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April 30th, 2010
12:23 PM ET

What would you do if you thought you were going to die?

By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent

As a doctor, I watch people facing death daily. As a reporter, I have gone to dangerous places and have often been put in harm’s way. As a father of three girls I have often thought, "What if something happens to me?" It is a frightening prospect and a daunting question.

Recently I met a man who had a remarkable answer to that question. The story of Bruce Feiler profoundly connected with me and left me speechless. It made me rethink how I’d live my life and how I would take care of the three little girls I might leave behind.

In May of 2008, Bruce was in great health. Happily married, the father of 3-year-old twin girls Eden and Tybee, a best-selling author who had traveled the globe.

Bruce was at the top of his game. At his annual physical, a routine blood test revealed something was wrong with his bones. A follow-up bone scan would reveal an abnormality on his femur—or thighbone. Doctors weren’t alarmed since it was the bone Bruce broke riding his treasured bike at age 5. In fact, Bruce recalls his doctor saying, “It looks like nothing. Don’t worry, it’s not like you have cancer.” Over the coming days, as Bruce waited for test results and lived with the uncertainty of an undiagnosed growth, he would repeat that mantra—“NOT CANCER, NOT CANCER.” Meanwhile his wife, Linda, had a hunch something was wrong. When we sat down at their home in Brooklyn she told me, “You know as a wife, as a spouse. You know as a parent when something’s just off. And he just didn’t look himself.”

Days later, a follow-up X-ray and MRI confirmed Linda’s worst suspicions. Bruce was had bone cancer called osteosarcoma. It’s not a common cancer; only about 900 people are get it each year. More than 2/3 of diagnoses come before age 40. Bruce was 45.

His thoughts immediately turned to his girls. And what would happen if he died and they were left fatherless. In the middle of the night he came up with an idea – contacting six of his closest friends and asking them to be there for his girls if he died. He asked them by reading each a letter he wrote - “ Dear Friend, As you know, I recently learned that I have a seven-inch cancerous tumor in my left leg. That afternoon, Tybee and Eden, who had just turned three, came running to greet me, laughing, giggling, and falling to the ground. I crumbled. I kept imagining all the walks I might not take with them, the ballet recitals I might not see. Would they wonder who I was? Would they yearn for my voice? I believe Eden and Tybee will have plenty of love, plenty of opportunities in their lives. But they may not have their dad. Will you help be their dad?”

All six men said yes -and Bruce created for Eden and Tybee what he would call “The Council of Dads.” A group of men who would be with him, his girls and his wife as he fought this rare and aggressive cancer.

I followed Bruce’s journey and will tell you what his prognosis is in a very special half-hour airing this weekend and then a special hour airing Father’s Day. It’s called “Dads for My Daughters” and I am confident it will inspire you, as it did for me, to think how you live your life and the legacy you want to leave behind.

Bruce has written a book about his experience called “The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness and The Men Who Could be Me.”

Watch a preview of Bruce Feiler’s story this weekend on “SGMD,” Saturday-Sunday, 7:30 a.m. ET

Do you know a survivor dad? Tell us about him.


soundoff (63 Responses)
  1. Joyce Humber

    I have known Bruce Feiler for many years – since he worked as a clown in the circus! His travels and accomplishments have been so spectacular to follow at a distance; I've read all his books and watched his "Walking the Bible" program on television.

    I am shocked and overwhelmed with grief at his terrible diagnosis, but I am so gratified at the way he and his six wonderful friends have approached his illness. God bless you all.

    April 30, 2010 at 21:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Ben

    "It takes a village to raise a child."

    Every child should have a 'council of dads...and moms'...not just children of dying parents.

    April 30, 2010 at 21:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Isabelle Magloire

    By reading your post, I already feel connected to his story, his stuggle and his love for his two little twins girls. Life is not easy and we, as human should thank God everyday for all the blessings he gives us daily. When you hear about such sad stories, you grow as a person and you learn to not complain for every little thing.The title says it all what would you do if you thought you were going to die? Wow what powerful words!! This story already inspires me and I'm looking forward to watch the show.

    April 30, 2010 at 22:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. charls

    I am going to die. You are going to die. Everyone we know and love are going to die. I guess that I have tried to accept that it will happen. The first time that I realized that death really happens was when President Kennedy was assinated. Later when I was in the Army during the Vietnam war, I realized that death could happen very quickly. Since that time, I have tried to live life and enjoy the moment because that is all we really have. I enjoy the moments with my granddaughters and watch them as they are growing up. I hope that they will remember and cherish their Poppa. That is the essence of life and death.

