KANSAS, Okla. – In December, Cherokee Nation Comprehensive Cancer Program officials finished touring area schools in which they told students the dangers of commercial tobacco use.
The tour, which began in November, reached nine schools for a total of 10 presentations and about 1,700 students. Stops included schools in Kansas, Jay, Dahlonegah, Bell, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Greasy, Westville and Maryetta.
“This came about because November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month,” said Greg Bilby, public health educator/outreach coordinator for the tribe’s Comprehensive Cancer Program. “They (cancer program officials) said ‘we want you to go out and present some information about lung cancer awareness, anti-smoking and tobacco use.’”
The tour is now in its second year. In 2008, it included Jack Vogle, a cancer survivor who had his voice box removed but still talked to kids about his trials and tribulations.
Vogle died in September 2008 and Bilby said he considered this tour to be a tribute to Vogle’s work on the non-smoking campaign.
“This tour is dedicated in his honor because he always wanted to make sure that one kid didn’t smoke,” Bilby said. “Brian (Jackson) and I got to work with him and he was a great guy. Even though he was tired and in a lot of pain he had this magnetic personality and a million dollar smile.”
Bilby said besides losing Vogle, another big change from the 2008 presentation was to double the amount of schools the tour reached.
“We went from five (schools) to 10, but we had one back out so we visited nine,” he said.
Bilby said he was also concerned he would not have a speaker for the presentation, but then he contacted Trentham, who is also a cancer survivor.
“When Jack passed away I was really sweating it, but Ronnie’s (Trentham) name was given to me and it’s funny how God opens up opportunities,” he said.
Trentham, a volunteer spokesman for the American Cancer Society, has been diagnosed with cancer six times. After his sixth time he decided to undergo chemotherapy and radiation. He finished his treatment in March 2007 and has been cancer free.
“When I speak to those kids I tell them ‘I am nobody special. I’m a small town farm boy’…I had people tell me it was cool to chew chewing tobacco and do those kinds of things,” he said. “I never had anyone tell me the danger or show me. I hope that I can show them through my speech and my physical visual effects to encourage them not try any kind of tobacco.”
The presentation also includes Jackson, a CN community school specialist, who presents his “I Believe” message that deals with drugs, alcohol, self-esteem and motivation.
“I’m not very big, but I try to get it across that you don’t have to be,” he said. “You don’t have to be 6-foot, 5 and 350 pounds. You have to go after you goals and dreams.”
For his presentation, he blows up hot water bottles that hold as much air pressure as four car tires. He said he hopes the visual is one students never forget.
“I’m one of a handful of Native Americans who hold a Guinness world record, so I hope to open their eyes and challenge them to at least try some of their goals and dreams,” he said.
The presentation also includes the storytelling of Robert Lewis, a CN school and community specialist. He said he wanted to provide entertainment for the students and help teach them valuable morals through his storytelling.
“People always make their own choices. Some are good and some are bad and this is how you get your own experience. If they can see the experiences that have happened to others, especially with Ronnie and Jack, then they have the sense that maybe I shouldn’t get involved with it,” Lewis said.
By Jami Custer, Cherokeephoenix