August 31st, 2009
02:13 PM ET

Remembering my father's fight against cancer

By Marcy Heard
CNN Producer

Researching cancer statistics for CNN’s Medical Unit reminded me of my own father’s battle with the illness.  It was nearly two years ago when Dad was told he had esophageal cancer.  The diagnosis took the entire family by surprise – we had not heard of esophageal cancer and didn’t even know the symptoms of the disease.  We all knew Dad had not been feeling well, but he was still active and as cantankerous as ever.   Two questions arose during our conversations – How long would he live? and Could he be cured?

Marvin Beck and his daughter, Marcy Heard

The American Cancer Society estimates that 16,470 new cases of esophageal cancer are diagnosed each year.  14,280 people die from the disease and only 16 percent will survive the next five years.  African Americans are twice as likely as Caucasians to develop esophageal cancer and it is seen more frequently in men.  Symptoms of esophageal cancer include difficulty swallowing, weight loss, chest pain and fatigue.  What Dad had repeatedly dismissed as “getting older” and as “heartburn” was actually his body’s way of telling him something was very wrong.

For my father, esophageal cancer treatment meant that most of his esophagus would be removed along with the majority of his stomach.  The radiation and chemotherapy treatments left him weak and unable to live alone.  My brother and his wife cared for him in their own home after each cycle and kept the rest of the family updated on Dad’s progress.  From the very beginning both my brother and father wore yellow LIVESTRONG bracelets and remained positive at the possibility of survival.

The hope for a cure burst into joy in December 2006 with the news that Dad was cancer free.  But the happy news was short lived as Dad was hospitalized just after Christmas.  I remember the nurse cutting the yellow LIVESTRONG bracelet from his wrist as Dad asked if it was really necessary.  When told yes, he scowled and lay back on the pillow.  The news we received was not good; the cancer had returned. Dad’s race ended in the early hours of January 26, 2007 – six months to the day of his diagnosis.

My brother still has Dad’s bracelet and has never taken off the one he wore during Dad’s treatment.  To me, the now worn and faded band is a testimony of one life lost in the battle against cancer.  My father ran the race with great patience and faith; we can only continue to do the same each day while working towards a cure.

I made an online dedication for my father as part of the LIVESTRONG World Cancer Declaration.  Dad continues to be an inspiration to me, and I hope others take the time to sign the declaration as the race for a cure continues.

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soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Gwynn W Humphrey

    I write this short note in memory of a person that I have been honored and blessed to call 'my friend'. As time has passed for myself, I look back through life and recall the absolute 'true' friends that I have amassed. And for all of the acquaintances that I have shared time with, those that I can really call my ‘true friends’ are few and far between. I can actually count my ‘true friends’ on one hand and feel quite blessed for them. Marvin was a person that I admired with his quick wit and depth of knowledge on virtually any subject. He and I had many, many intellectual debates (and he even let me win a few). In many ways he was a hero of mine. I was blessed to feel the joy that he brought to everyone that he encountered. I was in awe of his unlimited compassion and his giving nature to those that surrounded him. But my warmest memories of him was the joy and love that he bestowed on his children. As a single father, Marvin dedicated his life to his son (principal of our local high school) and daughter (author of this blog). When he spoke of them there was always a twinkle in his eye and a beautiful smile on his face. His children made him proud the be their father. And knowing them all has been a most cherished blessing for myself. Marvin, we miss you...

    Godspeed my dear friend. I’ll see you on the other side.


    August 31, 2009 at 23:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jackie in Dallas

    This story touched me greatly. Every loss to cancer is personal to me.

    My mother was diagnosed with abdominal cancer in the fall of 1969. At that time, cancer research was still an embryonic field. She went to Houston, to the cancer programs there and volunteered for a program testing chemotherapy. She was well aware that she was putting herself in for some long-term suffering, and that it was very unlikely to actually affect her own life expectancy - the doctors made it clear that it wouldn't help. But the treatment was so new, they had very little data on what actually happened to patients during it, and Mom was willing to play guinea pig for that reason. She lost her hair, most of her weight, and was so sick after each round (3, I believe) that we each begged her to stop. She refused because she said that the doctors needed to know this information. She slowly began to die - an agonizing process that took nearly 8 months in total - and was refused pallative care because the doctors were afraid of making her an addict. Even then, we knew how ludicrious that was.

    When she died in May of 1970, she left behind a family devastated by her loss - but a mountain of data for cancer researchers. I cannot exactly say that it was a fair trade, but she believed it was, so I try to believe it was, too. Luckily, pain management and treatment options have widened tremendously since her death. I'd like to think that for everyone who beats cancer now, a tiny fragment of their recovery is due to the heroicism of my Mom.

    Rest in peace, Mom. I still miss you, and feel you watching over me every day.


    September 1, 2009 at 19:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Latha Kalaga

    I write this in memory of my cousin Gopal who lost his life to brain tumor and to give strength to Lance (Dream foundation) a 29 year old kid who is battling for his life in a hospital. My cousins cancer reminded me of what was important in life. I too wear the Livestrong band which I wore as soon as I heard he was suffering , to this day I believe it represents strength and courage of those who have fought and lost the cancer battle and strength and courage of those who continue to fight the cancer. Lance – I need you to get stronger buddy so you can go on a small dream vacation with your family. I wonder sometimes if there is a god out there. If there is one why are people suffering so much.
    Wish all those who are suffering from this deadly disease all the very best and to their families – hang in there.


    September 2, 2009 at 00:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Fahima Danishgar

    I write this in memory of my beloved father and friend M H Danishgar, my father was taken by colon cancer August 7th 2009, two days after his 64th birthday. My father whom spent his life dedicated to humbleness and being kind. Worked hard and loved my mom, sister and I. We were for the most part all he had in this world. My father was a man of integrity and compassion, a devote Muslim but never ignorant or closed minded, he was a humanist and wise. I miss him so much I can’t stop thinking of him each day, the tears just stream down without any ability on my part to stop them. He suffered so much at end that I could not bear it, I wish I could hear his sweet voice or bend my head to receive a gentle kiss on my forehead as he always did one more time. I wish he coudl have been with us to see his future grand kid or even my sister get married.

    November 18, 2009 at 20:44 | 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.