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September 13, 2012 05:46 AM

Oral Cancer Survivor Helps Educate Students

Lennox, sd

Most people know someone who has been affected by tobacco in one way or another. But many say one of the best prevention is to keep kids from using it at a young age.

A gym full of Lennox middle schoolers watched with focused eyes as oral cancer survivor Rick Bener told his story.

"I started when I was around 12.  I was diagnosed at age 26 with oral cancer," Bener said.

He lost a third of his tongue, half of his jaw and partial use of his right arm. He's been traveling across the country for around 20 years telling people his story.

"The day you start using tobacco of any kind, you put yourself at risk of cancer. That’s the bottom line," Bener said.

"I thought it was very good. I like how he informed everybody about what he had to go through. So it informed us. Not every time you get people that can tell their story about it," eighth grader Mason Mayer said.

Mayer says it was a very eye-opening experience listening to Bener tell his story. But what was especially attention grabbing was the first-hand view of what could happen.

"It's not just internal but it can also affect you physically and everything about like how he couldn’t raise his hand like this far.  And it's just crazy how it can affect you physically," Mayer said.

Bener says the survival rate for someone under 30 who gets the type of oral cancer he had is only 17 percent. It’s why he says it's so important to get his message to a young crowd.

"This type of cancer is very aggressive and fast growing.  And the younger you are, the faster it grows. So early detection will probably bring that survivability way up.  But the thing is, by then, it's too late," Bener said.

Bener is speaking in Dell Rapids and at McCook Central Thursday. He'll be in Brandon and Baltic Friday.

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