On Finding Out My Dad Has Cancer

I am in the middle of an experience that is growing me — that has catapulted me towards a wisdom I have been seeking.  Three weeks ago, I found out that my dad has cancer. I was sitting at my dining room table in my apartment in Los Angeles, drinking tea with milk and honey and writing about being from the South, when I got a call from of my dad’s best friends.  Words fail to describe the feeling I felt when I heard the word “cancer.”  I wept and wept and wept and wept and wept.

Two days later, I was on a plane home to Charlotte, North Carolina, riddled with fear. I spent every day and every night with my dad at the hospital, taking breaks only when someone was able to relieve me.  Staying in the hospital was emotionally and physically exhausting, but I stayed because I felt that not only was it my responsibility to protect him from the dangers of the Medical Industrial Complex, but because I wanted to be with him if those were to be his final days.    

Fast forward three weeks. My dad’s in rehab now, working on rebuilding his strength and gaining enough control over his body to live independently again. My partner tells me I saved his life. I’ll hold off on claiming hero status until his cancer is in remission, but I will own that my presence contributed to him getting well enough to leave the hospital.  

I kept (and keep) having to remind myself that my life hasn’t been suddenly and unrightfully “interrupted." I keep having to tell myself that this moment — my dad’s cancer,  being his caretaker while he’s sick, being ripped suddenly away from the comfort of the life I was building in order to help my father fight illness — is my life itself.  “My life” is not being put on hold. My life is progressing at rapid speed. I know that this is one of those experiences that makes you who you are.

Nichiren Buddhism uses the symbol of the lotus flower to represent each human being’s innate capacity for happiness, despite challenges or circumstances. The lotus flowers seeds as it blooms, representing the simultaneity of cause and effect. The lotus flower also blooms in the mud. This experience is my mud.  Using Nichiren Buddhism as my guide, I am trying to create value out of what is proving to be one of the most difficult experiences of my life.

Despite how hard it’s been, there have been beautiful moments. My parents are speaking again after almost two decades of silence between them. I am getting to know my father better, and discovering things about him that I may not have known otherwise.  I am re-learning the value of self-care, after having no choice but to prioritize my wellness so that I can show up fully to care for him. I am realizing how fortunate I am to have such amazing loved ones and friends.  I am remembering not to take my life for granted, and determining to fully understand what that means. 

Jamila Reddy