Local family shares personal story of the deadly effects of dipping

Local family shares personal story of the deadly effects of dipping
A mother and her two daughters are telling their story of heartache and healing in the hopes that it will save someone from a deadly form of cancer.

Dot Brown's husband, Robert, was a beloved softball coach at Elizabeth High School.  He died almost a year ago from cancer, the result of chewing tobacco for decades.

May 2, 2013 is a day Dot will never forget.  “On the calendar I wrote, ‘Last dip. Yay!’”

Dot knew when she married her husband 21 years ago that he chewed tobacco.  It was a habit she and their daughters disliked.  “I did not like it,” she said, “those were some of our biggest battles.”

18-year-old Taylor says she tried to get her dad to stop chewing tobacco, worried about his health.  “I would just ask him to stop or try to hint towards it and he just never would listen,” she said.

If you think smokeless tobacco is a safer alternative to cigarettes, think again.  One can of dip has as much nicotine as three packs of cigarettes, leading to quick addiction.

“He just could not quit,” said Dot.

Robert did not smoke or drink.  He was an active, healthy husband, father of two girls, special education teacher and softball coach at Elizabeth High School.  He even coached his two daughters.  “He was loving,” said 14-year-old Tori.  “He was very funny.  I think that's where I get my humor!”

But it was hard to find anything to smile about when a small spot in Robert's mouth proved to be cancer last May.  “When you hear that, your whole life stops,” said Dot, “you can't breathe...it just takes you.”

Robert was seen by some of the country's top cancer specialists at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.  Doctors were stunned at how quickly the cancer was growing in the pocket of Robert’s mouth.  They decided to speed up the surgery date to cut it out of his mouth.  “They removed his jaw,” said Dot, “they took a bone from his leg and used it in his jaw, cut across his lip and around to his throat.”

Robert had a tracheotomy, feeding tube, chemo, high intensity radiation and a second surgery, but the aggressive cancer continued to grow.

Dot says she always knew chewing tobacco could cause cancer, but she never imagined it would lead to her husband's death just four months after his diagnosis.  “It wasn't that this was going to be it, you know,” she said, “it was Taylor's senior year.  He was supposed to fight that. We were supposed to be back on that softball field.”

Even on Robert's darkest days, he made sure his family knew the message he wanted to share: don't dip.  It is a message Dot, Tori and Taylor are bravely sharing with area students and youth groups.  “My dad won't get to walk me down the aisle, my dad won't get to be there when I graduate college,” said Taylor, “he wasn't even there when I graduated high school.  Your family needs you, so just put it down.  It's not worth it.”

Dot says it can be tough to share her family’s emotional story as they continue to miss the man that a community knew as “Coach,” but she says it is something he wanted to share himself – so they do it for him.  “It's just inside us that we have to do this for him,” she said, “he was a good man and he didn't deserve to die from it.”

Dot says Robert would be proud of his girls.  Taylor is studying education at McNeese State University - just like her mom and dad.  Tori plans to study medicine, a passion she found when caring for her dad at home.

If you want to learn about the specific dangers of smokeless tobacco, we have a web exclusive interview with Dr. Ann Gillenwater of MD Anderson Cancer Center.  She talks about the dangers of dipping, the types of cancer that result from this habit and the immediate health benefits when a person quits.  Click here to watch the interview.

Dot, Tori and Taylor are open to speaking to more people about the dangers of dipping.  To connect with them, go to Robert Brown’s facebook page and send them a message.

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