Gupta: The friend I can't fix
June 16th, 2011
04:04 PM ET

Gupta: The friend I can't fix

Programming note:  On Saturday, June 25, Nick Charles lost his battle with cancer. On Sunday, CNN will rebroadcast Dr. Sanjay Gupta's special report, "Nick Charles:  Lessons from the Fight," at  7:30 a.m. ET.

I like to fix things.

As far back as I can remember, I was the person who took broken things apart with the confidence that I could put them back together, while making them better. “Call Sanjay,” my mom would often tell her friends if they were confronted with a problem. At first it was lamps and clocks, or perhaps a dry wall that didn’t fit quite right or an edge of carpeting that always bunched up. It evolved into malfunctioning dishwashers, ovens, radios and computers. I helped my dad restore an old MGB when I was a teenager, after having practiced on a 1975 Ford Granada, and an even older lime green LTD.

It is perhaps what drew me to neurosurgery and the opportunity to tend to injured or diseased brains and spinal cords. There has always been great satisfaction in “fixing” things. It is also part of the reason I am so frustrated when I cannot.

When I decided to visit my friend Nick Charles in Santa Fe, New Mexico, my stomach was in knots. He was dying of stage 4 bladder cancer that had spread to his lymph nodes and his lungs. He had stopped his chemotherapy, and his disease was progressing. I desperately wanted to help Nick, to “fix” him in some way. I wanted to share as many medical options as possible, even while knowing they were not likely to help. I was nervous, and thought I should fill the void of silence that often accompanies the awkwardness of discussing death. With a broad smile, Nick gave me a hug, put me at ease and quickly started teaching me lessons from his fight.

He was thankful that I had come to visit him at all. Too many of his friends simply disappeared, either incapable of talking to a dying man, or too fearful of being forced to confront their own mortality. Some were just too sad, he told me, and they completely withdrew. Simply having me listen to him talk about his life and his fears was a great gift, he told me.

Nick didn’t want any false assurances. It would have been insincere to tell him he looked great. With the dark rings under his eyes, his astounding weight loss, along with the loss of his hair, and the impact of the chemotherapy on his skin, he looked sick. Suggesting otherwise would’ve brought the conversation to a halt, because Nick Charles would have seen right through that. Cancer had not taken away his insight or his intelligence.

We talked about things Nick enjoyed, mainly sports. Nick was the original sports anchor at CNN, and could teach you about any sport, but especially boxing. We talked about the various fights he had covered, including the one he announced for HBO this year. At one point he paused, and told me he was in a fight himself. He was fighting like hell for his life, and it didn’t look like he was going to win. It was jarring to hear. “So, what are you going to do about it?” I asked him with a smile. He laughed out loud.

“Short term goals,” he told me. We all probably spend too much time focusing on the long-term that we forget what is right in front of us. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes being smacked in the face with your own mortality to realize it. Another thing Nick does regularly is to keep a journal. He may write a note to a family member or just write down thoughts from the day. Helps focus the mind and prioritize your life, he said.

Nick also taught me that dying forced him to live in the present in a way he hadn’t done before. But, that didn’t mean he couldn’t dream and still imagine his future. Even though he was told he had less than 2 years to live, he and his wife decided to build their dream house and Nick picked out colors, designed the rooms and purchased a piano for the family room, even though he is unlikely to spend much time there.

He also still imagines calling fights as he did for HBO in March, even though it is difficult to travel, his voice has become weaker and he is requiring oxygen. With the loss of remaining time, Nick’s dreams have become grander, and it was easy for me to see how that has  made him happy.

Nick took me into the construction site of the new house, walked me over to the closet where his 5-year-old daughter, Giovanna, will hang her clothes, and dreamed out loud of the dress she would one day wear to her prom. It’s a dress he will most likely never get to see. His face fell to pieces, and his composure broke, as he told me this. Openly sobbing, he apologized for the tears. And then, I lost it as well. I was choked up for the losses my friend Nick would endure.

“It’s OK,” he said as we walked outside. Two grown men, slightly misty eyed, thinking about their daughters, his hand on my shoulder. I was the guy who was supposed to fix things, but I knew I couldn’t take Nick apart and put him back better. “It’s OK,” he repeated, as if reading my thoughts. Try as hard as we might, we can’t always fix everything.

soundoff (124 Responses)
  1. Bill Kostelic

    I cried like a baby this morning, for Nick and for the compassionate delivery of an incredible story. Thank you Sanjay.

    June 19, 2011 at 07:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Susan Ball

      I too cried like a baby after seeing that story. What a fighter Nick is, so remarkable his journey. My heart goes out to his wife and family. We should all live in his foot steps and appreciate every day as Nick does. Peace, prayers and blessings Nick !

