Dreams Coming True

Enough gloom and doom from me.  After the drama of last Monday, I returned last Thursday to the cancer center and since all was normal, I was able to receive my Avastin treatment.  My CEA also went down by two points in three weeks (from 9.0 to 7.0).  It’s a good sign that the chemo is doing something.  Or maybe it’s one of my crazy alternative treatments???  More about that another time.  Josh and I then went on a quick weekend jaunt to Southern California without the children for a friend’s wedding.  The brief respite with time in the healing light and warmth of the sun was lovely.  Josh and I hadn’t returned to Los Angeles since my diagnosis 19 months ago and were nervous about potential post-traumatic stress as we revisited the scene of the crime, so to speak.  But it was fine.  We tried to make new memories to blot out the pain of the old ones.  

So this week, today, at this moment, I’m in an okay place, emotionally and physically.  No crying.  No despondency.  No lugubriousness.  No pain.  No plague. I’ve accepted my new reality.  It’s like I’ve gotten used to the black cloud that perpetually hangs overhead, the constant ache in my heart each time I hug my children, the longing that grips me when I watch Josh dance with his daughters and the knowledge that I won’t be there to witness them dance when or if they get married.  It’s like I’ve gotten so used to the sadness that it has stopped hurting so much.  I know the darkness awaits and will engulf me when the next setback comes, but for now it has receded into the background of my consciousness.  I research immunotherapy trials – none of which I qualify for because I don’t meet the definition of “measurable disease” (yet).  I research other studies, trials and treatments.  I prepare for the worst by ticking through the list of practical things that need to be done before I die.  For now, this is all I can do.

Oh, and I’m planning a family trip to Hawaii in March during the girls’ spring break.  That’s the other thing I can do.  I can live!  Josh and I have always wanted to go to Hawaii. The idea is kind of like a dream of ours.    In fact, Josh wanted to go for our honeymoon but I said no, insisting on Egypt and Jordan instead.  I said we would have time for Hawaii later, that it was an easy place to travel to, one that we could visit when we were older and when we had kids.  Ideally, I would have liked the kids to be a little older to make such a long trip, but I don’t have the luxury of waiting anymore.  Who knows when things will turn for the worst?  Who knows when I will go back on the hard core chemo that might make it difficult to travel such distances with young children?  Who knows when the cancer might mutate such that it will become invincible to everything I throw at it?  My future is unknowable and no longer belongs to me, not that it ever belonged to me; I just used to think it did before my diagnosis.  All I have is my immediate present.  That’s it.  That’s all any of us have, but for those of us with active metastatic disease, the future is more illusory than it is for the rest of you.

While I’m in a relatively good mood, I wanted to share something fun with you all that has nothing to do with cancer – well, more accurately, I’d say it is minimally related to cancer. In I Am Lost, which I wrote many months ago, I mentioned that I was in the midst of redecorating our main room, which serves as living and dining room and kitchen.  I promised the sharing of pictures when the redecoration was complete in the fall.  Well, the redecoration wasn’t completed until last month.  In this post I give you the big reveal, complete with before and after pictures.  Who doesn’t love an HGTV-like reveal?  My Facebook friends have seen these pictures but here I annotate the pictures with cultural and personal commentary.

Having my new great room, which was professionally designed by an interior decorator, is a dream come true for me.  Why?  Because when I was growing up, my home was aesthetically very unappealing – dirty white walls, greasy stove tops, sofas with their metal insides exposed, threadbare carpeting, mismatched furniture and bedding that still clutters my parents’ house today.  Some of that was because we were so poor and didn’t have the means to acquire nice things.  Of course, I’ve seen plenty of people who have no money manage to make their homes pretty and comfortable with quaint and matching decorative touches.  I daresay that there is something particular to the Southern Chinese and Vietnamese culture in which I grew up, because even those people who had money I knew had ugly homes – sometimes old furniture but also uncoordinated furnishings and gaudy sparkly lighting and an overabundance of fake marble, gold and leather.  As my cousin N once said to me, our parents viewed our homes in a very utilitarian fashion, a place to sleep and eat; money, if one had it (and even if one didn’t really have it), was better spent on Mercedes and BMWs and Louie Viton purses and glitzy diamond earrings, all of those outward indicia of prosperity that the world would recognize when one was out and about.  One’s home was not a place of comfort or luxury, however modest.  One typically did not invite guests to one’s home, other than one’s family, and family weren’t really considered guests anyhow; so there was even less of an incentive to make the home look nice.