    April 30, 2010 at 22:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. M~

    Beautiful

    May 1, 2010 at 02:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Hally

    I hope you will post a follow-up story for those of us who are unable to watch the show!

    May 1, 2010 at 03:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Dave Rath

    Dr. Gupta – It is an incredible story. Very well done. It was like watching a breathtaking movie.

    Congratulations! You have graduated from an MD to a movie maker!

    Dave

    May 1, 2010 at 07:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Sally

    after watching Sanjay Gupta's program about Bruce Feiler's journey through bone cancer and his quest to identify Dads for his daughters, I began to think about hte past 6 weeks of what I have gone through and thought about who will be mentors for my 3 children? It is going to be much more difficult for they are not like Bruce's children for mine are young adults and are past their early reseptive years but it will give me thought as to who to keep in their lives and who to bring in to help me mentor them to be the best they can be if either one, my husband or myself should happen to leave them in their early adulthood. Thank you for this program. God got me up on a beautiful spring morning to turn on the TV and stop at the rignt channel this morning. God bless Bruce and his family and pray for his continued sucess in his recovery.

    May 1, 2010 at 08:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Diane Schaefer

    A wonderful story on so many different levels. In particular, I really appreciated this father's recognition of the fact that his daughters would benefit from strong and inspiring male role models. It can't be overestimated how significant a role a strong father-daughter relationship has in shaping a girl's future development into womanhood.

    I really commend this father for possessing the insight and the foresight to have recognized this. And I hope he is fortunate enough to see his daughters grow up and become women right before his eyes. But if he does not, he can die with the knowledge that his daughters will have the benefit and counsel of a very devoted and inspiring group of exceptional men.

    May 1, 2010 at 08:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Susan R. Rabinowitz, NoEvidenceOfDiseaseBook.com

    Clearly this is something that many people deal with, some being prepared and some finding themselves unexpectedly in this same situation. My husband nearly went through this three times because of me.
    So what goes through your mind when you are told, "You have cancer"? For me, I saw my death flash in front of my eyes and what would happen to my children. They were all in their teens or early twenties and probably needed me more than when they were younger. I too wrote a book and have one chapter written by my family. They each explain what they went through. So often the focus is on the patient. What the family members go through can be almost as devastating.

    May 1, 2010 at 08:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Mike

    Wow- My mother died of cancer – and she was less than one year older than I am now. Needless to say, I think about it a lot! I am in tears reading your article.... thanks for the insight.

    May 1, 2010 at 11:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Bill Smith

    What a bunch of drivel! Just an excuse to write a book.

    May 1, 2010 at 11:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Dominic

    I don't think you can replace dad in a little girls heart. However, other good men around her that can treat her well is a good substitute. But often we see men in American society that are unable to meet the needs of their own daughters let alone other girls. Do these other men have daughters? May I ask the men:

    What exactly does it take to raise a healthy girl?

    It's complicated. Find out. Then cultivate a loving relationship with her starting at a very young age. Teach her about the world, girls and life. Empower her. Show her how much her well-being means to you. She's not want to see you hurt. But you will because you'll know what she's in for. She'll see it by the way you look at her. That will strengthen her and hopefully help carry her through adolescence relatively unharmed.

    May 1, 2010 at 13:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. mike

    My wife is due in june and I was touched by this story. It makes my thinking go to a different level.. thank you and my prayers and thoughts are with all

    May 1, 2010 at 17:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. victoria reis

    Bravo, Bruce for your courage in facing possible death by taking the steps to surround your lovely daughters with "dads". There is no doubt that your story will inspire all who have a "dance" with death. I look forward to reading your book and watching the Father's Day story. As a survivor of bone cancer (only one of three back in the 50's) I am reminded daily of the miracle I was given at age 15. The doctors wanted to cut off my leg but my father said NO. Thanks to Marie Curie's discovery of radium, I have my leg. Every day is a birthday for me. Your daughter's are blessed to have you for their father. Happy birthday, Bruce. Peace! victoria

    May 1, 2010 at 18:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Dennis McKay

    What a great idea. My wife and I have raised 8 children plus three foster boys which we've had for fifteen years. One is particularly difficult to raise and be around. One of our daughters, who has 6 little children, and her husband volunteered to take on the 19 year old boy and help him reach adulthood, which he being FASD, means somewhere around 25 to 30 years of age. For them this was a big job so they enlisted the help of three of the additional siblings living in the area. So this young man has four mentors to help him get raised. In ten years I'll let you all know how it turned out.

