Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Terrie Hall, anti-smoking advocate, dies

Terrie Hall, a Lexington, N.C., grandmother who appeared in one of the most startling anti-smoking commercials you'll ever see, died Monday, 13 years after being diagnosed with mouth cancer.

Terrie Hall
She was 53, and had appeared in one of eight national "Tips from Former Smokes" TV ads sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as part of a $54 million anti-smoking campaign.

But Hall's ad was by far the most popular. Last year, when I first wrote about her, her video on the CDC website had garnered 749,000 views - more than twice that of the others.

In the Associated Press article about Hall's death, Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director, called her a "public health hero... She may well have saved more lives than most doctors do."

Last year, she also received the Surgeon General's Medallion, one of the highest honors in public health.

Hall was a lifelong smoker, having started when she was 17.

"I wanted to be like my friends, " she told me last year. "All of them were smoking. That just seemed to be the thing to do. It made me feel grown up."

She was up to two packs a day in 2000, when a sore throat led to diagnosis of mouth cancer. She continued to smoke during radiation therapy.

Her sore throat got worse, and her voice deteriorated. A year later, at age 40, she was diagnosed with throat cancer and had surgery to remove her larynx. She had a permanent stoma, or hole in her throat, and a voice prosthesis that had to  be replaced every few years.

Until she got the "hands-free" device that she demonstrated in the ad, she used to put her thumb over the stoma to close off the air before she could speak. 

In the CDC public service announcement, Hall, a slender, bald woman with a deep, scratchy voice speaks directly at television viewers.

"I'm Terrie and I used to be a smoker.

"I want to give you some tips about getting ready in the morning."

For a moment, the screen shows a photo of lovely, youthful Terrie from 1978, when she was a senior at Forbush High School in East Bend.

Then you watch as the adult Terrie puts in her false teeth, dons a long blond wig and inserts a device into the permanent hole in her neck.

"Now you're ready for your day, " she says.

When I spoke to her on the phone last year, her voice was hard to understand at first. But she said she had no trouble relating to laryngectomy patients in the hospital or to students at high schools and middle schools across the state. 

"Some kids cry. Some kids get scared, " she said. "Some kids feel sorry for me. Some kids say, 'I'm never gonna smoke.' "

People recognized Terrie almost everywhere she went. "You're that lady on TV, " they'd say. 

Some added: "When I saw your commercial, I threw away my cigarettes."

But Terrie didn't want people to feel sorry for her. 

"I thank God every day that I'm here (and) that I can talk and get the message out, " she said last year. 
"I was killing myself smoking ... I just hope I save lives."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Former Charlotte woman refuses to let cancer block career and family goals

It was July 2009, and Morgan Thompson was 26 and living her dream, working for Redbook magazine in New York City, when a surgeon delivered shocking news.

“It’s lymphoma.”

A swollen lymph node, just above her left collarbone, had turned out to be malignant – Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Thompson burst into tears. Then, she turned to her family and friends for support. She was told by doctors that, if she had to get cancer, this was the kind to get because the cure rate is high, 90 percent or better.

But after six months of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant, her scans still showed the presence of cancer cells. Her disease was more aggressive than most, and four years later, she continues treatment, taking experimental drugs as part of a clinical trial.

Now 30, Thompson will tell her story Friday at a fundraiser for the Belva Wallace Greenage Cancer Foundation. The Charlotte-based group was created in 2010 by Belva Greenage, a two-time cancer survivor, former bank executive and publisher of Today’s Charlotte Woman.

Thompson’s mother, Linda Lockman-Brooks, a Charlotte marketing executive, became friends with Greenage when both worked at Bank of America. Lockman-Brooks admired the way Greenage handled her disease and turned to her for advice and comfort when her daughter was diagnosed.

“One of the first calls I made was to Belva,” Lockman-Brooks said. “She was really my safe place.”

This spring, when Greenage was planning her fifth annual “Coffee & Conversation” program, she invited Thompson to be a speaker. She wanted someone young to talk about “claiming your best life,” Lockman-Brooks said. Coincidentally, Thompson’s new job as associate merchandising director with Seventeen magazine, would be bringing her to Raleigh this week. She accepted the invitation.

Other speakers will be Moira Quinn, also a cancer survivor and senior vice president for communications at Charlotte Center City Partners, and Dr. Russell Greenfield with Greenfield Integrative Healthcare.

“I want my daughter to live the best life she can live,” said Lockman-Brooks, who will be in the audience with her husband Wil Brooks, a State Farm insurance agent.

