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.

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soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Dianne Parker

    Just wanted to acknowledge the Presidential Candidates on Father's Day – and to let them know that My son will not be able to do the same for his father – because Willie Parker is among the 100,000 victims who lost their lives to MEDICAL ERROR AND HOSPITAL ACQUIRED STAPH INFECTIONS in the year 2007 –

    What bothers me the most is the fact that the War is Priority ONE – it should be highly prioritized as we've lost 4,000 soldiers to the war – Our Borders protections is another – Medicare problem is another Priority –

    But Where gentlemen does patient Safety and accountablility for the Medical professionals fit in? They are not held responsiblie for anything they do whether it be Medical Harm or the number of offences the medical boards fine them for.

    But My child is left without a father this year – along with the other 999,999 victims annually lost to MEDICAL ERROR! what a shame our politicians can't recognize a REAL NATIONAL CRISIS that takes 100,000 live aa year, and destroys so many others – the really sad part is no one cares.

    Look up please – leapforpatientsafety.org and hit the EVENTS button,

    You're welcome to join us!

    June 14, 2008 at 09:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. R

    Tim Russett was "going to the doctor" but from what I've read he wasn't getting the level of tests he needed to really evaluate how bad he was, in fact, doing. A stress test is in no way shape or form the gold standard for someone with known problems like Mr. Russett had. (I know he was on "medication" and that ain't enough either to get the whole picture – this plaque didn't get like this all of a sudden and his heart didn't become enlarged all of a sudden.) I'm questioning his medical care. You can "go to the doctor" and still be underserved.

    June 14, 2008 at 15:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Kim Waters

    My dad died in April from lung cancer. My mom passed away in 1989 from stomach cancer. Believe me I feel your pain and keep asking myself the "What If" questions. We need to find a cure!

    June 16, 2008 at 01:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Pete

    My Dad opted to go into the Army in 1940 instead of college, mostly due to finances not permitting the college option. His desires were to be a journalist...and his high level of articulation and command of the English language overall could have yielded him what he wanted, but like so many, life just got in the way. Much later in life, we learned how much of an intellectual he really was, but at that point, I was the cynical teenager that would hear nothing of it.

    He married my mother, who was in the Navy during WWII, so thereafter had a special needs daughter that lived to 20 but should have lived to 6 or 8. Then another daughter came along, and five years later a son, which medically speaking, should never have been conceived.

    He taught me about compassion, commitment, mature approaches to problems, dry humor, appreciating the simple things, but also about not paying attention to your health.

    He and I had difficulties throughout our lives, much of it due to the "generation gap" as we called it back then, but also his alcoholism until eleven (11) years before his death. I continue to proud of his willingness to battle the disease, the fortitude his displayed and the uncommon silence around the challenge to overcome such an affliction.

    Due to his lack of medical visits, he was unaware of the arterial disease that had overtaken his body, first through strokes and later through a fatal heart attack that lasted a complete day. This killed most of the heart muscle and ultimately took him later the next evening. I was in San Diego on business, while he was Robert Wood Johnson Medical Center, near Rutgers University when I had a phone call interupted by an operator with the news that my father had a heart attack and that I needed to get to NJ quickly as they were not sure he would make it through the night.

    During the Red Eye flight to NJ I was awakened twice nervously for no apparent reason. Once I recalled where I was and what I was doing, I would speak to my father and ask him to hold on, and also that I would be there soon.

    I arrived at the hospital early that morning, walked into his ICU room and held his hand. He opened his eyes and tried to sit up and bells, buzzers and alarms went off and I motioned for him to relax. I asked if he knew where I was and why it took so long for me to get back to see him and he could only nod as he had a tube down his throat for some reason, thus he was unable to speak. The man that I have known for all of these years to be one of the most eloquent speakers I have ever known was now silent and could only nod. For me, at that point, it was enough.

    I then met with my sister in the waiting room and she informed me that "they had lost him twice over night". I later wondered if during those times when I awakened while on the plane might have been when he was attempting to slip on to his next life. He did pass on later that night and in my case I had regrets for so many things we had not done or not said.

    Following that I have made every attempt to stay on top of my own health issues. I have done the recommended things based on age and have also gone the extra mile in some areas such as having a heart scan and a CT scan on my lungs. Issues uncovered have been dealt with in a manner equal to what science and medicine permit today. So, you see in death my Dad instructed me about how to deal with the very fragile life he helped to provide.

    Happy Fathers Day Dad, and after eighteen years, it seems like only yesterday that I lost you.

    June 16, 2008 at 03:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. rhonda wormack-khan

    this is what i posted on my blog on myspace last week about my father. read your story and was compelled to share mine...

