Last summer, while I was finishing my book, Semicolon, for publication, I was contacted by the Colon Cancer Alliance (CCA). I established a relationship with the CCA because I decided to donate a portion of the proceeds from the sales of Semicolon to that organization. The CCA representative told me that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were looking for someone who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer while they were smoking to be in a public service announcement for the CDC’s 2015 Tips from Former Smokers Campaign. I thought, “What a fantastic way to give back and not only encourage smokers to quit but also to encourage people to get screened for colon cancer!”
I was given the contact info for the person to contact and I reached out to them. We exchanged a few e-mails. Then I filled out a questionnaire and sent it in. Then they sent an affidavit for my doctor to review and sign (regarding the link between smoking and my colorectal cancer diagnosis). That was followed by a Skype interview with the ad writers, a telephone interview with a CDC doctor, another interview with a attorney, and so on. I didn’t know for months if I would be chosen, but every step of the way I was believing for God to use me the way He wanted to.
The idea of directly impacting millions of people across the country to quit smoking and get screened for colon cancer was amazing to me. As anxious as I became at times, my wife encouraged me to leave it in God’s hands.
Finally, I got the call and was invited to go to the New York area to film the public service announcement and do the photo shoot for the print campaign. Initially it didn’t sink in. I became excited and then felt absolutely overwhelmed. It was happening. This was real. I thanked God and I remember praying, “Whatever happens, let my experience save lives.”
There is much more to tell about the experience — the filming, photo shoots, radio ad recording, etc. — but for now I’ll fast forward to this week. My family flew to Atlanta to participate in the CDC press conference this past Thursday, at which they announced the launch of the new, 2015 Tips from Former Smokers Campaign.
I’m proud to call all of them friends and I couldn’t be more proud of them for not only overcoming their own challenges, but also for quitting smoking and for participating in this campaign and sharing their stories so that other people may be inspired to quit smoking.
We’re all making a difference. According to CDC Director Dr. Frieder, each of us will be responsible — through our ads — for saving more lives in the 20 weeks that the ads will run than the average American doctor will save in their entire career. That’s a sobering thought, and an awesome reality.
Below are my and Julia’s 30 second ad, followed by my two vignettes. I invite you to watch them, to learn more about my story, which I detailed in my book, Semicolon.
CDC: Tips From Former Smokers – Julia and Mark’s Ad
CDC: Tips From Former Smokers – Mark’s Story
CDC: Tips From Former Smokers – Mark’s Military Service and Illness
More than anything I’ve ever written or created, I hope you will share these videos with someone you care about.