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Throat Cancer Patient Advocates for Not Smoking

  • November 1, 2005
  • Number of views: 2401

Don Young was given a 20 percent chance for survival in 1993 following a diagnosis of throat cancer and a series of treatments and surgeries.

In 2005, he is telling other surgical patients who he visits regularly on the Barnes-Jewish Hospital ear, nose and throat (ENT) unit that they can survive and thrive just as he has done.

"During very trying times for patients and their families, Don and Kay will always take the time to talk and counsel them," says Mary Carter, RN, assistant clinical nurse manager. Don was honored by the nurses of Barnes-Jewish this past year, when he received a Friends of Nursing Award for his willingness to help other patients in their time of need.

His nominator wrote that "he is only a phone call away. His shared experiences with cancer often provide our patients a role model and hope. We can provide someone with the option of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and assist them medically through nursing care…but hope sometimes only comes in the presence of someone like Don Young."

Don says he enjoys the patients and wants them to know that "cancer doesn''t mean you are going to die."

Both Don and Kay understand the toll a serious illness can take on everyone involved. His wife of 27 years has been by his side and he admits he wouldn''t be the survivor he is without her support and that of their children. He and Kay visit with patients and family members both before and after surgery so they know what to expect.

"I first came to this hospital in 1993 and had a number of surgeries and hospital stays that were trying both emotionally and physically," he says. "Now I try to tell others you can get through this and encourage them to go on with their life."

Besides the surgeries and other treatments, Don lost his voice and now uses a mechanical device called an electralarynyx to speak.

Young wants people to know that smoking since the age of 14 for 34 years is what led to his diagnosis. It has become a personal crusade for both he and his wife to make sure people understand the dangers of smoking. They also share their story to young people, community organizations and others through their not-for-profit organization, Young Choices.

"I beat the cancer but then had clogged arteries and now I''m still suffering the consequences of smoking with vascular problems," he says. "I now talk to 40,000 kids a year to tell them not to smoke and risk going through what I have been through. I tell them I don''t smoke now because of them."

Don feels lucky to have survived what he has been through and credits his family and caregivers for his success.

"I put a lot of faith and trust in God and my doctors. From the ICU to the floor, the nurses and staff are phenomenal here at Barnes-Jewish," he says. "I would want these nurses to care for me any time even though they sometimes made me do things I didn''t want to do."

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