If you’ve kept up with my blog in the past few months, you know I’ve been juggling many thoughts, emotions, and decisions related to these events:
- Being diagnosed with breast cancer as a young adult
- Going through breast cancer treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic
Mainly, I’ve been sharing what my diagnosis and what this pandemic mean for my current life. The truth is I don’t have complete clarity at this moment, but I can tell you what I am learning from this process of discernment.
These are so vital to me at this point in my life that I have a blue star-shaped sticky note of these five words on my fridge. It reminds me each time I pass my refrigerator that I want to fill my day with these very qualities.
A few years ago, I wrote the words WONDER, GRATITUDE, CONTENTMENT, CURIOSITY also on a blue star-shaped sticky note on my fridge. It stayed there until recently. After the sticky note dropped from my freezer door for the umpteenth time, it didn’t feel right to post it again. That’s when I decided that love, wisdom, peace, joy, and protection were most meaningful to me right now.
Yesterday I was organizing sheets on my desk and came across a paper strip with this quote by bell hooks in All About Love: New Visions:
“But many of us seek community solely to escape the fear of being alone. Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.”
I never read hooks’ full book. I first encountered this quote during an activity for the National SEED Project at a college where I used to work. SEED was a professional and leadership development program at my employer, and I was part of its inaugural cohort at the institution. During a workshop activity, my cohort members and I had to walk around the room, read different quotes, and select the one that most resonated with us. I chose the one by hooks.
Little did I know that about a year later, this quote would resonate with me more as a young breast cancer fighter in quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic. Usually I throw away handouts from workshops, but this quote was so powerful that it has stayed on my desk at home since the first night I chose it from a sea of paper strips on a table at my SEED workshop.
It’s inspirational. People use the word “inspirational” a lot, but I honest to God mean it with bell hooks. I aspire to write like her. I am someone who has read books and books both for mandatory assignments and for my own pleasure, but you know a writer has talent when they can connect with you in a few sentences in a way most authors cannot through a whole series of books.
After going through a fertility cycle and egg retrieval during a pandemic, my desire to find and create a loving family and greater community around me has multiplied within my heart. Some people might say that now I should just focus on my cancer treatment and individual health, but what is the point of surviving when you don’t have a reason to thrive?
For the record, I already have had deep love in my life. Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and wrote about Saying Goodbye to My Body (As I Know It), I have developed stronger bonds with my loved ones; received extensive community care from close friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers from around the world; and been able to filter out elements from my life that I could do without. I already am thriving in those respects, but I feel like now is the time to pursue more.
This is why if I want LOVE, I need WISDOM. When I was a kid, I thought love was a feeling. As I got older, I thought it was an outcome from hard work. As I get even older, I realize that love is both the process and the outcome. Love is a practice.
If I am going to grow it in my life, I will need people around me who have love for themselves. If I am going to set love as the foundation for a family, I need love both for others and for myself. If I establish a family with a partner, that person needs love for both others and for himself. Just like I’ve had friends who’ve been with me through thick and thin, I need a partner who understands that love demands growth from both of us.
I’ve been through so many challenging and unexpected things in my life that settling for less isn’t an option for me. On a daily basis, I’m asking God and all the Higher Powers that be for wisdom to discern what decisions are best for my health, wellness, and quality of life. If I want to grow that within a family unit and want a partner in the mix, that partner needs to be an asset—not a liability—for wisdom.
The pursuit of LOVE and WISDOM can be so exhausting that I have to remind myself to seek PEACE. Since this pandemic spread in the US, I’ve feared not only for my own health, but also for the health of my loved ones for the following reasons:
- Some of my loved ones didn’t take the pandemic seriously right away, and I was turning blue trying to convince them that they needed to exercise more caution.
- I know many people who work in healthcare, and I know that they’re not being given the proper PPE for a variety of political, economic, and bureaucratic reasons.
- Racism and xenophobia are real. That’s true whether or not you are Asian during these times. Not everyone can tell what race and ethnicity I am at first glance. Sometimes they think I’m Asian, and other times they don’t. In my life, I’ve observed and experienced racism and xenophobia from people whether or not their perception of my identity was correct. In addition to fearing for my own safety, I fear for my loved ones who look Asian as I read more about hate crimes against Asians rising worldwide. There are countless articles on this topic right now, but one you can reference is the Al Jazeera article Anti-Asian hate continues to spread online amid COVID-19 pandemic by Eoghan Macguire.
