Bryan Lee Curtis - He wanted you to know


July 12th, 2009, 4:03 am #1

"He Wanted You to Know"

On the day of Bryan's death, June 3, wife Bobbie and son Bryan keep a bedside vigil. The recent photo of father and son is on the bed. [Times photo: V. Jane Windsor] /FONT>

by Sue Landry

Bryan Curtis started smoking at 13, never thinking that 20 years later it would kill him and leave a wife and children alone. In his last weeks, he set out with a message for young people.
Bryan Lee Curtis, then 33, holds son Bryan Jr., 2, in this March 29
photo. Curtis would die about two months later. [Photo: Curtis Family]

ST. PETERSBURG -- Cigarette smoke hangs in the air in the room where Bryan Lee Curtis lies dying of lung cancer.

His head, bald from chemotherapy, lolls on a pillow. The bones of his cheeks and shoulders protrude under taut skin. His eyes are open, but he can no longer respond to his mother or his wife, Bobbie, who married him in a makeshift ceremony in this room three weeks ago after doctors said there was no hope.

In Bryan's emaciated hands, Bobbie has propped a photograph taken just two months ago. It shows a muscular and seemingly healthy Bryan holding his 2-year-old son, Bryan Jr. In the picture, he is 33. He turned 34 on May 10.

A pack of cigarettes and a lighter sit on a table near Bryan's bed in his mother's living room. Even though tobacco caused the cancer now eating through his lungs and liver, Bryan smoked until a week ago, when it became impossible.

Across the room, a 20-year-old nephew crushes out a cigarette in a large glass ashtray where the butt joins a dozen others. Bobbie Curtis says she'll try to stop after the funeral, but right now, it's just too difficult. Same for Bryan's mother, Louise Curtis.

"I just can't do it now," she says, although she hopes maybe she can after the funeral.

Bryan knew how hard it is to quit. But when he learned he would die because of his habit, he thought maybe he could persuade at least a few kids not to pick up that first cigarette. Maybe if they could see his sunken cheeks, how hard it was becoming to breathe, his shriveled body, it might scare them enough.

So a man whose life was otherwise unremarkable set out in the last few weeks of his life with a mission.

* * *
Bryan started when he was just 13, building up to more than two packs a day. He talked about quitting from time to time, but never seriously tried.

Plenty of time for that, he figured. Older people got cancer. Not people in their 30s, not people who worked in construction, as a roofer, as a mechanic.

He had no health insurance. But he was more worried about his mother, 57, who had smoked since she was 25.

Louise Curtis grieves for a son who told her, a
smoker for 32 years, to worry about herself, not him.
[Times photo: V. Jane Windsor]
"He would say, "Mom, don't worry about me. Worry about yourself. I'm healthy,' " Louise Curtis remembers. "You think this would happen later, when you're 60 or 70 years old, not when you're his age."

He knew, only a few days after he went to the hospital on April 2 with severe abdominal pain, how wrong he had been. He had oat cell lung cancer that had spread to his liver. He probably had not had it long. Also called small cell lung cancer, it's an aggressive killer that usually claims the lives of its victims within a few months.

While it seems unusual to the Curtis family, Dr. Jeffrey Paonessa, Bryan's oncologist, said he is seeing more lung cancer in young adults.

"We've seen lung cancer earlier and earlier because people are starting to smoke earlier and earlier," Paonessa said. Chemotherapy sometimes slows the process, but had little effect in Bryan's case, he said.

Bryan also knew, a few days after the diagnosis, that he wanted somehow to try to save at least one kid from the same fate. He sat down and talked with Bryan Jr. and his 9-year-old daughter, Amber, who already had been caught once with a cigarette. But he wanted to do more. Somehow, he had to get his story out.

When he still had some strength to leave the house, kids would stare.

"They'd come up and look at him because he looked so strange," Louise Curtis said. "He'd look at them and say, "This is what happens to you when you smoke.'

