2007-01-03 A closure and celebration, sort of
Rachel Naomi Remen, the author of “Kitchen Table Wisdom,” wrote about the rituals that she recommends to the people who are about to go through the surgery or difficult treatments.
In her book she recommends the ritual for which friends and relatives of the patient bring a rock, talk about some personal crisis of any sort, and share with the patient how they survived the difficulty. Some may say that they survived thanks to the power of faith, and others may say that the power came from humor. At the end of the ritual they give the rock to the patient while naming their source of strength.
In June, these people shared with me their most private moments of their lives and painful struggles, along with the rocks they brought, while it was difficult for them to do so. Most of the stories are the ones that are shared only among family members, only through shared experience and tears without the words. I absorbed their stories and wisdom as though I were drinking water from the Fountain of Youth.
I will never forget their stories.
They have become more important friends for Mark and me, with whom we can now share our private thoughts more than before.
They helped our family not only mentally, but also with practical aspects like meals, driving, invitations for concerts, and a warm quilt. (I should add that I received tremendous help from other people too.)
Even though it is still difficult for me to eat some dishes and I probably still have to go through multiple dilation procedures, I have become an optimistic survivor with their help, along with the help of you who are reading this Blog. We all worked hard to earn the closure of a chapter we started together in June.
Last night, we were a bit giddy and silly while being serious. Why not, it’s New Years? We deserve a party. A new life starts over the closure of another.
2006-09-19 pre-op examination
Almost 70 hours after leaving Boston, I received an Email from Scotland;
Sorry I didnt call, I cant get the phone card to work, and I dont have
internet here yet, Im using someone elses computer for this message.
Everything is fine I'll send another message when I have internet.”
Even though my gut was telling me that my son was OK, it was a little unnerving not to hear from him for such a long time, particularly because we gave him a calling card with instructions to call us as soon as he gets there.
Well, this was probably the first time he said “sorry” outright to us.
The pre-op examination went very smoothly. When the nurse practitioner, who examined me, told that I had gone through a lot since the last surgery, I was shocked to realize that this summer was really a tough one.
It may sound strange, but I almost forgot all the pain, discomfort, and tears I went through, because I have been so delighted by my recovery and healing during the past two weeks.
One of the reasons why it did not hit me that this summer was hard, was due to the wonderful gifts we received from our friends, one of which was the twice-a-week dinner delivery. The delivery continued from day one of my chemotherapy, which was the last week of June, to the middle of September.
My friend, who herself went through foot surgery over the summer, coordinated who would bring the meal every week. Every dish was wonderful, and it was great to be able to talk to the friend who brought the meal (when I could do that.) I enjoyed every bit of conversation with my friend.
How could I have imagined this outpouring of kindness from friends and the community? Having been raised in Japan, where this sort of task falls on to the woman of the house as a duty, i.e., mother, daughters in law, sisters, or sisters in law, this was shocking, and made me realize that my family has been a member of the community for a long time.
It was a huge discovery to realize that the community is not a static object, but an active organism, and that you can be an active participant not only as a giver, but also as a recipient.
2006-09-15 Trivial pleasure
We have been busy for the past two days in a very normal sense. My son who is a college junior is leaving for Scotland for a year on Friday, and Mark and I are trying to help him (actually yell at him, in my case) to tie up loose ends.
We just came back from the mall, after purchasing a cheap set of suitcases for him. We are going to a local breakfast place tomorrow morning, the place where we used to take our sons when we needed to talk during their teenage years.
Trivial things give me an utmost sense of happiness. It is precious to be able to go shopping for my son with Mark without feeling tired, and to be able to go out for breakfast to really eat! In a very strange way, I am grateful for my state, because I can truly find happiness in small things.
In corporate America, the chairwoman of the board of HP (Hewlett-Packard), is under scrutiny for spying on its director’s personal phone records as well as journalists to find out who has been leaking the inside information to the media.
The Chairwoman, Patricia Dunn, while working on the board, suffered from breast cancer (2000), melanoma (2002), stage IV (terminal) ovarian cancer (2004), and a malignant tumor in the liver (operation only last month.)
Her will power and tenacity must be a thing to admire for many people. I feel sorry for her, however. It is awful to get a malady like cancer, but it makes you pause to look at things differently, to appreciate things more, and discover that there is so much goodness in our lives. You rediscover your family, your friends, nature, and your own strength. It does not mean that you are weak if you take a leave from your work.
I hope that she will have a few moments to pause and feel this new appreciation in spite of her state now. She has fought so much with the disease.
I went to a barber yesterday, the one that Mark goes to, and had him cut my hair very short, a crew cut. While cutting the hair of the customer before me, the barber was talking with him about a customer who was recently diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Consequently it was a little awkward to ask him to cut my hair for my upcoming surgery.
Is it only us who feel that cancer is like epidemic these days? Everywhere we go, we seem to hear someone has fallen to the cancer.
2006-09-11 Image training and Vietnam
To get well and to feel more energetic means wanting to see and talk to people, in my case. It is wonderful to see my precious friends. On Thursday, two senior consultants (a couple), with whom I worked for two years, came to see me and we had a wonderful time together. She brought along a home cooked meal! Having some idea about her hourly rate as senior consultant, this dish is one of the most expensive meals I ever had at my house!!
On Friday, Mark and I went to a Vietnamese restaurant to see a couple, who are among our best friends; she is leaving for Vietnam in a week to finish her documentary film about Vietnamese women soldiers (female Vietcong) during the Vietnam war. I prepared a gift for the Vietnamese woman whom I met through her some years ago: a postcard booklet of Diego Rivera’s work from the San Francisco Contemporary Museum of Arts.
