Category Archives: cancer

“Amazing Grace” and a Life of Forgiveness a message from two funerals

Amazing Grace is a Christian hymn written in 1779 and is one of the most recognizable songs in the English language.  With the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of sins committed and that the soul can be delivered from despair through the mercy of God, the message has crossed over from Christian hymn to more popular folk music.

The author of this hymn, John Newton, lived a life that vacillated between sinner, soldier, sailor and Christian.  At one point, he deserted the British Royal Navy and began a career as a slave trader.  Newton rebelled against his captain and shipmates by crafting dirty songs and poems.  This insubordination landed him in chains, imprisoned at sea and eventually led to his own enslavement and was forced to work on a plantation in Sierra Leone.  Harrowing circumstances brought near death experiences to Newton, during which his faith in God grew to overshadow his propensity for debauchery and profanity.  He showed a new commitment to God and Christianity and began to craft poems and hymns. Newton’s poems emphasized his love for Jesus, the concept of eternal salvation, a wonder at God’s grace, and joy in his renewed faith.

“Amazing Grace” was a song that we sang at the opening of our dear friend’s funeral this weekend.  No one needed to read the written lyrics, the entire congregation sang the song from memory.  One of the amazing things at a Samoan service is that almost everyone in the church, from the Pastor to the attendees, can BLOW.  The song sounded beautiful, I think I even stayed on key throughout the verse, save for the times when tears were flowing down my cheeks.

The lyrics of the first verse are simple:

 Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
T’was blind but now I see

The original song actually has multiple verses that emphasize a message of losing and regaining faith in God or living a less than pious existence throughout one’s life.  It talks of renewal.  It reminds us that no matter what our sins or or bad traits or less than holy actions have been, we can repent and accept God into our lives, for ever-lasting life in heaven.  I write these words as a person who took CCD classes throughout elementary school, not as a woman who attends Catholic Mass regularly.  The messages of living as a Christian are so pervasive in Western society that even receiving whispers and hints of the Word from when I was only six and seven years old have stayed with me.  And the notion that accepting Jesus into your life as Lord and Savior means going to heaven after death on this Earth.  I think one of the speakers or the Pastor said that our time on Earth is just borrowed and only God knows when we will be called.  Dear Pam was called very early from this Earth.  Her death leaves a hole in so many people’s lives and hearts.  And the testimonies and Pastor’s sermon stay with me, after attending the family service last Friday.

A theme that resonated throughout the speeches was one of forgiveness, don’t let petty disagreements fester, especially amongst family members.  The Pastor suggested that a wise thing to do would be to squash any fights or heal bad blood with your brothers and sisters.  No one intentionally wants to leave words unsaid to a loved one who dies.  Imagine the guilt and suffering that may grow out of that.  No one should hang on to petty disagreements, especially with a family member.  The Pastor’s words were to call your brother or sister and just say, “Let’s let that shit go.  Life is too short.”

In the last two months, I have attended two funerals.  Each service included testimonies from attendees and family members.  One service spoke to how the deceased a life in full service to his faith.  The other preached the message that life is short and we never know when God will call on us to leave our worldly existence on Earth.  Both messages have been playing in my head, over and over on a loop.

I have no resolution to these messages as of yet.  I am chewing on this idea of squashing petty shit with siblings and loved ones.  Maybe in a few days I will have worked out a game plan…

 

Amazing grace! (how sweet the sound)
That sav’d a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believ’d!

Thro’ many dangers, toils, and snares,
I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.

John Newton, Olney Hymns, 1779

 

 

Back on Track #trainmean Discipline, Respect and Humility

So far, 2017 has rolled over me.  We have lost family members and friends in our personal lives.  That means memorial services, funerals and lots and lots of tears.  At times, I’ve had to be strong enough to hold my loved ones up.  Other times, I’ve cried into my pillow or sobbed in the parking lot at work to let it out.  We hosted family from out of state after being away for a week for SuperGrands and sandwiched in between the sorrow, I’ve had to travel for business so I can network for my future career.  2017 has been whirlwind of frenetic activity.
My intention was to start training for my next race back in November 2016.  I wanted to train for 12 weeks to work on my race pace.  My goal was achievable but challenging.  In my first half marathon back in 2012, I ran a 13 minute mile and finished the race in 3 hours.  Somehow that race wound up being 13.98 miles instead of 13.1 but whatever.  A 13 minute mile for a half marathon is my race pace when I don’t prepare and the weather conditions are mild, not too hot or cold.