"The kids would say, "Oh, man. I can't believe it,' " Louise Curtis said.

After the graveside service June 8, this
friend and a handful of relatives light up.
[Times photo: V. Jane Windsor]

In the last few weeks, Bryan's mother has been the agent for his mission to accomplish some good with the tragedy. She has called newspapers and radio and television stations, seeking someone willing to tell her son's story, willing to help give him the one thing he wanted before he died. Bryan never got to tell his story to the public. He spoke for the last time an hour before a visit from a Times reporter and photographer.
"I'm too skinny. I can't fight anymore," he whispered to his mother at 9 a.m. June 3. He died that day at 11:56 a.m., just nine weeks after the diagnosis.

Bryan Lee Curtis Sr. was buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in St. Petersburg on June 8, a rare cloudy day that threatened rain.

At the funeral service at nearby Blount, Curry and Roel Funeral Home, Bryan's casket was open and 50 friends and relatives could see the devastating effects of the cancer.

Addiction is more powerful.

As the graveside ritual ended, a handful of relatives backed away from the gathering, pulled out packs of cigarettes and lit up.

Originally Published on June 15, 1999 in the St. Petersburg Times
Posted at on July 15, 1999

Bryan's Story Updates

January 23, 2001 - "It's almost been 2 years now. We sit and watch home movies of us. His son is missing him too. Christmas was the worst. He had to go outside and show his dad what he got for Christmas. That really tore me up." Bobbie Jo Curtis

February 28, 2002 - Bobbie indicates that Bryan's mother was able to quit smoking following her son's death. Bryan Jr. will turn six on August 23, 2002, at which time he will have been fatherless for more than half his life.

May 24, 2005 - Bobbie Curtis and Bryan Jr. made an appearance on PAX TV's Cold Turkey II. Cold Turkey II was a U.S. smoking cessation reality show about 10 smokers quitting cold turkey. Bobbie shared Bryan's story with the qroup in the living room of the house in which they were staying. In this picture, Byan Jr. was asked about his dad being gone. Members of the group were interviewed after Bobbie and Bryan Jr. departed and it was obvious that Bryan's story had had a profound impact upon them.

August 21, 2005 - Bryan, Jr.'s birthday is in two days, on August 23rd. He'll be nine. Bobbie wishes to thank all who, over the years, have taken the time to e-mail over 1,400 thank you letters. Although a bit too much for Bryan Jr. to absorb right now, she wants you to know that she has kept each of them.

January 26, 2007 - Bryan Jr. will be 11 years-old this year, 8 1/2 years without his dad. He is doing real good in school. Last semester he was honor roll. This semester he got 2 A's 2 B's and 2 C's. I think he's doing great in school. He goes back for try-outs for baseball again this year. His team won the championship last year.

[]E-mail Bobbie and Bryan Jr.[/url]

Write: Bobbie & Bryan Lee Curtis, Jr.
5765 61st North Street
St. Petersburg, Florida 33709
Last edited by FreedomNicotine on July 12th, 2009, 4:28 am, edited 2 times in total.


