From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 47 - February 17, 2005
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

As oral cancer survivor, Gruen Von Behrens, speaks to Pinedale High School students Tuesday afternoon. Von Behrens' talk greatly impacted his audiences, both in Big Piney and Pinedale schools.
Are You Through With Chew?
Young oral cancer survivor tours Wyoming
by Delsa Allen

Gruen Von Behrens, a 27-year-old oral cancer survivor who has endured 30 disfiguring surgeries to save his life, has been touring Wyoming in recognition of Through with Chew Week, including a stop at the State Capital on Great American Spit Out Day.

Like many teenagers, Von Behrens first tried spit tobacco at age 13 when he played baseball. Everyone who played baseball used tobacco and he felt pressured to use it, he says.

Within a few years, he knew that he had a problem in his mouth but was afraid to tell his mom. Even with that fear, he could not quit chew. By age 17, he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma.

"Spit tobacco has ruined my life," Von Behrens says. "Every time I turn around, they're putting me in the hospital either to have surgery or some kind of treatment. If I had known then what I know now, I never would have put a dip in my mouth. Spit tobacco seemed harmless, but in reality it was more than I could handle."

Von Behrens' treatment included one radical surgery that removed half his neck muscles and lymph nodes and half of his tongue. He immediately began a series of major surgeries to save his life that are ongoing today.

Gruen describes himself before the cancer as a very handsome young man, athletic, and looking forward to life. Gruen's life is now a major challenge.

Gruen's focus is prevention with youth. His presentation is meant to inspire youth to quit if they already chew tobacco or to remember Gruen's story if they are considering experimenting with tobacco. Gruen also talks about how addictive the product is and describes the power of tobacco industry advertising and promotions.

He also has an inspirational aspect to the presentation. Gruen speaks to youth about qualities that are important, stressing that outer appearances don't matter when there are so many other more important characteristics. He encourages youth to treat everyone with respect and dignity.

Photo credits:  Delsa Allen

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