There were other things that annoyed me to no end and I’m pretty sure these practices were not idiosyncratic to my parents.  They would buy a new lamp and keep the plastic that covered the shade, and there it would stay even as it collected layers and layers of dust; my parents said the plastic was necessary to protect the lamp shade from dust.  The same was true of the TV remote controls that came and went through the years – all plastic wrapped with scotch tape to keep everything in place.  And our shiny Yamaha upright piano, something my sister begged and begged my parents for when she was studying piano, stood covered under at least two layers of blankets, again so the precious piano would be protected from dust; to this day, the piano remains so.  And for goodness sake, why did every Chinese / Vietnamese home I enter have to have an ugly bare tubular florescent bulb – the kind that you’d see in a school or hospital – hanging in the living room and casting the icky glaring light on all the ugly furnishings?  And there were also the tacky plastic beads that hung in doorways and the even tackier poster-sized calendars featuring semi-pornographic images of Chinese female movie stars that the Chinese supermarkets gave out for free at the end of each year and which seemed to adorn every room in the house.  At some point, my sister (who is six years older than I and has an innate design sense) forbade my parents from putting up the florescent bulbs, beads and calendars.  (My parents did insist on hanging a more toned-down calendar depicting innocuous scenery in the kitchen because they needed to know what day it was in the Western and Chinese calendars, which was so important for my parents’ semi-monthly offering to the gods; my sister relented).  We maintained an alter to the Buddhist gods on a shelf, the kind you would find in most Chinese homes and businesses.  My parents burned incense daily with the smoke wafting up to the ceiling, leaving a brown stain that just grew darker and bigger with the years.  There was never any home improvement, never any repainting or repair, never any removal of the plastic that littered our home.

As a teenager I would walk into Crate & Barrel or IKEA showrooms with wonder and longing.  Remember, I grew up in an almost entirely Chinese and Vietnamese community, so I didn’t experience personally the American or Western aesthetic until I was in college.  Those showrooms were the closest I came for a long time.  How I loved the beauty in those showrooms.

It was my former realtor and now friend, a black gay man with oodles of style and charm, who first suggested that I hire an interior designer to redo my great room.  My instant reaction was, that’s insane.  I could never spent money on an interior designer.  After all, I’d managed to design and furnish the places I’d lived in before and they had turned out decently.  My Chinese frugal values told me an interior designer would be a complete waste of money, an unacceptable extravagance.

But then I went shopping for a couch to replace our sunken, stained and sad Room & Board couch that had sustained the abuse of two children.  I dragged Josh and the girls with me.  It was a miserable experience.  I was also in the midst of my first cycle of treatment and was living under the stresses of a cancer diagnosis.  I started to think a designer might be a really good idea from a practical perspective.  I realized too that I wanted this; I wanted beauty, comfort and luxury in my home to the extent I could afford it; I wanted the realization of a long unacknowledged dream and now was the time for me to make my dreams come true if at all possible.  I also wanted Josh and my children to have a place of beauty, comfort and luxury, a place that is a reflection of me, a place that will remind them of their mother one day.  Even back then I knew I was thinking that this would be part of my legacy to them.

