Story of man’s death half told

My name is Tonya Wells. Marvin B. Lanham is my father. On April 20 our local newspapers and news station published an article/story about his death, reporting that he was hosting a “drunken party” and that he died from a gunshot wound to the head. It was reported that his death was being investigated as a possible suicide or homicide. The Washington County Sheriff and his deputies reported the correct information, but it was misconstrued. I would like to give the people of this community some insight as to the type of person my father was and what happened to him that led to his death.

In 2011, my father was diagnosed with stage two colon cancer. He endured months of chemo and radiation and was scheduled for surgery on July 5, 2011. Many things during this surgery went wrong. I will not go into detail, but ultimately, he lost his spleen and was diagnosed, albeit too late, with compartment syndrome in his right leg. He stayed in the hospital for 30 days, where he endured excruciating therapy that did not help. A stint was placed in his right leg to increase circulation, but nothing the doctors did could save his leg. He was transferred to another hospital where he had to endure yet another painful surgery on his leg, but the doctors at the first hospital had waited too long. His right leg was amputated above the knee on Aug. 10, 2011.

My dad completed physical therapy and became as independent as he could after his leg was amputated. However, not only did he have to deal with the amputation, we later discovered that the actual colon surgery had been botched and there was little chance that he could have the colostomy bag he had been carrying around for the last two years removed. My dad had to rely heavily on my mom for help with the colostomy bag since it was on the same side as his amputated leg.

Prior to being diagnosed with cancer, if you knew my father, you knew how fiercely independent he was and that he rarely asked for help from anyone. He was fun loving and care free. He enjoyed hunting and golfing and going to Nascar races. He played music and wrote the most hilarious songs. After everything he went through, he became a shell of his former self. It was rare to see him smile and even when he did, it didn’t reach his eyes unless he was around his grandchildren.

The night he died, there was no drunken party. My dad and his friends were playing their weekly poker game, one of the only things left that my dad could still truly enjoy with his friends. It was supposed to be the last one of the season, since most of his friends play golf. My dad was also scheduled to have yet another surgery on April 25 in an attempt to remove the colostomy bag. This surgery carried some very heavy risks, one of them being the chance that he could be permanently stuck with the colostomy bag and another being that even if the doctor could remove the bag, he may never have control of his bowels. Apparently, my dad did not want to face these risks. He committed suicide that night. There was no story, no homicide, nothing that was insinuated in the article I read in the newspaper at 4:15 a.m. on April 20. My dad simply could no longer face the reality of his life without his independence. He told us on numerous occasions that he felt like a burden to us and that he hated living this way. While maybe we should have known that this could happen, I don’t think any of his family and friends thought he would actually go through with it. We were in denial. But I think that he had suffered enough. No one deserves the kind of suffering my father faced and no one knows, not even his family or closest friends, the kind of pain, physical and mental, that he had to endure on a daily basis. He lost all dignity and self-respect. It was horrible to watch from the outside. I can only imagine the demons my dad faced on the inside.

Now we have to endure the pain of his loss. While we would have liked to have done so privately, the newspaper and the local news did not allow us to do so.

I implore of you, the next time you start to write an article like this or broadcast a story, consider the family involved. Give them time to contact each other and time to mourn. Facing the news and the virtual strangers asking what happened was the last thing our family needed. I should not have had to defend my father like this. He was a good man and deserved better. Please remember that the people you write about and talk about on the news are human beings. And you have no idea what they’ve been through.

Thank you.


A grieving daughter

Tonya Wells