Meet Don Sypert and Prepare to be Inspired

A Warrior with a Kind and Humble Heart

Don Sypert has never shied away from hard work. He spent 37 years working in construction as a commercial and residential carpenter. Don was born and raised in Ohio, but as a young man, a construction job brought him to Colorado by way of Arizona. He relished taking on difficult challenges and succeeding; believing that the best rewards in life are those you earn through effort.

“That’s the way I was brought up. I came from a hard-working middle class family. I had great role models. My mom and dad were auto workers and my grandparents and aunts and uncles were factory workers and steel workers. I had great role models. It’s in my spirit.”

In 2011, Don started experiencing numbness in his arm. He chalked it up to a pinched nerve. His doctor agreed that was a likely possibility but scheduled him for a full physical just in case.

“Believing he was fine, Don did the ‘man thing’ and cancelled his appointment,” says his wife Linda Sypert. “That night, we had a talk as a family, Don, his daughter and I, and we all agreed that if he had issues again, it wasn’t a choice, he was going into the emergency room.”

A few weeks later during a shopping trip, Don lost all feeling in his arm and his face went numb. He was rushed to the Emergency Room. The doctors thought he was having a stroke, but Don’s EKG came back normal, so they performed a CAT scan. The imaging revealed a large mass near the back of Don’s head.

A brain surgeon confirmed Don had a glioblastoma, one of the most complex, deadly, and treatment-resistant cancers. The doctor told Don that if he did nothing, he would be dead in six weeks.

“I figured, well, this is something. I’m not going to ignore it this time. Let’s get it dealt with and then get me rehabbed and get me back to work,” says Don. “That was my mindset. I wasn’t afraid because people have things all the time. Some people have diabetes, others have high blood pressure and some people have immune deficiencies. This is just what I have.”

Don underwent his first brain surgery on May 17, 2011. It marked the beginning of what’s become a 10-year battle with a malignant brain tumor. He’s undergone three surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and spent two and a half years participating in a clinical trial for an experimental drug.

“I’m nothing special. People call me superhuman. I’m just a man living with cancer. I’m taking it one day at a time,” Don explains.

The stats, the science and anyone who has ever met Don would have to disagree. The average survival rate for glioblastoma is only 12 – 18 months. Less than 7 percent of patients diagnosed with a glioblastoma live five years.

“Don has touched my heart in so many ways. He was one of my very first patients at Mount Evans about 6 ½ years ago,” says Mount Evans Therapy Manager Isabelle Comina. “He is one of the most determined and motivating patients I have ever worked with in my 28 years being a PT. He is always willing to try something new and pushes himself to the limits. Don’s will to push through and his determination is an inspiration for all of us.  Nothing stops him from enjoying and appreciating every minute of every day.”

Don Sypert strikes a pose with his care team from Mount Evans Home Health Care and Hospice
Don Sypert with care team from Mount Evans

Isabelle is one of 152 contacts Don keeps in his phone. This means she’s one of 152 lucky people who receive random messages of kindness, joy and affirmation.

In the first months after Don’s diagnosis, he put a heroic effort into going back to his work in construction. He managed to stay on the job during his first round of radiation, but chemotherapy proved to be too much. He realized his new full-time job needed to be taking care of his health; however, for a man who always worried about everyone else before he thought about himself, he needed more from his work.

“Don believes his job now is to be a source of good in the world for others,” explains Mount Evans Palliative Care Social Worker Janet Reichart. “This motivates him to constantly strive to do better, to be better, and to tap into his deep well of resilience when he is feeling down. Don’s positive attitude shines through even in his hard times. He is the embodiment of gratitude and grace in action.”

Part of being a source for good for Don involves raising money and awareness for the National Brain Tumor Society. He completed his first walk a month after his first surgery and he’s participated every year since.  This year was no exception. Even a pandemic couldn’t stop Don from being a source of inspiration.

“I feel that it empowers people like me to fundraise for research, treatments and a cure. It also lets my family and my friends know that they could get through anything,” says Don. “I feel it’s my duty to pass on my courage and strength to my family and friends.”

Don rehabs with Mount Evans Physical Therapist
Don works on his strength and balance with Mount Evans Physical Therapist Reed Brandenburg during a home health care visit

Mount Evans Physical Therapist Reed Brandenburg worked with Don for six months to build his strength and ensure he could walk safely outside without a risk of falling.

“Don inspires people around him to take what life throws at you head on, says Reed.  “Rather than feeling like a victim and complaining, he accepts the challenge and fights back with a positive attitude, accepting his condition but not letting it define him.”

When Don set out from his house in early June, he thought he might only have three other people with him. Instead, all those random acts of kindness he’d selflessly spread as far and wide as he could, came back to him. Don was joined by 50 members of his team. Ten joined him at his home near Blackhawk from as far away as Ohio, while forty others walked virtually in California, Montana, Sterling and Estes Park.

