operations after using smokeless tobacco.
By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer
Cancer survivor Rick Bender, 50, of Kentucky is the face of how smokeless tobacco can take on toll on one’s health.
Bender was at Cabot Middle School North and South last Thursday to give a presentation on the harm chewing tobacco does first hand. Bender’s visit was arranged by the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Arkansas.
Bender started using chewing tobacco as a 12-year-old influenced by peer pressure, advertising and baseball.
When Bender asked the 860 Middle School North students how many have tried smokeless tobacco, four students raised their hand. Over half the students in the gym knew someone who used tobacco all the time.
“Smokeless tobacco sounds nice, neat — pretty harmless. I didn’t want to smoke. I didn’t want anything to do with cigarettes but wanted to fit in with the crowd who smoked,” Bender said.
He remembered seeing the smokeless tobacco advertisements catchphrase, “Take a pinch instead of a puff.”
Copenhagen was once his preferred brand of snuff. With aspirations of playing baseball in the major leagues using spit tobacco went hand in hand.
In high school Bender was using a couple cans of tobacco a week. In February 1988, at age 25, he was up to a can a day. He noticed a white bump on his tongue and white patches on his mouth. Some had not healed up.
The tobacco irritated the sores. He quit dipping, but by Christmas the sore came back. The pencil point sore had grown to the size of a dime. He went to the doctor and the doctor cut a hunk of tongue with the sore for a biopsy.
In March 1989, Bender was diagnosed with an aggressive, fast-growing cancer. It had no remission. It wasn’t going to stop growing and had to be cut out or he would die. Doctors gave him two years to live.
A month later, he underwent his first of four surgeries to cut out the cancer that spread from his mouth down into his neck.
He lost a third of his tongue. Surgery destroyed the nerves in his neck run ning down to his right arm. He has 25 percent use of his right arm. Doctors had to cut through his jaw to get at the cancer. Complications and infection caused his jaw to fall apart. He has six teeth remaining.
Twenty years later, in 2009, infection developed in the other side of his jaw. He speaks with a little bit of a lisp and slurs some of his words. “I can’t even lick my lips,” Bender said.
“Spit tobacco causes heart disease, high blood pressure and gum disease and cancer. The survival rate from cancer is 50 percent after five years. If cancer occurs under the age of 30, it’s almost zero,” Bender told students. He told them if they know someone who has a sore in their mouth that does not heal and go away in 10 days, then they need to go to the dentist or see a doctor right away.
One can of snuff has the same amount of nicotine as three to four packs of cigarettes. It has 28 cancer-causing ingredients, Bender said. “I thought it was safer than smoking,” Bender said.
He then talked about electronic cigarettes. Nearly half to three-fourth of students raised their hand for knowing someone who used e-cigarettes.
Bender said the e-cigarettes contain nicotine that leads to heart disease. They also have nitrosamines, a cancer-causing compound in the vapor.