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June 13th, 2008
03:30 PM ET

Remembering Dad on Father's Day

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

I've always looked forward to Father's Day. Over the past decade I have tried to make it a little more special by making the trip from Georgia to Pennsylvania to see my dad because he’d been living alone since my mother passed away at the end of 1999. This year I'm once again spending Father's Day in Pennsylvania. But it's most likely the last time. My father passed away a month ago; we're having his memorial service today.

Over the past couple of years, my father didn't want to travel any more – not to Germany, where I grew up – not even down to Atlanta, where the winters are milder than in the Northeast. At first he said it was the fact that he couldn't smoke anywhere anymore, an inconvenience he didn't want to put up with. Then he was experiencing some discomforts, which could have, and even were, mistaken by him and by me – his daughter, the medical producer – for something benign that would probably go away.

Then, my dad just seemed to be getting a little less interested in things he used to enjoy. I thought it was a little bit of depression because he missed my mom – the best diagnosis I could offer from my conversations over the phone. Then, over the past year, his symptoms not only persisted, they became worse. Dad refused to go to a doctor. He didn't trust them, despite the fact that I, in my years as a medical producer, had encountered some of the best doctors in many fields. He probably had some good reasons for not trusting doctors. When Mom was battling lung cancer, we were disappointed with her care.

So dad didn't go to the doctor until my husband brought him to Atlanta in April. I told him the only way he could get strong medication - for what I now know must have been excruciating pain - was by getting prescription drugs. Those could come only from seeing a physician. Less than a week later, we learned that Dad had metastatic colon cancer. He died five days later.

Had he gone to see a doctor on a regular basis, or had he gotten a screening colonoscopy at 50 or even 60, this may have been prevented. Had he gone to a doctor over the past two years when he was experiencing more severe symptoms, he may have had a fighting chance to beat the cancer. According to the American Cancer Society and many other medical associations, colon cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer.

My dad was a very smart man. But when it came to managing his health, something else was stronger – call it fear or cynicism. I don't really know. But I'm left with a lot of "what if's?" It's not comforting to know my dad was like many other men, as my collegues have already reported this week.  (CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen's report can be found here; CNN Medical Correspondent Judy Fortin's report can be found hereMy husband says "I don't want to go to the doctor - they're just going to find something wrong."

Why do you – if you're a man reading this – not go to the doctor? What may compel you to seek medical care if you think something's wrong?

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


June 13th, 2008
09:55 AM ET

The hunt for food

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
CNN Chief Medical Correspondent

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Thursday I did something I am unlikely to ever do again in my life. For eight hours, I trekked through a jungle in southern Cameroon. Now, I have been on hikes before, but this was unlike anything I ever experienced. As soon as we entered the jungle with a local hunter named Dede Donddong, we were immersed in the feel of the wild.

You could immediately hear the sounds of hornbills and an African gray parrot in the distance, loud and melodious. You could also feel the intense heat and humidity uniquely experienced in a jungle. Within seconds, we were drenched. You could smell the centuries of foliage mixed with the live scent of animals. Everything around us was green, almost unimaginably thick. I didn’t know how we would even make our way through, as there wasn’t a path that I could immediately see. Dede smiled and wielded a machete. He started a path and began our journey. 

For us, it was the pursuit of a story for “Planet in Peril,” looking at the bush meat trade and the reliance of locals on these animals for protein. For Dede, it was a mandatory trip to find some sort of bush animal, so that his family might eat that night. As we left, his three kids, two parents, his wife, and three neighbors bade him farewell and good luck. They were all hoping he would come home with something, really anything. But, his kids told us their favorite bush meat was porcupine. Yes, porcupine.  Along with snakes, rodents, primates, antelope and many other animals, they are collectively referred to as bush meat.

We learned about the concerns of a bush meat crisis in Western and Central Africa. According to some estimates, 4.5 million tons of bush meat was extracted from the Congo basin last year, putting a few animals on the endangered list, and a few others on the protected status list. In fact, the ape population in 96 percent of protected areas is declining. Within the next 10-50 years, the apes face extinction. Excessive hunting, along with deforestation is a large part of the problem.

There is no question Dede alone is not to blame. And, don’t forget, his family is dependent on his ability to hunt and bring bush meat back to the village. Buying food from bigger villages is simply not an option - the towns are too far away and the food is too expensive. What I’ve seen is a part of the daily life and culture for so many living in the jungle. Still, the bush meat crisis appears to be real, with no evidence of slowing down. This is one example of the global food crisis in Central Africa.

Oh, and by the way, Dede brought home a porcupine and his kids were happy.

This blog was brought to you from the southern jungles of Cameroon.

Editor’s Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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