F*ck Cancer

This is the fourth time my son is fighting for his life. The first time was when he was diagnosed at 5 years old with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). He only did two months of chemotherapy but it didn’t work (this is called refractory leukemia). We had his older brother tested to see if he was a match for a bone marrow transplant and fortunately he was a perfect match. After four years and seven months, he relapsed. The search for an unrelated match was an uphill battle (him being biracial). Usually your donor should be the same ethnicity as you. But by God’s grace, we found one all the way from Germany. She is full blooded German though which is interesting. Her stem cells were infused on September 2, 2015. Three years and eight months later, he relapsed again. That was just two weeks ago (May 6, 2019).

Cancer, we will beat you again. And thank goodness for science, we have a plan to kill you for good.

I’m angry and bitter but I can’t keep feeling this way. I need to be strong for my son. I need to fight for him. And cancer can go fuck off!

Setting Me Free

Last year I made a pact with myself: in order to move on with my life, I need to stop thinking about the past, to stop worrying about the future, and to only focus on the present. But last night, it all brought me back to the past and once again felt all the emotions I have been trying to escape from.

Before I temporarily deactivated my Facebook a few months ago, I was answering all those silly questions that appeared on my profile page. The idea of these random questions was to learn more about the Facebook user. I remember writing, “Netflix binging” as a joke for my New Year’s resolution. It seems the joke’s on me because I find myself in front of the TV a lot lately.

Last night, I cried myself to sleep after watching Me Before You. And I don’t mean soft tears. I was actually sobbing and at times hysterical. I had an outburst of emotion, not really sure where it was coming from (most likely from my lingering PTSD). The movie’s story line does not in any way mirror my life but it somehow touched me deeply, taking me back to all the difficult memories I had at the hospital when my son was there for his cancer treatment. Then I thought of my dad and the last time we spoke before he passed away.

It must have been the subject of death and suffering that made me very emotional. Because those two things have unfortunately often touched my life in the past few years. We practically lived in the hospital for months and were surrounded by children with cancer, some in very terminal stages. I’ve seen kids who were sent home because there was nothing more that their doctors could do for them. We knew kids who passed away and after seeing their young life taken away from them, I couldn’t help but think, what is really one’s purpose on earth?

Last year I made a pact with myself: in order to move on with my life, I need to stop thinking about the past, to stop worrying about the future, and to only focus on the present. But last night, it all brought me back to the past and once again felt all the emotions I have been trying to escape from.

Another movie had me thinking of the future: Arrival (if you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it). In the movie’s ending, I was confronted with the question,”If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?” I pondered on it and honestly I’m not sure what I would do. Although if I have seen the suffering we’ve all been through, would that motivate me to change my life? Would I have married my husband knowing that we would eventually have difficult challenges, give birth to kids whose lives will become familiar with suffering—one from depression and the other from childhood cancer? My husband said he wouldn’t do anything differently. Because according to him life is all about suffering anyway (taken from the principles of Buddhism) and there’s no escaping from it.

The movie, Revolutionary Road, was perhaps the movie (out of the three I’ve seen recently) that made the biggest impact on me. The movie is about yearning for fulfillment and passion in life and seeking to escape from the conventionality of suburbia. Ah, sounds too familiar! As I desperately try to escape from conventional, something in the universe seems to conspire to always bring me back.

You might be wondering what this post’s title got to do with my Netflix binging lately. It’s me, living my life freely by laying in bed all day and binging on thought provoking movies….

Ok LOL that’s a joke!

The truth is I’ve finally woken up and realized I have been very conservative with my approach in life. By living freely is to take more risks, be more courageous, and just be able to say what the fuck! Life is too short to limit myself.

Living free also means standing my ground. On the day of my departure to France last October, my husband complained all the way to the airport when he found out I was going to be gone longer than he expected. Normally I’d budge and cut my trip shorter. Because that’s just me, always giving in and catering to other people’s needs. But I stood my ground and told him I’m not changing anything.

Living free is doing things that make ME happy and will no longer be subjected to people’s opinions. And more importantly, to not care if I’m being judged by others because they have certain moral biases. My goal is to make myself happy and fulfilled, but only according to my own definition of what “happy” is and not anyone else’s.

