Woman’s face shows real-life cost of smoking

Woman’s face shows real-life cost of smoking
Jennifer Reaves from the Arkansas Dept. of Health and Christine appear on Mid-Day with Diana Davis. (Source: KAIT-TV)
Photo of Christine at age 39. (Source: Centers for Disease Control)
Photo of Christine at age 39. (Source: Centers for Disease Control)
Representatives from the CDC and Arkansas Dept of Health accompany Christine on her media tour through Arkansas. (Source: KAIT-TV)
Representatives from the CDC and Arkansas Dept of Health accompany Christine on her media tour through Arkansas. (Source: KAIT-TV)
Christine as she appears today at age 55. (Source: Centers for Disease Control)
Christine as she appears today at age 55. (Source: Centers for Disease Control)

(KAIT) - She goes by just her first name and if you see her face, you will never forget her.

Christine was diagnosed with oral cancer at age 44, after smoking for 28 years.

"I started smoking in high school. I was very quiet and I wanted to fit in," Christine said during her interview on Region 8 News Mid-Day. "I saw the kids who smoked and they seemed to have all these friends. I just wanted to fit in so bad that I started smoking. I knew it wasn't good. But, I didn't know how bad it was."

Smoking was what all the "cool" kids did, or so Christine thought. But, as an adult, she would find out differently.

"In 2007, I thought I had a canker sore. It just wouldn't go away. I didn't really feel sick and that's the sneaky think about oral cancer," Christine said. "I went to my family physician and I said what about the canker sore. He took a look and he said. I think that's cancer. Go get it checked and so I did."

She went to an oral surgeon, who did a biopsy of the sore and it revealed oral cancer.

"I followed his orders. I was told I had Stage 1 cancer," Christine said.

After 35 radiation treatments and chemotherapy, Christine seemed to be cured.

But, the cancer returned in 2008; this time, the surgery was her only option. Her third bout with oral cancer in 2009 was even more serious. She learned it has spread to her jawbone, classifying it as stage IV cancer.

"It wasn't just me who paid the price for smoking. My whole family did. My children were deeply affected," Christine explained. "I had a very good job, good house, good life. Everything was great. I was a single mom. I put everything into my family. But, my vice was smoking."

The numerous radiation treatments cost Christine her teeth and extensively damaged her mouth. During a 10-hour surgery, the doctors had to remove half of her jaw.

"I had a very slim chance of survival where even the doctors didn't expect me to survive. I was in the hospital for two months. Three weeks into a medically induced coma," Christine said. "And then when I came home, it was horrible. I hurt from head to toe. I had staples across my face, on my arm, on my legs."

Christine is now 55 and has been smoke-free for 11 years. She spends her time offering support for the Oral Cancer Foundation, where she is a board administrator and volunteer patient advocate. Christine is part of the Centers for Disease Control's Tobacco Education Campaign 2018 Tips from Former Smokers.

"If I can help people understand just how serious smoking is, and just how much damage it can do," Christine said. "It's what I'm trying to do."

It stresses that now is the time to stop smoking. Free help is available by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

Arkansas is one of 50 states plus the District of Columbia that receives funding and technical support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support comprehensive tobacco control efforts and quitlines.

In Arkansas, 5,800 adults die from smoking-related illnesses each year. In 2015, 36.9% of Arkansas high school youth reported currently using any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes. Among Arkansas high school youth, 15.7% reported currently smoking cigarettes.

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