Before embarking on creating the documentary film, my friend wrote a book about these Vietnamese women, their suffering during and after the war, and invited this woman, who was the central character of the book, to the US. She, who is exquisitely beautiful, tranquil, and strong, had several speaking engagements, to one of which I went. In addition, my friend was kind enough to invite my husband and me to her house so that we can intimately talk to her.
I remember how quickly I felt connected to her, and felt that I understood what she went through during the war better than most American people. I felt the pain and passion, the reluctant but determined choice those women had to make to defend their land, because it was their land and their homes that were being destroyed. Probably that clear understanding came to me from my collective memory as a Japanese, who, even though they are considered to be aggressors in world history, include many children and women who were simply victims of the war.
Thus, I understand why she was talking about forgiveness and letting the animosity go, and why she was calling for world peace. The devastation, loss, and sadness that they experienced were too enormous for them to linger and to be bitter about.
Turning the clock back to now…
Even though I am getting quite settled about the idea of surgery, a part of me was questioning whether or not to order the image training tapes for the procedure. One wants to be equipped with enough ammunition, and also everybody says that it is a good idea to do so.
Preparing the gift for the Vietnamese woman, I was murmuring the words, “a reluctant but determined fighter,” without realizing what I was doing.
That’s it! I will have her beautiful and calm face as my guiding image for the surgery, together with Gandhi.
Vietnam is a very special place for me. When our family went to Vietnam in 1998 by boat, we were welcomed (assaulted?) by begging children as soon as we landed. They all had low quality postcards in their hands, and begged, “one dollar, one dollar!” When we ignored them, they would say “why?” with wonderful timing and big shining eyes, making us feel guilty about ignoring them.
It was such a calculated and orchestrated act, and you feel sad all the more. It is a Vietnamese cottage industry, but the fact remains that these children are orphans or ones in similar states, and that this is their only means to earn living.
As soon as I encountered these children in Saigon (Ho-chi-min city), I felt like watching the phantoms following World War II in Japan; Japanese children who begged for candies and chewing gum from American GIs. Also the wounded old soldiers who lost their legs and arms, who were crawling along the dusty street, or riding a handmade wooden box car that functioned like a rudimentary wheel chair, reminded me of Japanese wounded soldiers in white kimono, who were asking for money on the street corners of my hometown when I was a child.
While we were there, we visited the Cu Chi tunnels in the jungle, which the Vietcong dug for communication and to take shelter against US attacks. It was somewhat exploited for the tourism, but its narrow passages under the ground, right next to a huge crater created by American bombs that is now covered by lush tropical vegetation, were eery.
It was the first time I physically realized that censorship exists in the US. When we went to the War Atrocities Museum in the city, which exhibits remnants and facts from the Vietnam War, many professors who were with us were surprised to discover things they never learned in the US, but which had been covered by Japanese TV news during the war.
At the same time, I was surprised to find that the propaganda which had been used by the Japanese student movement in the 60s and 70s were among the exhibit captions displayed on the museum’s walls, now under the administration of the communist regime. The activists in those days were simply mouthing the slogans invented by the communist party. How fragile are “facts” and “information,” not to mention the truth…
I went to see my radiology oncologist for a check up today. He quoted Tolstoy, and talked about Dostoevskii, Chekhov, and Mark Twain. According to him, descriptions of characters in those novels describe the stages of disease accurately, reaching beyond cultural boundaries.
I never know what he is talking about at first, but he is extremely knowledgeable and interesting to talk to.
My nagging question has been why I have to go through life-altering surgery when the PET scan shows no cancer cells in my system.
He said while smiling, “as soon as the surgeon saw you, he reserved a (operation) table for one.” I am the best candidate for the surgery because I am young, very fit otherwise, and because my cancer is at a curable stage. He added that if they were thinking of chemo/radiology treatment alone, he would have given 7200 Cent Grey of radiation (My dosage was 5040 Cent Gray.) Thinking about that alone makes me shudder.
Well, OK…so, it was a good tiding that I have to go through the surgery. Even though I knew it, it was nice to hear that from him this way.
Actually I was surprised by my own words toward a faculty member at Mark’s college yesterday. Without thinking I was saying to her, “I am resigned to accept the life altering effect of the surgery. I will be a little handicapped, but I will move on and live with it.”
Somehow, I seem to have processed the surgery and its effect quite well inside my mind, but today’s talk was an added bonus to that process.
The doctor added that I might have suffered more than Caucasian patients due to my ethnic characteristic of low enzymes to process the chemo toxin. To my question about whether there is any difference between males and females regarding chemotherapy side effects, he answered that gender differences as well as enzyme characteristics are the issues that modern medicine has just begun to look at.
On the way back from his office, we dropped by at Trader Joes, an international grocery store. There I found “Mochi ice cream”, an ice cream wrapped inside Mochi (soft rice cake.) It was very very good.
My esophagitis is getting better everyday. Today I ate a little bit of quiche and shrimp Shumai in addition to the ice cream. It is wonderful and empowering (not an exaggeration) to be able to eat!
Mark’s department gave me a beautiful powder blue bathrobe to use during my hospital stay. Why are people so nice? I know this is a completely wrong expression to describe my gratitude, but don’t know how else to describe my awe. This is a gift of love to both Mark and me. It means so much to us.