You’re Allowed to Ask Why

“The silver lining to Harry’s ordeal, was the development of the Healing Environments Program, the true stories I and my volunteers collected during more than nine years the program operated.”

When my dear Father-in-Love, Harry, was diagnosed with brain cancer in August 2000, our family was devastated. Why? Why should this warm, caring, compassionate person be forced to suffer? He collapsed at our summer home, as the cancer paralyzed his right side. We had no idea at that time if this was a permanent condition.

The owner of a “Mom and Pop” corner grocery (and everything) store, he truly cared about his customers. He often ran tabs for those he knew had financial issues, but he asked for no payment. He would ask about their family members’ welfare, share jokes, and the latest sports news, commiserating with his clients when their beloved Red Sox lost, or rejoice when they won. They were equally devoted to all the other Boston teams.

Why? Why should this devoted husband, father, and grandfather (our beloved Sabah) be faced with this ordeal? My husband Ron immediately flew to get Harry in Portsmouth, NH, and brought him to Houston, where we were living. He was a patient at MD Anderson Cancer Center for five weeks, and then at the Medical Center Physical Therapy Hospital for another six, while he recovered strength and the use of his right side. I took a leave of absence from my interior design business to be with him during this time.

Then the out-patient therapy began…on-going physical and occupational therapy, and specific nutrition to build his strength as he was prepared to begin radiation. MD Anderson had an innovative treatment, (in 2000), pin-point laser radiation. But the preparation was grueling.

For the laser beam to be precisely focused in the same area of the brain at each treatment, Harry had to be fitted with a specially designed framework to hold his head and neck in place.

I sat beside him as they positioned this heavy steel halo around his head. It was so heavy that it had four supports connecting the halo to two metal brackets that rested on his shoulders to help disperse the weight. The halo was screwed to his scalp.

He was so calm during this whole procedure, while I was seething inside. This may have been an innovative treatment, but the halo looked to me like a Medieval torture device.

Why? I received no answer at this time. I was so angry with God, but I wanted to support my Father-in-Love in every way I could. Weeks of therapy proceeded, and it worked initially. However, more cancer developed. I vividly remember the day his compassionate brain surgeon showed Harry, Ron, and me the MRI imagery and pointed to the new cancer cells. Tragically, they were in areas of the brain that, if radiated, would seriously impact his quality of life.

His doctor left us to decide whether to continue therapy or not. Harry opted for quality over longevity of life. We shared his final months with this amazing human being. He was great at staying positive. The radiation had affected his vocal cords, so when we sang along to some of his favorite music on the way to physical therapy appointments, he sounded just like Louie Armstrong with his raspy voice. But sing he did and with gusto! I have often wondered if he was joyfully looking forward to reuniting with his beloved Sylvia who had passed two years prior.

Harry died peacefully nine months after his initial diagnosis. Why were we together on this journey? The answer came gradually, as the concept for my Healing Environments Program developed. The enhancements I had made to Harry’s hospital room became the seeds of the program. I brought one of Sylvia’s colorful handknit afghans, not only to keep him warm in his chilly room, but to surround him with her energy and loving touch. I further decorated the room with family photos, get well cards, a live orchid plant, music and audio CD’s, his lounging clothes, robe, and orthotic slippers as he began walking again.

So, the answer to my Why, the silver lining to Harry’s ordeal, was the development of the Healing Environments Program, the true stories I and my volunteers collected during more than nine years the program operated, and now the compilation of these stories that make up my book, Creative Healing Places: Stories of Hope, Comfort, and Inspiration, which is now out in the world to help others with their Why’s.