The Gruen Von Behren Story
Gruen Von Behrens Age 27
Von Behrens slurred speech is a constant reminder to him of the price he paid to chew tobacco, but he hopes it will also be a reminder
to other people.
For the future, Von Behrens plans to continue educating people for as long as he can so that other people
might not take the same path that he did. Von Behrens probably never could have fathomed that the choice he made one night while
camping with friends would have irreversible consequences.
Gruen says that he was an innocent kid who was victimized by big tobacco companies. Gruen now uses his experience as a way to
reach people and let them know the dangers that tobacco companies seem to omit in their advertisements. After all, death and
cancer are not the most attractive selling points. "Tobacco is the only product in the United States today - the only product
that is sold over the counter that if you use it as it is directed to use it, it will Kill You."
Smoking is just as dangerous,
Gruen says, "I know a lot of people who look just like this who smoke."
"When I was 13 years old and had never used tobacco, nobody showed me a picture of this," Gruen says indicating toward his face.
"Nobody told me that this is what cancer was. Nobody told me that cancer meant 34 sugeries. They didn't tell me that it
meant thousands of treatments."
The road since the cancer was confirmed has been long and devastating, but Gruen lived through it to tell his tale. In fact, that
is exactly what he does now Gruen is a national spokesperson for Oral Health America’s National Spit Tobacco Education Program (NSTEP).
Oral Health America’s mission is to increase public awareness of oral health’s importance to total health, and NSTEP was created to
educate people about the dangers of spit tobacco useTobacco companies don’t target current users. Current users are already addicted.
Tobacco companies are recruiting kids to step up and become their new customers. While there are plenty of messages about how using
tobacco was cool, there aren’t messages about the consequences.
“People don’t realize how serious oral cancer is,” Gruen says. “Think about how close the mouth is to the spine and the brain.
Once it hits one of these two places, it’s checkout time,” he said
The tender age of 13 is a time when children take their first step toward adulthood. It’s also a time when anything seems possible
and consequences are not yet a priority in making decisions.
So what started as a game at 13 for Von Behrens, quickly became an addiction,
but no one could have known how quickly the addiction would create cancer in his body.
“Halfway through my junior year of high school,
after only using tobacco for three years, I noticed a white spot developing on the side of my tongue where I’d been holding my dip
in my lip,” he said. “I thought it was going to go away. Well, in nine months this white spot didn’t go away, and what started out
as the size of the tip of a pencil had grown completely through my tongue.
Gruen was 17 years old, and his tongue was split in half
by one of the most deadly diseases known to man.
“The justification that by using tobacco products, the only person being hurt is the
user is not true,” says Gruen. The thought of his mother learning he was sick with this disease, and how it would hurt her, was hard
“I never saw my mother cry like that,” he said. “Not only had I hurt myself, but I hurt her, too.”
From the beginning,
since Gruen had squamous cell carcinoma, he was given a 75 percent chance that the cancer would kill him—not very good odds to a 17-year-old.
Gruen Von Behren Before and After Cancer