A Posthumous Diagnosis for a Beloved Father, Husband, and Friend

Posted On Jun 03, 2024

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A Posthumous Diagnosis for a Beloved Father, Husband, and Friend

Carmen Barroso Feliz and Carlos Famadas

Mother…wife…lawyer…these were the roles Carmen Barroso Feliz was accustomed to and thrived at. However, when she had been married for a decade, she took on a heartbreaking new role she had never anticipated at just 42: widow.  

Carmen describes her husband Hector as the funniest, kindest, most helpful person who was always the life of the party and commanded the room. He was a doting and dedicated father, soccer coach, and self-proclaimed PTA dad to his children, Lucas and Oliver. In March 2018, when their sons were just 7 ½ and 4 ½, Hector started experiencing health issues which he at first attributed to his diabetes. However, after examinations and tests, his doctor didn’t find anything alarming.

Unfortunately, Hector’s and Carmen’s relief was short-lived. As the spring continued, Hector became increasingly tired and winded, his seasonal allergies were the most severe they’d ever been, and he felt like he had the flu. Hector began to lose weight without trying and then lost his appetite. In mid-May, he returned to the doctor complaining of pressure in his chest, and his doctor told him he looked jaundiced and ordered a chest x-ray. He was admitted to the hospital, underwent a CT scan, and received the life-changing news that he had cancer that had metastasized and needed a liver biopsy to confirm the origin of the cancer. In a moment, the beautiful life Hector and Carmen had built and nurtured together was imploding, and they needed answers.

Despite the liver biopsy, doctors couldn’t confirm where the cancer had started, and Hector’s health continued to rapidly decline. When he returned to a different hospital a couple of weeks later, his breathing was so labored he couldn’t lay down for the PET scan he needed to identify the source of the cancer. Hector’s doctors recommended that he start an aggressive chemotherapy regimen—sadly, on the day after Father’s Day—and Carmen did everything possible to make sure he wasn’t scared or in pain. It was devastating to hear him say how much he wanted to fight his cancer so he could be there for her and their boys when she knew in her heart he was dying.

Hector passed away on June 18, 2018, just four months before his 46th birthday and the same day he was transferred to hospice care. “Being a mom makes you stronger, and I had no choice but to keep on going for the children’s sake,” Carmen shared. In fact, she was thinking only of her children the night Hector died. “When I got home from the hospital, overcome with grief and in disbelief, I didn’t tell my children their father had passed. Instead, I wanted them to have one more night of hope and peace before their world was torn apart by the magnitude of our loss.”

Hector’s funeral was held on the day Oliver was supposed to be celebrating at his fifth birthday party; he was cremated with the holiday cards his sons had lovingly written to him. Carmen, completely shattered, couldn’t stop questioning how senseless Hector’s death was. How could Hector be perfectly healthy in March and then pass away just three months later? He was young and in shape, and as recently as two months before his passing, he participated in a rigorous charity bike ride. Searching for answers for herself and for their children, Carmen had an autopsy performed and received the most unexpected diagnosis: Hector passed away from cancer of the pancreas and biliary ducts that had metastasized.

This experience taught Carmen to live in the moment and to appreciate what she has. “My life was destroyed in three months, but I have learned to say: I don’t have Hector here, but I have other things to be grateful for, like our children.”  In the six years since Hector’s passing, Carmen continues to surround the boys with the love of extended family, including her mom, who lives with them, Hector’s parents, who they celebrate holidays with and see weekly, and her brother and his family. Both of her sons look like Hector, and she talks about him all the time, telling them what their dad would’ve done or said in a specific situation and reminding them how much he loved them and fought to be with them. When something positive takes place, Carmen tells them, “I think your dad made that happen for us.”

Every Father’s Day, Lucas and Oliver write letters to their dad and burn them in their backyard fire pit so the fire with the letters will reach him. They also play mini golf, in honor of Hector’s passion for the sport, and have a Father’s Day brunch in his memory. One of their cherished Father’s Day traditions is to attend the annual Hector Feliz Golf Outing, organized by alumni of Hector’s college fraternity.

“I am so touched that Hector’s fraternity brothers are using the game that Hector loved to raise money to assist others in need because he was always the first person to help everyone else,” Carmen shared. “If we can raise enough money to save even one person from pancreatic cancer, it is worth it.”

Carlos Famadas met Hector 20 years ago through the alumni network of the Phi Iota Alpha fraternity. “Hector became a mentor and beloved friend who selflessly helped others and who could always find the lighter, more humorous side to any situation,” Carlos added.

As President of the 1931 Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Phi Iota Alpha, Carlos is committed to working with fraternity brothers to give back to the Latino community and help with local community events. Still reeling from the devastation of losing Hector, fraternity brother Javier Lora approached Carlos about organizing the First Annual Hector Feliz Golf Outing in 2022 to honor both Hector’s memory and his love for the sport. The money raised from the event would help families of fraternity brothers like Hector’s who were impacted by the sudden, unexpected losses of their loved ones, and a portion would support the Lustgarten Foundation’s pancreatic cancer research initiatives in memory of Hector.

To date, the event has raised more than $3,000 for Lustgarten’s research program, and the Third Annual Hector Feliz Golf Outing is scheduled for June 14, 2024, in New York. “My favorite part of the event is sharing stories with people who knew Hector and spending time with attendees who didn’t know Hector but came out to show their support regardless,” Carlos said.

Carlos, Javier, and a small core group of fraternity brothers plan and lead this event, adding a new component each year, including a podcast, a live stream of certain holes, and a more robust raffle. And, they haven’t let their lack of event planning or fundraising experience stop them; in fact, they’ve nearly doubled the number of volunteers who help plan this day of hope and are aiming for at least 60 golfers—twice the attendance at the inaugural Hector Feliz Golf Outing in 2022. They hold the event in mid-June to commemorate when Hector passed and to honor his legacy around Father’s Day.

“My advice for others looking to make a difference for pancreatic cancer patients and their families is to start by doing something, no matter how small it is. Every dollar helps to advance the most promising, life-saving research and to aid families like Hector’s who unexpectedly lose a close relative,” Carlos shared. “We are privileged to do our small part to provide better research, resources, and support because the fight against pancreatic cancer is far from over.”

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