Local former smokers play harmonicas to improve health

Centra officials offer free lung cancer screenings

LYNCHBURG, Va. – Thursday is the National Great American Smoke Out, a day dedicated to helping people quit smoking.

A group of ex-smokers in Lynchburg are trying to do just that.

The harmonica players performing at the Pearson Cancer Center on Wednesday are not professionals.

They're former smokers or people who have dealt with secondhand smoking.

Playing the harmonica helps them breathe better.

"The diaphragm is the main muscle of respiration. So when you blow out, you’re using your diaphragm, when you breathe in, you’re using your diaphragm,” said Cheryl Burnette, registered respiratory therapist and tobacco treatment specialist.

Bessie Colles started smoking at nine years old.

"I've been working on it for years. I quit for a year, start back, quit, start back then finally I really quit, which was almost too late,” Colles said.

Almost too late was in 2014, a year after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"Yeah, he told me I had lung cancer,” Colles said.

She's now a part of Centra's Harmonica's for Health program.

It’s a performing group that wants to convince people to put down the cigarette for at least one day.

"The average number for a quit attempt is five or seven times,” Burnette said.

The performances and practices also help Colles and some of her friends who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or lung cancer.

"It helps a whole lot. You don't sit around doing nothing. It gives you something to do,” Colles said.

The 76-year-old mostly relies on her oxygen tank to get around.

"I'm just happy, go-lucky because I'm still alive. I ain't blaming nobody, but me," Colles said.

Her advice to smokers out there, get checked out before it's too late.

"I know how hard it was to quit smoking. All I can tell you is keep trying until you give up,” Colles said.

Centra officials said they offer free lung cancer screenings.

To learn more, call the clinic at 434-200-3100.

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