In April, I had the pleasure of meeting and touring the state with one of the most amazing women I have ever met, Terrie Hall. I should preface by saying that it was my job as an advertising account executive for our state’s anti-tobacco account, to help recruit her, pay her, and take her around the state to spread the word of the dangers of using tobacco to teenage kids. However, I never, in a million year, expected how much I would grow to absolutely love this woman.
Terrie is a Laryngectomee (you can’t even imagine how long it has taken me to remember the correct way to spell that). Meaning Terrie had to have her voice box removed due to cancer. Cancer caused from smoking.
Terrie now speaks with the aide of a voice prosthesis.
When I met Terrie at the airport for the first time we hugged. After six months of planning it felt like we already knew each other. She had asked me in one of her emails what she should pack. I replied to pack as much as she wanted and we would sort through it together when she got here. When I went to grab her bags I quickly found out that she took me up on my offer.
Not being used to large luggage and having never spent any time with someone who has a physical handicap, I decided that we should just muscle the two 50lb bags, carry on, and laptop bag to the car.
I know. I’m an insensitive jerk, right?
We hadn’t gone more than 20 feet and poor Terrie was out of breath. I can’t even tell you how horribly embarrassed I was. But Terrie, after catching her breath and seeing my look of panic, just smiled at me sweetly and said, “Just another day in the life of a Laryngectomee. Do you think we can get one of those baggage cart things?”
Our first stop after leaving the airport was to pick up my counterpart on the anti-tobacco account, Adam (or Mr. Bramwell as I like to call him). Not being under any tight time constraints to drive to our first destination of Price Utah, we stopped for lunch.
Adam and I had a million questions for Terrie and she told us that we had her permission to ask her anything we wanted. Throughout the next five days I found out Terrie’s life story, one amazing story after another. But it was at that first lunch together that I found out something that would change me forever. Terrie told us she had something she wanted us to know. The doctors found three more areas of cancer in her body and she was going in to find out what the treatment regime was going to be the day after she returned from her trip to Utah.
Terrie is a ten time cancer survivor already. Ten. TEN!
How in the name of all that is right in the world could this woman who I had already fallen in love with in less than an hour, possibly be subjected to more cancer?
She told us that she didn’t mention it to us before because she didn’t want us to think she wasn’t well enough to come out here.
Terrie is tough as nails.
Then she told us that it was okay because she was lucky. They caught it early and she has really good doctors and it will probably just be more chemo, but not the really bad type, she normally doesn’t loose her hair, just her eye lashes, sometimes.
She said all of this with a straight face and 100% sincerity. That is the type of person Terrie is. The most amazing optimist that ever existed in the history of the world. Ever.
Outside of touring the state giving presentations to Jr High and High Schools, our secondary purpose for bringing Terrie from her home in North Carolina to Utah was to film her for both an ad campaign and the creation of an educational DVD. I work in advertising as I said, but I am on the planning/strategy/client relations/management of projects side of things. So when my agencies creative director asked me if I would be the one to interview Terrie, it was a huge honor on multiple levels.
When I told Terrie that I would be the one to interview her she was both excited and relieved. I asked her if she wouldn’t mind discussing some of the questions over dinner with a glass (or two) of wine. It was just the two of us and I have to say it was one of my favorite nights. I had my exclusive one on one with a woman who daily continued to blow me away with her strength, personality, ginormous heart, gumption and love. She made me cry, again, and I fell even more in love with her.
And that was just my second night with her.
In the five and a half days Terrie was here she spoke at eleven schools, was featured on every local TV news channel, local newspapers, and was on “Good Things Utah,” one of our early morning talk shows, and in between that she was filmed, photographed, and adored by all. Through it all she never once complained. Never once acted put out or tired. She was a trooper. Her energy kept me going.
At one of the photo shoots I asked the photographer to take a picture of the three of us. I was able to get it printed and framed to give to her as a surprise goodbye gift.
When it came time to say goodbye I was devastated. I’m not going to lie, I was a blubbering fool walking her to the check-point at the airport. I didn’t want my new friend to leave. Work had never been so much fun and I have never been so uplifted by one person. I didn’t know I could form a bond with someone so quickly and I didn’t want our time together to end.
Terrie text me from the plane, from her layover stop, and finally when she got home.
We continue to text daily. She asks me about my dates and rubs it in my face that it is sunny and 80+ degrees in North Carolina while it is still snowing here in Utah. I ask her about her daughters wedding and we laugh together through the distance.
I miss her incredibly but I am so proud of the work we were able to accomplish in her short time here. After every school presentation she gave, dozens of kids would come up to her and to give her a hug or tell her how much her story had impacted them. And now we have a whole campaign and will be able to share her story with even more of the world.
Filming was emotional. It effected all of us, from the camera, lights, sound, make-up and production crew to, of course, our star Terrie. Here is the 30 second television commercial.
Terrie Hall 30 sec TV
Want to see more?
You can view all of Terrie’s TV commercials on our TRUTH Against Tobacco YouTube channel.
You can view her full presentation from the TRUTH Against Tobacco website.
And you can view the rest of some of my pictures with Terrie from my Flickr account.
One last thing, before taking Terrie to the airport, I HAD to take her to my favorite place – the mountains. She shared so much beauty with me, I felt it was only fair to share some back.
Lessons Learned, Loved One(s), Story Time