    Current mood: mellow

    yesterday. (Thursday June 5, 2008)
    i went to the hospital to meet with his oncologist, and the ICU team. we met at 2pm. unfortunately i already knew what they were going to tell us. it's been almost eight long years since my father was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma. at the time of diagnosis his prognosis was not good because it has metastisized to his liver, kidney and multiple spots in his body. dr. jayesh mehta at northwestern was convinced at the time that my father's life would be cut short.

    nevertheless, he and his team did everything in their power to make sure that they gave my father every treatment and every option available to him. seven years later,after chemotherapy, self bone marrow transplant, multiple hospital admissions, being in remission, carrying a kidney tube that was surgically inserted on his right side and attached to a bag that drained his urine, multiple infections, discomfort, and eventually having the one kidney removed in may of 07, my father beat EVERY odd that placed against him. and there were many. i guess it proves that we "big boned" people have more strengths that meet the eye.

    dr. mehta said that if it weren't for his body size, bone size, and STRONG WILL, he wouldn't have made it this far. in november of 07 after we thought he was home free, no more tubes, no more cancer, no more pain and discomfort, he was diagnosed with leukemia. what a blow to my father's heart. dr. mehta and his team once again aforted my father with every option and treatment available to him and never gave up. in january 08 my father received a stem cell transplant from umbilical cells (newborn baby cord blood donated at birth by parents from their healthy baby's cord after it's cut). prior to the stem cell transplant he received chemo therapy which had to suppress his immune system before they could transfuse the new blood cells.

    this time chemo took a harder toll on his body. the chemo caused heart damage, which is common, but didn't happen to him the first time. after a few weeks we noticed that his white cells weren't going up. he needed his white cells to fight any possible infections he may get during his immunosuppressed stage. to make a long medically enhanced story short, after multiple blood and platelet transfusions, antibiotics, antivirals, pain medication, catheters, tests (invasive and non-invasive) and then respiratory failure which put him in and out of the intensive care unit over the last six months, my father's spirit and body could take no more.

    my step-mother rhonda and i decided to remove his breathing tube and make him comfortable. that in itself was the HARDEST DECISION THAT I HAVE EVER HAD TO MAKE and i dont wish that decision upon anyone. he breathed on his own for a little less than an hour. he felt no pain and was barely conscious. as i sat there watching him take his last breath and holding his hand i truly realized how much i loved my daddy and how much i really was and will always be his baby. i pray to you God that you bring my father into your kingdom so that he will be with his father Joseph Henry Wormack, his mother Joretha Grace Wormack, his sister Vivian Alice Wormack-Wright, and his recently deceased brother Leon Tinsley Wormack. i pray to you Father that you add my daddy to the group of angels that have watched over me and that you also watch over my step-mother and friend Rhonda because she just lost her best-friend and life partner.

    in my previous blog i asked the question is there really a soul mate? the answer is yes! there is one person that GOD has made for everyone, it's our job to weed through the mass of people that we encounter and figure it out for ourselves. my grandparents were married for over 55 years since the ages of 14 (my grandmother's age) and 21 (my grandfather's age). my grandfather died in 87 eight months later my grandmother followed him to heaven. THAT'S what a Godly marriage is all about. to my friends new and old, stay blessed and live everyday as if it were your last....

    June 16, 2008 at 04:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. rhonda wormack-khan

    we buried my father exactly one week later on june 12, 2008 just three days before father's day. eight years ago when my father was diagnosed with cancer he and i had just recently become reunited and started developing a relationship. at that time i hadn't seen him in about four years. the first thing i noticed about him was that his limbs and his face and neck looked emaciated. however, his stomach was severely enlarged. i asked him was he feeling okay and and he said yes. my father was never one to go to the doctor. about a month after our reunion, he was rushed to the hospital for stomach pain and that's when he was diagnosed with cancer.

    before he came under the care of his oncologist at northwestern (where i work as a nurse) he was at a small catholic community hospital with a doctor who tried experimental drugs on him that weren't helping him go into remission. his doctor was careless and would leave out of town with any instruction on his plan of care regarding his chemotherapy. my father was always uninformed about his own health status.

    finally i put my foot down and told my father that i was going to find him a doctor at northwestern because his doctor didn't seem to really care about helping him to get better. when i sat down and spoke to his oncologist, he wasn't able to really give us any lucrative answers. so i politely told that doctor that we needed a copy of his entire chart and the his services was no longer needed. prior to the meeting with that particular doctor, it had taken me a week to finally convince my father that he needed a doctor who was going to be more proactive in his plan of care. my father told me that he felt guilty because he didn't want to make his doctor angry with him.

    i couldn't believe that my father wanted to maintain loyalty to a doctor who obviously didn't care about the outcome of his condition, and, who pretty much used my father as a guinea pig trying different treatments not really knowing how it was going to affect him.

    we finally got him an appointment with dr. mehta and within those first couple of days after reading my dad's history from his chart, dr. mehta and his team devised a treatment plan that kept him alive for eight years after his diagnosis. we have been so thankful to have dr. mehta and his team for all of the personalized care the he provide my father with.

