allow her to take up a career as a freelance stylist in Bangalore and she has carved a commendable niche for herself ever since.

Preeti’s diagnosis stirred an awakening in me. Here was a girl who hadn’t tempted fate to deliver this blow, and yet it had decided to hold her ransom for her flatmates’ iniquity. I, on the other hand, had been living in a phantasm of cigarettes and firewater. A few weeks after Preeti’s hospitalisation, my flatmates and I made a pact to cut filter tips out of our life for good. It was hard, but it wasn’t as hard as we had anticipated. None of us used a nicotine patch or nicotine gum or any of the anti-tobacco tools that promise to end the addiction. For weeks, I felt the withdrawals of giving up nicotine, but every time I felt like snatching a cig, I’d remember Preeti’s sweet face.

I moved to New York five years ago, where I spend my free time working with Nicotine Anonymous, a support group that helps smokers overcome nicotine addiction. And of that pact my flatmates and I made? None of us has touched a cigarette in six years, and we’re each, in our own way, spreading Preeti’s inspiration to those who need it.

Why wait until it’s too late? Be proactive and manage preventive health assessments for yourself and family members overseas. With preemptive measures, you can adjust your life’s course before it derails your hopes and dreams. Change your fate with OurHealthMate.

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