Fast forward a year since I first contacted my interior designer, a lovely French woman from Martinique, and I have the room I’ve dreamed of since I was a little girl.  Work started in early December with the room rendered unusable for nearly two weeks.  It was while the entertainment center was being installed that I learned of the spread of the cancer to my lungs.  My contractor called me in the days immediately after and casually asked me how I was doing.  I started crying to him over the phone, to this ruggedly handsome Hungarian man who was completely caught off guard.  He told me how sorry he was and asked me to let him know how he could help.  I responded, “Just make my home beautiful for me.  I want a beautiful place in which to live and probably die one day.”  Now, I have a devoted contractor on my side.  A girl always needs a handy guy around, especially when her husband is hopelessly unhandy.  In the midst of the storm that rages around me, I find so much peace and happiness in this space.  I never knew until now how powerful something like the aesthetics of a living space could be.  My next project is to redo the girls’ room, to transform their room into a place that will grow with them through the years.

So without further ado, here are the BEFORE pictures.

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And here are the AFTER pictures.  We repainted.  We added a backsplash, under cabinet lighting, a light fixture over the dining area and additional window treatments.  All the furniture is new.  The biggest addition is a custom build entertainment center with build-in lighting.  The lighting is particularly stunning in my opinion, accentuating the architectural details in the ceiling.

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Maxine
    Feb 13, 2015 @ 22:06:37

    Love the after pictures….what a great job! Enjoy your beautiful home.

    Reply

  2. baint1
    Feb 13, 2015 @ 23:10:25

    This is why I love being an Interior Designer..I realize I am a luxury item but I know people are glad they hired me when they see their new spaces. I wish I was close to NYC..I would do your girls room for free and just for the fun of creating spaces they could grow into. I’m so glad you got your dream space and will be going on a dream vacation too!

    Reply

  3. Kit Grady
    Feb 14, 2015 @ 09:37:29

    Really wonderful pictures and so happy you are resurfacing to enjoy your now and making memories. I try to enjoy our now as we also live in this new reality. Thanks for putting many of my same thoughts into words.

    Reply

  4. Bill Ide
    Feb 14, 2015 @ 10:08:14

    Thanks for reminding that each day of peace is to be lived to the maximum. The new New is great.

    Reply

  5. Cirincione, Norma F.
    Feb 14, 2015 @ 11:34:42

    Julie,

    This post is so beautifully written and even more inspirational than usual. Your new renovated great room is just gorgeous. I hope you and your family enjoy it to the fullest!

    You and Josh and your daughters are always in my heart.

    With love, Norma

    Reply

  6. Doug Williams
    Feb 14, 2015 @ 19:45:20

    This is such a good post. If Josh is “hopelessly unhandy”, that is partly my fault. Knowing my own limitations in that arena, I secured a job for him at a local hardware store. If that experience wasn’t sufficient to raise his level of handiness, well, what can be done? I think of you, Josh and your precious daughters every day.

    Reply

  7. Domitilla
    Feb 16, 2015 @ 00:02:48

    Enjoy the new spaces and holidays. Celebrate life in any possible way. Thinking of you constantly, dear.

    Reply

  8. cjshomenta
    Feb 16, 2015 @ 09:40:32

    I love the new apartment, here and on FB. And have a great time in Hawaii! When we went with the kids they were all post high school aged, so most of the fun things they liked wouldn’t apply, except go to a luau. You will all love it.

    I’m glad the cloud has lifted a bit. You know I believe acceptance of the most likely outcome, even while doing all you can to improve on that most likely outcome (time, quality of life, etc.), lets you live and enjoy life as much as you can. You all have lots of living to do now!

    Reply

  9. Della
    Feb 17, 2015 @ 17:32:25

    Yay!!! Love it! Wonder if Josh was really okay going from Blue to Peach. LOL

    Reply

  10. Poorab
    Feb 21, 2015 @ 02:26:52

    Wow! That lighting! That built
    in entertainment set! And I gen though I care very little about backsplashes, I have to admit, yours is pretty awesome.
    Your great room was always pretty incredible but, well, now it’s at a whole new level. Btw, handiness is over rated 🙂

    I think no matter how hard I try or tried I would never be a good interior designer. But I know what I like when I see it. This. I. Like.

    Reply

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