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Victoria woman fighting oral cancer wants others to see ugly side of smoking

By JR Ortega
Nov. 10, 2011 at 5:10 a.m.

Wanting to serve as a living example of why not to smoke, Loretta Postert pulls down her lips to reveal the titanium studs in place for a row of implants. Postert needs the bottom row of teeth, which were lost to cancer.

FACTS ABOUT SMOKING

Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke and lung disease like emphysema, bronchitis and chronic airway obstruction.

On average, smokers die 13 to 15 years earlier than nonsmokers.

In 2011, states will collect $25.3 billion from tobacco taxes and legal settlements, but states are spending only 2 percent of the $25.3 billion on tobacco control programs.

In 2011, at least 46.6 million people were considered smokers.

Each day about 850 people younger than 18 years old begin smoking on a daily basis and 2,200 adults 18 years or older begin smoking on a daily basis.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on smoking and tobacco use.

The face of frail packs a lot of fight.

Sunken cheeks and deep brazen wrinkles dress Loretta Postert's pale 55-year-old face - the face of an 88-pound woman battling oral cancer, or adenoid carcinoma.

Despite her fragile appearance, the spirit of a fighter shines through.

A Muffled Issue

"Do you want to look like me," Postert asked rhetorically, her voice morphed, sounding like she had a mouth full of expanding marshmallows.

Though her voice may sound drowned out, her message is clear - she wants others to know what smoking can do.

Conceiving Cancer

Postert's best friend of more than 20 years, Shirley Whitehouse, sits close by in Postert's Victoria home, listening to the story she has heard hundreds of times before.

"She was yawning one day, and I told her, 'there's a black spot up there,'" Whitehouse said.

"She changed my life," Postert retorted.

Cigarettes have more than 4,000 chemicals, and at least 40 of these are known carcinogens, according to smokingstatistic.org.

Postert was diagnosed on Oct. 21, 2010, and she remembers the moment like it was yesterday.

Tears seep from the bottom of her eyelids as she goes back to that day almost a year ago.

She went through several weeks of radiation and still makes frequent visits to M.D. Anderson in Houston.

"Cancer is very painful and scary," she said, crying. "Any kind of bad emotion you can ever have can all be summed in one word: cancer."

Postert goes back to being a teenager, to the first time she started smoking.

She had a crush on a boy when she lived in Mississippi.

"That boy looked so good to me, I would have done anything to impress him," she said.

She smiles thinking about those days, but then reality of her addiction with smoking surfaces.

Postert's pack of choice was Marlboro 100s, the red pack.

The amount she smoked? Well, that all depends on how stressed she was. Usually it was a pack a day, but she smoked more packs if she was stressed.

Seeing her best friend suffer through all the trials cancer has put her through is painful in itself, Whitehouse said.

"Cancer isn't an easy thing," she said. "No one ever said it is."

"It can kick your ass," Postert answered angrily. "I cry a lot."

Postert wants to show people what more than 20 years of smoking can do, but she's scared. She breaks down a little bit, somewhat embarrassed.

"Wait a minute, this is for real," she said.

Postert reaches her thin fingers into her mouth, removing a prosthetic gum plate that makes up the majority of her mouth.

Postert sits there, mouth wide open, a black hole gaping into what's been killing her this past year.

Is It Too Late?

Postert will find out Friday if she is cancer free.

She's never been more scared in her life, she said.

If she is not cancer free, the nightmare isn't over.

Learning to talk, eat and drink again will have gone down the drain.

And to be honest, Postert is not sure she can do it, she said.

"I don't think I can win," she said in tears.

Whitehouse won't let that happen.

"She's made it this far," she said. "I won't let her give up."

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