Great American Smokeout gives smokers an opportunity to give up cigarettes
Anthony Sellier can still remember panicking when he woke up in the hospital. He couldn't move, and tubes were running out of his body.
He had gone to the hospital that morning for a simple procedure - to have a cyst on his neck removed. When he awoke almost 24 hours later, Sellier's wife told him he had lung cancer.
All Sellier could think about was a habit he picked up when he was 16 years old: smoking cigarettes.
The father of three said his life used to revolve around cigarettes. He would light up his first one as soon as he got out of bed, and he had another one with his morning coffee.
He usually had a couple of quick puffs after lunch and dinner, and if he had a beer, he would light up again.
Sellier kept up that steady pace for the next 20 years before finally kicking the habit in 1981.
"I don't remember why I finally stopped. I just did," said Sellier, an employee of Blue Bird Corp.
The American Cancer Society is hoping other people will stop smoking as well on Thursday during the 24th annual Great American Smokeout.
Smoking is the most preventable cause of death among Americans. The American Cancer Society estimates that tobacco use is responsible for nearly one in five deaths in the United States and well over 400,000 deaths each year.
In 1977, the Cancer Society hosted its first nationwide Great American Smokeout to try to reduce the growing number of smokers. The society estimates that 10 million smokers participated in the event in 1999, and 11 percent of those participants reported that they smoked less or not at all one to five days later.
Gary Cochran of the American Cancer Society said he hopes even more people will kick the habit this time around.
"We want people to look at (the smokeout) as the beginning of a smoke-free life," said Cochran, communications director of the Cancer Society's Macon division.
Sellier began his smoke-free life in 1981, but he found himself battling the nicotine demons 10 years later.
"There are so many things out there trying to kill you. Why should you do it yourself with smoking?" Sellier said. "I just think about all that time wasted."
The growing mass that eventually turned out to be cancerous had been bothering Sellier, then 46, for some time.
After a series of tests, a few tooth extractions and a root canal, doctors determined that the mass was indeed a cyst - right below his jawbone - instead of an abscessed tooth.
His doctor had assured Sellier and his wife that the mass was non-cancerous, but it still needed to be removed. Sellier went in for the surgery three days later.
Typically, the simple procedure should have taken two or three hours. When Judye Sellier had not seen a doctor after a couple hours, she began to worry.
"Then, I saw (the doctor) come down the hall and I was so thankful to see him," she said. "He looked at me and said 'Judye, we need to talk. We found cancer.'"
Her husband's condition didn't look good.
The cancer had spread to the tissue surrounding the cyst, and surgery was needed to remove 35 lymph nodes as well as nerve tissue from his face and neck.
Doctors said that if all went well and he was lucky, Sellier might live another five years - if he lived out the year.
"My whole world fell apart," Judye Sellier said. "We had only been married five years. He is the light of my life, and all I could think about is that I was going to lose him."
When Sellier awakened, he, his wife and his doctors discussed his options. The couple decided to go ahead with chemotherapy treatments, and he begin living every moment to the fullest.
The decision was one that completely changed the couple's life.
"We were living in Fort Valley at the time and were driving home from the hospital in Macon," said Sellier, now 56. "We had been living there for 16 years, but I think that was the first time I actually noticed things. I saw the pecan trees and the calves romping around the pasture.
"I remember walking into the house and smelling the potpourri. Cancer changed me for the better."
Sellier and his wife decided to do everything they had been putting off for years. They went to Hawaii and traveled through Europe. They spent quality time with their friends and family members. They enjoyed each other.
"Our friends tease us," Sellier said, laughing. "They said you all probably even have fun going to the Dumpster. And we do."
Years went by and nothing happened. The Selliers are still together, still fighting for his survival. It has now been nine years since Sellier's surgery.
"I put it in the Lord's hands," Judye Sellier said. "I said, 'Lord, we've done all we can do down here. It's in your hands now.' We put it behind us and started living our lives."
The Selliers are very active in the American Cancer Society, and Sellier speaks to groups two to three times a year about smoking. He said he works especially hard to reach young people in their teens - the time when he lighted his first cigarette.
He said he's thankful for his life and his experiences, but he said he doesn't want others to have to follow his path.
"If you don't smoke, don't start. If you do smoke, it's never too late to quit," he said.