Candice C. Levitt, 48, software engineer at NSA for 26 years

September 09, 2005|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Candice C. Levitt, a senior software engineer with the National Security Agency, died of metastatic breast cancer Sept. 2 at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The Clarksville resident was 48.

Born Candice Cook in Hinsdale, Ill., and raised in Macon, Ga., she earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1979 from Berry College in Rome, Ga.

After graduating, she began a 26-year career at the NSA's Fort Meade facility, where she developed computer programs.

Mrs. Levitt was 40 when breast cancer was diagnosed in 1997.

"She battled the disease for over eight years with an upbeat spirit, frequently suffering severe pain as she underwent numerous treatments to retard the disease's progression," her husband of 17 years, Lore M. Levitt, an NSA senior computer scientist, said yesterday.

"She fought this disease with a good spirit and her sarcastic sense of humor would drop in when we were up against it. It helped her and us to deal with it," said Dr. John H. Fetting, a breast cancer oncologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Two years ago, when her 11-year-old daughter was hospitalized for a month, Mrs. Levitt rushed from her daytime chemotherapy treatments to her daughter's hospital room.

"She spent her night sleeping on the hospital floor so that her daughter would be comforted by having a family member always present," her husband said.

Mrs. Levitt's disease took a turn for the worse two years ago, when she and her family were told that she would not live for more than two years.

"There were several things she wanted to do, so last year we took out a home equity loan and took a cruise to the Caribbean and to Alaska," her husband said. "She boarded a helicopter and flew to the Mendenhall Glacier, where she got out and took a walk."

A week after returning home, Mrs. Levitt collapsed, and it was discovered that the cancer had spread to her brain.

"She still tried to keep a positive attitude," Mr. Levitt said.

Co-workers at the NSA donated their vacation time to Mrs. Levitt so that she could stay on paid leave. She and her husband were open in speaking about the progress of her disease and issued a monthly e-mail medical update to family and friends.

"The overwhelming contributions of their personal vacation time clearly demonstrated their love and respect for her," said Mr. Levitt, who took a leave from his job to care for his wife at home.

Mrs. Levitt became interested in the Johns Hopkins Breast Cancer Rapid Medical Donation Program, a $10 million effort funded by the U.S. Department of Defense whose purpose is to create a bank of tumor tissues from metastatic cancer patients to aid researchers in developing drugs to treat the disease.

Autopsies are performed soon after death to remove cancer tissues from affected organs for study by surgeons, epidemiologists, geneticists and cancer researchers.

"It's huge for someone like her to do this," said Dr. Marc K. Halushka, an autopsy pathologist and assistant professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins Medical School, who met Mrs. Levitt before her death. "Without people like her, this research couldn't be done, and what she has given is the ultimate donation."

"I think for Mrs. Levitt and her family, her participation in the program gave them a chance to make something meaningful and positive come from her disease and death," Dr. Fetting said.

"She lives on in the memories of those who love her, and another part lives on in the science that studies her disease," Mr. Levitt said.

Mrs. Levitt, who lived in Columbia for years before moving to Clarksville this year, enjoyed crafts, including origami, quilting and other needlework. She contributed her quilting skills to the creation of a reproduction Civil War slave quilt that is on display at the National Cryptologic Museum, adjacent to NSA headquarters at Fort Meade.

She also enjoyed reading about Colonial history and visiting Williamsburg, Va., and Civil War battlefields.

Graveside services will be held at 11 a.m. today at Columbia Memorial Park, Route 108 in Clarksville.

Also surviving are her daughter, Beth A. Levitt, a freshman at River Hill High School; two brothers, Kristopher Cook of Marietta, Ga., and Kevin Cook of Jacksonville, Fla.; a sister, Cynthia Shores of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; her parents, Hugh and Frances Cook of Sumter, S.C.; and her paternal grandmother, Mary Cook of Boynton Beach, Fla.

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