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Tom Frieden, MD, MPH

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Terrie Hall: A Beautiful Woman Who Saved Thousands of Lives

Posted: 09/19/2013 11:07 am

On Monday I learned of the passing of Terrie Hall, one of the people featured in the CDC's Tips from Former Smokers ad campaign. Terrie died at 53 from the cancer she fought so bravely the final 13 years of her too-short life.

Terrie was an inspiration to me and others -- always thanking us for the opportunity to tell her story in the hope she would save others from the struggles she had endured.

Terrie received the Surgeon General's Medallion in May. Her passing is a loss for us all, and a reminder to heed her warning about the dangers of smoking.

Terrie was a young woman when she started smoking in high school. "I thought it was the cool thing to do," she said. The smoking caused throat and oral cancer and the surgeries and radiation treatment to remove the cancer scarred her face and neck and took away her natural voice. But they also revealed a level of bravery and strength of character that amazed all of us who were privileged to know her.

In a society where women are often judged by their looks, Terrie did not hide the scars on her face caused by smoking. The scars where part of her jaw had been cut out, and on her throat where her larynx had been removed, only made her more determined to speak, especially to young people at schools. With her raspy voice, she was able to rekindle the awareness of the American people to the continued suffering caused by smoking.

She wanted young people to know the truth about tobacco. Terrie said, "I wish someone had shown me when I was thinking about smoking in high school what could happen to me."

She became known around the world through her participation in CDC's Tips campaign. The ad where she shows how she gets ready each day -- putting on her wig, putting in her dentures, putting her hands-free device in the hole in her throat -- is hard to watch.

At times Terrie felt uncomfortable telling her story yet she knew its power. I remember the two of us doing a TV interview together in New York. Terrie seemed awestruck by the beauty of the reporter and she turned to me and said, "She's so beautiful." I responded, from the heart, "Terrie, you're beautiful."

Her video has become the most-viewed video ever on CDC's YouTube page with over 2.5 million viewings, and has inspired more comments than any other CDC video. Her second ad, which touched on the fact that her grandchild never heard her pre-cancer voice, inspired thousands more to quit.

Lisha Hancock from Kentucky, mother of a five-year-old and a one to two pack a day smoker, said she had tried to quit many times before, but seeing Terrie's ad helped her realize that smoking really did cause other types of cancer besides lung cancer, and helped motivate her to quit for good.

Just a few weeks after the second round of Tips ads began running, Terrie's doctors found her smoking-caused cancer had spread to her brain. In her remaining days, she chose to keep fighting and keep working to save lives by showing the real consequences of cigarette smoking.

She insisted on being filmed in her hospital bed just two days before her death, sharing the final effects of smoking on her body.

The disease that ultimately took her life never touched her great spirit. That spirit, the selfless work she did and the tens of thousands of lives she saved is Terrie Hall's great legacy.

 

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