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December 11, 2008 3:38 am

Local woman makes case for smoke-free Wyoming

Written by Tribune Staff

Secondhand smoke caused her cancer

Katherine Hooper of Powell has never smoked a cigarette in her life — yet in early 1990, she was diagnosed with cancer of the voice box, a “smoker's cancer.”

She believes she got this type of cancer from spending years working with smokers — and inhaling the resulting secondhand smoke. Her doctors agree that secondhand smoke is the most likely cause.

Hooper is now part of a statewide coalition, Smokefree Wyoming, dedicated to lobbying state legislators about the need to ban smoking in public places, including bars and restaurants.

“(Secondhand smoke is) the only way I could have gotten (this type of cancer),” she said. “They say I'm a statistic. My doctor said no one else that he knows of, who has never smoked, has this kind of cancer.”

The first two times Hooper saw her Casper doctor for the dry, croupy cough and a tight-feeling throat that had been bothering her, he prescribed antibiotics and sent her on her way. On her third visit, however, he said, “No more antibiotics.”

The doctor referred her to a specialist, but told Hooper not to worry, that it couldn't be anything bad — especially since she had never been a smoker.

According to Hooper, the second doctor, Dr. Vignary in Casper, at first didn't believe the results of the laboratory tests he'd ordered.

“The lab tech said to Dr. Vignary, ‘Come back to the lab, and I'll show you under the microscope,” Hooper said.

“When (Vignary) came back to the room, he said, ‘He's right.'”

The diagnosis called for Hooper to make a choice between chemotherapy and radiation. She had recently seen a close friend suffer through the effects of chemotherapy, and eventually lose the battle with cancer, so she opted for radiation.

“I had 30 treatments on my neck gland and then five directly on the voice box, every morning at 6 a.m. — then off to work,” she said.

Hooper said she was exhausted during the radiation therapy, but the agressive treatment sent her cancer into remission.

However, Hooper added, “They don't tell you what radiation can cause — hearing impairment, no saliva, a dry mouth ... I've also had a complete change in voice structure ... I no longer have cancer, but they tell me to watch for it (cancer) in other places in the body.”

Hooper, a small, spunky woman, spent close to 20 years working in an oil field office. She said sometimes “you had to fight your way through the smoke. I complained to my boss about the smoke in (the office), so he put a fan it to blow it out of the office (and into the shop).”

Prior to her work in the oil field service, she spent time as a teacher and an EMT. Hooper married her third husband, Ed, in 1998 — after her first two husbands died early deaths. She also has a daughter, Sandy Wake.

Hooper had an infant son who died at birth, and her other son, Steve Oliver, was killed last year in an ATV accident.

Despite the hardships she's endured, she said, “Ed and I have enjoyed some time together. God has been so good to me, in spite of everything.”

Ed added, “Her cancer is in remission, but you never escape it. That's why we're fighting for this smoking ban.”

“I didn't deserve this,” Hooper said, “but I will struggle with the results of secondhand smoke for the rest of my life.”

Smokefree Wyoming info available

Smokefree Wyoming is a coalition of people and organizations lobbying for legislation that will restrict smoking in enclosed public places, including offices, bars and restaurants. Last week, the Joint Health, Labor and Social Services Interim Committee passed a comprehensive bill that will go before the 2009 Legislature.


Smokefree Wyoming is supported by the American Stroke Association, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association of the Northern Rockies and the Cancer Action Network of the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association and several other national and state organization. For more information, visit www.smokefreewyoming.org .