July 12th, 2009, 4:43 am #2

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,

Link to St. Petersburg Times Story Source


July 12th, 2009, 4:48 am #3

Smokers breathe in support online

St. Petersburg Times - St. Petersburg, Florida

by Sue Landry - June 22, 1999
"Nic fits" are stifled by chatting, at any time of day, with those who can sympathize.
One morning in May, something made John Polito type "quit smoking" into his computer and hit the "search" button.
Up popped a bulletin board where people trying to quit post messages to each other. Polito started reading the words of encouragement and help from people fighting to overcome their addiction.
Then he posted a note of his own.
"I want to compliment you on what you are doing in here," the South Carolina lawyer wrote. "But I'm afraid it's too late for me."
He had smoked two to three packs a day for 29 years, he wrote, and had tried to quit so many times he had lost count.
"I'm going to die a smoker," he wrote.
Messages poured back from people telling stories of their own struggles with addiction and encouraging him to try again with their support.
Polito, 44, said he was so overcome with the "compassion and understanding" that he cried. Then he put aside the cigarettes and started spending time on the computer instead.
"The first few days I quit, (my family) was really supportive, but they've never been addicted to anything in their lives. They want you to behave normally and not get so upset and frustrated," Polito said. "On this (bulletin) board, these people know everything you're feeling every single minute. They're going through the same things."
This is the modern way to kick the habit.
"I could not have done it without the Q-net," said Donna Kampen, 51, referring to the name users affectionately call the QuitNet, one of several quit-smoking sites on the Internet. "I was on probably three to five hours a day for the first month, possibly eight hours per day the first week. I received so much encouragement and help from people on the list."
About 400 messages are posted on the QuitNet bulletin board every day, said Astrid Dretler, project manager for Join Together, a Boston non-profit organization that helps support the site.
"The traffic is immense," she said. "And that's without any marketing or promotion."
Suzzanne Hennig has smoked half her life, since she was 15, and picked up her first cigarette because "it was the cool thing to do." She quit three times, but alwayswent back. This time, she is finding help online through the Quit Smoking Co.'s bulletin board.
"You just don't feel so alone," said Hennig, who lives near Ontario. "Yesterday, there were a whole bunch of people who were having a bad day. I was back on this morning and they all seemed to make it through."
Users say the computer support groups offer a lot that can't be found among family and friends or in traditional community groups.
You can post anonymously so people feel they can say things they might not say to friends. It's there when the urge hits; you don't have to wait until the meeting time. And there are lots of people facing the same problem.
"This is immediate. This is 24 hours a day," Hennig said. "If I'm having a really bad 'nic fit' and it's 2 a.m., I can get on there and I can read somebody else's post and I can put one on."
Sometimes there's even someone else up at 2 a.m. who might want to talk. Most of the quit-smoking sites have chat rooms, too, where participants who are signed on at the same time can talk to each other directly.
Debra Hall remembers one night in a chat room when everyone was exchanging song lyrics to pass the time and keep themselves thinking about something other than a cigarette.
"It's like being in a room with people talking and reminiscing," said Hall, who lives near Fort Lauderdale and had been smoking as much as two packs a day before she quit a month ago. "Even on the bad days, the worst days, going to the Internet was my savior, talking to other people."
Hall is 43 and has smoked since she was 15. Even her job as a registered nurse wasn't enough to convince her to quit. She decided she needed to stop after she started having panic attacks, which can be set off by nicotine.
Like many people trying to quit these days, Hall had some help. She used nicotine patches. Other use medications now available.
But breaking the addiction still is very difficult, and Hall says the support from others she found through her computer was a tremendous help.
"I don't think I could have made it without it," she said.

Link to St. Petersburg Times Story Source


July 12th, 2009, 5:09 am #4

Bryan's above story and the two follow-up stories, all written by Ms. Landry, show how this story hit many of us hard when it first came out, including me. It was as if paths had crossed and I was now compelled to somehow make sure that Bryan's message continued to get out.

On July 15, 1999, nearly ten years ago, WhyQuit was born. The site's title and entire focus flowed from mixed feelings about having been extremely lucky that that wasn't me on that bed. I wanted to make sure that the message Bryan wanted to share with us continued to be shared, commercial free, for as long as possible. On September 8, 1999 Joanne and I founded Freedom from Tobacco on MSN, and on January 20, 2000 Joel Spitzer stumbled upon and saved us and the group from ourselves. Since then we've never looked back.

Today, Bryan's message hopefully remains as influential as it did back then. Nearly five million annual tobacco victims with half dying in middle-age but very few who felt compelled to reach out and share their nightmare. If being a hero is about the courage to reach out and attempt to save lives then in my book Bryan, Sean, Noni, Kim and Deb are all heros. Still just one rule ... no nicotine today!

