Invictus

“Invictus” by William Ernest Henley is my favorite poem.  The first time I heard it was in junior high school when a classmate recited it in English class as part of her bid to deliver the commencement speech at our eight grade graduation.  I ended up winning the competition and delivered my speech to my classmates and their parents (as if I knew what I was talking about) but, as hard as I try, now I can’t remember what I said.  All I remember from that competition was the poem from her speech and how it made chills run up and down my arms.  More

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Moments of Happiness

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I never thought for a second that I would feel happiness in its truest unadulterated form ever again. I was certain that every second in which I felt even a modicum of happiness at seeing Mia grasp concepts like the solar system or pride in watching Belle walk fearlessly into her first day of school would be forever tarnished by cancer and that cancer’s ominous presence would invariably invade every moment of my life going forward. In many ways, what I suspected would happen has happened. The joy I felt in watching my little girls dance with abandon under the flashing lights of another child’s birthday party last weekend was marred by the thoughts in my head about how many future moments like this I would not be able to witness. In the midst of all that music and raucous screaming, I cried for all the things that I might never see. That night when Mia told me that the tooth fairy was going to come for her tooth and leave money under her pillow, I responded that the tooth fairy wouldn’t be coming until she was at least five or six years old. All the while I wondered if I would be around to be her tooth fairy, and if I weren’t, I worried about how my sweet sensitive Mia would cope with my absence.

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Here We Go Again…

In 30 minutes I will leave for the NYU Cancer Center to receive Round 4 of Chemo.  The routine is becoming so familiar, almost as familiar as an old shoe.  I know the nurses.  I know that the needle will hurt when it goes into my port.  I know that Josh will show up and we will have lunch together.  Other than the needle prick, there is no pain for me during chemo.  In fact, I enjoy the quiet time, time to spend with my husband and the friends who show up to keep me company and take me home, time to try the vast variety of food that is offered in that area of Manhattan that is brought right to my chair by the delivery man, time to chat with the social worker who listens to me and Josh so compassionately, and time for me to talk to my body and the chemo about minimizing and withstanding the collateral damage from this round and about the importance of winning this battle in our ongoing war.  I find chemo days strangely comforting and peaceful.  More

Faith, A Lesson of History

Chilean writer, Isabel Allende (most famous for her novel The House of the Spirits) in her memoir, Paula, tells the story of her extraordinary life to her daughter Paula, as she lay in a porphrya-induced coma from which she would never awaken. I read Paula more than 15 years ago and yet a passage, a series of sentiments, recorded on page 23 have never left me, and they come back to me now more powerfully than ever. Allende tells her daughter of her past — a thing she calls her “innermost garden, a place not even my most intimate lover has glimpsed.” “Take it, Paula,” she tells her, “perhaps it will be of some use to you, because I fear that yours no longer exists, lost somewhere during your long sleep — and no one can live without memories.”

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Deals With God

I didn’t grow up with any organized religion. The closest I came was following in the motions of my mother’s ritualistic offerings to the Buddhist gods favored for generations in our ancestral Chinese villages and to the spirits of my ancestors on the first and fifteenth of every lunar month. I stood before the fruit and, on special occasions like Chinese New Year, the poached chicken, fried fish and rice, holding the burning incense, and asked the gods and my ancestors for things like straight A’s and getting into the college of my choice and, of course, health and wealth for my family. During my great grandmother’s and grandmother’s funerals at age 10 and 20, I also imitated unthinkingly the chanting, bowing and kneeling motions of my parents, uncles, aunts, great uncles and great aunts, all garbed in their white robes and headdresses. I didn’t understand the philosophical underpinnings of the rituals, and my mother couldn’t explain them to me the few times I bothered to ask. No one in our family went to temple other than maybe on Chinese New Year and no one read any religious texts. Our quasi-religious practices were very much rooted in popular cultural and mythic traditions of village life dating back hundreds of years, and not in the esoteric teachings of Buddha and his disciples, which would have been more akin to the Judeo-Christian practices of the West. At school I couldn’t help but absorb some of the teachings of Judeo-Christian religion since biblical allusions permeated nearly every poem, play, short story and novel we studied in English class and, as I learned in history class, Judaism and Christianity shaped the course of Western civilization.

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CEA and D.C. — Some Good Things

Both CEA and D.C. are abbreviations representing good developments in my life at the moment.

