His message transcends death

St. Petersburg Times - St. Petersburg, Florida

by Sue Landry - June 22, 1999

The lung cancer took Bryan Lee Curtis before he could know that his efforts to save others from the same fate had not been in vain.

He had wanted to tell the world how the cigarettes he smoked for 20 years were killing him. He wanted kids to see his emaciated, cancer-ridden body in the hopes it would scare them enough to keep them away from the smokes.

He died not knowing that his story would circle the world, serving as inspiration for people trying to quit and thinking about quitting.

Bryan's mother, Louise Curtis, was deluged with phone calls the day the St. Petersburg Times printed a story about Bryan along with pictures showing how the cancer took his life just two short months after finding out he was ill. Calls poured into the Times, too, from people saying they planned to send the story to friends and relatives, hoping it would convince them to quit smoking.

One woman told Louise Curtis that she had been shopping at Tyrone Square mall and heard others talking about Bryan's story in the restaurant there. A neighbor who was still smoking after open heart surgery told her Bryan's story convinced him it was time to quit.

"It really had an effect," said Louise Curtis, who spent some of the last few weeks of her son's life trying to convince television and newspaper reporters to tell about Bryan.

"He just kept saying, 'I think anybody who could see me would be willing to give up those cigarettes,' " she says.

He was 33, healthy and strong, when he found out he had an aggressive form of lung cancer. He turned 34 a month later and died a month after that, bald, emaciated and looking dozens of years older.

Someone posted Bryan's pictures and his story on a quit-smoking Web site where people trying to kick the habit share messages and encouragement. From there, it has been sent around the world. Others are sharing it on Web sites and sending it to friends and relatives.

"That young man did a really fine thing," said John Polito, a 44- year-old lawyer from South Carolina who quit smoking a month ago with the help of fellow quitters he met online. He had smoked nearly three packs a day for 28 years.

"It's a powerful tool," he said of Bryan's pictures and his story. "When you see that, you think this could be you."

Louise Curtis just wishes her son could know the impact his story is having.

"My granddaughter said everyone at work was talking about the story," Louise Curtis said. "Her boss called over 20 of her friends and told them to read the story and quit smoking."

Bryan died before the story was published. But Louise Curtis said his dream is coming true.

"If it will help anybody, I am just so glad," she said. "I just thank God that it might help somebody."

She knows how hard the battle can be. She has smoked most of her life and is struggling to quit because of Bryan, but finds it difficult at such a stressful time.

"I'm trying so hard," Louise Curtis said. "Every time I think about smoking, I push those cigarettes to the side and say, 'No. You killed my son.' "

If you missed the original story about Bryan Lee Curtis, "He wanted you to know," which appeared June 15, 1999, you may read it on the St. Petersburg Times Web site, http://www.sptimes.com.

Link to St. Petersburg Times Story Source