    Dennis

    May 2, 2010 at 00:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Sam

    These kinds of scary scenario make me wonder if i'll get married and have kids!

    May 2, 2010 at 00:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Mary

    Can CNN please air this story again at a more reasonable time of day – I would so wish to see it and 4:30 am on the West Coast is not a reasonable hour. Thank you!

    May 2, 2010 at 12:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Elizabeth

    I completely agree with Ben. Why does someone have to be dying for friends around to get involved? What an opportunity for all kids if their parents friends took an interest and cared. It doesn't have to be an obligation. It would be wonderful for it to be friends taking an interest. Don't get me wrong. I think his councel of Dad's creation is wonderful. It is inspires me to think we should all have the spirit of looking after each other's kids.

    May 2, 2010 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Alice

    My father died in an airplane crash before I was born in the late 1940s, so my godfathers were chosen with care, although my family is not religious. My mother always told me wonderful things about my father. In her eyes, he was perfect. My godfathers and some of my father's other friends made him come to life. Their stories quickly debunked the perfection myth, but created for me a useful and enduring image that he was a funny, adventurous and warm person who had the same fallen arches and facial expressions as me. The idea of a council of fathers or mothers is wonderful for children who don't have memories of either parent. My father's friends and I benefited from the relationship. I hope that the father's council is not pressed into service, but I know that family friends are really important.

    May 2, 2010 at 18:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. AC

    God Bless you and your family – thank God for that awesome fellowship of men who can, if needed, be there for your little girls. I'll be praying for your family. God can do anything!

    May 2, 2010 at 20:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Jay Dreschnack

    I am a cancer survivor and I am humbled by this story. Until you have the "C" word addressed to you, you have no idea what it's like. You think about it every waking moment and not only do you get it, all of your friends and family get it too. It affects everyone that you know. Four years ago, I was a stage 3 escophageal cancer patient. It came out of nowhere. I barely had time to say the words. Surgery was my only option to remove the cancerous tissue. I hoped that I didn't die on the table, let alone later. But you wait for a shoe to drop. I have no kids but would gladly participate in a Council of Dads, as described. It's about something bigger than yourself. Thank you, Doctor. Bruce, you are an inspiration. And a hero!

    May 2, 2010 at 23:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Pamela

    I wish I had the same story Sanjay... My daughter (2yrs) and my son (10months) lost their loving devoted father to brain cancer in december. It was a whole year of prayers, faith and hope to the very last minute.... I guess because of our faith, we were not very practical by believing that a miracle of healing is on the way for us.... so we never sought any other alternative or think..." what if...". Tomorrow will make it 5 months now since my husband Peter Akumabor left us... but its just like yesterday....actually still very unreal! I'm still waiting for him to walk through the door. I grieve for my children too, especially my daughter who was very close to him... she asks for him all the time.

    I told my daughter, her father is in heaven and she says, "No, daddy is in hospital" and walked away. That was the last place she saw him.

    I am happy for Bruce and his girls...I pray the good Lord keep you and bless you and your family.

    Stay blessed
    Pamela

    May 2, 2010 at 23:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Eden

      Dear Pamela,
      I was one of those that was praying for Peter to pull through and was very devasted when he passed. I cannot say I know what you went through and are going through but I do pray for you and your kids always.
      Let me know if there is more I can do.
      God bless you.

      October 10, 2011 at 13:22 | Report abuse |
  24. anil chokshi

    ya,what a heart touching story.Every body should read this book.death can come to any body at any time,hence one should prepare for that.I like the title of bokk"The councial of Dads"

    May 3, 2010 at 10:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. monica

    my best friend died of osteosarcoma at the age of 35, leaving behind a husband and 3 year old daughter. Her one dream in life was to be a mother. She fought this cancer for 3 years. Same thing – started in the leg. She moved to NY to receive treatment from a world-renowned(sp?) oncologist for this type of cancer. He literally told her, "If you would have come to me first, I could have saved you." Unfortunately, she thought she was making important, real-time decisions for herself and family in her own city that did not end up working for her. God Bless you and your family and keep us updated on your condition. Sending out positive vibrations to you...

