Cancer survivors give voice to tough anti-smoking message
HARPSWELL - The footage in the new video "Hear My Voice" will make you squirm, and it might make you sick to your stomach, but it's a powerful tool for someone trying to quit smoking.
That's exactly the effect the producers and the four former smokers who are in the video â€” who all have suffered throat cancer â€” were trying to elicit.
Four of the people in the video, including Cathy Pennell-Moody of Harpswell, have little or no voices because of years of smoking that led to cancer and eventually laryngectomies â€” the removal of the voice box. All four people in the video also have "stomas," holes in their throats through which they breathe. A stoma makes it impossible for a person to pass air through the mouth or nose or to go swimming.
Billed by the American Cancer Society as a "graphic and honest look" at what it's like to live with a laryngectomy, the video is targeted at middle school students and includes discussion questions at the end. The 12-minute video is being distributed to school health professionals across the state.
For someone without a voice, Pennell-Moody does a lot of talking. Since her laryngectomy four years ago, which followed 30 years of smoking, Pennell-Moody has spent a great deal of time visiting schools and trying to convince anyone who will listen about the pitfalls of smoking. Pennell-Moody, who considers herself lucky to be alive, said her main goal is to prevent young people from smoking and ending up deformed like her.
"I just want to catch kids before they end up smoking," she said. "I don't want anybody to be like this or worse." Pennell-Moody has watched two of her friends â€” including one she used to smoke cigarettes with â€” die from smoking-related cancer recently.
Pennell-Moody said her involvement in "Hear My Voice" and other anti-smoking efforts wouldn't be possible without the support of her daughter, 14-year-old Samantha Bailey. Samantha, who is also in the video, has become a passionate crusader â€” just like her mother.
"Samantha brings out the better in me, the parts I didn't know were there," said Pennell-Moody, who was shy and withdrawn before her cancer. "She is what's kept me going; she's been a great influence on me. It's the pride in her face that does it every time."
Even though the video is still being distributed, Pennell-Moody has already been stopped in the grocery store by a middle school student who saw it.
"That makes it all worth it," said Pennell-Moody. "That's a tribute to how powerful the video is."
And powerful it is, full of graphic pictures and vivid descriptions of what it's like to live without a voice and with a stoma.
"This video is very striking," said Peggy Markson of the American Cancer Society's New England Division, which hired Briggs ADV of Bath to produce it. "Everyone I show it to is speechless; they're just floored. We need that kind of effect to reach out to young people."
Walter Briggs, executive producer of the video and owner of Briggs ADV, said the eye-opening shock factor is one of the video's assets.
"It's still powerful for me and I've seen it 20 times," said Briggs. "These people had an incredible impact on middle school audiences. It moved people and we were trying to replicate that. Every time I show it to a roomful of people, everyone is just silent after it's done."
The distribution of the video this month coincides with the annual Great American Smokeout on Nov. 21 â€” a day when smokers across the country are encouraged to quit.
The availability of "Hear My Voice" to the public is limited for cost reasons, but it can be borrowed by agencies or businesses from the state office of substance abuse, which can be reached at 1-800-499-0027.