To the degree that my book speaks truth about not just the cancer experience but the human experience in general, I want people to be able to find themselves in the writing. And in so doing, I want them to realize that they have never been and will never be alone in their suffering. ... I want them to find within the rich, twisted, and convoluted details of my life truth and wisdom that will bolster and comfort them through their joys and sorrow, laughter and tears
I've spent the years since my diagnosis grieving and exploring the darkness, but I've also basked in the love and compassion shown to me, not unlike the love shown to my grandmother. I have loved my family and they me much more than if I had not become sick; we've learned to communicate with each other with an intimacy I would have never dreamed possible had life gone the way I had planned. Because of my insistence on honesty in confronting death, my girls show an emotional maturity, compassion, and appreciation for life rarely seen in children of their age. We have traveled far and wide; I oversaw the combination and construction of a beautiful home that my children will grow into for years to come. I've rejoiced in the ordinary, too, the things that others take for granted and even resent—the cooking and the parent-teacher conferences and the forcing of homework and violin practice. I have lived even as I am dying, and therein lies a certain beauty and wonder. As it turned out, I have spent these years unwinding the miracle that has been my life, but on my terms
Time's amnesiac power is necessary and healthy, for it encourages life and living, allowing room for new experiences and new emotions, which come with engaging in the present and being vested in the future, and places our memories where they should be—in the past, to be accessed when we need and want them. And perhaps most important and relevant to you, time allows for the gaping wounds of the past to close so that we can move forward, so that even the most painful experiences can be remembered with some objectivity, from which we can learn and grow. I want you to go on living, Josh. I want you to obsess about sports. I want you to dine in fine restaurants. I want you to travel the world. I want you to raise our children to the best of your ability, which will require you to be so very present and focused on the here and now.
In the ultimate act
Somehow, some way, with the momentum against him, Federer dug deep and held serve and proceeded to break Nadal to level the set, held his own serve easily again, and then broke Nadal again. He won the match soundly shortly thereafter. Josh and I, our hearts racing, were jumping up and down, dancing for joy, hugging, kissing, highfiving. The kids would definitely have thought we were certifiably crazy, but we had locked them in our bedroom at the far end of the apartment and turned on nonstop Monster High. In his postmatch interviews, Federer spoke of how sweet this victory was, given that it had taken him so long, given how hard he had worked, given his age, given all the naysayers.
Josh never stopped believing in Federer. He has never stopped believing in me, either, never. Even when I've said that it's game over for me, that I am dying. I told him that this past birthday would be my last. My emphatic statements and the disheartening scan results no doubt have made him question his own belief, but he still held firm. I told him he was delusional, that he just couldn't accept my death, that he had to tell himself I still had a chance for his own sanity. He would look at my skin and watch how I move about and he would say, You're not dying. He would say, As long as you are still playing, you still have a chance.
But Allende reminds me that there is value in our individual memo ries, our own past, our own history; after all, what are we but the products of all our experiences? Rather than looking without to find inspiration, strength, and hope, sometimes we must look within ourselves to discover and discern our own stories. There are, after all, miracles in there. Of course, looking within is much more difficult, for we must confront our painful mistakes, our fears, our weaknesses, our insecurities, our ugliness.
Ever since I was diagnosed, I've learned that so much of life's hardship becomes more bearable when you are able to build and lean on a network of loyalty, support, and love, and gather around you people (even your contractor) who will stand by you and help you. But the thing is you have to let them in; you have to let them see the heartache, pain, and vulnerability, and not cloak those things in a shameful darkness, and then you have to let those people who care about you help you.
I’ve never been a beauty, nor have I ever been the smartest person at school or work, but because of the circumstances of my life and the successes I have achieved despite those circumstances, I have always believed myself to be strong and resilient. I am good at looking directly at the harshness of life's reality. I have faith and pride in my own spiritual invincibility
I couldn't say it better than Albert Camus, who wrote:
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there's something stronger—something better, pushing right back.
on a test in high school—and by “poorly"I mean by my nerdy standards a 92 instead of a 95, or a 97 instead of 100—I would come home tearful, convinced that this unacceptable grade was the greatest tragedy of my young life, and indeed it was. My parents were not the typical crazy Asian American parents who put pressure on us. Yes, my dad would pay us for every A we got on our report cards, but there were never any demands or threats. In response to my crying, my mother would ask in her broken English, “Did you do the best you can?” Of course I had. “Then that's all you can do," she would tell me.
It was such simplistic advice, and yet it was so true. Your best effort is all you can ask of yourself—no more and no less. And once you've done that, there can be no regrets.