      June 20, 2011 at 10:07 | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      You can't fix everything.

      June 25, 2011 at 19:01 | Report abuse |
    • aasdasd

      Sanja Gupta is a disgrace to medicine. He uses his position at CNN to promote himself every chance he gets. He needs his license to practice medicine taken away.

      July 8, 2011 at 20:21 | Report abuse |
    • teresa


      October 17, 2011 at 22:07 | Report abuse |
  2. Steve

    I got one for y'a....HIV and incurable lymphoma, according to major USA clinic...no cure/go home and die. Also did the red death !...9 months on life support, family told 15x's..won't live thru the night....9 months later...go home...no cancer....it's been 4 years...Europe 2x's and So America 2x's....life is good/never better...better and better everyday in everyway!...check ups every 4 mos...doctors can't believe it!....SPStephens on the A and OL to chat. .Give more than you receive, smile...always quick to say "Thanks" and rejoice, and again, I say rejoice!

    June 19, 2011 at 07:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Linda

      Rejoice is exactly right! Blessings for you!

      June 29, 2011 at 09:49 | Report abuse |
  3. Steve

    Life is not guaranteed to the healthy, religious, rich or poor...but with proper medicine and science and positive thinking allows the soul to be set free with a smile...miracles of all sorts bewilder the professionals. Nick Charles is curing himself in so many ways..and others as well, with his smile and outlook. How many who are 'perfectly healthy' will leave the world sooner than Charles?....Thanks Dr Gupta...inspirational....

    June 19, 2011 at 08:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • j.gabrielle

      thanks for saying that steve. we all end up eventually somewhere else (death and whatever one believes about that) so it helps to be positive along the way; the alternative only hurts everyone. believe the good and be skeptical about bad. never as bad or good as we think..always seem to end differently sometimes in miraculous ways.

      June 19, 2011 at 12:40 | Report abuse |
  4. Janny

    As a stage four bladder cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2007, I really appreciated the inspiring story on Nick Charles. I thank you, Dr. Gupta for shedding light on this disease that is underfunded and often misdiagnosed. I am now dealing with mets to the brain which is unusual in bladder cancer. I wish the Charles family the best in their new home and can see the love radiating from them. I am happy today for this inspiring story!!

    June 19, 2011 at 12:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Actually he did fix things, but not in the way he wanted to. By visiting his friend, talking to him and listening to him, he provided the best fix of all – love and support.

    June 19, 2011 at 16:03 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Annamarie

      Thank you for sharing your connection. You did give him something,love and support which is what a good friend does. It's sad when you see the inablity of so many,when times like this come. This is what true friendship is. He was very fortunate to know you.

      June 25, 2011 at 16:33 | Report abuse |
  6. Chandra

    Nick, I pray that God places his angels around you for comfort. Dr. Gupta, thank you for not walking away from Nick. To all the positive posters, your parents raised wonderful people. To the rude posters, may God change your hearts!

    June 19, 2011 at 19:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Emelia Kanson

    My grandfather died after nine years of battling prostate cancer, hardly two weeks after my 12th birthday. My mother is in such bad health she takes experimental medications that put her life on the line, yet tries to keep my brother and I in the dark. This kind of thing needs to be addressed more. I don't know you, or Mister Charles, but either way, kudos. This was a touching, inspiring article. Not many can touch upon this as successfully as you have. Again, kudos.

    June 20, 2011 at 01:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. jenn

    Sorry about your friend. That's wonderful you were there for him. I try to be there for my friends during good and the bad times. Its important, not just as a measure of character, but I think it makes a difference to the whole consciousness. It sounds like you're a good friend.

    June 20, 2011 at 01:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Mark

    When I was in high school in the early 1980s, I always watched CNN Sports Tonight instead of ESPN's Sportscenter. Nick Charles' flair for writing and rich vocabulary were what drew me to CNN. I wrote a paper about Mr. Charles when I was in college and later worked as a sports journalist. I met him briefly at an Oscar de la Hoya fight in 1996. He was hugely inspirational in my career choice of sports journalism. Thanks Nick.

    June 20, 2011 at 18:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Beth

    Although I am a stage 4 melanoma survivor, your story puts life in greater perspective of how little time we have. Thank you Sanjay for sharing your story and I pray for Peace and hope for Nick.

    June 21, 2011 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Joe

      People will always die of cancer and horrible disease because there simply will never be cures. Cures stop the problem thus cutting allot of unneeded pork.

      June 25, 2011 at 19:05 | Report abuse |
  11. Gloria

    Thank you for reminding me the importance of visiting my friend(s).

