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]
Wants You to Know
PETERSBURG -- Cigarette smoke hangs in
the air in the room where Bryan Lee
Curtis lies dying of lung cancer.
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.
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
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.
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.
just can't do it now," she says,
although she hopes maybe she can after
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 shrivelled
body, it might scare them enough.
a man whose life was otherwise
unremarkable set out in the last few
weeks of his life with a mission.
* * *
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.
of time for that, he figured. Older
people got cancer. Not people in there
30s, not people who worked in
construction, as a roofer, as a
had no health insurance. But he was more
worried about his mother, 57, who had
smoked since she was 25.
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."
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.
it seems unusual to the Curtis family,
Dr. Jeffrey Paonessa, Bryan's
oncologist, said he is seeing more lung
cancer in young adults.
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.
also knew, a few days after the
diagnosis, which 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
he still had some strength to leave the
house, kids would stare.
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
kids would say, "Oh, man. I can't
believe it,' " Louise Curtis said.
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.
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
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]
Lee Curtis Sr. was buried at Memorial
Park Cemetery in St. Petersburg on June
8, a rare cloudy day that threatened
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.
is more powerful.
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.
January 23, 2001 - "It's
almost been 2 years now. We
set 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
This web page is done with the
written permission of Bobbie Jo Curtis
on May 16, 2002
we communicated with Bobbie Jo, we found
out that after 2 years, the Curtis
family is still grieving for Bryan's
pass away. Since Bryan is gone, not only
Bobbie Jo has to struggle to make ends
meet, she also has to find ways of
paying off the debt incurred from
you are interested in making a donation
or write to Bobbie Jo & Bryan Jr.,
please contact her at: email@example.com
Arti-Smoking January, 2003