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Lung cancer educator dies after long battle


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Lung cancer educator dies after long battle

By Cindy Sutter (Contact)

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Photo by Sammy Dallal

Susan DeWitt listens while her daughter Gia reads her a book she made at Superior Elementary School on June 2. Susan, who was diagnosed with lung cancer at 39, died Wednesday.

Susan DeWitt, a Superior mom who made a widely distributed DVD about her family's struggle with her lung cancer, died Wednesday. She was 43.

"She died at home with her family members holding on to her," said DeWitt's husband, Randy.

DeWitt, a Boulder County court reporter for eight years and founder of the Susan L. DeWitt Foundation for Extended Breath, was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in 2004 at the age of 39. Although DeWitt was a light smoker in her teens and 20s, she quit in 1992. After her diagnosis, she made it her mission to warn young people that even casual smoking can cause cancer.The DVD — "Lung Cancer, Through My Children's Eyes" — begins with this line from her son, Cody, then 19: "There are some things in life that people shouldn't have to go through."

Then this from his sister, Gabrielle, then 13: "I was afraid to go to sleep at night."

The film, now on You Tube as well as available on DVD through the foundation, has been distributed to school districts in Colorado and around the country. The family has subsequently made music videos about the subject.

Those who knew DeWitt say she touched people, not only with her DVD, but with the grace and courage with which she faced her illness and treatment — which included multiple rounds of chemotherapy and brain surgeries.

Dan Hale, who retired as a Boulder County District judge last fall, called DeWitt's spirit even as she became gravely ill "truly incredible."


"Lung Cancer, Through My Children's Eyes" is available through the Susan L. DeWitt Foundation for Extended Breath. www.susanldewitt.com, 303-494-1240

Watch the music videos and the DVD. www.youtube.com/...

"Why this happened is one of those great mysteries of life, but despite that, she wanted to see how she could benefit others," Hale said.

Rob Harter — lead pastor at Larkridge Church in Erie, where the DeWitts attend — remembers being at the hospital with the DeWitts when Susan was being prepped for a second brain surgery. She was giving Randy last-minute instructions on gifts she had bought for them to open during her surgery.

"Right before they were to wheel her away for three- to four-hour surgery, what she was thinking about was, 'Make sure you get the gifts for the kids in the car,'" Harter said. "Her idea was to not have them focused on her pain. It's a powerful example of how she was very other-centered in her approach to life."

Randy DeWitt said she touched many people.

"Her group of friends is very vast," he said. "She had a way of speaking to and treating people with respect. ... If you had a troubled look on your face, Susie would attend to you."

The DeWitts' story and clips of the DVD were featured on "Good Morning America" and ABC's "World News Tonight" in 2006. The DeWitts estimate that at that time about 15 million people had heard of her documentary through those national news sources, articles in local newspapers, features on local TV news, speaking engagements and distribution of the DVD.

Susan, who was born in Wheat Ridge and graduated from Arvada High School, got the idea for the film after seeing a group of teenagers smoking outside the Westminster Promenade shortly after her diagnosis.


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With their suburban bedrooms as the simple backdrop, the documentary shows Cody and Gabrielle talking about how their mother's cancer has upended life as they once knew it.

"Now comes the hard part," Cody says in the film. "What if my mom dies?" The DVD shows footage of him graduating from high school with the sound of his family yelling, "Woo-hoo!"

"I want her to be there when I graduate from college," he says.

The foundation will continue its work, distributing the DVD and music videos. The family plans to expand its focus to help people deal with a diagnosis of terminal cancer.

Randy DeWitt said the children are doing well. He and Susan were frank about her illness from the beginning, even with their youngest child, Gianina, now 6.

Cody is attending the University of Northern Colorado part-time. He's in his fourth year. Gabrielle is a sophomore at Monarch High School. Gianina is a first-grader at Superior Elementary.

"The kids are pretty resilient," Randy said. "My 6-year-old is giving us a lesson on how to deal. She's talked to me about this. She gets it. She knows what death is. She knows that Mommy's not coming back, and she's OK."

Camera Staff Writer Christine Reid contributed to this report.

Contact Camera Staff Writer Cindy Sutter at 303-473-1335 or sutterc@dailycamera.com.


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