Monday, March 31, 2008


These are the thoughts I try not to have, but end up having more often than I would like...

A few nights ago, in the bathtub: "Where will I be in less than three weeks from now?" [It's now two weeks and one day until my surgery.]

Last night, at DH's colleague's house for dinner: "Will they say that it was just two weeks ago that they saw me, and how good I looked, how happy?"

In the car on the way to Costco: "I should make a list for Dude of people who should be at my memorial service, no matter what."

No one wants to read me say all this. But it is the case. Some of the time, I really don't have fear about the surgery. Other times, I have panic attacks, like on the bus last week, and I'd wished I had my Ativan but did not, so I did all I could not to have my nervous breakdown, right there, on the #8, right in Chinatown.

I look at music lyrics and quotes and lines of poetry like scriptures, to describe the fucked-up way all this is sacred. I'm not sure how to make anyone understand that.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Can you see it from there? Is it blinding? Yeah, yeah--don't worry. It's only my aura.

Three people this week have told me that I look "brighter," like I'm glowing or something. DH thinks it just because I have hair and eyebrows, that people notice that I look healthier. But that's a boring way to look at it! It makes me feel good to think that that certain something is my aura, and that my aura is kicking ass.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


I'm pretty shitty at taking pictures. I mean, I'm not a shitty photographer, but I'm shitty at remembering to take pictures. This problem has been compounded by the fact that I dropped my camera and busted the LCD screen. So I'm limited to taking pictures the old-fashioned way--using the viewfinder. The horror!

Sadly, I took one picture during the entire time we were in LA, and it is of my girlfriend Irene and her man Peter:

[How cute! And how Irene!]

But I try to see the busted camera as a challenge. The point-and-shoot method with the arm sticking way out in front of me is a game of "how many shots can I take that will turn out decent?" And then the fun of it is that I have no immediate judgement--I have to wait until I download the pics onto my computer before I see how they turn out. So here's me trying to capture my new hair:

I've been told how hip, artsy, cute, and pixie I look. My hair also attracts attention, which in turn makes people pay more attention to my various accoutrements, such as my tattoos and my glasses. It's pretty cool and boosts my self-esteem, which is something that I've been in serious lack of in recent months. Alas, there are still moments when I'm called "Sir" or "Senor," but whatever. There's a certain sexiness to being androgynous.

As the day for the surgery draws near, Dude and I have random discussions about it, which signify to me that even though we're trying not to freak out about it, we think about it all the time. A couple nights ago, we wondered if in fact I could get have a normal pregnancy again, should we choose to have a third child. Right now, we're not even sure if my reproductive system will heal from the chemo, as I haven't even had a period since I started chemo. We were told that early menopause could be a side effect. In any case, should I be able to have children again someday, would I be able to carry a child, given that my abdominal muscles will no longer be there, and in their place, I will have a wire mesh to hold in my innards? So we looked this up online, and indeed, few women have ever carried their babies to term after having this surgery, and fewer still had the exact surgery I'm having. Most women are beyond childbearing age when they have the TRAM-flap surgery done, and those who have had it done and had children only had one breast removed and reconstructed. I found exactly ONE woman online who had a bilateral mastectomy and TRAM-flap reconstruction who got pregnant, but I don't know how it ended up for her, as she didn't make any more posts on the forum that she posted on. It's a question that my plastic surgeon didn't bring up, probably because she's not accustomed to discussing such issues with her patients.

In any case, we are moving along as planned. And we will deal with these issues in the future, if we must. The problem with our lives right now is that there is so much that is uncertain--big ticket items--but there's nothing we can do about that uncertainty. We can only move forward the best way we know how.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunny Southern California, Riding the Waves

The husband and I are in LA at the moment. Actually, we're in Santa Monica, but same difference. Dude is sound asleep, while I'm sitting at the kitchen table at our friends' house, enjoying the blindingly bright sunshine blazing outside. Inside, the air is cool, and I'm warming up with a cup of Irish Breakfast tea (hey, the Irish drink tea too!).

As to be expected, I got a lot of how-are-you-doing's, hugs, head rubs (my head is like a soft downy chick), kisses, smiles, and well wishes. Last night, we went to dine with some friends, and at the table were two other women besides myself who had battled cancer. It wasn't like we intended for it to be like that ("if you don't have cancer, you're not invited!"), but it just happened. So we supported each other, traded chemo war stories, and cast a bunch of downward glances. I felt warm.

LA is always a trip when we come back. On Thursday, my former co-workers at the Asian American Studies Center at UCLA had a lunch for me and Dude. After that, we went to my brother-in-law's interment, which was a nice simple quiet ceremony. On Thursday night, Dude, his sister, my soul sister Mae and her husband George, and I went to Koreatown for some karaoke and Korean food late at night. One of my little secrets (I guess not so secret anymore) is that I LOVE karaoke, even though it hurts to even hear myself sing. So now all these songs are playing on the turntable in my head, especially in the quiet moments....classics like Every Rose Has Its Thorn, 18 and Life, Living on a Prayer, Eternal Flame, Sweet Child O' Mine, and a new favorite--thanks to George--the Monster Mash. It was a blast. I'm going to kick cancer's ass so I can karaoke my little tone-deaf heart out!

