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Cancer patient "touched many souls' during her life

Norma Davis, a cancer patient who this spring organized a "yogathon" that promoted healthful living and raised $20,000 for cancer research, died at home Wednesday, July 24, 2002. She was 45.

"She fought right up until the end and then peacefully made her exit," said Stewart Davis, her husband of 24 years.

"She wanted to be here for a family reunion that we'd been planning for a year," he said. "And she was. Everyone _ all seven brothers and sisters, her parents, everyone _ made it to our house last night in time to say goodbye. She passed quietly at 10 p.m."

Her battle started in February 2001, when Mrs. Davis appeared to be the picture of health.

A registered dietitian and nutrition counselor _ married to her high school sweetheart and the mother of two college-bound teenagers _ she had a busy, fulfilling life.

Then came a particularly hectic day. She decided to indulge herself in a massage. While on the massage table, she had a seizure. Tests revealed a tumor the size of an egg nestled into the area of her brain that controlled motor functions.

Two days later, she was in the operating room at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa. Steven Brem, Moffitt's head of neurology, successfully removed Mrs. Davis' tumor. The biopsy showed it was malignant.

Next she underwent eight months of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation.

Her recovery was difficult. Her balance was off, and she found herself walking in circles.

To regain motor ability, she turned to something she had enjoyed before her illness: yoga.

A niece, Dana Jaros, an attorney in Pittsburgh, decided to organized a cancer fundraiser. Mrs. Davis dove into the plans, which turned into a variation on the familiar walkathons sponsored by nonprofit organizations: the Peace of Mind Yogathon.

The event March 3 at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater raised $20,000 for the American Brain Tumor Association, which funds research for new treatments of brain cancer.

"In January the doctors gave her a clean bill of health," Mr. Davis said. "Her MRI came back clean. She was feeling fine. We started visiting colleges for our daughter," Jessica, a senior at Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa.

Then the cancer returned.

"It was Good Friday," he said. "We were at (Tyler's) soccer game when I glanced over at her. She was semiparalyzed on one side. It looked like she had had a stroke.

"By Easter Sunday we were at Morton Plant," he said. "And then we were sent to Moffitt, where they did an emergency surgery and found that the tumor had grown. This time they could remove only about 40 percent.

"Then the tumor got angry: It shut her body down like a drug-induced coma," he said. "She fought back, and we eventually nursed her back to where we could bring her home."

Despite the steady progression of the cancer, "there were some good moments," Mr. Davis said. "She loved the theater, wanted to see Mama Mia. When it came to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center about eight weeks ago, she got her wish. That was one of the last times we got out."

She died at home surrounded by family and attended by the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast.

Mrs. Davis was born in Louisiana and came here from Pennsylvania. She and her husband settled in Safety Harbor in 1978 after they graduated from Florida State Unviversity in Tallahassee.

She earned a master's degree in nutritional counseling at University of South Florida. She operated Health Styles, a health food store in downtown Safety Harbor. She provided nutritional counseling to AIDS patients and at the Safety Harbor Spa. She also worked with her husband in his Tampa business, Commercial Design Services.

"She was the real heart of that operation," Mr. Davis said. "She was the heart of everything. She touched many souls. She was so proud of our kids' achievements. Even while going through radiation and chemo, her focus was in giving back to the people at Moffitt."

Her husband describes a recent incident with their son, Tyler, a Berkeley Prep sophomore who "lives and breathes soccer."

"He just came back from soccer camp. Before he left, we told him to "think of the ball as cancer and kick the h--- out of it.' It must have worked. He was named most valuable player."

In addition to her husband and two children, survivors include her parents, Norma and Daniel Signore of Clearwater; five sisters, Bonnie Comly, Odessa, Alice Bobotas, Newton, N.J., Penny Jaros, Landsdale, Pa., Mary Blackett, Crown Point, Ind., and Kathy Braumbaugh, Vero Beach; and two brothers, Philip Signore, Clearwater, and Daniel Signore, Greencastle, Pa.

Visitation will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Sylvan Abbey Funeral Home, Clearwater, followed by a memorial service at 11 a.m. Donations may be made to Hospice of the Florida Suncoast or the American Brain Tumor Association, 2720 River Road, Des Plaines, IL 60018.