    June 21, 2011 at 16:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Helen of Troy

    Awesome testimony of true friendship!

    I always say "if you laugh with me, you can cry with me". In other words, share the ups and share the downs....

    I am a triple negative breast cancer warrior and each day is a blessing no matter what it brings because there are always rainbows somewhere in the clouds...Life is a gift, so unwrap it!

    God Bless you and Nick as well as your families... Be proud to be a friend, as well as a doctor!
    Thank you for sharing with me (us).....

    June 21, 2011 at 19:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Chaplain Ted Miller

    Dear Dr. Gupta,
    As a hospital chaplain, we're brought to task at everything you described in this final vist with your friend Nick.
    Thank you for sharing these personal thoughts, and thank God, for Nick, and his ability to share and respect the
    sensibilities of others at his most vulnerable moment.

    June 25, 2011 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. hombremitkamera

    Wow. Sharing encounters like this are so important for focusing back on one's life. Thanks for sharing Dr. Gupta.

    June 25, 2011 at 14:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Chandra

    May God rest Nick's soul. Praying for his family. Praying for everyone battling any kind of illness! Most importantly, just want to say THANK GOD for everything!

    June 25, 2011 at 18:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Ed Peterson

    numerology for Nick Charles:


    June 25, 2011 at 20:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Miguel

    Thanks Sanjay for such a wonderful story. My heart goes out to his widow and children, in particular Giovanna. As I cried in solitude, I pray to God for his soul, and for the Sanjays of this world. I've always admire you, now I tip my hat to an angel like you! Thank Sanjay! May you rest in peace forever, Nick!

    June 25, 2011 at 23:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. kensington

    It was agonizing to watch a class-act of a man forced to endure the unimaginable. He spoke a lot about God - but where is God during his torment.? We stare at the heavens and shake our fist - to no avail. If there is a 'God' it is a cosmic presence who doesn't feel or care about our pain. A pain that will endure in poor little Giovanna for the rest of her life. So damn unfair.
    RIP Nick.

    June 25, 2011 at 23:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. formose

    Thank you sanjay gupta for this lovely written article.i cried reading this article.i hope nick is happy in heaven and i am glad to know more about the passion he had for what he did and wanted to do.

    June 26, 2011 at 02:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Evan

    Hey Friends, please visit HelpFaye.ORG .... about a friend fighting for her life.... Thank you

    June 26, 2011 at 09:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ME

      Hey spammer, quit soliciting this scam website!

      September 2, 2011 at 13:33 | Report abuse |
  21. Mary Ann

    I want to thank Dr Gupta for the story of Nick Charles. My sympathy goes out to his family. My mother passed away 3 years ago due to Bladder Cancer. Mom found out in the summer of 2006 that she had "tumors" in her bladder. Though treatment Dr's were confident things would be fine. The January 2008 The tumors went through the lining of the Bladder and spread. Mom lost her battle in February 2008, 2 weeks before my Birthday. Thank you again for Nick Charles story.

    June 26, 2011 at 11:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ahmed

      Holy Crap Glenbo! Bleeding Awesome! You'll be glad to know that the Party Owls 7 EP is prominently dilaspyed in our LPs insert! And believe it or not peopel still talk about you to this day!Glad yr doing well. I'll check out your myspace when I get home. \m/

      August 1, 2012 at 19:29 | Report abuse |
  22. Emelia Kanson

    Rest in Peace, Mr. Charles. Dr. Gupta, are you alright? Please hang in there.

    June 26, 2011 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Ruth Elder

    What a touching testimonial by Nick Charles. God was there–giving Nick & his family peace in the midst of the storm!

    June 26, 2011 at 14:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Mark

    During the slow death of my wife from from breast cancer, I too noticed that many of our close friends also "disappeared". Once she had died, I attended group counseling sessions where all the participants remarked how friends and family disappeared during and after the deaths of loved ones. If you are TRULY a friend, step away from your own selfish fears and reach out to someone you know who is dying from a deadly disease. Let THEM determine if they want your concern and help. To do less greatly diminishes the relationship and the friendship you have with them.

    June 26, 2011 at 17:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sanae

      thank you so much Jo!! Meeting you and having your friidnshep in my life is a blessing! You are so sweet and amazing oh and you take awesome pics too I love these photos!!

      August 4, 2012 at 00:02 | Report abuse |
  25. argentinarose

    There is somthing going on in this country IMO. there are too many Cancer Cases Cropping up within the last couple of years. what is going on here? is it something that is being in our food supply or what? what ever it is, we need to be finding out about it. this was such a sad thing to see and, I was being hopeful for him that he would have lived to see his beloved daughter play that piano. so so sad.