When travel is concerned, if you know me well, travel is my love language. I feel most alive when I’m traveling. After taking a solo trip last year, I found myself again, the person who’s been lost for quite sometime now. I recognized what truly sets me free is to escape from the humdrum of my life by traveling and exploring different countries and cultures, thus, I promised myself nothing will stop me now from doing what I love.

Going back to what my husband said, can we really not escape from suffering? Is life really all about that—pain and suffering?

Perhaps….

But today I am setting my life free by living to the fullest. To be in places I’ve dreamed about. To be happy without feeling guilt. To stop worrying about people’s opinions. And to realize that this is my life and I will live it according to my own rules.

I’ll always have Paris… 

“I need to move around a bit. To shuffle my surroundings. To wake up in cities I don’t know my way around and have conversations in languages I cannot entirely comprehend. There is always this tremendous longing in my heart to be lost, to be someplace else, to be far far away from all of this.”

My life had its share of ups and downs. It has seen a lot of heartaches and disappoitments. After my son’s relapse with cancer, life hasn’t exactly gone back to normal. Life at home is just as stressful as it was. Besides tending to my younger son’s medical and everyday needs, my husband has been suffering  from anxiety attacks. I used to think it was just a once-every-few-months occurrence but lately the attacks have  been occurring with increasing frequency. They often strike out of the blue without any warning even when the atmosphere is relaxed. I also worry about my older son. He recently came out and it was revealed to us in his blog that he’d been bullied in high school. Since this revelation, I’ve been worried sick about him. I’ve been concerned about his happiness and finding love, as I’ve been made aware by my gay friends that a homosexual lifestyle can be very lonely. I think about him a lot and sometimes I make myself sick by overly agonizing about his well-being. And as for me, I believe I still have PTSD. I’ve had countless of sleepless nights drowning  in sorrow. I have done everything to help alleviate the loneliness. I walked. I hiked. I wrote. I read. But no matter what I did, there’s always that feeling that something was still missing.

Perhaps I needed to take time away for myself to recharge my batteries and travel somewhere I’d always wanted to go. In a city where I could do as I wished without regard to what a traveling companion wanted to do. Where I was entirely alone and free. And to be far away from all of this.

I’ve always had this fantasy of being in Paris alone. To wander in the city, without any destination in mind. To go where the moment takes me. To stop rushing from place to place. I want to experience Paris. I want to take chances and have adventures. To learn the art of talking less. To take my time and savor each Parisian minute. To stay at a cafe and survey the scene. Take pictures of anything and everything that catches my eye. To contemplate. To have Paris all by myself, my way.

And I did just that….and more.

I also got to do some of the (touristy) things I missed out on in my previous visits. I have stood in front of the Eiffel Tower many times before  but never got the chance to climb it (that’s because none of my companions wanted to).
And so it was the very first thing I did on this trip.

I didn’t only climb the Eiffel Tower but treated myself to a wonderful lunch at the 58 Tour Eiffel.  For about $50, I had a three course lunch with wine and tea. Was the food good? It wasn’t spectacular. Was it worth it? Absolutely!

I also learned to use a tripod, and taught myself to be self-indulgent by taking a lot of pictures of me. I loved it for a change!

Like the Eiffel Tower, I have never made it on top of the Arc de Triomphe in my previous visits.

And so once again, I climbed another famous structure! The benefits of solo travel!

I took a million pictures of the Eiffel Tower in various filters. Regardless of how many times I have seen this tower, I can’t get tired of it. It never gets old. Paris never gets old.

I wanted to get lost in the moment, to go anywhere without a destination in mind, to walk around aimlessly, and…I did! My wish, granted: I wandered, got lost, but found my way back. Now I know what it means when people say do not be afraid to get lost!

But once again, I got lost…this time in the company of books at Shakespeare And Company,

Someday I’ll remind myself these words by Hafiz: I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.

And to also remember that little things can instantly bring a ray of sunshine such as a free bench.

I went for a walk at Jardin du Tuileries, to contemplate life…

and to admire the beauty of the autumn leaves.