CEA stands for carcinoembryonic antigen and is a protein typically found in high levels in the blood of those who have colorectal cancer. In a healthy person, CEA is usually 1 or lower; smokers may have CEAs of 2 to 5. Before my surgery, my CEA was 53. I remember calling my NY internist, Dr. N.L. from my hospital bed in Los Angeles about my CEA level before the official biopsy report came back confirming cancer. (Dr. N.L. knew what was going on with me throughout the ordeal and I could always reach him within 30 seconds, night or day. Have I mentioned how much I love my doctors and how this whole experience has reinvigorated my faith in these miracle workers who often get a bad rap? I’ll have to write another post about all the doctors who stepped in to save my life. Maybe it will strengthen or restore, as the case may be, your faith in the medical profession):

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For All My Fitness Instructors, Past and Present

I was a workout fiend long before being diagnosed with colon cancer. I worked out hard four to five times a week, almost always shunning slower and more contemplative classes like yoga and Pilates for the hard core stuff, the stuff that would get my heart rate up to 90% of my maximum target heart rate and make me want to vomit from the exertion — studio cycling, rope jumping, boot camp, rowing. As a busy working mom, I didn’t have much time for the gym and so whatever time I could spare for the gym could not be wasted with anything that didn’t push my body to its limits. The gym has been a part of my life since my college days, except back then gym time was intended to satisfy my PE requirement to graduate. Over the years my reasons for exercising expanded. Obviously, I wanted to look good. And obviously, I had some vague notion that working out would be good for my health in reducing the risk of things like heart disease and other ailments that seemed like they were years in the future. My frequent solo travels to remote parts of the world demanded a certain amount of self-sufficiency (e.g., carrying 30 pounds on my back), thus giving me another good reason to frequent the gym. When I developed gestational diabetes, I learned that exercise was said to help control blood sugars. When I had one child and then two children, I realized that taking care of kids in the City requires a LOT of strength and stamina. Hauling two children weighing a total of 60 pounds, one on my back and one in front, up and down subway stairs couldn’t always be avoided and I was ever so grateful then for those innumerable hours I had put into the gym. Of course, I didn’t see before my diagnosis the best reason of all for so crazily working out — preparing my mind and body to fight cancer.  More

Splendor in the Grass and Glory in the Flower

In the first 24 hours after my diagnosis, every time I thought about my children, unrelenting sobs racked my body. I had often speculated about the type of women my girls would become one day. The thought of not being there to see whether Mia would indeed grow into a bright, sensitive, aloof beauty and Belle into a gregarious, charismatic spitfire made my already pained stomach hurt even more and my heart ache as nothing else could. The image of them crying inconsolably and in futility for me, for me to lie with them at night and kiss their boo-boos away, for someone — anyone — to love them as much and as well as me, tore my insides into a million ragged pieces. More

No Man Is An Island

The other day I was walking down Broadway in my usual oblivious state, on the way from an acupuncture session to a therapy session, and this dark-haired guy in front of me turns around, stares right at me and asks, “Hey, weren’t you at the Natural History Museum on Labor Day with your two girls?” I stared back and then asked, “Hey, weren’t you the guy standing behind us in the ticket line?” The guy was on vacation with his daughter from Florida and they were on their way to see a show. Now what are the odds of that happening in this city of 13 million people? I bet they’re lower than my not-so-great odds of surviving stage IV colon cancer.

Anyhow, the incident got me thinking about the threads of our lives. Our lives are an intricate, chaotic weave, where threads touch, entwine and twist and then diverge to maybe come together again. Many threads are joined for a long time representing the long-standing relationships that typically exist between siblings, spouses, and parents and children. More threads touch for but a second, much like me and this man from Florida, and have no discernible significance. But sometimes, the intersection of two threads, however brief, can have a profound impact on the lives represented by those threads. More

Dreams Forsaken

Labor Day Weekend was bittersweet. Actually, it was damn hard. We had a staycation. We went to the Prospect Park Zoo. Mia surprised me with not just her willingness but her absolute delight at having the goats eat out of her hands — she was terrified when she last tried over a year ago. We went to the Natural History Museum where crazy Belle fell flat on her face and whacked herself in the head. It was like so many other weekends we’ve spent doing the fun, enriching things that you’re supposed to do when you live in the City. So why was it so damn hard?

Because, we weren’t supposed to be here. I wasn’t supposed to entertain Mia’s first natural questions about why so-and-so is old and why animals and people die, all while wondering whether my little baby would have to experience death so personally way too early in her young life. I wasn’t supposed to think about taking the vegetables out of the refrigerator hours before preparing dinner for fear of exacerbating the neuropathy in my hands. Josh and I weren’t supposed to weep uncontrollably into each other’s arms on a Sunday night over the prospect of him being without a wife and our children being without a mother. More