“These are the cards she’s been dealt, but I’m so pleased that she’s living her best life, and she’s taking care of herself. That’s the best message for me.”

In an interview, Thompson acknowledged there have been times over the years when she felt defeated. But she refused to let cancer define her. A 2004 journalism graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill, she continues to pursue her career goals and also married Ross Thompson on June 4, 2011, while in the midst of chemotherapy.

Cancer “is just a part of my life now,” Thompson said. “I think about it, but my life is so full that I don’t dwell on it.

“This is an awful thing that has happened to me, but I won’t let it keep me from reaching for my dreams.”

For more information:
The Belva Wallace Greenage Cancer Foundation "Coffee & Conversation" event is Friday 7:30 to 10 a.m. at the Charlotte Convention Center. Tickets are $40 at www.belvascancerfoundation.org.
For information about Thompson’s journey, read her blog: http://beatingcancerwhilestayingfabulous.blogspot.com/

Thursday, September 5, 2013

When is 'cancer' not cancer?

In a recent article, Dr. George Lundberg, editor of Medscape General Medicine, cautioned that doctors and patients should distinguish between cancers that will likely be aggressive and "cancers" that will not.

Here is an interesting excerpt:

"Pathologists never can really predict how any one cancer will behave. But after many decades of matching histologic patterns with the natural history of diseases, we are actually pretty good at predicting which lesions will be really bad actors and which seem likely to lie around indolently.

"Starting about 1965, I practiced and taught that 'When you say cancer, you are saying a mouthful. Be very careful. By that diagnosis, you, the pathologist, are giving any clinician license to treat that patient and his or her cancer with whatever treatment might then be in vogue, including cutting it out, shooting ray guns at it, or poisoning the cancer and the patient.'
"...We are learning more every day that cancer is many different diseases, even thousands or tens of thousands of different diseases.
"For a long time, it made sense to try to eradicate all cancers, as early and as completely as possible..But, as with many exuberant efforts, this one got out of control. Many lesions that were called 'cancer' really were not cancers at all in behavior, and this fact began to be recognized in large numbers of patients. These unfortunate victims have experienced massive psychological and physical harm and costs without any clear benefits achieved by finding and treating their 'noncancers.' 

"Cure rates from aggressive therapy on those 'indolentomas' are 100%. But, so would the outcomes have been of nondiscovery---100% cure of nondisease."
Lundberg thanked Dr. Laura Esserman of the University of California-San Francisco and the National Cancer Institute for "recently having forcefully called this mass discrepancy of professional and public behavior to the forefront of our consciousness. Ceasing to name lesions that are most likely indolentomas by that fearsome word 'cancer' is the first step. Almost any patient who hears the word 'cancer' applied to their pathologic findings experiences their hair catching on fire." 
In an interview with National Public Radio, Esserman, a breast cancer surgeon, said: "Many of these precancerous lesions are not going to go on to become cancer. I don't think we should label it as cancer. I think we should call it a 'ductal lesion.' I think people would be much more willing to be calm about it."

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Charlotte heart specialists work 'virtually' with Belize counterparts

Heart specialists from Carolinas HealthCare System have been to Belize many times to assist with surgeries and other medical care.

But on Tuesday, they didn't even have to leave Charlotte to help their colleagues in Central America.

From a conference room at Carolinas Medical Center, Dr. Francis Robicsek, vice president of Carolinas HealthCare's International Medical Outreach Program, launched a "virtual communication portal" with the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City.

The portal will enable cardiologists in Belize to consult with cardiologists from Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute in real-time on complex cardiac cases

At a demonstration Tuesday, Robicsek, Dr. Paul G. Colavita, Sanger president, and Dr. Geoffrey Rose, Sanger vice president, spoke with cardiologists in Belize through the portal.

It was the second portal of its kind launched by Carolinas HealthCare System in Central America. The first 
was launched in February 2012 with the Guatemalan Institute of Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery.

Since 2011, cardiology and surgical teams from Sanger have traveled to Belize every month to assist with cardiac catheterizations, open heart surgeries and stents. To date, more than 100 catheterizations and nearly 15 open heart surgeries have been performed on Belizean patients.

Dr. Paul Colavita, left, and Dr. Francis Robicsek demonstrated the virtual portal with Belize City physicians Tuesday at Carolinas Medical Center.

 Dr. Geoffrey Rose addresses health care providers and administrators at Carolinas Medical Center in person as medical personnel and administrators from Belize (visible on the screen) listen and interact through the "virtual portal."