Emer Rojas is not a health worker but he is the most credible speaker on the ill effects of smoking. But alas, this speaker lost his voice to laryngeal cancer because of smoking.
“We all need to be reminded every now and then of what cigarettes can do to our lives and to our family.” Emer Rojas - an IT business owner, trade lecturer and radio host – said his life will never be the same again because of smoking. He lost his voice to laryngeal cancer.
A chain smoker since he was 18, Emer was diagnosed with cancer in November 2002. Almost immediately, his larynx, a source of vocal tone in speech, was removed by surgery. In January 2003, he underwent another operation to widen his stoma, the mouth-like opening on his neck.
The medical expenses for his check-ups, examinations, surgeries and radiotherapy and chemotherapy sessions left a drain on his family’s pocket. And like other type of cancers, laryngeal cancer might return after treatment, so he still spends P5,000 to P16,500 every month to monitor his condition. The expenses are for testing his blood chemistry, ultrasound, CT scan, or magnetic resonance imaging.
With the aid of an electrolarynx, a device pressed against the skin of the neck to produce vocal sounds, he said that having cancer drains the family’s financial reserves, as well as prevents one from earning a living.
Cancer also changed his lifestyle. He says: “Losing one’s voice is like losing your sight or hearing. It is recognized as one of the permanent disabilities in the Philippines. It affected me as a radio announcer and a mentor in training institutions. It also prevents me from doing the normal business communications and chores.”
Rojas misses the time when he could still travel. Now, he can no longer play basketball or tennis, afraid that he might break a bone.
“I miss my social life. I was always with my peers, having a cup of coffee, talking,” he says. “When we are in a public place and it’s too noisy, my friends won’t understand me. So I keep quiet or I just talk to them through email.”
Rojas learned this lesson the hard way, and he wants to spare the youth—the new target market of cigarette companies—from a similar experience. Today at 50, Emer makes the rounds of schools in Metro Manila and key cities across the country, encouraging young people to avoid smoking.
He’s not a doctor or a health worker, but he is a most credible speaker on the ill effects of smoking.
In 2003, he joined the Philippine Laryngectomy Club (PLC), a group that helps rehabilitate laryngeal cancer patients, and became its president. In 2007, he formed the New Vois Association doing anti-smoking advocacy and networking activities.