Suzanne Harris, RN, NCTTP is a former smoker and a Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist (CTTS). She started smoking cigarettes as a teenager and continued to smoke well into her nursing career. Despite working on a cancer ward and witnessing the terrible consequences of tobacco use – it took many attempts before she finally quit.
In 1984, Harris joined the staff at San Francisco General Hospital’s Adult Outpatient Medical and Chest Clinics. For more than three decades, she has led regular smoking cessation and relapse prevention groups that have helped hundreds of patients become tobacco-free.
Dr. Paul Brunetta had his first cigarette at the age of nine and was able to quit just prior to medical school. He struggled through numerous quit attempts – determined not to be “that doctor who smokes.” While working together at the UCSF Chest Clinic, Brunetta and Harris discovered they shared a common mission: to prevent tobacco-related diseases by giving as many smokers as possible the tools they need to quit.
In 1999, they founded the Fontana Tobacco Treatment Center at UCSF. Their program is now available to anyone in the new edition of Learning to Quit .
Paul Brunetta earned his MD from Tufts University Medical School. Suzanne Harris earned her nursing degree from Excelsior College.
Suzanne Harris in Her Own Words
When I first started smoking in my early teens, I felt grown up and powerful. Awkward, shy, and taller than all my classmates, I used cigarettes to mask my discomfort and find my place as a rebel. Years later as a nurse working in an inpatient cancer unit, I found that smoking had become a terrible burden and source of shame. I instinctively tried to abuse myself into stopping, berating myself for being stupid and weak; why else would I continue to do something that was in such conflict with being a good nurse and mother?
In finding my way to becoming a non-smoker, I developed some of the skills that are now in the pages of this book. Then, in 1984, I had the great good fortune to secure a position in an outpatient clinic in San Francisco, including working in the county hospital chest clinic for people with pulmonary diseases. There I saw the terrible toll smoking took on the health and psyche of our patients. I saw in my patients the same fear, defiance, and shame that I had felt as a smoker. So my experience first as a smoker and subsequently as a nurse has given me a dual perspective on tobacco dependence.
For me, stopping smoking involved developing a different relationship with myself, a relationship of love and respect rather than bullying and low self-esteem. And for the people I have worked with and learned from over more than 30 years of working in the field, a key for most has been to identify something they wanted more than a cigarette, and to go after that. In the process of that redirection, they came into a kinder relationship with themselves, just as I did.
Over the years, colleagues have expressed surprise that I would continue to find the work of a tobacco treatment specialist to be so engaging. In fact, the process of becoming non-smokers is rich with opportunities for transformation and empathy. Because smoking is interwoven with so many aspects of a smoker’s life, removing that thread opens a person to experiencing parts of themselves that have been ignored or unexplored. People discover strengths and gifts they did not know they had. I derive deep satisfaction supporting the single most important change a person can make to ensure a better future for themselves and the people they love: stopping smoking.
Paul Brunetta in His Own Words
My first cigarette at age nine was such a powerful experience that I can clearly remember it decades later. For kids, watching adults smoke creates a certain fascination with cigarettes and sends a strong signal that it’s what adults do. I remember Marlboro Man billboards and other positive images of smokers that were reinforced through TV and print advertising and movies in the 1970s as I grew up. In high school, I looked forward to smoking at beer-filled weekend parties. It strengthened a bond with one of my best friends, Brian, as something we shared that our other friends didn’t. Later, as an undergraduate in an intense pre-med program at Johns Hopkins University, I began to smoke regularly and realized that I was addicted. It took many attempts to stop, but with a high level of motivation I eventually did and developed a lifelong interest in nicotine addiction and tobacco related disease.
In my Pulmonary and Critical Care Fellowship at UCSF, I came across a kindred spirit in an amazingly talented and dedicated nurse named Suzanne Harris. Suzanne and I worked together in the Chest Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital, and, together, we cared for a constant stream of patients with tobacco-related COPD and heart disease and lung cancer. This was mirrored in my rotations through the VA hospital taking care of great veterans who had survived battles for our country but were sickened by long-term tobacco use. Suzanne ran a Group at SFGH, and I asked to sit in. It was one of those moments when you realize you’re in the presence of a master doing something very difficult but making it seem effortless. As a former smoker, Suzanne was uniquely able to connect with people in Group with such profound and non-judgmental empathy, but was also able to guide them toward the next step in a quit plan. When I joined the faculty in the Thoracic Oncology Program focused on lung cancer, early detection, and tobacco education, we were able to find some limited funding from the Mt. Zion Health Fund to create the Tobacco Education Center and hire Suzanne part-time. I eventually left this position to work in biotechnology as Suzanne continued Group. And, years later, in 2009, a fantastic Group participant named Jeannie Fontana generously donated seed money that allowed for the creation and ongoing survival of the Fontana Tobacco Treatment Center.
Suzanne and I have been working on this book in one form or another for more than 10 years. We hope you gain a deep understanding of these people on their journey toward better health. And Part 2 of the book has health information and smoking cessation medication knowledge in clear language that can be critical on your own journey away from nicotine addiction. We hope this book is useful to anyone looking to improve their health or improve the lives of a loved one who is dealing with nicotine addiction.
John Harding in Suzanne’s Words
I had been working at San Francisco General Hospital for about 10 years when a woman from Group introduced me to John Harding, the photographer for this book. John volunteered to take a photographic portrait for an informational poster for the stop-smoking program, and Clarence Brown volunteered to be the subject. The encounter between the two men was so inspiring that John suggested that he and I work together to collect the stories and portraits of successful quitters.