    May 3, 2010 at 13:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. michele

    that his WIFE felt something was off bc he didn't look right but his DOC glossed right over it.....all i can say is that any doc who says "oh it's not like it's cancer" should have his license revoked. cavalier notions like that are misleading and harmful.

    May 4, 2010 at 12:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. jovs

    God bless u all... T.T My uncle who adopted me sinced birth left me 4 years ago because of his illness and im still struggling for his lost. I know before he died he was also worried for my future...

    May 5, 2010 at 14:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Kevin

    Great story... everyone has different wants, needs and desires when they are told they have cancer. Some want to live as if nothing has changed, other make life changing decisions. Bruce's plan is something I could see many people adopting as it plans for their loved ones future. Thank you for sharing.

    http://www.caring-for-aging-parents.com

    May 5, 2010 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Daina

    I am sure I will die one day as will we all. Inane; live each day as if it were ones' last...after all, not too many other certainties other than death.

    May 6, 2010 at 04:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Tom

    " Bruce was had bone cancer called osteosarcoma. It’s not a common cancer; only about 900 people are get it each year"

    Tragic, powerful, and moving story.
    But can someone do a grammar check on Dr. Gupta's articles?
    The sentence I cut and pasted makes no sense, and detracts from the story, at least in my eyes.

    May 6, 2010 at 11:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Susan

    My heart and prayers for Bruce, family and friends. Please go to: http://www.livingfoodsinstitute.com I have seen Brenda Cobb speak in NYC at The New Life Expo – Raw Food and Yoga. I wish I would have dragged my friend who passed to Brenda's health center in Atlanta. Brenda cured herself of cancer years ago. The doctor who previously treated her is now a raw foodist and recommends cancer patients to Brenda. As someone in the "alternative" health field, I have witnessed many who have been healed of cancer through diet and other forms of healing such as meditation, John of God (a woman who previously worked at NASA was healed of cancer at his center), theta orion technique (Vianna Stibal had it in her femur), etc. etc.

    June 13, 2010 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. M Ann Bock, PhD, RD, LD

    This morning on American Morning you were doing a segment on Vitamin B6 and Lung Cancer. John Roberts called Vitamin B6 Niacin and you did not correct him. Vitamin B6 is Pyridoxine; Niacin in Vitamin B3

    Ann Bock
    Registered Dietitian

    June 16, 2010 at 11:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. mike

    Actually, I was 52 and experienced basically the same situation..Sorry for this man..I only hope that he has good insurance..and support from those around him, as its one day at a time..cancers never really go away..I have had three mass surgeries relating to my cancer..each time being told, by the doctors, that they got it..I also hope that this man has qualified doctors, maybe with good doctors there is some hope, otherwise its just one day at a time..hoping it will not come back. Specialists NEED to be specialists..not just wanna bees..Personally, I feel that ALL doctors need to be rated like the way we rate hotels, cars, etc..and the same should apply to hospitals..allowing the poor patient some hope..not just some doctor recommending another doctor (buddy) to do whatever he (the doctor) feels necessary..this would lead to better quality for the patients and may lower doctors insurance costs..also, better qualified doctors would be in a larger demand..therefore, medical students would try harder and the total quality of medical practice in this country would improve making it better for all. I really wish this man the very best, as well as his family, share your time with those who love you.. Very best to you..mike

    June 16, 2010 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. ksase

    Sanjay, thank you very much for the great story. I am a 48yo father in Tokyo, happend to be in a similar situation. Year-long chemotherapy with surgery. Challenging. Although it is not in my native language and from country far away, this story gave me a strong feeling that I am not all alone. Very much encouraged to keep fighting for my son, who is only 7 year old now. Wish Bruce survive 5years and beyond, as well as publish Japanese translation of “The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness and The Men Who Could be Me.”

    June 16, 2010 at 21:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. savannah

    I was so stunned by the insensitive remark of Bill Smith, May 20 that I can only wonder what has happened to create a compassion less, cynical person as he.

    June 17, 2010 at 13:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. RockSteady

    I would fly to Afghanistan, hunt and kill Osama Bin Laden and take out all the Taliban I could find along the way. Who is coming with me?