Reminding myself once again that no matter what life brings, it is still beautiful just like those flowers in bloom…

To always stop and appreciate the moment. To look around me in awe and be grateful at how lucky I am to be surrounded by such beauty.

One of the great pleasures of being in Paris, that is truly très magnifique, is the art of cafe-sitting. And no one can deny that this city is a gastronomical dream!

I had tea at Mariage Fréres.

I indulged on a cup of rich hot thick chocolat at Angelina.

They say, “To err is human. To loaf is a Parisian.” My daily petit dejeuner were croissants and baguettes.

I drank wine. Every. Single. Day.

But I also ate light on some nights and had this fantastic Salade Nicoise with tuna at a bistro near my hotel. It was so good I went back twice.

I looked up at every building and swooned over the architecture,

and took pictures of whatever that caught my eyes.

I declared that my most favorite metro station is the Abbesses,

and spent a whole afternoon in the Bohemian and artsy Montmartre.

And there, in Montmartre, I found the wall. No, not Donald Trump’s wall, but a wall where love comes together in every language: Le mur des Je t’aime,

I love you wall.

Although Paris is the city of love, it is the perfect place to be alone. It is perfect for strolling by yourself without the constraints of pleasing somebody. Since I usually travel with my family I didn’t realize that this adventure gave me the opportunity to be completely selfish–something I don’t normally get to be when I’m at home. I almost forgot what it felt like to not have to worry about anyone but myself.  It took a lot for me to finally take a step and just go. I left feeling lost, lonely, and wanting to escape life. I was hopeful that during my alone time, I would find myself in the mystery of a new place.

I pondered each night on how much I learned about myself on this trip. I wrote journals with pensive thoughts: what had happened, I wrote, to the woman who loved spontaneity and great adventures? Had she disappeared?

Somehow, when I disconnected myself from the usual habits, I reconnected with myself. Perhaps this is what traveling alone usually does: you rediscover and reconnect with yourself.


Oh, but then again, I wasn’t completely alone. Paris was there with me the entire time–to accompany me on my journey of self discovery. And whenever I start to feel lonely again, or feel that life is passing me by, I will remind myself that I’ll always have Paris.

 

A Reflection on life while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge 

There’s a metaphorical reason why I want to cross a bridge on my milestone birthday. Perhaps everything I had wished for in life is waiting for me at the other end. But the reality is there’s a huge gap between that end and from where I am.

When I  crossed the Golden Gate Bridge a few months ago, I knew this was something I would like to do on my  milestone birthday. I never liked celebrating my birthday but I felt I needed to do something different this year. I came up with the idea to celebrate it by crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. Of course, it has to be in New York, where I feel most alive. 


There’s probably a metaphorical reason why I want to cross a bridge on my birthday. Perhaps a bridge is a symbol of hope, and everything I had hoped for in life is waiting for me at the other end. Unfortunately, there’s a huge gap between that end and from where I am. And before I reach that point, I need to learn the lessons that not everything bad that happened to me happened because of me. I have to learn to love and treat myself better. I need to learn to be my own hero. Without those lessons, I will never be able to fill the empty void. No bridge will ever be built between those two opposite ends without realizing my life is beautiful regardless of how empty I feel.


Life is beautiful indeed and every moment is a celebration of being alive. But my life hasn’t  always been beautiful. It’s been one big struggle and I believe I have faced deep adversities and challenges much more than anyone I know. I have been through abusive and deceitful relationships that forced me to make moral decisions at a young age. I have dealt with life or death situations in the face of childhood cancer. My father passed away without the chance of me saying goodbye and will carry that guilt and regret forever. And more recently, I’ve to face another difficult challenge: my older son’s identity crisis.


If I have to write a memoir, I don’t think anyone would believe a person could go through a series of disappointments and heartaches in just one lifetime. It would put Elizabeth Gilbert’s struggles to shame in her book Eat, Pray, Love but would parallel Cheryl Strayed’s deeply scarred emotions in Wild. But unlike them, I don’t have a bestseller book or any claim to fame. Instead, what I have is a huge reservoir of sadness.


