Yesterday my father had his second cancer surgery. As I type, he’s ensconced at the local university hospital, studded with needles and tubes, as his body begins the climb back to wholeness. For a guy who’s just been laid wide open on an operating table, he’s in stunningly good spirits.
I’m learning to be at ease in hospital wards. It’s easy to feel a sickly thrill in those halls, but I’ve now seen firsthand that this is a place of healing as well as grieving. I’ve recovered from the first cold shock of seeing my dad turn into one of those strange drifting figures, gown-clad and clinging to an IV pole. And it’s finally sunk in how extraordinarily lucky we are.
My father has always been a total optimist. In his mind, we all have the power to make any unfortunate situation better. “Mind over matter,” he used to say to me when I skinned my knee or had a sleepless night, and even when I was diagnosed with PCOS. I hated him for it–hated that he wanted to minimize my pain. Let me suffer, dammit! But over the past few months, I’ve seen firsthand how that relentless positivity has buoyed our entire family. I’m firmly convinced that my daddy will get better, because he’s firmly convinced he will get better.
I’d love not to be in this situation. It’s been months since I’ve heard my father’s voice–it disappeared after his first surgery. But I’m trying to feed off the vibes from him, as he spends his time in the hospital diligently practicing his breathing and charming the nurses with his gratitude and good humor.
Instead of sinking into helplessness, I’m looking for things to do. I’m planning meals for my family. I’m taking long walks. I’m collecting jokes and funny stories to tell my father when I see him next. I’m feeling out our family’s support system, and finding myself profoundly moved at how many people have rallied around us.
Instead of wishing this never happened, I’m finding ways to help us get through it.