    June 16, 2008 at 04:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Tony cicco

    Miriam's story is hauntingly familiar. My Dad, lived in Pennsylvania, suffered through what must have been unbelievable pain until he could not get out of bed. My Mom called an ambulance, 60 days later he was dead of the same metastatic colon cancer that took Miriam's Dad. My father died a few days before his 62nd birthday. I am now 61 and have had a colonoscopy about 5 years ago and will schedule another in a few days.

    That's my Father's Day memory.

    June 16, 2008 at 07:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Anthony

    My Father is currently in a similar situation. He has a gigantic lump on the back of his leg and I fear it may be Deep-vein Thrombosis, not good. He plays it down constantly but seems to lay down alot and sleep not the Dad I am used too. His biggest fear is going to the doctor / hospital, he didn't even go into the hospital when his mother was on her death bed!! This is not only scary but frustrating and I can only hope something changes in his thinking!!!

    June 16, 2008 at 07:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Wes Teeter

    I am a 50 yr old man and a clinical psychologist with 26 yrs experience working with medically ill men. I think the primary reason men avoid going to the doctor is fear of "losing control". Even in this "enlightened age" of medical education of the masses and more androgenous attitudes about admitting our feelings, I believe that there is, for most men, that primal fear of losing control of one's future.
    Procrastination about seeking healthcare is so powerful as positive reinforcement - it reduces our fear immediately. We keep believing we can "deal with it later" so we can reduce our fear TODAY.

    June 16, 2008 at 08:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Peter

    Miriam, Your father must have loved his wife very much and wished he was with her. I could see that might be his motive to move on. Some men accept the natural order of things. Live when it is time to live, die when it's time to move on. My personal feeling about it is that the current life span is too long. The medical industry keeps us alive past our useful exsistance, and we become a burden. I'm sorry for the loss of your Dad. You will have many, many thoughts of him in the future. Good article, I hope you receive lots of comments. Pete age 55

    June 16, 2008 at 09:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. GF

    My father always had a yearly physical because I had asked them to get them when he was 65 even though he was rarely ever sick with a cold/flu. Unfortunately even those tests did not catch that he had cancer (undetermined source at that!) and he passed within 3 days of diagnosis at the age of 75. We can all try to be diligent with our health but when the time comes – sometimes all the tests in the world cannot prevent it.

    June 16, 2008 at 14:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Forrest Pascal

    Just a thought in reference to Tim Russert. Did NBC have an AED device with trained personnel today?

    June 16, 2008 at 21:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Lauren R., USA

    Miriam, first of all, my sympathies on the loss of your father in such an unfathomable way. Your story struck me so hard it's literally taken this long before I could come back to your blog to even comment.

    I lost both my mother and my father before I was 26. Being as they were in their 40's when they gave birth to me–one of three children they had in their 40's. Both died stupid, needless deaths from cancer. (they also smoked almost 7 packs a day between them.) My mother? Had a bad cough that she chose not to investigate for literally, years. She said she'd wait "until she got Social Security". Well, by then the lung cancer was too large to even operate. Ironically, though she had been a 4 pack a day smoker for almost 50 years, she did not have emphysema, and the lung cancer was the slow growing variety that could have seen better results perhaps with lung removal, but by the time she was diagnosed, the cancer done other things, like thicken her blood, that made surgery a non-option. When she died of a blood clot so large it closed off her abdominal aorta, the radiation, incredibly, had shrunken her tumors so much they were not visible on the XRay. Too bad that she died the next day.

    My father died exactly a year and a half later from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He had noticed the swelling under an armpit but did not go the doctor for over six months. He lived a bad four months after diagnosis...the same exact time frame my mother experienced following HER diagnosis.

    Miriam, I share your pain and frustration. As an adult, I realize that "grownups" have every right to negotiate their health on their terms, but I think once a person gives birth, so much of their lives become intertwined with their children, whether they be adult children, or minor children. I was not yet 24 when my mother died, and had just turned 25 when my father died. Those should have been the best years of my life. Instead, I had to become a caretaker age 24. I didn't date, and dropped out of college. I had to bury and mourn and curse these two people with more love than they ever showed towards themselves. I was forced to put off living my life and suffered nervous breakdown for years, until I realized what you had to have, too: it was their lives to live, or end, as they saw fir (or unfit). I do not have children, but my siblings who did have children really started taking much better care of themselves...so at least a few of us learned something, though there never will be resolution for the anger I still, after almost 20 years, feel towards my parent's "suicides".

    June 17, 2008 at 19:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Harley, Boston

    I did go to a doctor. IN May of 2002 a lump apeared on the left side of my neck. I went to my primary and he thought it might be Valley Fever (an Arizona malady) and prescribed an antibiotic. Three weeks later when there was no change I went back in and had the lump biopsied. It was cancer, started in my tonsils and metasticized into the lymph glands in my neck. It was caught early and after surgery and radiation I am six years out and fine.
    So I went to the doc. Of course my mother had died of kidney cancer 4 months earlier so I may have been sensitized. Guys don't go to the doc or dentist until serious pain for the same reason we don't ask directions–we're neanderthals.

    June 22, 2008 at 22:35 | Report abuse | Reply
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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.