The Sean Marsee Story Told First Hand

I had the pleasure of meeting Jason Marsee at the 2011 National Smokeless Summit in Austin, Texas. Jason is the younger brother Sean Marsee who died at the age of 19 due to cancer caused by smokeless tobacco use. Here is Sean’s story told first hand…

Video transcription

All right guys. My name’s Jason Marsee I am your guest speaker. What I’m going to ask you to do today is probably one of the most difficult things you’ll be asked to do today. And that’s imagine your older brother dying in the worst way possible while you watch. Cause that’s what happened to me. And this is how it happened.

Smokeless tobacco. Everybody knows where it is, you know the different kinds. The general ages that people start are about 11 to 12. How old are you guys? OK, so you have either made this decision or you will be asked to make this decision at some point.

“Young adult users are the only source of replacement.” That’s a direct quote from a Philip Morris memo. Does anybody realize what the means? Replacements? The others have died.

“It’s a well-known fact that teenagers like sweet products.” That’s a direct quote from Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company.

“Cherry Skoal is for somebody who likes the taste of candy, if you know what I mean.” That’s a direct quote from a US Tobacco company memo.

You see these products on the left. These are called transitional products. These are products that are designed to get you thinking about smokeless tobacco way before you’re even old enough to try smokeless tobacco. They’re sold to you in virtually the same packaging that they’re selling you tobacco in. .

Does anybody know who this guy is on the left? The Marlboro Man. Does anybody know how many Marlboro Men there’s been? There’s been three. Two died of cancer. Do these look like advertisements that are designed to get me to try it? No, they’re designed at you. Today’s teen is tomorrow’s potential regular customer.

The reality is not quite as glamorous as their ads.

8-10 dips a day has the nicotine equivilent of 30-40 cigarettes. They have found that the tobacco companies can manipulate the nicotine levels in these products. Why would they want to do that? Two reasons:

Nicotine is a poison. If I give one of you guys a cigarette or a dip and you’re not used to it by the time you get to the end of that cigarette you’re going to be sick. If they have products that have a little less in it then you can go ahead and light that next cigarette. Then you can go ahead and have that next dip. You can push through being sick. Then after a while that product no longer does it for you. It’s called graduation. You graduate from the less nicotine product to a more nicotine product. And by the way, it’s going to cost more.

Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs on this planet. Make no mistake about it: Smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to smoking. There are 3,000 different chemicals in smokeless tobacco and cigarettes. 500 different ingredients. That’s 500 different things that they add to tobacco to make it palatable, to make it taste better, to make it last longer on the shelf. 28 of those are known carcinogens. They’re known cancer causing agents.

Cadmium – used in batteries.

Plutonium 210 – in nuclear waste.

Formaldehyde. If anybody’s ever been in science class and seen the frog floating in the liquid, the liquid it’s floating in is formaldehyde.

Smokeless tobacco affects on the mouth. Now, now everybody that uses these products is going to get oral cancer. But everyone who uses these products is going to get nicotine dependency. Everyone who uses this product is going to get tooth discoloration and bad breath.

This is also one of the wonderful things that comes along with smokeless tobacco – hairy tongue. Who wants a hairy tongue? Who wants to get kissed by somebody that has a hairy tongue? Now, this is not hair. This is the vasili on his tongue that have become damaged. They’ve become engorged. They’re raised up off of his tongue. But, if you grabbed this guy’s tongue and you pull it out and you take a blow dryer and you blow it across, it’ll wave in the breeze just like hair. It can be blue, it can be green, it can be black and it stinks. If you stop using smokeless tobacco today, this will go away.

Some of these other things don’t go away quite so easily. This is Leukoplakia. It’s a pre-cancerous lesion. Tooth decay. Gum disease. Tooth discoloration. Gum recession. Gingivitis. These are the other things that come with smokeless tobacco. These do not go away. These have to be repaired.

This is oral cancer. This does not get repaired. This gets cut out. This gets irradiated. This gets chemotherapied. This does not go away. These men have shortened their lives. They may have even ended them.

You can see the guy down here in the corner. You can see the scars where he’s had other surgeries. It’s come back. He’s not going to survive that. The radiation in the chemotherapy is bad. Now, you see the sore on the side of his tongue. What you can’t see in this picture, my older brother’s senior picture is a sore, about the size of an eraser, when this picture was taken on the side of his tongue. It was small. Tiny. He thought it was a canker sore. He though he was OK. He just moved it to the other side of his mouth.

The doctor did a biopsy. Does anybody know what that is? They cut a piece off. They sliced that little piece into thin strips. They take it into a lab, they put it on glass and they look at it under a microscope. Two days later, my mom and my brother are at home, the telephone rings. My mom goes and picks up that phone and she starts crying. Sean goes to her, he said, “What’s the matter?”  She said, “Well, they said you have cancer.”