My best time has been a 13.64 mile race at 12:21 miles/minute and a time of 2 hours 48 minutes.  That race was the 2015 Avengers Half Marathon, which I did in conjunction with the Captain America 10K.  The two races together were marketed by RunDisney as the “Infinity Gauntlet Challenge – a 10K early Saturday morning and a half marathon the next morning on Sunday.  I took that training really seriously because I was concerned about whether my body could handle that many miles over one weekend because #ihaterunning.  That training paid off:  my body was in very good shape, my stamina was excellent, and my confidence was very high.  The root of those positive results:  fit body, better stamina and higher self-confidence, are founded in core values for the dojo, two that we carry-over from Rabago Shorin Ryu:  Discipline and Respect.  I would like to add a third core value that I want to include for Togisala Shorin Ryu Dojo:  Humility.

This word “Discipline” is defined by Webster as:  “1.  Punishment 2. obsolete Instruction 3. A field of study 4. Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.”  In their Children’s Dictionary, “Discipline” is defined as “Strict training that corrects or strengthens mental ability or moral character.”  That defines what we want to teach in the dojo.  My training for half marathons fulfills the role of reinforcing the importance of my own discipline in training and conditioning my body.  Last year, I focused 50% of my energy on my day job, raising Kanoe, and being a good girlfriend; 35% of my energy on opening up the new studio; and 15% of my energy on my own training.  I would never approve of one our students only putting in 15% of their energy towards training and I had been very down on myself for that.  But life was filled with many barriers taking up my time after November.  December’s calendar listed business trips, a halau Christmas concert performance, the dojo Christmas party, and SuperGrands.  Honest reasons but not good excuses for being less than  disciplined on my training.

I already mentioned what January felt like for us.  And it all led to depression and health issues for us.  We are focusing on  getting his blood pressure under control and managing his blood sugars to get off of medication.  That takes discipline on both of our parts.  I need to ensure that we have healthy meals to eat and lots of opportunities for exercise and healthy distractions.  He must resist the temptation of sugary foods and drinks and the habit of mindless, late night snacking.  This discipline is critical to his health. Our lives are so intertwined because we live together and we share the responsibilities of running the dojo.  His health impacts my health and vice versa.

Our second core value for Togisala Shorin Ryu, “Respect” may sound simple.  The word is used every day in formal and casual conversations. However, the dictionary defines this word as a noun that means, “A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.” In addition, as a verb, the definitions reads as, “Admire (someone or something) deeply, as  result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements.”  What would that look like when one enters the dojo?  Students must bow before they walk onto the mat to train.  In addition, we bow to a photo of the late Sensei Rabago, who taught both Sensei Butch and me, of Rabago Shorin Ryu.  Before we start class to stretch and warm-up, we show respect by bowing to our Sensei and Sempai.  In addition, students must bow to one another while doing partner drills together.  If they are sparring, tapping gloves shows respect that each student will show good sportsmanship.  Winning is always celebrated with Respect.  Show-boating when winning is frowned upon.  Crying when losing is also not allowed.  We want to teach our students to Respect the lesson in each match or each drill.  Showing courtesy by using the words, “thank you” and “please” also builds Respect. Having such Respect starts with Discipline.  Many children start martial arts at such a young age that they don’t consciously understand these concepts but I trust that consistency and setting a good example will allow them to internalize these lessons.


But a more difficult value to teach and learn is the word, “Humility.”  I am going to spend more time processing this definition and tying it to our teaching at Togisala Shorin Ryu.  Look for a new blog post building on this one soon.  I need to go tend to our new puppy.  I want to name her “Kihon” (look up this Japanese word, if you don’t know what it means).


 

 

 

 

Pain and Sorrow in 2017

We started off 2017 losing the matriarch from my boyfriend’s family.  Aunty Laka passed away unexpectedly.  I never met her in person and I am just getting to know most of his cousins and such but I know my boyfriend.  He is big and tough with a heart of gold.  The amount of love he has to share with the world is rooted in his up-bringing and family background.  He’s shared stories of family get-togethers over the years with me.  They sound like the typical Islander gatherings:  lots of food and laughter and fun.  And razzing.  And singing.  And dancing.  And more laughter and food.

 

The loss hit him really hard.  For various reasons over the past twenty years or so, he hasn’t spent much time with this side of his family.  And memories of losing his parents flooded his thoughts.  We had just gotten back from being in North Carolina for a week-long karate tournament (Super Grands), took a deep breath to prepare to host houseguests over the first weekend of 2017.  Hearing the news that Aunty Laka had passed away took the little wind out of our sails that we had inhaled.

