‘Don’t make me breathe your smoke’

Survivor of cancer caused by secondhand smoke shares story

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The throat cancer Kevin Bateman contracted from tobacco smoke very nearly killed him.

The kicker?

He’s never smoked a day in his life.

“When I found out I had cancer I asked the doctor what caused it. I was told it was secondary smoke,” said Bateman, a 16-year cancer survivor and clean air advocate.

Bateman was exposed to secondhand smoke his entire life. His parents, brother and first wife all smoked. He worked in maintenance where all the guys smoked and all the break rooms doubled as smoking rooms.

In 2001, Bateman was shaving when he found a lump in his neck. His doctor told him it was an infected gland. He completed a round of antibiotics but it was still there. The doctor said he just needed a stronger medicine.

Bateman, who was then in the National Guard, was deployed to Germany. “While I was over there I ran out of medicine and just forgot about it.”

When he returned home that fall, the Seymour company he worked for reminded him it was time for his annual physical. When the doctor saw the knot, which was much larger now, he was concerned, but still thought it was an infection.

It was removed and sent for biopsy. “Two weeks later, at 7 p.m., I got a call and a lady said, ‘The doctor would like to see you Tuesday at 7 a.m.’” Bateman replied, “But the office doesn’t open until 9.” The receptionist reiterated the early appointment time. “I said this isn’t good,” recalled Bateman.

He was right.

Once face to face, “the doctor took my hand and says, ‘Kevin, you have cancer.’” He sat stunned while the doctor told him he’d have to have more surgery to see where else it might be in his body. The day before Thanksgiving in 2001, Bateman had the glands from his neck, his tonsils and part of the back of his throat removed.

See Bateman's full story in The Salem Leader, on newsstands this evening.

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