It’s not clear how many years are left in Don’s future. He recently underwent an MRI that showed his tumor was stable for now, but of this he’s certain, there is so much more he wants to do.

“Life is breathtaking. Try to find something good in every day. Stand back, breathe in the air and enjoy every breath you take and every move you make because you never know when it’s going to be over. You don’t want to have any regrets. You just want to take in life to the fullest, every single day, every minute of every day, every day of every month, every day of every week, every week of every month, every month of every year.”

Don Sypert walks with his team to raise awareness for the National Brain Tumor Society
Don walks with his team near Blackhawk to raise money for the National Brain Tumor Society

If Don’s story touched your heart, we’d like to ask a favor of you. We’d love for you to share a message of kindness to him and let him know what a difference he’s making in this world. You can share words of inspiration or the lyrics to a song. He likes classic rock. We will share the comments with Don. You can leave a comment on this blog or on the post we created on our Facebook page.

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13 thoughts on “Meet Don Sypert and Prepare to be Inspired”

  1. Wonderful! Proud of my cousin!
    A true warrior, and an inspiration to all who come in contact with his warm smile.

    Reply
  2. Thank you, Don, for being the inspiration for so many of us. Your attitude, strength, and love of life, show us that all these adopted attributes, can make a difference in this world. You share hope, and gratitude for nature, life, and faith. Thank you so much.

    Reply
  3. Dear Don, I have a cousin who died in less than a year after receiving the same diagnosis. So it’s with so much love to read your story and know that you are still present in the world. I recently came across this song and see it was meant for you:
    Michael row the boat ashore, Hallelujah
    Michael row the boat ashore, Hallelujah,
    Sister help to trim the sails, Hallelujah,
    Sister help to trim the sails, Hallelujah,
    Jordan’s river is deep and wide, Hallelujah
    And I’ve got a home on the other side, Hallelujah
    Michael row the boat ashore, Hallelujah
    Michael row the boat ashore, Hallelujah
    Michael’s boat is a music boat, Hallelujah
    Michael’s boat is a music boat, Hallelujah
    Michael row the boat ashore, Hallelujah
    Michael row the boat ashore, Hallelujah
    The trumpets sound the jubilee, Hallelujah
    The trumpets sound for you and me, Hallelujah
    Michael row the boat ashore, Hallelujah
    Michael row the boat ashore, Hallelujah
    Much love, Janet

    Reply
  4. For only haven know you a short period of time you have made such a huge imprint on my heart. This story embodies every truth that surrounds who you are as a person and why those closest to you do consider you special. I for one am blessed to have had you cross my life’s path and be privily to your wisdom, your strength, your determination and to be inspired by your ZEST for life! You are a true gem my friend!

    Reply
  5. Sounds like this is your song……..
    Well I won’t back down
    No I won’t back down
    You can stand me up at the gates of hell
    But I won’t back down
    No I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around
    And I’ll keep this world from draggin me down
    Gonna stand my ground
    … and I won’t back down
    And I won’t back down
    Well I know what’s right, I got just one life
    In a world that keeps on pushin me around
    But I’ll stand my ground
    …and I won’t back down
    1989 – Tom Petty (1st solo album) written by Tom Petty & Jeff Lynne – Album: Full Moon Fever

    Reply
  6. Don and I have been good friends for over thirty-five years, we worked together in the construction industry and together we built the home that my family lives in. Donnie’s work ethic was/is amazing, he simply made us all work harder and always enjoyed the extra effort. Keeping up with him was a challenge and nothing there has changed. Although I was supposedly the boss, Don routinely taught me my job and the learning certainly did not stop there. The education continues to this day, maybe not on the job-site, but absolutely in life. He won’t like this comment, but he has taught me how to face dire challenges with class, strength and faith. He lives his faith with every breath and inspires other’s to be more like our Lord and Savior. Yes, Don is a Superman and I will forever be grateful for the gift of being his pal. Here is a little insight, no matter the issue at hand, laying in a hospital bed with his head in bandages or ill from treatments, the first words out of his mouth are always: How are you my friend? I am fine Donnie and we love you. I am so blessed to call you brother.

    Reply
  7. Keep on rockin’ Don! You are awesome & incredibly inspirational! I love to hear stories about people living life to the fullest despite huge challenges, it really is inspirational.

    Reply
  8. Don, you are an inspiration! We don’t know each other but your spirit and determination should be an example for us all. Every day is a gift… and you live with gratitude and reciprocity to the world!
    Thank you for your story.

    Reply
  9. Glad to meet you, Don! And yes, I am inspired by your appreciation of life and the importance you place on every single day. This song sounds like you: “C’mon people now, smile on your brother, try to love one another right now..”

    Reply

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