 

Before Aunty Laka’s funeral, Uncle Joe and his family came to town from Seattle to hold a memorial to recognize the two-year anniversary of Aunty Honey-Girl passing away.  This memorial brought together our martial arts ‘ohana and it was a reunion of sorts.  I saw people I hadn’t seen in years. And interestingly enough, Uncle Joe is related to my kumu hula!  They were able to spend a couple of hours together over the weekend and catch up on life.  That surprise was a nice balance to all the sorrow surrounding us in 2017.

 

But before we could pause to let the sorrow pass, I was informed that one of my friends, Valerie, had passed away. I met Val right before she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Val was energetic, positive, full of love, and a fighter until the end.  Valerie was diagnosed with breast cancer, beat it and was re-diagnosed with stage four spinal cancer. Valerie passed away at the young age of 42.  The love that she and Paula shared was inspirational. Val will be incredibly missed by all whose lives she has touched. God bless your soul, Val. I am sending Aloha and light to you and Paula and Aunty Laka and Aunty Honey-girl.

 

I’m tired of all the pain and sorrow in 2017.

 

“Those we love don’t go away, they walk beside us every day, unseen, unheard, but always near, still loved, still missed and very dear.”

Cancer sucks, Life is short, and we must Live Aloha all in, every day.

September 22, 2016

By the time I staggered out of bed this morning, my daughter was already wide awake, dressed for school and eating breakfast.  She was rocking her white Chucks and her million dollar smile bright and early at 7:00a.m. today.  And my boyfriend had been out of the house for at least an hour, maybe two.  I remember feeling his butterfly kisses  across my cheeks and nose early this morning, and heard his sweet whisper, “Ok Lovely, have  good day.  I love you.  See you soon.”  After hitting the snooze button twice, I dragged myself to the bathroom to shower and get ready for a long day.

As I stood in front of my closet, draped in my pastel pink leopard printed robe, I contemplated what to wear.  How do I make a fashion decision on what to wear when my day would consist of the following:  work, conference call, funeral at St. Lawrence Martyr Catholic Church in Redondo Beach, a career counseling phone call with a colleague/friend, my annual visit to the gynecologist, and back to work at the Toyota Automotive Museum for an event to launch the 2016 Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarks with 75 D&I practitioners from across Los Angeles.  What shoes does one wear for such a busy, action-packed day?  I opted for a chic but comfortable color-blocked tan, cream, and black sheath with a tan blazer on top.  It felt fashionable and conservative without being too churchy and boring.   During the day I wore my sensible wedges with my sexy color blocked heels safely tucked away in my car for tonight.  There is something about an evening event that just requires sexy heels.

The environment at work has been one of turmoil and change.  One of my dearest mentors and former bosses is retiring in about a week.  I’ve asked colleague to send cards, photos and notes of gratitude to me so I can paste them into a scrapbook of Memories for Midge.  I don’t know how to scrapbook but I’ve got scissors, non-acid glue, colored paper, and an album.  Hope it all turns out ok.

Thinking about her retirement and my eventual separation from my place of employment has me feeling sentimental.  My buddies at work have already relocated to North Texas so my days at work are much more subdued and quiet.  I feel like my friends are gone and that makes for a lot less fun during the workday.

Yesterday, I opened my email and read that one of my colleagues and friends who worked on a huge diversity project with me over the past ten years passed away and her funeral would happen this morning.  She will be laid to rest on Friday.  I know she has been fighting cancer for years and had spent months at a stretch on medical leave, undergoing various treatments and somehow defying her doctors’ expectations and recovering each time.   But I haven’t worked with her for several months and literally just discovered that she had passed away one week ago today.

Death is a part of life, right?  We are put on this earth to contribute somehow by living a full and productive life.  Some of us teach, some of us work, and others of us take care of the planet and the planet inhabitants unselfishly and freely.  But cancer.  Why do some people have to fight against a disease like cancer to have the strength to teach, to work, and to give freely?  It doesn’t seem fair that the people who seem the most generous and selfless have to fight against cancer.  Why don’t more assholes and racists and bigots and misogynists and murderers and pedophiles get cancer?  Why do the nicest people get hit with one of the cruelest diseases?