    June 18, 2010 at 09:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Christy

    I too, was given that news that I will not live long enough to see my children grow into what they will become. As an educator, I know the long lasting, devastating effects the loss of a parent can have on a child's life. I am determined to prepare my family for that time when I am no longer here. Through journals I am leaving behind, gentle discussions we have, and creating a support system for after I am gone, I hope my family will not only survive, but flourish. I believe I will be in a better place after I die, my goal is to make the best place here for those who mean the most to me.

    June 19, 2010 at 09:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Lou

    gasp.

    June 19, 2010 at 10:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. alumette

    Better sweet benefit of knowing ahead of time that your days are likely numbered. You can plan and make arrangements as this man is doing to make sure he stays in his girls lives. The guys in the military know they may die and they make a will but if and when they die on the battle front, it appears as a bad surprise for the family. I think it is good to plan and know ahead of time. We all die as we know, but we assume it will not be for a long time and that is shortsighted. Good article there and helpful to many people in his situation.

    June 19, 2010 at 11:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. alumette

    To Mike: no physician can predict whether your cancer will come back or not. When you take out a tumor and the margins are clear, it is safe to assume you got it all. They say that to the patient with optimism. Once you have cancer, you are always at risk of more of the same of even different types of tumors. The best doctors can do is deal with it when it shows up. To date, we have no prevention of it and no crystal ball. Likely your doctors were efficient and did their best.

    June 19, 2010 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. alumette

    I need to correct; bitter sweet and not better. Phonetics elude me at times...and so does spelling. Sorry.

    June 19, 2010 at 11:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. ch

    Dads for my Daughters was so well done, congratulations Sanjay.

    June 19, 2010 at 23:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Isabella

    I was inspired today by your CNN story on the Dad who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. I am a 39 year survivor of osteosarcoma. I was 12 years old when I discovered a bump on my left leg that had been sore for a several months. My parents immediately took me to my pediatrician. I was quicklly biospied and diagnosed with osteosarcoma and had my left leg hip disarticulation (amputated at the hip). This was 1971 before cancer was talked about like it is today. At that time, there was no chemotherapy for this type of cancer, so you can imagine how my parents felt with this grim disease. Luckily, my pediatrician was in touch with the local University Medical Hospital and found out about a new drug about 6 months after myt amputation. The oncologist was partcipating in studies for the new drug. That drug was Adriamycin now referred as Doxorubicin. I had 6 months on the drug. Yes, I am lucky still to be here. Believe it or not, 30 years almost to the date I was diagnosed with iosteosarcoma, I was disgnosed with invasive breast cancer and underwent more surgeries and more aggresive chemotherapy treatments. I have now survived 39 and 9 years without reoccurance and I am presently healthy except for a low white count. There is no cancer in my family. I have a healthy lifestyle, I have always worked out, no smoking, drinking. Best of all one appreciates every day of feeling healthy. I only tell my story so that others know that they can survive and go on to a good full life, despite cancer and despite being disabled.

    June 19, 2010 at 23:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Meg Wolff

    I had bone cancer 20 years ago and my kids were very young, too. Later, advanced breast cancer. Twelve years later I'm alive and healthy: http://www.becomingwhole2.com/2010/06/sanjay-gupta-interviews-father-with-bone-cancer.html

    June 20, 2010 at 20:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. John Bragman

    This was an incredibly touching show. Of course it brought back memories of when my Dad passed on due to Hodgekin's lymphoma. He also went through the same pain and indignity of chemotherapy. Back in the 1970s there wasn't the medications that helped ease the pain and make it easier to take the chemo. I believe that the treatment was more debilitating than the disease. Osteosarcoma is different in that when one can remove the affected bone, the chances for survival are increased. The part that I felt sad about was that I wished that my Dad could have done that for me when we knew that the disease would certainly take him. We had recently moved to another state. There was no support Council that could have helped me with the transition. There were (still are) so many questions I wasn't able to ask him. Some I hadn't thought of at the time. Others I couldn't ask since the disease and the way it affected us was all-consuming. Now that Mr. Feiler is still alive, his daughters are very lucky to not only have their Dad with them, but they also have plenty of "Uncles" to reinforce the steadying influence that fathers have. Granted they went through hell, but they are truly blessed indeed. To this day I miss my Dad. Big Al, I do what I do for you!!!!!

    June 21, 2010 at 15:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. pagingdrgupta.blogs.cnn.com

    What would you do if you thought you were going to die.. Not so bad 🙂

    April 19, 2011 at 05:10 | 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.