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Anti-smoking symbol reveals 'worst moment'

By Jessica Ravitz and Saundra Young, CNN
updated 10:38 AM EDT, Fri March 16, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Terrie Hall of North Carolina is featured in harsh anti-smoking ad campaign
  • Hall describes how 23 years of smoking led to her battling cancer
  • Her worst moment was immediately after doctors removed her larynx
  • She joined the ad campaign because "it will save lives"

Editor's note: As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rolls out a new anti-smoking ad campaign this week, Terrie Hall, 51, of Lexington, North Carolina, has become a poster child of sorts. One of the hard-hitting ads starkly features Hall's remarkable struggle against deadly tobacco-related disease.

(CNN) -- CNN: Do you remember the first time you smoked cigarettes?

HALL:  The first time was on a camping outing with friends in North Carolina.  One of my friends snuck them in.  I was thirteen.  That was the first time I tried a cigarette.  It made me sick.  Then, at seventeen, I started smoking to be with my friends and be with them.  It didn't make me sick that time. it was pretty quick that I became addicted and within a year I was a pack-a-day smoker.

CNN: Tell us about the photo of you when you were younger.

HALL: That was my senior year in high school, right after I started smoking.

Terrie Hall, left, at age 17, when she started smoking regularly. Now 51, right, Hall is battling tobacco-related illness.
Terrie Hall, left, at age 17, when she started smoking regularly. Now 51, right, Hall is battling tobacco-related illness.

CNN: At that age, did it ever occur to you that it might be dangerous? What, if anything, did you know about the possible downsides of smoking?

HALL: I knew nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  It just made me feel grown up. I wish I had had someone like me come see me in school and talk to me about the dangers of tobacco. I think it would have changed my life.

CNN: How long were you a smoker?

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HALL: I smoked for 23 years.

CNN: At your worst, how much did you smoke in a day?

HALL: Two packs a day.

Video: Terrie Hall talks about how she discovered she had cancer and why she joined the ad campaign

CNN: Tell me a bit about your life.

HALL: I am divorced and I have one daughter in her thirties and a ten-year-old grandson. I do a lot of volunteer work and advocacy work.  I go to the middle and high schools around North Carolina and talk about smoking and tobacco education and awareness.

CNN: It's clear in the ads that you've been sick. Tell us about your condition today. How are you doing?  

HALL: I'm still undergoing treatment for cancer.  My cancer initially started in my mouth and was discovered by my dentist and I had to go through radiation. 

The whole time I was going through radiation, I had a really bad sore throat and I thought I was just smoking too much. 

After the radiation was complete, in June 2000, I lost my mother in August and in December I discovered the tumor on my larynx. 

They told me they were going to remove my voice box, but all I heard was cancer.  

I didn't hear the part about them taking something from me.  So I woke up in ICU and the nurse asked me if she could get me anything, and I was in really bad pain, and I opened my mouth to speak and nothing came out.  Not even a breath. 

I have a hole in my neck now, and I'm called a laryngectomee. It's just shocking. You can't wrap your mind around it.

That's when I faced the reality of what happened. 

That was my worst moment.

That's also when I quit, at age 40 in 2001. 

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CNN: Can you tell us a bit about the people you love most and how your journey has impacted them?

HALL: My daughter and grandson, my stepfather and my fellow laryngectomiees are the most supportive.  My daughter is very proud of me.  She recently quit smoking herself in January.  It makes me feel wonderful!  They are very proud that I have taken a stand in a positive direction and that I am trying to help save other people's lives.

CNN: How did you become a part of the CDC ad campaign?

HALL: I was approached by Save organization, Survivors and Victims of Tobacco Empowerment.  They gave my name to the CDC because of all that I had been through.  Because of tobacco. It's been more than my mind can wrap around, but I am excited about the possibilities and the numbers of lives this campaign can save is overwhelming.

Related: Should smokers be targeted with educational ads?

CNN: What does it mean to you to be a part of this?

HALL: I feel very honored and I really appreciate the privilege to be a part of something so positive.  And I know that it will save lives and I'm glad to be a part of it.

It's real. We are all real victims of it, and we're survivors.

We did survive and we should get the word out to other people that this can happen to you too.

Quit.

If you never start, you never have to worry about stopping.

It's the number one preventable death.

Related: CDC unveils graphic anti-smoking ads

CNN: What do you hope the ad you're featured in can accomplish?

HALL: I hope it gets the message out to young people and middle age people that this can happen to you.  I only smoked for 23 years and that's not that long to be diagnosed with any cancer.  This is reality.

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