It’s probably right to assume that what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. That’s why I’m still here, standing strong, hoping to fill the empty void someday, and that my life will finally see what’s waiting for me at the other end. But for now, I will have to settle and make peace with the sadness I feel on most days, thinking it’s all part of life–my life.

**if you are interested, the best site I found for a complete guide on walking the Brooklyn Bridge  is by Free Tours by Foot (http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/walking-the-brooklyn-bridge/).

 

I’m in a New York state of mind 

Working as a flight attendant on a trip assignment to New York, I can still remember my excitement as our plane started its descent. Looking down from the plane’s galley window, I saw magnificent views of undulating Manhattan skyscrapers. I felt butterflies in my stomach, that same feeling you get when you’re on a first date with the boy (or girl) of your dreams. I was eager to get off the plane, and as I strapped my seatbelt before landing, my anticipation tremendous. I could already feel the energy in Manhattan that night, waiting for me to uncover. It was my first time to set foot in the city and I was young, curious, and restless.


It was also on that same flight when I met a Frenchman named Michel, who I’m still in touch with up to this day. On my first trip to France, he invited me to visit him in Avignon, a city in southeastern France’s Provence region. En route, my cousin and I had quite the adventure via the three-hour TGV ride from Paris, filled with a lot of laughter and memories we will forever treasure together. When Michel picked us up at the station, he told me he lived with his partner, Louie. “I’m a om-seshual,” he told me. Unable to fathom the words he just uttered, I curled my nose, the thing I do when I have no idea what people are saying, and asked,”what do you mean?” He asked me if it was a problem, if it bothered me that he’s homosexual, it was only when I understood what he said. I laughed and told him it did not bother me one bit. It is, however, strange to me that homosexuals have to “confess” about their sexual orientation when heterosexuals are not subjected to the same expectations, so why should they be? It would be like me saying to someone I first meet, “hi, I’m Boots, I’m heterosexual!” Honestly, it’s no one else’s business who people choose to love. (Last I heard Michel and his new partner were trekking the Himalayas).
Since then, I’ve fallen madly in love with New York and have made lasting memories each time I visited. I’ve also lived there for a year, flying back and forth from JFK and La Guardia airports in 1995, before I moved to Tokyo with my husband shortly after our honeymoon in Italy. The time I was based in New York was probably the highlight of my airline career. The most memorable was a trip to Athens, Greece, where I was asked by the scheduling department, as a favor, to cover the assignment due to shortage of staff. Glad I did because on our way back to the States, the second officer accidentally opened an armed door and blew a slide. As a result, we stayed another night in Athens and had to share a hotel room with two other flight attendants, something out of the ordinary. But that’s not what made that trip extra-ordinary. Once we found out we were there for another night and none of the first class meals were consumed, our crew bagged everything up, from the caviar to the champagne. We brought all the goodies with us to the hotel and had a feast by poolside. If cellphones were already available then, we probably would’ve all been in trouble.

More recently, in the years 2012, 2013, and 2014, I went back each summer— for three years in a row—yet still couldn’t get enough of it. I have an inexplicable love affair with New York and if you ask me about a soul mate or a true love, I will tell you it’s not “who” but rather “where”.


This year, after exactly three years of being apart, I’m back to celebrate a milestone birthday. I normally don’t like celebrating my birthdays, and I never spend it away from my husband and two sons, but this year I felt I needed to be in New York , the city where I feel most alive.


It is after all the day of my birth, when I should feel most alive! So on that day, I crossed the Brooklyn Bridge! Because the next chapters of my life is unknown as life is always unpredictable. So I ask myself what happens next? Well, I’ll just cross the bridge when I get there. 😜

Upclose and personal with San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge

I was that troubled water in the song, Bridge Over Troubled Water, but fortunately I’ve been provided with so many bridges in my life to help ease the heartbreak. Because bridges have that profound meaning in my life, I have added something in my bucket list—to cross (on foot) every bridge I come in contact with. You can guess that when I flew to San Francisco, I had one itinerary in mind.

I don’t know about you but when I see a beautiful bridge I get all the feels. I just don’t see a structure providing a path but I see something profoundly more meaningful than that. Bridges symbolize many things.