On Friday, my dear pal Victoria took me on a pedicure outing in Beverly Hills, so now my toenails are pretty. Unfortunately, my fingernails are still trying to grow out the chemo (tells you how long the chemo stays in the system), so they were unworthy of a mani. But then we had a nice lunch at this little place called Cuvee. It's fun being a girl, especially with Victoria!

Seriously though, I think I needed this trip to tell me that everything going to be alright, and even more so, I want it to be alright, it will be alright, it IS alright. The idea of the surgery has been freaking me out for two months (probably more), but now, I'm looking forward to it. I mean, hell, I get a morphine drip! How fucking kick-ass is that?

Today, we will spend Easter soaking up the sun, seeing more friends, and packing up to head back to Vancouver tomorrow. We miss the kiddins, but anyway, they're having a blast with all four grandparents showering them with attention and doing fun things.

And oh yeah--my CT scans came back clean, except for the arthritis, which we already knew about. So no evidence of metastasis. That's a wonderful thing! Couldn't ask for better news.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Celebrate Good Times

I've been a bad blogger lately. But in a way that I'm sure people would understand, I've felt like retreating from the world, real or cyberwise. Still, I've had great interactions with people, had some nice company lately. Last week, I was honoured by the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of BC for the work that I've done with the writing workshops I taught and the books I edited and published. My parents, Dude's parents, Dude's sister and her husband were in attendance, so it was nice to have all this family support. My "students" (I still feel weird calling them my students since they're more like my friends) got up and roasted and toasted me. And Professor Jan Walls made up a Chinese clapper tale about me, which I will post a clip of once DH gets around to downloading the film. It was a really sweet and touching event.

What was really cute and cool was that I don't think my mother had any clue about why we were at the dinner, even though I tried telling her it was because I was being honoured. I don't think I could even describe it in Vietnamese if I knew the words. Usually, in Vietnamese culture, young people just aren't honoured in that type of way. So my mom couldn't fathom it. Imagine her confusion when all these people started getting up and staying all these nice (and otherwise) things about me! My favourite moment was when I stood up to thank everyone, and I mentioned that my parents were in the audience, and how special that was to me. My mom stood up, smiled, and pageant-waved to everyone there (there were over 100 people in attendance)! She was so proud. It was really cute. Here are some highlights:

[This is the dinner menu. The organization made colour, laminated copies for me and my parents.]

[My students worked together on a secret project, a surprise for me: a book of recipes from our Iron Chef-style "Yam-Off" competition between the two workshops.]

[Another surprise: a little illustration of how I whipped them into shape.]

[This picture was taken by Roy Mah. Here's I'm accepting a gorgeous bouquet. Check out the hair I grew just for the occasion!]

In addition, I got a real treat when author Wayson Choy introduced himself to me at the dinner. A few days later, DH and I went to a reading that Wayson gave, and he was just as gracious and inspiring there as he was at the dinner. Inspiration is what I really need right now.

This Wednesday also happened to mark DH's birthday. March has always been the month of birthdays in our family, including our niece's, our brother-in-law's, and finally, DH's brother. The Monday before Dude's birthday, we went out to Fortune restaurant to celebrate, and we were treated to Alaskan king crab (I think this one was a 12-pounder) by my in-laws:

The funs times are good and much needed. To be honest, there's an imbalance of fun times and darkness—though I believe that even if I had fun 20 hours out of the day, there would still be that imbalance, heavy on the negative. It's exactly one month until my surgery. On Wednesday, I had a CT scan in my chest, abdomen, and pelvic region, for re-staging my cancer. That basically means they want to see what exists in those regions (if there are any metastases, any shrinkages). I see my oncologist on Tuesday for the results. Yesterday, Dude and I went to St. Paul's hospital for a pre-surgery education clinic, when we met with a nurse who told us what to expect on the day of and the days after following surgery, and we met with an anesthetist who explained the "going under" process. And then there was more blood-work (I used to be a champ when it came to needles, but ever since my vein has hardened from the chemo, it's become a little bit more uncomfortable). The reality that the surgery is only a month away is a shock. And this period of waiting—and getting more tests done to determine my health situation—places me back at square one. I kinda feel like I did back in July when I was first diagnosed, and I would wake up every morning for the first few weeks and realize with a shock, "I have cancer."

The timing of all this couldn't be any weirder to me either. It was just five days after my brother-in-law died of lung cancer that I was diagnosed. Now, next week—which will be three weeks before my surgery—we will be going to his brother's interment in Los Angeles. It will be a quiet private ceremony, which we and Dude's sister will attend.

Going to LA also means seeing friends and getting some sunshine, so the trip will be bittersweet, as life in general mostly seems to be right now.

I have a lot of fear--but I have much to hope for too. As Wayson Choy said at his reading, "I want to see what happens tomorrow."