DEAR ABBY: On Wednesday, April 9, 1997, I sat on the edge of my father's bed and held his hand while he drew his last breath and quietly passed away after a brief, devastating battle with cancer. He was only 65, didn't drink or smoke, worked out on a regular basis, ate only fruits, vegetables, fish, bulgur, oatmeal and whole-grain bread. The doctors said he did everything right.
There were only two things that perhaps could have saved him -- regular physical examinations and prostate exams. My father disliked doctors (his mother died on the operating table when he was 12). However, a persistent backache drove him to the doctor in December of 1996. X-rays revealed spots in his lungs, which were found to be cancerous. His back pain was caused by the cancer eating away at his ribs until they crumbled and broke.
In February, it was discovered that cancer had also invaded his liver. These were all secondary cancers spread by a primary cancer, which was never found. The doctors suspect that the primary cancer started in his prostate. Due to the fact that his was a widespread and rapidly growing cancer, treatment consisted only of controlling the pain. It was too late for any hope of curing him. In fact, the doctors told him to consider each day his last.
My father was loved by everyone who knew him. He had a wickedly funny sense of humor, and was kind, warm and intelligent. He always assumed the best in everyone. His generosity included donating his body to a medical hospital for study. He was my best friend, and I miss him terribly. Now my mother is left alone in what should have been their retirement years. I'm mourning a series of sad "firsts" -- my birthday, then his birthday, then Father's Day without him.
Please, Abby, urge all dads to get regular checkups, including prostate exams. -- SUSAN HARWICK, SAVAGE, MINN.
DEAR SUSAN: There is no way I could do it as eloquently as you have, with your graphic letter. Susan, please accept my deepest sympathy on the loss of your beloved father. I hope that the details of his untimely death will spur other men to call their physicians and make appointments for annual physicals, which should include a prostate examination for any man over the age of 50. The physical should also include a breast examination -- women are not the only ones who get breast cancer. Insist, if necessary.