- The disparities in deaths from this pandemic are real. A few days ago, I noticed on my social media that there were a lot of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 specifically among Black people in my social circles. Then I read the WBEZ article by Elliot Ramos and María Inés Zamudio titled In Chicago, 70% of COVID-19 Deaths Are Black. This is a good example of how simply not paying attention to the news isn’t enough for some people during this pandemic. If you are someone who could stop paying attention to the news and find peace, you have some greater degree of privilege. During times like this, I want to connect to my community. Whether or not I had read that WBEZ article, I would’ve inferred on my own that deaths by COVID-19 were impacting my Black friends more than my friends of other races. It’s similar to how I would’ve known my Asian friends would be more impacted by the racism and xenophobia of this pandemic with or without reading the flood of articles about this trend.
- If we go back to my breast cancer treatment, my treatment plan has been getting tweaked a lot by my medical providers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yesterday I spoke to one of my doctors about my ambivalence with visiting the hospital, and she told me that she was ambivalent too for all of her patients. I asked her what she thought of the projected trends for the pandemic in our metropolitan area, and she admitted that ultimately nobody knows. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, people kept telling me I had access to the best hospitals where I lived. They are correct, but it makes me scared both for my own health and that of others around the world. Emmanuel Ocbazghi writes about this in the Business Insider article How COVID-19 affects certain people with diabetes, cancer, and other conditions. If I am feeling this much fear about my own health and protection in relatively well-resourced hospitals, how am I supposed to feel about the larger picture of our world?
I feel fear every day, but I’m also willing myself to feel more peace. It is challenging and it is a process, but I am doing it. If I don’t feel any sense of peace, my health is bound to deteriorate. I might as well be present in this very second that I am writing this and remember that writing is something I love. It also gives me time to grow wisdom and peace after I’ve experienced events that took away my peace.
Engaging in activities that cultivate LOVE, WISDOM, and PEACE set a path for me to experience JOY. A few days ago, I read Ecclesiastes from start to finish for the first time in years. That book resonated with me from the first time I had to read it in my 7th grade Bible class. It’s my favorite book in the Bible. There is something strangely comforting about reading a book that tells me that everything is meaningless. My favorite verses from it are Ecclesiastes 8:16-17:
“(16) When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe the labor that is done on earth—people getting no sleep day or night—(17) then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.”
It reminds me of all of my excellently trained doctors trying to tweak my treatment plan at my highly ranked hospitals.
While these are typically my favorite verses from this book, they didn’t catch my eye like the verses right before them.
When I read the book this time around, Ecclesiastes 8:14-15 spoke to me more:
“(14) There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: the righteous who get what the wicked deserve, and the wicked who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. (15) So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.”
The inequities referenced in this passage remind me of the racism, xenophobia, and health disparities I observe with Asian people, Black folks, cancer patients, and other marginalized communities during this pandemic. Because I love them so much, I will never give up any support and advocacy I can give to these communities. At the same time, I know it’s wise to give myself moments of joy so that I can continue to fight for them and for myself.
Fight. That’s an interesting word in cancer. Since I was diagnosed with cancer, I realized that people keep encouraging me to, “Fight cancer!” and “Be positive!” simultaneously. People do realize that when you fight, you’re usually not smiling or laughing, right? It’s as if I’m being encouraged to take on an aggressive and combative stance when fighting an illness, but then people expect me to do it all with a cheery smile and demeanor.
The truth is when you fight anything—cancer, racism, xenophobia, and the endless inequities in the universe—you need PROTECTION.
In my home, I can create spaces for LOVE, WISDOM, PEACE, and JOY, but I also need PROTECTION for my heart, soul, mind, and body regardless of where I am.
Each time I travel to and from my medical appointments, I’m managing logistics, assessing risks and benefits, and tuning into my awareness of myself and my environment.
Am I wearing a mask? Am I wearing it correctly? Do I wear gloves? Which types of gloves are most effective? How long do I wear them before I change them to avoid cross-contamination? Who’s that person walking in my direction? Are they going to keep their distance when passing me? Do they look like they have any intention to harm me? Do they look like they trust me?
My mind fills up with this stream of consciousness.
When I share these thoughts with some people, they want to believe that the world is better. Not surprisingly, those comments tend to come from people who don’t have to experience the world with these types of fears.
For many people, it’s effortless to promote LOVE, WISDOM, PEACE, and JOY. It’s acknowledging the need for PROTECTION that can be uncomfortable for some. It requires an honest talk admitting that some of us need more protection than others for reasons that are unfair, but real nonetheless.
Especially now as I strategize and dream what it might be like to create a loving family and greater community, I grow more resolute in building love, wisdom, peace, joy, and protection in my life right now. I can’t give what I’ve never had. My future won’t have these elements if I don’t mix them into the present.