Archive for November, 2010

My mother’s surgery goes without a hitch. I make jokes throughout the surgical check-in process (it’s my coping mechanism when I’m nervous, you should see me with immigration agents or cops!). My mother is a bit embarrassed, but understands that I’m nerve-wracked too. They let me accompany her as she changes into her hospital gown, puts all her valuables into a plastic bag, and the nurses go over her vitals. It’s time to wheel her into surgery and the nurse tells me, “This is a good time for hugs.” I panic for a moment, as if she’s implying this is the last hug I’ll ever give my mother. I wait for many hours, and am so relieved when the surgery is over and I can hold her hand, look into her eyes. She spends the next five days at the hospital, and is so happy to get back to the comfort of her home.

One day, as I’m visiting my mom in the hospital, I get an unexpected call. The prior week, I received a free mammogram and they want me to return for a diagnostic mammogram. There are several panicked phone calls about coverage and my lack of health insurance. It seems unimaginable that my mom has colon cancer and now I could have breast cancer (and be uninsured)! I take several deep breaths, plaster a smile on my face and re-enter my mother’s hospital room. No need to worry her about anything. I find comfort from my friends who all tell me they frequently have follow up from mammograms. The last year has been about staying present, and I try not to skip ahead to the mastectomy.  A few weeks later, I return for my mammogram and when I get the cancer-free results jump up and down and whoop with joy. All the women in the waiting room are wearing identical smocks and quietly smile at my reaction, probably hoping for the same outcome. Once I’m alone in the dressing room, I collapse with relief and cry. It’s exhausting being strong and positive all the time, and I just need to relish in the real fear that I had for myself and that I have for my mother.

A few weeks pass, and it’s time to meet with the oncologist to review her pathology results and treatment options. I surround myself with love and support, and we cram four people into the exam room, my mom, my friend who was a social worker, my uncle who is a nurse and me. They tell my mom she needs chemotherapy and I feel like I’ve been socked in the stomach. A protective wall goes up and I’m skeptical to their advice, suddenly dubious of the entire medical industry. Six months of chemotherapy called modified FOLFOX 6, it sounds like a bad science fiction character. As we leave the hospital my friend quietly asks me, “Why wouldn’t you want her to get the chemotherapy?” And she’s right. In the end, it’s not up to me either. My mom wants the chemotherapy. She’s almost perky about the entire thing. She wants to kill cancer forever, and alleviate any fear of recurrences. I’m the one who feels scared and sad, and it’s not even my disease!

It takes me less than 24 hours to decide to stay in Seattle for her treatment. At first, I toy with the idea of returning to Southeast Asia for the first few months. The chemotherapy is cumulative, and the side effects are supposed to be harder in the final months. I try to imagine myself lying on a beach in Vietnam while my mom is undergoing chemotherapy and I know I would get an ulcer from the stress and worry.  I tell my mom that I’m going to stay and she simply thanks me. She never asked me to stay, and when she doesn’t try to get me to leave, I realize how much she needs me to be here. Later, she tells me I shouldn’t work and should relax, start writing my book and we will buy a desk for my room. The next day, she gives me a hard drive for my laptop, convinced my writing will overflow the memory-ha!

Up until this news, I had every intention of returning to Vietnam at Thanksgiving to travel, volunteer, and then settle down in an apartment in Danang, adopt a child, write a book and start consulting. I was on a path. I had a new life waiting for me. This sudden shift feels like I’m putting my life on hold. But then I realize nothing is on hold. I am still living every single day of my life. I love Seattle. I’m so lucky to have the flexibility to be able to stay in Seattle to help my mom. This time with her is really a gift, since we haven’t lived together since I was 14 years old.

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