Breathe deep, hug hard, live long,

John (Gold x10)

P.S. Did you notice how two stories written on the same day assert different lengths of smoking for me? Still not sure what happened. I told her I'd quit for nearly a year. I guess that confused things.
Last edited by FreedomNicotine on July 12th, 2009, 5:15 am, edited 3 times in total.

Chipits GOLD.FreedomFromTobaccoQuitSmokingNow
Chipits GOLD.FreedomFromTobaccoQuitSmokingNow

June 7th, 2010, 1:04 am #5

.......I'm too skinny. I can't fight anymore," he whispered to his mother at 9 a.m. June 3. He died that day at 11:56 a.m., just nine weeks after the diagnosis.   Bryan Lee Curtis Sr. was buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in St. Petersburg on June 8, a rare cloudy day that threatened rain.   At the funeral service at nearby Blount, Curry and Roel Funeral Home, Bryan's casket was open and 50 friends and relatives could see the devastating effects of the cancer.    Addiction is more powerful.   As the graveside ritual ended, a handful of relatives backed away from the gathering, pulled out packs of cigarettes and lit up."
It has been Eleven Years since Bryan passed away. He never knew how global and inspirational his story was to become. When I first read about him on July 7th, 2006, I truly, finally, and dreadfully believed that this could be me and I could be dead and buried by Christmas!  Nothing before had impacted me the way this did;  not cigarette pack labels; not scare tactics, not tears from my children, not reprimands, not even evidential disease and the prospect of dying; UNTIL I knew in my heart that after reading this sad story, I was 'awakened' and my fear of  quitting was shattered by the story of a man I had never met.  After then reading  "Nicodemon's" Lies?", I was stripped of all excuses and denials I had used for years to satisfy this voracious addiction.

I was ready to kick some butts. 

Some people are heroes through their valiant deeds in life.  To me, Bryan is a hero who tragically died of lung cancer.  He proved, beyond a doubt, to me and countless others,  the brutal devastation of nicotine addiction.  There are many others who have died or been diseased from nicotine addiction. Please read their compelling stories on the [url=http:///]  [/url]home page.  Very sobering. Very sad. Very real.

I too am grateful to WhyQuit and Freedom and all those who laboured to initiate and maintain these sites. And, of course, a big thank you to all my fellow travelers for the past 47 months.

Bobby, if you are reading this, your husband did for me something I never thought I could.  He was my inspiration to once and for all, make the decision to quit smoking.   

WhyQuit and Freedom gave me the awesome education and support.  

And that, my friends, is a miracle!    If I can do this, I guarantee you, anyone can!  Just for today, No Nicotine!

Wendy&RandyUsing our smarts!Healing our parts!for 3 yrs. 11mths. & 3yrs. 6mths.
Last edited by Chipits GOLD.FreedomFromTobaccoQuitSmokingNow on February 3rd, 2012, 12:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Joined: November 11th, 2008, 7:22 pm

February 3rd, 2012, 12:01 pm #6

There's been an update to Bryan's story which I've added to the bottom of his WhyQuit page:

The Australian government has obtained a previously unpublished photo of Bryan and is now using it as a lung cancer warning on random packs of cigarettes sold.  Looking at the image, it's hard to image any smoker lighting up after seeing it but, sadly, most will.  Still, imagine the collective concern and anxiety his pack image will generate in Aussie smokers. 

Can't smoke at work, can't smoke in bars, in some places you can't smoke in parks, on beaches, or on entire college campuses, employers testing job applicants for nicotine (cotinine), prices moving closer to the price paid for illegal drugs, and now in your face cigarette pack health warnings such as this, staying hooked is an anxiety filled job.  And, given time, the situation will only get worse.  

But these need never again be our concerns so long as all nicotine stays on the outside.   Still just one guiding principle for each of us ... that one equals all, that lapse equals relapse, that one puff would be too many and thousands never enough! 

Breathe deep, hug hard, live long,

John - Gold x12