Sabah: My Father-in-Love 

“Your father has brain tumors. I’m very sorry to say they’re malignant.” These words, spoken to my husband by the oncologist at Portsmouth Hospital in August of 2000, sent our lives into turmoil and began what was to become my father-in-law’s nine-month battle with cancer. 

Harry Portman was known fondly by many names and terms of endearment. To me, he was my “Father-in-Love.” He was a tzadik (a righteous person) and a humble man who believed in taking his best into the world daily. 

True to his buoyant personality, he participated in his treatment and loved being active. He also enjoyed joking with his therapists and making them laugh. He never asked, “Why me,” but lived his life to the best of his ability even as the initial tumor shrank but more developed in other areas of his brain. Eventually, he decided to cease further radiation in favor of quality of life over longevity. As sad as we were to come to this point, we knew it was the right choice. 

The silver lining from this sad chapter in our lives was the birth of the Healing Environments Program concept. The enhancements I had made to his hospital room were designed to make him feel connected to his and our lives. They were to give him comfort and, yes, hope and peace. 

By presenting the Healing Environments concept to several Houston hospital CEOs, I was hopeful many other patients could benefit from similar changes to standard hospital rooms. 

In March of 2008, the program was born and continued to grow and flourish for more than nine years at St. Mary Medical center in Langhorn, Pennsylvania. Founded by the Sisters of St. Francis, with their fundamental beliefs of inclusivity and treating the whole person: body, mind, and spirit, this proved the perfect place. 

Though I still don’t know why Sabah had to suffer, it was a precious gift to witness his strength, courage, and unfailing resolve throughout this journey. My dear Sabah, I am deeply touched to be able to share your story and thus honor your life, your valiant struggle, and your precious memory.