It was early
on February 25th. Sean Marsee smiled a tired smile at
his sister, pointed his index finger skyward, and an
hour later, at age 19, Sean Marsee was dead. Just ten
months earlier, Sean, an 18 year-old high school senior
and star of the school track team, was just a weekend
away from competing in the state track finals, and just
a month away from graduation. It was then that Sean
opened his mouth and showed his mother an ugly sore
on his tongue. His mother, a registered nurse, took
one look and felt her heart sink.
A user of smokeless chewing tobacco and snuff since
age 12, rarely was Sean without a dip. Living from nicotine
fix to nicotine fix, he went through a can of snuff
every day and a half. When Sean's mother finally discovered
his secret she hit the roof. She tried explaining just
how hazardous that tobacco was for him, smoke or no
smoke, but Sean refused to believe her. He argued that
other boys on the track team were dipping. He argued
that his coach knew and didn't seem to care. He argued
that high profile sports stars were using and marketing
smokeless tobacco. How could it be dangerous, he pleaded.
In the end, his mother simply dropped the subject.
But now, an angry red spot with a hard white core,
about the size of a half-dollar, was being worn by his
tongue. "I'm sorry, Sean," said Dr. Carl Hook,
the throat specialist. "It doesn't look good. We'll
have to do a biopsy." Sean was stunned. Aside from
his addiction to nicotine, he didn't drink, he didn't
smoke and he took excellent care of his body; watching
his diet, lifting weights and running five miles a day,
six months a year. Now this. How could it be? "But
I didn't know snuff could be that bad for you,"
Sean said. "I'm afraid we'll have to remove that
part of your tongue, Sean," Dr. Hook said. The
high school senior was silent. "Can I still run
in the state track meet this weekend?" he finally
asked. "And graduate next month?" Dr. Hook
On May 16th, Dr. Hook performed the operation. More
of Sean's tongue had to be removed than was anticipated.
Worse yet, the biopsy results were back and the tumor
tested positive for cancer. Arrangements were made for
Sean to see a radiation therapist, but before therapy
began, a newly swollen lymph node was found in Sean's
neck. It was an ominous sign that the cancer had spread.
Radical neck surgery had now become necessary.
Dr. Hood gently recommended to Sean that he undergo
the severest option: removing the lower jaw on the right
side, as well as all lymph nodes, muscles and blood
vessels except for his artery. There might be some sinking,
he explained, but the chin would support the general
planes of the face.
His mother began to cry. Sean was being asked to approve
his own mutilation. This was a teenager who was so concerned
about his appearance that he'd even swallow his dip
rather than be caught spitting tobacco juice. They sat
is silence for ten minutes. Then, dimly, she heard him
say, "Not the jawbone. Don't take the jawbone."
"Okay, Sean, " Dr. Hook said softly. "But
the rest; that's the least we should do." On June
20th Sean underwent his second surgery. It lasted eight
At school, 150 students and teachers assembled in June
to honor their most outstanding athlete. Sean could
not be there to receive their award. His Coach and his
assistant came to Sean's home to present their gift,
a walnut plaque. They tried not to stare at the huge
scar that ran like a railroad track from their star
performer's earlobe to his breastbone. Smiling crookedly
out of the other side of his mouth, Sean thanked them.
With five weeks of healing and radiation therapy behind
him, in August Sean greeted Dr. Hood with enthusiasm,
plainly happy to be alive. Miraculously, Sean had snapped
back. He really believes his superb physical condition
is going to lick it, Dr. Hook thought. Let's hope he's
going to win this race too.
But in October Sean started having headaches. A CAT
scan showed twin tentacles of fresh malignancy, one
snaking down his back, the other curling under the base
of his brain. In November, Sean underwent surgery for
the third time. It was the jawbone operation he had
feared - and more. After 10 hours on the operating room
table, he had four huge drains coming from a foot long
crescent wound, a breathing tube sticking out of a hole
in his throat, a feeding tube through his nose, and
two tubes in his arm veins. Sean looked at his mother
as if to say, "My God, Mom, I didn't know it was
going to hurt like this."
The Marsees brought Sean home for Christmas. Even then,
he remained optimistic until that day in January when
he found new lumps in the left side of his cheek. His
mother answered the phone when the hospital called with
the results of the biopsy. Sean knew the news was bad
by her silent tears as she listened. When she hung up,
he was in her arms, and for the first time since the
awful nightmare started, grit-tough Sean Marsee began
to sob. After a few minutes, he straightened and said,
"Don't worry. I'm going to be fine." Like
the winning runner he was, he still had faith in his
One day Sean confessed to his mother that he still
craved his snuff. "I catch myself thinking,"
he said, "I'll just reach over and have a dip."
Then he added that he wished he could visit the high-school
locker room to show the athletes "what you look
like when you use it." His appearance, he knew
would be persuasive. A classmate who had come to see
him fainted dead away.
Shortly before Sean's death he told his mother that
there must be a reason that God decided not to save
him. Sean's mother believes that Sean's legacy is in
having his story spread and hopefully "keeping
other kids from dying." When Sean became unable
to speak, a friend asked him if their was anything he
wanted to share with other young athletes. With pencil
in hand Sean wrote, "Don't dip snuff." On
the morning of February 25th, Sean Marsee, age nineteen,
exhaled his last breath.
This story is courtesy of http://whyquit.com/whyquit/SeanMarsee.html