    June 26, 2011 at 23:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. argentinarose

    Well done Dr.Gupta you are a real true friend and it really showed in this video. thanks again and R.I.P NICK , LOVE TINA

    June 26, 2011 at 23:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. sarah

    Dr Gupta, you truly are amazing. All of these stories break my heart. Ive never had to deal with the pain and loss of a loved one to cancer. My heart and prayers go out to all of you going through these tough times

    June 27, 2011 at 00:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Joeinsense

    Nick – If your are somewhere reading this, you led a good, full life..... most people in this planet could not say that.

    June 27, 2011 at 03:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Brian

    Wow this article is so touching. I guess sometimes we want to be able to put a happy face on a situation and tell someone everyting is going to be alright. But when you can't, what does one do? What a gift his friendship surely is to his friend who's afflicted with cancer. It got me misty eyed reading it.

    June 27, 2011 at 04:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Gavin

    Thanks Sanjay. He was a great guy and will remember him fondly. Thanks for sharing his last moments, teaching us to appreciate our lives and our family.

    June 28, 2011 at 06:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Gail

    My heart breaks each time I hear of the loss of a friend or family member to cancer. My heart goes out to Nick's family and friends as they deal with their grief. And, as a cancer survivor myself, I applaude Dr. Gupta for continuing his friendship with his friend during his journey through his cancer treatment and death. You are exactly right, so many friends just disappear. The loss of those that you think you can count on in your time of need makes dealing with all the other decisions, fears and uncertainties that much more difficult. You proved to be a true friend and by being such you may have "fixed" things you weren't even aware of.

    June 28, 2011 at 08:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. kcsenecal

    RIP Nick. Thank you for this story.

    June 28, 2011 at 15:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Linda

    What a lovely gift. All too often we cringe away from those dying. I say embrace them. There but for the grace of God go I....embrace their lives, their loves, their dying. It is what Elizabeth Ross taught so many years ago...get over the fear and embrace the joy of life, having lived, loved, and laughed. Hard as it may be..it is what our loved ones so desperatly need at that time.

    June 29, 2011 at 09:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Terri Salerno

    Having bladdar cancer myself you cannot imagine how meaningful his message was.I was waiting or all my after chemo tests and he helped me be able to face whatever the dr. said .Thankyou so much for the piece of mind and new way to deal with the future . So far I am extemely lucky and my tests came back great but I know I will always have to worry. How lucky his family was t.o have him and my deepest sympathy to them

    June 30, 2011 at 09:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Mary Golden

    Dear Dr. Gupta,
    On a segment of CNN this AM(7/9/11) you said helicopters were used for the first time for medical evacuation in Vietnam.Was it not Korea instead?

    July 9, 2011 at 08:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Jeff Gannaway

    Dr. Gupta,
    Mary (Gannaway) says to say hello. As a colon cancer survivor (22 years and going – had it at the young age of 23), I am very sorry for the loss of your friend. I have to say that I also grew up with Nick. Never met him, but did meet Fred Hickman a few times here and there as I can remember when all we had here in Atlanta was WTCG – Channel 17 (yes, anyone remember UHF?!!). Our thoughts and prayers to Nick's family and close friends. Great story, Nick was so strong.

    July 14, 2011 at 13:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Elijah Frierson

    Dear Dr. Sanjay Gupta

    I am a 37 year old male who was diagnosed with diabetes a year ago, since then I have dropped my weight from 282 pounds down to 206 and have been taken on medication. Now I have a new problem, sagging skin on the inner thighs and stomach. What can be done? Especially being a diabetic.

    July 28, 2011 at 09:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. teresa


    October 17, 2011 at 22:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. teresa


    October 17, 2011 at 22:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Costello

    Cancer can be fix easy so...with NO surgery and NO chemotheraphy.

    December 30, 2011 at 00:21 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Here is your intro towards the great whole world of numerology. The term numerology is really a mix of the 2 words and phrases particularly, 'number' along with 'ology'…Life Path Number

    January 14, 2012 at 18:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. MedWall

    Anyone in Medicine explain why American Doctors like the TV Doc shun often non-alllopathic treatments proven and accepted in mainstream medicine outside the USA? Is America’s Sick Care Biz really that arrogant & ignorant?

    March 30, 2019 at 08:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MedWall

      Don’t even get me started on the don’t take vitamins & drink tap water misinformation. Ever read Pauling, Cathcart? Tell a Flint, MI resident to drink tap, it isn’t any different.

      March 30, 2019 at 08:28 | Report abuse |
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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.