FROM HopeLine Illinois, e-newsletter of the American Cancer Society, July 2007
The Powerful Voice of Lisa Cristia Through her teenage years and into her early 20s, Lisa Cristia worked as a bartender and server in Chicago restaurants.
She didn’t think much about the tobacco smoke she breathed on the job every day. Not until her doctor diagnosed her with Stage 3 throat and tongue cancer – which he described as “a smoker’s cancer.”
“Hearing that felt so crazy,” Lisa says, “because in fact, I’d never smoked a cigarette in my life.”
Recovering her words
Surgeons removed 23 lymph nodes and a large section of Lisa’s tongue. Following months of chemotherapy and rehabilitation, she regained her ability to speak.
A few months later, Lisa heard about the Smoke-Free Illinois campaign to protect all workers from secondhand smoke. The gift of her recovered voice suddenly became a powerful blessing.
“When I saw news reports about the proposed law, I called the American Cancer Society to see how I could help,” Lisa explains. “I agreed to share my story so that others wouldn’t have to suffer the way I had.”
Testifying to help others Over the weeks that followed, Lisa addressed groups across the state. Her testimony before the Illinois legislature brought many lawmakers to tears. Her story made it all but impossible to ignore the harm caused by secondhand smoke.
In May, Lisa spoke again in Springfield – but this time she addressed a group of nearly 1,000 American Cancer Society supporters who had gathered to celebrate passage of the Smoke-Free Illinois Act.
“It was the best day of my life,” she says. “I felt humbled and overwhelmed. So many people who had been touched by cancer were there to thank the legislature for taking action. One woman could barely talk … she was missing part of her face from oral cancer.
“For a moment, I felt guilty because I was so much better off than other survivors I met that day. Then someone said to me, ‘Maybe you are here to speak for everyone who can’t.’
“I’m grateful to the American Cancer Society and to each person that has embraced me along the way,” she says now. “It’s been a beautiful experience.”
Learn more about the ways we’re working to reduce cancer risks caused by tobacco use at cancer.org.