The sense that we ever had control over any of this seems nothing but a mockery now, a cruel illusion. And also, a lesson: we control nothing. Well, that’s not exactly true. We control how honest we are with ourselves and others. We conin the effort we have put into living. We control how we respond to impossible news. And when the time comes, we control the terms of our surrender.
Beyond this, I can do nothing to make more dominoes fall. I must accept that I have no control over the factors that will really determine whether I live or die from this disease, that whether more dominoes fall is about God, faith, luck, prayer, hope, sheer randomness, or some combination of the above. And therein lies the intersection of Josh's science, studies, and statistics and my belief in those unquantifiable forces. If we can find the sweet spot in between those poles, I may beat this cancer yet.
Nothing hurts quite as much as young love, when it seemed like my entire sense of self-worth was tied to these guys who so brutally rejected me, leaving me feeling utterly unlovable. Each time, I swore that I was done with men, that I didn't want to put my heart at risk again, that I didn't need a man to make me happy. And each time, time would make me forget the pain. Time and experience taught me new strength and courage, giving me the fortitude or the foolishness to put my heart at risk again and again-until I finally met Josh.
I think I will always oscillate between embracing and rejecting hope. I think I will always live somewhere in between today and eight years and forty years from now. But what I do know about hope is that it is an everlasting and indelible part of my spirit; it is there even when I feel hopeless, a perpetual flame. I have felt its faint warmth even in my darkest moments, even as I've sought to squash it. I know the flame, however weak or strong, will burn so long as I live. And near the end of my days, when it is clear that more life is not possible, my hope will evolve into something else, into hope for my children, hope for the human race, hope for my soul.
At some point, when I had accomplished all that I had dreamed of accomplishing and indeed gotten married and had children and done those things that everyone once said I wouldn't be able to do, I began to feel self-worth and love from within as well as from without. But to a large degree, I could never let go of those feelings of being unwanted and unloved, so ingrained had they been in me from such a tender age
I'm pretty sure that feelings of insecurity are nearly universal. I see the insecurity already in my children, even though they have had the benefit of nurturing teachers and (I'd like to think) nurturing parents. I'm always amazed at how the beautiful and intelligent never feel quite beautiful or intelligent enough, how people constantly agonize over not being thin enough or charming enough. And all of these things matter-beauty, intelligence, weight, and hundreds of other criteria by which people judge themselves because these are the characteristics people select to determine whether they're indeed desirable and lovable.
As I've said before, battling cancer occurs in not just the physical realm, but also the nonphysical realm, where the mind and spirit are challenged to find the will to keep fighting, to feel happiness despite the sadness, to find light amid the darkness, to laugh through the fear, to live with abandon and joy under the specter of death. I hope that no matter how difficult the physical war becomes for me and no matter how I may struggle through the nonphysical war, I will always confront my disease with the same kind of courage, honesty, grace, and acceptance that Kathryn has exhibited, she who learned so much about her disease and its treatments, both established and experimental; she who shared that knowledge as no other; she who recognized when chemo was compromising the quality of her life during the little time she had remaining; she who chose to accept with dignity the overwhelming power of the cancer in her body.
Yet the bliss that can come from my cancer-fighting journey cannot be so different from the bliss I once knew traveling the world. There are extraordinary people whom I have met and whom I have yet to meet on my present course. There are lessons to be learned, resourcefulness and discipline to be cultivated, good to be done, and courage, strength, grace, resolve, and pride to be gained. I know this to be true
Many may disagree, but I have always believed, always, even when I was a precocious little girl crying alone in my bed, that our purpose in this life is to experience everything we possibly can, to understand as much of the human condition as we can squeeze into one lifetime, however long or short that may be. We are here to feel the complex range of emotions that come with being human. And from those experiences, our souls expand and grow and learn and change, and we understand a little more about what it really means to be human. I call it the evolution of the soul. Know that your mother lived an incredible life that was filled with more than her “fair” share of pain and suffering, first with her blindness and then with cancer. And I allowed that pain and suffering to define me, to change me, but for the better.
My sweet babies, I do not have the answer to the question of why, at least not now and not in this life. But I do know that there is incredible value in pain and suffering, if you allow yourself to experience it, to cry, to feel sorrow and grief, to hurt. Walk through the fire and you will emerge on the other end, whole and stronger. I promise. You will ultimately find truth and beauty and wisdom and peace. You will understand that nothing lasts forever, not pain, or joy. You will understand that joy cannot exist without sadness. Relief cannot exist without pain. Compassion cannot exist without cruelty. Courage cannot exist without fear. Hope cannot exist without despair. Wisdom cannot exist without suffering. Gratitude cannot exist without deprivation. Paradoxes abound in this life. Living is an exercise in navigating within them.