See that guy in the green? That's my dad - Tarek Fatah - holding court, telling stories, entertaining (and sometimes motivating and/or enraging) the masses. This photo was taken in September 2010 on the day of my wedding, which I think was the happiest day in MY PARENTS' lives. Don't get me wrong, I was happy too. But I think - like many South Asian parents - this is the day my parents have been living for. This is the happiest I've seen my father. And I clung to this joy in him for the past year.
One year ago today, my father went into St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto for back pain and numbness in his legs and within a few hours he was diagnosed with cancer. They found a massive tumor on his spinal cord which was crushing his nervous system and had to be surgically removed immediately. I was in the room when they told him he had cancer. I was the first person to see him when he got out of surgery at five in the morning. Over the next eight months, my father lived between four different hospitals, receiving treatment not only for his cancer, but intense physiotherapy because he could no longer walk. My dad is now cancer free, and with hard work he will soon be walking normally again. Much has happened in this year - it's a year that has changed my life completely, and for the better.
My father has always been my hero, someone I've admired deeply. But, this past year he set the gold standard for handling difficult times with graciousness, good humor and positivity. Never once did he say "why me?" or "this isn't fair." He handled it with class and never let anyone feel bad about the situation. His bedside was always more like a house party than a hospital room. Hell, we had not one but two musical concerts performed at the hospital for him.
And then there is my mom. My mother did was she has always done, carried the heavy load and did it quietly and with dignity. During the first week of a year of life in hospitals, I noticed my mother was dressed impeccably, while I looked like I had just rolled out of bed. She wore a green blouse, a beautiful multicolour glass necklace my father had given her for her last birthday, and silk scarf he had picked up for her on his many international trips. I asked her why she was so dressed up, and she told me that she wanted to look good for my dad. That she wanted him to feel good when he looked at her. She has no idea how those words moved me. Beauty, art, music, fashion, style, joy, laughter, happiness, love can make all the difference. I changed my attitude immediately. I too started dressing well, if just to sit in my dad's hospital room all day. And, when I started this blog in November, it was that conversation with my mother that gave me the confidence to put myself out there like this.
So today, this blog post is dedicated to my dad, who can add cancer survivor to his list of many accomplishments. And my mom, for her strength.
|In Saudi Arabia, I wanted to go to work with dad.|
|Doing the holy pilgrimage, it was so hot, and it made little me super cranky.|
|From left to right: My friend Shetal, my father, my husband Chris and me dancing at my friend Geeta's wedding.|
|My mom's birthday. My dad tells her every single day how much he loves her.|
|At our wedding, my dad leading the parade of friends around the neighbourhood. He never lets it rain on his parade.|
|Dancing with my dad Bhangra style!|
This video has to be one of my most favourite things in the whole world. Thank you to the person who recorded this demonstration of dad's love for my mom. I will cherish it always.
I love you dad, can't wait to dance with you again soon!
I must thank the wonderful people at St. Michael's Hospital who saved our family.
Thank you also to our family and friends, here and all over the world, who checked in, visited, sent love and well wishes. You saved our spirits.
You read about my dad's experience because he wrote a piece from Toronto Life here.