Written by Meagan Farley
“It was really gross and the pictures were just really gross,” said Hayden High School Junior Lauren Frost. She sat among her classmates Monday as Don Young shared his story.
“I didn’t have that type of education in school. They need to be told the effects of what tobacco does and that not everyone is going to get cancer but some people will,” said Young, who started smoking at fourteen years old.
Tobacco has taken its toll. Doctors removed his cancer riddled voice box, leaving him speechless. Then he underwent a 19 hour surgery to remove part of his neck and entire esophagus.
“When my throat blew out they said they lost me on the table so I’ve been given a second chance.”
Young used that second chance Monday to educate Hayden High School students.
The American Cancer Society estimates nine out of ten current smokers started using tobacco when they were teens.
Currently in Kansas, 21 percent of teens report smoking cigarettes.
“I don’t want to do that now especially seeing all that stuff on the projector,” said Junior Rick Rineburg.
“I think a lot of people are going to be talking about how gross this was when we go back to class,” said Frost.
“I know I’m not going to stop everyone from smoking or drinking or doing any other drugs but I think some of them will take this to heart and not do it because they see me and the reality of it and I believe that or I wouldn’t be doing this,” said Young.
* Copyright 2007 NBC (original content from http://www.ksnt.com/home/ticker/11220901.html)
american cancer society, cancer, church, don young, electro-larynx, esophagus, kay young, laryngectomy, larynx, radiation, recovery, senior olympics, shriner, skin graft, smoking, surgery, throat cancer, tracheostomy
Written by Lynn Kalesh and Irma Gibbons
In 1992, Don Young’s voice began to get hoarse and he thought it was just a cold. He was diagnosed with throat cancer and a malignant node was removed. Two months later his larynx (voice box) was also removed and he received six weeks of radiation treatment, but his cancer recurred. At this point, he underwent a total laryngectomy and was given less than a year to live.
During a 19-hour surgery in 1993, the front and right side, along with part of the left side of his neck was removed. A portion of his small intestine was removed and transplanted in his neck to make a new esophagus. His chest was cut in order to use the chest muscle to wrap around the front of his neck and skin was grafted from the top of his leg to cover this. The transplant was rejected.
Don went back to surgery and a tube was placed in his neck so he could swallow saliva. Another tube was inserted in his stomach for eleven months to allow him to receive food and medicine. When he regained his strength, he underwent a procedure whereby his stomach was pulled up and attached to the back of his throat to make a new esophagus. The passage will not stay open by itself, so every morning he has to dilate the opening by inserting a two-foot flexible tube down his throat for five minutes. This enables him to eat and drink all day. Also, he cannot bend or lie flat to sleep, and can no longer talk and now uses an electro-larynx (hand-held electronic voice box). He is not able to breathe through his nose or mouth; he has a tracheostomy – a hole in his throat that opens directly to his lungs. Because of the very real danger of drowning if water gets into the trach, Don cannot go swimming and must take care while showering. In spite of all this, he has made a miraculous recovery and has been cancer free since 1993.
Don Young could have just given up, but he didn’t. He is the perfect example of making up your mind to survive cancer, then doing it. But the story would not end here. When he began to regain his strength, he desperately wanted to stop others from making the same mistake; he knew his throat cancer was caused by 34 years of a two-pack-a-day smoking habit, which he started at the age of fourteen. Becoming a driving force in the American Cancer Society’s Tobacco School Health program, he has committed himself to educating young people about the dangers of tobacco and speaks to the public at schools and churches. He is relentless in his mission and, along with his wife Kay, volunteers his services to numerous cancer-related services throughout Missouri.
Young coached softball and soccer for 28 years and continues to coordinate the St. Charles County church softball leagues. He is also involved in the church youth group. In addition, Don is a Shriner’s clown. For the past two years he has participated in the Illinois and Missouri state Senior Olympics games, winning 28 medals.
Don Young doesn’t consider himself an exceptional person – just one who has come to understand that his life and the lives of others are worth fighting for.
* Reprinted by permission of Coping Magazine.
In 1992 at the age of 48, Don Young became cancer statistic. He was diagnosed with throat cancer. A series of treatments and surgeries followed. Don had a malignant node removed, half of his larynx removed, radiation treatments, and a total laryngectomy only to be told he had six months to live. He began another series of surgeries that removed the front, right side, and part of the left side of his neck. A portion of Don’s small intestine was transplanted to form his esophagus. Muscle from his chest and skin from his leg completed the procedure. The small intestine transplant was rejected and a tube was then inserted in its place. Another tube was placed in his stomach to provide an opening to insert nourishment and medication for the thirteen months he couldn’t eat.
“I was placed in rehabilitation for three months to regain my strength for the next surgery. This surgery involved pulling my stomach up to attach to the back of my throat to form a new esophagus,” recalls Don. “My desire to be a cancer survivor shows my stamina and determination to be a living statistic.”
Since the age of 14, Don developed a two pack-a-day smoking habit that continued for the next 34 years. “It rendered me a life that requires inserting a two-foot tube down my throat every morning to dilate the opening so I am able to eat and drink throughout the day. I cannot bend or lie flat to sleep because the sphincter muscle has been removed leaving a direct opening to the stomach. I cannot breathe or talk through my nose or mouth. A tracheostomy, hole in my neck, allows me to breathe and a mechanical device allows me to communicate. I will take medication for the rest of my life,” Don said. Despite these hardships, he has been cancer-free for 14 years, and is thankful for each day as a cancer survivor.
As a result of his own battle with cancer, he is committed to the fight against smoking. “When I started smoking as a teenager, this was not the picture of the life I thought I would be living someday. I have overcome many physical obstacles and have chosen to take the knowledge I have learned from my experiences to educate young people to make the right choice,” said Don.
Don’s fight against smoking has taken him into schools, colleges, churches, youth organizations, public forums, medical schools, and corporations to speak with people about his experience. His presentation includes facts and statistics that challenge young people to think about their choices. “I share with them that in my group of five high school friends, three had cancer, and I am the only survivor.”
Don’s time and energy is devoted to speaking to young people. However he is also active in the lives of cancer patients, bringing them hope for recovery, the compassion to help them endure treatment, and the encouragement to live life to the fullest. Don is thankful for the American Cancer Society, “The Society continues to guide and support me and my wife, Kay, when we’ve needed them the most.” Don volunteers with the Society, and other community and health organizations. Since his cancer diagnosis, Don feels he’s taken on new purpose. “I am able to make a difference in the lives of young people and their families. As a cancer survivor, I feel compelled to take my story to the youth of our nation.”
“You just never know when smoking is going to come back to haunt you,” said Don. Currently as a result of smoking, Don has been diagnosed with coronary artery disease and peripheral vascular disease, in which he has had his aortic valve replaced, had two stints placed in his heart, as well as one stint placed in each leg. Nevertheless, he continues to be a tireless advocate for tobacco cessation efforts, speaking across the country. To contact Don about his advocacy efforts, visit http://www.youngchoices.org.
* Originally published in the Great American Smokeout newsletter