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Fight against breast cancer a family affair

By Mary Jo Ola,
Published On: May 14 2014 04:21:08 PM CDT

A Madison family discusses their connection to the Race for the Cure. The Pitots stay involved in the annual event supporting people who are still fighting for their lives with Beth close by in many ways. Mary Jo Ola reports.


The Pitot family of Madison can be described as tight-knit, and their relationship only grew when one of their own was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Henry and Julie Pitot have eight kids and 16 grandchildren. When you ask the couple about raising eight kids they have to mention their daughter, Beth.

As described by her mother, Beth, the eldest daughter, was a caregiver even early in life. Julie recalled memories of Beth at 2 years old taking care of her younger sisters.

"When we had our youngest daughters she said, 'I raised those girls,' and I agree, she was a wonderful caregiver," Julie Pitot said.

When the family first moved to Madison, there had four daughters. Dr. Henry Pitot was offered a chance to work at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research.

The Pitots then had a son and three more daughters. As the family grew, Henry Pitot gained recognition for his work in cancer research and oncology.

Advocacy for cancer research was not limited to Henry Pitot.

Their son, Henry, became an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Their daughter, Anita Mayer, became a physician, practicing in Women’s Health Internal Medicine as a physician at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

However, when their daughter Beth was 46 her father saw an X-ray of her liver.

"That immediately hit me with what the prognosis was and what was going to happen. I knew there was not really anything that ultimately could be done," Henry Pitot said.

Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread to her other organs.

"It was very difficult for our family when Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer," Julie Pitot said.

It was difficult, but Julie Pitot said the family only came together. The year Beth was diagnosed every sibling and grandchild came home to take part in the Race for the Cure.

"Most of the families live outside of Madison, but for those three years we had more family get-togethers. Everybody would come home for Christmas. Everybody would come home for birthdays and holidays, and it really brought our family closer together because we were really supporting her. It's a strange thing to say that you know a hardship like this could make us closer and tighter," Julie Pitot said when describing the impact the news had.

Beth lived to be 49 years old.

"Her doctor said they had never seen someone fight that hard to stay alive," Julie Pitot said.

The family has become an advocate for early diagnosis and prevention, saying Beth could have won her fight if she was not diagnosed so late.

The Pitot family has remained involved in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, supporting people who are still fighting for their life. This year the entire family has been named an Honorary Race Chair under the theme "We Save Lives Here."

It has been years since Beth's death, but her mother said she believes her daughter is still close by.

"I always had angel statues around the house, but she said there are angels around us mom. I feel that she's still with us and she is my angel," Julie Pitot said.

The Pitot family's foundation "There Are Angels Among Us," will sponsor a new memorial area at this year's Race for the Cure scheduled for May 31.

Families will be able to share photos and stories to honor those who lost their battle with breast cancer.

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