Tell you how good of shape my brother was in. My brother was the kind of guy that if you were going to go fishing with him at a fishing hole and it was five miles away he would pick up his pole, he’d look at you in the eye and he’d say, “Ray you!” And he’d take off running. That’s the kind of guy he was.

They go back to the doctor the very next day. The surgeon says, “We need you in surgery tomorrow morning.”  Sean’s like, “Hold it, hold it, hold it. I’m running a state track meet in two weeks. I graduate high school in a month. I’m not going into surgery tomorrow morning. I got things to do.”  The doc says, “A month is no big deal. It’s probably a really bad idea, but you’ve got your month.”

He ran the state track meet, he won the state track meet. He graduated high school. The very next day after he graduated high school, they cut off half of his tongue.

The radiation and the chemotherapy was pretty bad. About three weeks into his first round of radiation and chemotherapy, Sean comes to me and says, “I need you to come with me tomorrow. I need you to come with me to get my radiation and my chemotherapy.”

“A trip to town? Cool! I’m in.” I didn’t realize why he asked. He asked because he needed me to drive him home. I was 14 years old, I didn’t have a driver’s license but he would stick his head out the passenger side window and throw up until he passed out. That’s how bad the radiation and the chemotherapy was hitting him. I went with him, I drove him home.

The 6 week cycle of radiation and chemotherapy is over. He’s feeling better. He’s joking about the fact that they took off half of his tongue. He’s joking about the fact that he’s won. And then they find more cancer. The second surgery takes off the rest of his tongue. The second surgery Sean goes through takes off a one inch section of his bottom jaw. His mouth is an open sore.

Right before he goes in for a radiation and chemotherapy appointment I see him stick something in the glove box of the car. A can of Copenhagen. He’s still dippin. He’s putting this stuff in a mouth that’s nothing but an open sore.

When he comes out, I show him the can. I’m like, “Dude, what the hell is this?” He says, “You know what? It’s all I’ve got left. Don’t tell mom.”

That’s the addiction level that he was dealing with. He had to have it. It was all he had left. The radiation and the chemotherapy cycle is over. He’s gaining weight, he’s getting better and they find more.

The third surgery that he goes through takes off his pectoral muscle. Takes the lymph nodes out from underneath his arms. Takes so much muscle and tissue out of his neck that he has to practice with weights for two weeks before he can lift his own head and come home from the hospital.

The radiation and the chemotherapy is so bad this time they have to put in a feeding tube – in his throat. That’s the tube that you see coming out of his nose. It goes in his nose, down and into his belly. That’s the only way he can eat. His teeth are becoming so loose, that he’s pulling them out and giving them to my mom who’s putting them in a jar to hope that when he gets better they’ll be able to put them back.

Sean MarseeThe entire track team comes to the house to bring him the track medals that he won at the state track meet that year. They bring 28 medals. They pin his medals on his chest, they put his plaque on his belly and they take this last picture. This is in our living room. This is not in a hospice. This is not in an intensive care ward. Sean has come home to die. When they talk about that next surgery, when they find more cancer on him and they talk about another surgery he says no. He says, “I’m going home. You’re not cutting on me anymore, you’re not giving me any more poison. I’m going home.”  This picture is in our living room.

What finally takes Sean is you can see that tube in his throat – that’s called a tracheotomy. That’s a hard plastic tube that’s cut into his throat so that he can breathe.  Remember, his bottom jaw is gone. All that you see here is cancer. It’s not a bottom jaw. It’s cancer. The way that he finally dies is that cancer grows so large it snaps that hard plastic tube. Sean literally chokes to death on cancer.

I’m here hopefully to be the voice in your head. When that guy thumps that can and goes, “Hey man you wanna try this?” or you’re at that party and somebody pops a cigarette out of that pack and says, “Hey man you wanna cigarette?”, I want to be the voice in your head.  I want to be the voice that says, “Maybe not. I saw something at school the other day that makes me think maybe this isn’t a good idea.”

There’s help. There’s Venomocity, Arizona Smoker’s Hotline.  All of these things are out there to help you guys stop. They’re out there to help you help the people you care about that are using to stop. Thanks guys, appreciate you.

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5 Comments

  1. Seriously, raw thoughts; this video made me wanna start dipping again.

    I know I will not pickup tobacco again, however it is a personal choice and a world without products or stuff that harms us is a world without natural selection. I say let us be the means to our demise.

  2. I remember reading this as a 15 year old in health class, and I never forgot it…Of course, it was a lot less detailed than this.

  3. Cecilia Pechart

    This story was required reading in my children’s 5th grade health classes by a very concerned teacher, Mr. Jay Ritenour (near Ligonier, PA). It was 1986. I’ve reprinted the story and taken it with me to use whenever I could in classes where I was a substitute. Now I must give it to two brothers-in-law and a father-in-law; so far, they have been lucky, but you never know.

  4. I remember reading that story .. I believe it was in readers digest decades ago and never forgot it … at age 82 I’ve never had a cigarette or chewing tobacco in my mouth and I’m in perfect health … never any alcohol either.

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