Growing up in the seventies, it seemed to Sharon like everyone smoked cigarettes. She was only 13 when she took her first puff. In no time, her casual smoking would turn into a full-blown and expensive addiction.
She smoked heavily for 25 years. The wife and mother of two knew something was wrong when she felt fatigued and nauseous regularly. Sharon also noticed a growth on her throat. A biopsy would reveal a cancerous tumor in her throat so large it could be seen through the skin on her neck. The discomfort was unbearable. "I could barely drink water," she says.
In 1997, at just 37, Sharon was diagnosed with stage IV throat cancer. She underwent radiation and several surgeries. Her life changed drastically, but she adds, "Life goes on after cancer."
Today, Sharon is 52 and takes things one day at a time. She communicates using an electrolarynx, given that her voice box had to be removed. Smoke-free for 14 years and counting, Sharon knows that if she was able to quit, anyone can. "I used to wake up in the middle of the night to smoke, and it was the first thing I did in the morning," she says.
Through the efforts of the Tips From Former Smokers campaign, Sharon hopes to spread the message that smoking can lead to devastating outcomes. "I want to connect with kids especially, because they are under a lot of pressure to fit in," she says.
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- CDC/Office on Smoking and Health
4770 Buford Highway
Atlanta, Georgia 30341-3717