 For me personally, a bridge symbolizes hope, resilience, and love. I have experienced depression in the past and my anxiety attacks came in different forms. I believe I was (and most likely still am) experiencing post traumatic syndrome disorder (PTSD) after my son’s first cancer diagnosis (and worse especially after the relapse). Besides my son’s distressful journey with cancer, I’ve also dealt with other heartbreaking situations. My anxiety had resulted to too many sleepless nights.  I have reached a point when I thought life wasn’t going to get better, that my happiness will always be limited. I was that troubled water in the song, Bridge Over Troubled Water, but fortunately, I’ve been provided with so many bridges in my life to help me ease my pain.

I have also learned to worry less today, to roll with the punches, and to accept whatever difficult challenges life throws at me.

Because bridges have that profound meaning in my life, I have added something in my bucket list–to cross (on foot) every bridge I come in contact with. You can guess that when I flew to San Francisco, I had one itinerary in mind.

This week was my older son’s spring break. After a 4-day trip to Portland, I decided we’d stay one night in the city before he goes back to Stanford.


From our hotel in Union Square, the best way to get to the Golden Gate bridge was to take an Uber to the Welcome Center Information Center. From there you will get amazing views of the bridge.


Fortunately, it was a weekday and there weren’t too many people on the bridge despite the beautiful weather.

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It only took us over 20 minutes to walk all the way to the end. My watch showed 1.04 miles one way but according to the official record, it’s 0.8 miles (4200 feet). I’m not exactly sure where it officially starts, but I set my watch from the beginning of the paved walkway on the bridge.


I was taking a ton of photos every few steps and my son jokingly told me that all my pictures will eventually look the same. “Just keep walking and enjoy it, mom! Stop taking pictures,” he said.


I was just really excited that I was able to cross my first bridge. I didn’t think today was going to be possible since just the day prior, the weather forecast was showing heavy winds in San Francisco. One more thing, I was also satisfying one of my personal challenges that I’ve been working on this year (by the way, this marks my 5th personal challenge).

 I had a preconceived idea that crossing the bridge was going to be long and challenging. In fact, it was short and easy.  Perhaps just like life, when we’re faced with a difficult challenge, we always perceive it to be more difficult than it seems. But if we are willing to face all the obstacles and not lose hope, it turns out that life really isn’t that bad after all.

Easter Sunrise

I feel more spiritual now than I have ever been but it has nothing to do with religion. My new found spirituality is centered on being more open and accepting of things I have not been accustomed to.

We did something unconventional this morning. We woke up at the crack of dawn to attend the Easter service at Oak Point Park, an outdoor amphitheater near our house. But that’s not the reason why it’s unconventional: it wasn’t a Catholic service.


I’ve  been raised in the Catholic faith all my life. I went to Catholic schools since kindergarten until we migrated to California when I was fifteen. I almost attended the all-girls Catholic school near  my dad’s office in Los Angeles, however, my cousin convinced me to go to the public school she attended. Boys, she said, were important part of any teenage girl’s life. And so I did (which was almost shocking that my parents agreed).

It was a beautiful service this morning. They had a band singing gospel songs. The pastor’s sermon was about coming back to life, both literally and figuratively. It’s about appreciating every moment of your life. The sermon felt as if it was intended for my family since we have “died”, not only once but twice  before. And both times we have gotten back up, picked up every broken pieces, and moved on. However, we were much stronger the second time around. My younger son reminds me that this is not his second chance at life. In fact it’s his third. At a young age of 12, he is ahead of his years. He has experienced life not many adults have.

As for me, I feel more spiritual now than I have ever been but it has nothing to do with religion. My old self  would’ve thought going to an Easter service, other than Catholic, sacrilegious. But my new found spirituality is centered on being more open and accepting of things I have not been accustomed to.

This year, I decided I was going to be a new person, challenging myself to new adventures and experiences. I have actually amazed myself at keeping up with my personal challenges, no matter how difficult it was. Going to a religious service that wasn’t called “mass” was a challenge. But I did it and it’s uplifting to be less constrained by my own ideals or others people’s ideals.

This is my personal challenge #5!

Happy Easter!

First Easter without our older son!