All the doctors agreed — Don Young didn’t have long, maybe six months.
He’d been diagnosed with throat cancer, had his larynx removed in surgery and undergone several other procedures.
“They told me I wasn’t going to live,” he says.
That was in the early 1990s.
“I’ve been given a second chance, I think,” Young says.
And with that second chance, Young now speaks to groups of young people around the area about the dangers of smoking through a nonprofit he started, Young Choices — youngchoices.org.
In his presentations, he shows photos of himself in the hospital, often gory images that make kids physically sick. He isn’t trying to shock them, though.
“It’s just the reality.”
Peg Lee, who nominated Young in the Celebrate Your Neighbor contest, has known him and his wife, Kay, about 28 years.
“He has fought every inch of the way,” she says, “and he’s been an inspiration to so many people.”
Young, now 66, lives with his wife in St. Charles and together, Lee says, the two have dedicated their lives to anti-smoking issues, from advocating to visiting people suffering from cancer in the hospital.
In 2004, when her own husband had cancer, Young was there for them, Lee says.
“I saw then, I think, firsthand what a wonderful support he is for people dealing with those kinds of things.”
Young volunteers with the American Cancer Society, among other area organizations. He’s carried the Olympic torch in St. Louis three times and annually shares his story with about 40,000 people.
And he can tell that it’s made a difference. While Young credits what he’s been able to do to God, when he’s out, he often meets adults who remember hearing him speak as a child. They don’t smoke, they tell him.
And they credit him.
By Kristen Hare, Suburban Journals Correspondent