Definition of “serendipity” - The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
Cortland’s Doug Bentley, age 65, and Dustin Sherman, age 32, consistently engage in our biking and walking challenges here at Seven Valleys Health Coalition. They are supportive of our organization and take the time to send a complimentary email or Facebook post. They also incorporate these activities year-round. We knew this about them, but they didn’t know it about each other. In addition to their physical pursuits, they also have another common denominator: cigarette smoking.
Doug noted that he started smoking when he was 15 years old. He’d hang out at the pool hall on South Main Street. The vending machine there would take a quarter and a dime. Pull the plunger and the smokes dropped into the tray. Thirty years later he stopped, but the damage had already been done.
Doug’s tonsil cancer was discovered in 2001. Surgery was performed in June and the last radiation treatment was on September 11. This was not the end of the story.
Last August a squamous cell carcinoma was discovered growing on his tongue. In September, the right half of his tongue was cut off. The doctor then carved a chunk of his wrist and sewed it to what was left of Doug’s tongue. A skin graft was taken from his thigh to patch the hole in his wrist. When doctors detected weak blood flow in the new part of the tongue, they recommended leech therapy. A leech was sutured to his tongue to suck the blood from his old tongue into the new. It worked so well that he went through fourteen leeches. So far, so good.
Dustin has not yet kicked smoking. He says it’s the one bad habit that he struggles with on a daily basis. Every day is his last day, but he cannot seem to get it through his mind that he doesn’t want or need this dreadful and disgusting habit anymore. He’s been smoking since he was 16.
“I’ve cut out numerous negatives in my life, and dedicated my extra time towards health and fitness related activities, plus altering my diet to eat healthy. I have always seemed to use smoking as my vice or crutch. Oh, I'm stressed, or any other excuse I can find to justify just one last one. I want to stop for numerous reasons, but number one is my health. I wake up coughing every morning, and find it getting harder and harder to breathe as the time flies by. I surround myself in the fitness lifestyle, own my own apparel line, Join The Movement Apparel, based on the health and fitness industry, but find myself hiding at events or after runs so I can smoke a cigarette. That is embarrassing! I am at the gym every morning at 6am, hiking the Adirondack’s 46 high peaks and the Finger Lakes Trail. I am an avid snowboarder, and love trying new things. I recently found a passion for obstacle course racing which has really been pushing my breathing to new levels. I know what I need to do. These challenges, races, hikes, and my current lifestyle continue pushing these thoughts of quitting into my head numerous times a day. I feel everything happens for a reason, as long as I take the time to realize and act.”
Doug bikes to work as often as he can. He picks up garbage along the way and also engages in his new passion: talking to smokers about his cancer battle. He doesn’t know their names when he stops his bike, he just wants to share his story. As luck would have it, he randomly stopped to talk to Dustin.
As they spoke, Doug and Dustin discovered they had a lot in common, especially partaking in Seven Valleys’ biking, walking, and healthy eating challenges. They shared their story with us and we decided to give Dustin a new challenge, sharing his next story with us and our followers as he attempts to quit smoking. This Monday, June 12, will hopefully be a new chapter for Dustin. This weekend he is putting together a supply of patches, gum, and hard candies and he’s made a call to the NYS Smokers Hotline. Doug and Seven Valleys Health Coalition will post his blog and give him the support he needs.
We know the smoking addiction is tough to break. Dustin is very special to us and we want him to succeed. We hope his story will help others who struggle. So let’s come together as a community and urge him to soldier on!