Paul Edwards recently was delivered the news that no one ever wants to hear – you’ve got a brain tumour, it’s very large, and it’s going to take big-time surgery to get it out.
Speaking from his recovery bed only one month after surgery, Paul shares the surprising positives that he believes could help any dad facing a life-changing curveball. “Laughter is the greatest healing medicine there is,” he explains. “Behind Endone, of course.”
1. Acknowledge the big fear and don’t bullshit the kids
“The greatest fear when illness happens is always – will that person die? I have twin 14-year-old girls and their only exposure to death has been an old dog and a friend’s daughter who died aged seven from a cancerous brain tumour. This was the sum total of their limited experience of death.
“Understandably, my diagnosis brought a lot of fear and uncertainty into the house. I decided it was OK at my girls’ age for them to see me process this possibility openly, not in private. We talked about death – it was unlikely, but it was discussed.
“We also decided early to not bullshit to the kids. Whilst we were delicate with the terminology we used, kids’ bullshit meters are set bloody low these days. They can Google ‘brain tumours’ and calculate your survival predictions to the nearest percentage. And they did. It was important for the trust bond not to be broken. Listen, acknowledge and respond to their fears openly.”
2. Family is everything – work as a team
“When I got the phone call you never think you’ll get it was a huge shock. But the good part was the family unit swung into action immediately. It was like a friggin’ SWAT team. We did stuff we’d never done before. We had to be real.
“First up, we had a family meeting and established a team mentality that was: “We’re in this together”. A bond was created immediately and petty rivalries were put in perspective.
“This is the single most comforting thing you can experience as a sick father. Pure unconditional family love through a common goal – albeit coping with my possible but unlikely death.
“The family unit is based on roles and responsibilities. Typically the parents fulfil both – mum does this, dad does this and all I need to do as the child is clean my room, do my homework and not be a dickhead. Putting individual and team responsibilities onto two 14-year-old girls is a major mindset shift.
“The truth is it took weeks for both kids to step up. Not to say they didn’t care, but they don’t know what they don’t know. It took a while for everything to sink in – they were functioning in a state of uncertainty.
“Once we realised this as parents, we both looked to create certainty, reset our roles and deal only in the known. We set timelines, boundaries, open communication and, all of a sudden, the family started to resemble a high-performing team. Everything became easier.
“That was the coolest feeling ever as a dad, to see your children accepting responsibility and taking action. Our team affirmation was “We’ve totally got this”. We kept repeating this and one of my daughters even wrote it on a heart and put it in my toiletry bag which I found just before I went if for my Craniotomy.”
3. Discover the power of gratitude
“OK, so here’s the big message and learning. We started to look for the gifts in the whole experience and feel gratitude everywhere for little things we never noticed before.
“It was about finding the upside to every micro experience. For the girls – on a small scale – hospital visits meant treats, their mum could now drop them at school not the bus stop and they started having more meaningful conversations with their friends. But there were abundant green shoots of positivity in everything. Every experience was looked at through positive minds.
“We invented ‘tumour humour’. Laughter is the greatest healing medicine there is, after Endone, of course. Love came into the family everywhere. And with love came gratitude for each person. Suddenly, this whole thing started to look like a win. Who saw that coming? Not me.
“When the family started functioning as unit we realised the game had changed. The truth is this has been the best experience for the family. One we’re now actually grateful for. Buddha says learn to love what you hate and hate what you love. We’re now grateful for the illness.
“For me, I was particularly grateful for the smaller authentic moments. I so appreciate all the girls’ support and seeing who they really are. They have, in turn, witnessed me overcoming pain, uncertainty and returning to be a stronger man who’s more vulnerable both emotionally and physically.”
4. Love their Mum openly
“As a father the coolest thing you can give your children I believe, is to love their mother. This sets up so many of their values.
“During this experience, my daughters have seen us come together the way we did when we were in our 20s, and they just dine out on it. You can see and feel the joy they get from seeing their parents unite – just like Dale In The Castle!! That’s a hugely powerful gift in itself.
“So there you go. What could have been an incredibly bleak and destabilising experience has, in the end, well and truly opened our hearts. As a father, my brain tumour has been a profoundly positive experience and one that I’ll use to become a better leader in other areas of my life.”