Smoking led to oral cancer, which eventually cost the 49-year-old all of her teeth and part of her lower jaw.Brader has had three bouts with the disease since her first diagnosis five years ago, but is now cancer free.
“I have to go through life disfigured, all because I made a bad decision and smoked,” she says.
Brader doesn’t want others to follow in her footsteps, so she is working with Tobacco Free Northeast Pennsylvania to spread the word about the dangers of smoking. The organization serves a 10-county area, including Lehigh and Northampton, spokeswoman Alice Dalla Palu said.
Brader recently shared her story in a radio advertisement broadcast during the week of World No Tobacco Day, which was May 31.
In the ad — part of the Centers for Disease Control “Tips from Former Smokers” campaign — she describes preparing liquid meals and consuming them through a feeding tube.
Last year, Brader appeared in a TV commercial for Truth, a national smoking prevention campaign that targets youth.
She started smoking at 16 to fit in with her peers and continued for 28 years. Brader quit cold turkey at 44 after learning in June 2007 that the growth inside her cheek was cancer.
“I felt a little run down, but I had no idea I was sick,” she said. “I had what I thought was a canker sore.”
Brader received radiation treatments and chemotherapy, but the cancer came back in April 2008, so she underwent surgery. The disease resurfaced a third time in June 2009 and had spread to her jaw.
Doctors performed a mandibulectomy and replaced her jaw with a titanium plate. Brader’s body rejected the plate and she nearly died.
The single-mother of two spent weeks in a medically induced coma and months in the hospital. Afterward, Brader looked and felt 20 years older, she said.“It took a year to recover,” she said.
Cancer forced Brader to leave her job and her Lehighton, Carbon County, home behind. She moved to Lehigh County to be closer to Lehigh Valley Hospital in Salisbury Township, where she received treatment.
Brader, who describes herself as independent and strong-willed, was forced to rely on her teenage children as she battled for life.
It was a humbling, frustrating experience, she said. “It was a pretty big blow to realize that I might have to depend on somebody.”
When Brader learned the cancer had spread to her jaw, she considered skipping surgery doctors said was necessary to save her life. She credits her family and The Oral Cancer Foundation with encouraging her to keep up the fight.
Brader is disabled and unable to work, so she volunteers for Tobacco Free Northeast PA and similar organizations.
“I try to use my time to make a difference in the world,” she said. “Young people, maybe, by seeing me, they will realize that it’s not a cool thing to smoke. It’s not cool at all. It can kill you.”
This news story was resourced by the Oral Cancer Foundation, and vetted for appropriateness and accuracy.