Cancer make no sense to me.  Wikipedia says that Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. Not all tumors are cancerous; benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body.  Possible signs and symptoms include a lump, abnormal bleeding, prolonged cough, unexplained weight loss and a change in bowel movements. While these symptoms may indicate cancer, they may have other causes.  Over 100 cancers affect humans. I think about all of the loved ones my family has lost to cancer.  I think about my dear friends who are fighting against cancer right now, as I typed these words across my Kensington keyboard.  The article goes on to say that 15% of deaths are caused by cancer.  Cancer also increased the risk of anxiety and depression in patients who already have a propensity for it.  I hate cancer.

The funeral was filled with choir songs, as my friend was an extremely talented singer who loved all kinds of music.  The young priest talked about how even though we are mourning, today would be about the celebration of life and reconnecting with our faith, as my friend stood strong in her religious beliefs.  Even though funerals suck the energy out of me, I think it was good for me to attend Mass today.  I thanked God for my many blessings, I prayed for the health of my family and friends, and I sat still for over an hour.  A few minutes of meditation did me good today, as the world is in turmoil around us.  I sat still and remembered my friend and was reminded that cancer sucks, life is short, and we must Live Aloha all in, every day.

 

 

 

Fight Like a Girl

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Fight Like a Girl

My guess is that every person who reads this has lost at least one loved one to cancer.  And there are so many types out there:  breast, colon, skin, bone, cervical, brain… name an organ or a body part and someone you know has probably died from that type of cancer.  This disease doesn’t discriminate based on socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, military status, or even age.  People with money die from cancer.  People without money die from cancer.  But it seems like the people with the brightest spirits and most positive attitudes find themselves fighting cancer.  And to that I say, “Fuck Cancer”.

My dear friend, Tina, had leukemia when we were in elementary school.  She was the youngest child of Chinese immigrants, I don’t even remember if her parents spoke English, and she was nothing but a tiny bundle of sweetness and smarts.  Tina wore a colorful hat in kindergarten and first grade.  She would run around on the playground with us, playing foursquare and tether ball, always a step or two behind because she was weak from her disease.  I never had to check to see if she was following our group because I could hear her giggle catch up to us about 10 seconds before she did.  Tina had a quiet spirit, a loud laugh, and her smile was so authentic and honest.  Despite her illness, she was just another kid at school.  I remember there was a very windy day on the blacktop, my hair was whipping around in my face and my favorite navy skirt was flapping in the wind.  I silently thanked my mom for making me wear shorts underneath it.  Unfortunately, Tina’s hat flew off on the playground that afternoon.  She grabbed her head with her hands, hung her head in shame, and stopped.  It was as if her feet froze in place and she was torn between running after her hat or hiding her bald head from all of us.  I don’t remember which little boy brought her the hat, I just remember Tina sobbing as the teacher on recess duty wrapped her up in a big embrace and helped her place her hat back on her head.  She wasn’t completely bald, it was as if she had long strands and random patches of hair.  Some of the crueler kids laughed and pointed.  I wanted to go kick all of their asses.  I was a total tomboy back then and felt a responsibility to protect all the other Asian immigrant kids.  I don’t know why but I definitely kicked a few boys in the nuts for making fun of my friends who didn’t speak English or had cancer.

A few years later, my mom sat me down in the family room to “talk” to me.  It felt scary, like a big cloud hung over our plush brown couch.  My family never held family meetings or sat in the family room other than to watch TV together.  I looked up at my mom and her eyes were puffy and she looked miserable.  She looked at her slippers, and the coffee table and finally she looked into my eyes and said, “Your Grandma Connie has cancer.  It is terminal.”  I didn’t know what that word meant, “terminal,” so I asked her and my mom snapped, “It means she is going to die!” and she stormed toward her bedroom.  As the eldest girl, my mom was very close to Grandma.  And one of the rules in our household was always, “family comes first.”  Whatever behaviors you exhibit reflect on your family, not just you as an individual.   So to say we were close as a family unit is an understatement.  My mom was truly devastated by the news that my Grandma was dying from cancer.  We all were.

During one of our hospital visits, Grandma said to me, “Hoy, Jen-nee-pear, (she had an adorable Filipina accent) I have black blood.”  That simple statement FREAKED ME OUT.  How was her blood black?  Why was it black?  Could they fix it?  Could I catch it?  Why wasn’t anyone doing anything about it?  My head was spinning and I felt scared and sick but Grandma sat there, smiling in her tissue-thin hospital gown, her eyes as bright as always.  She didn’t mean that her blood had become black in color, Grandma asked who had donated her most recent blood transfusion.  The nurse replied that the donation came from a nice African American woman.  See, my Grandma had black blood now.  That experience always sticks with me and I am sure that it why I try to donate blood to the Red Cross at least twice a year.  I am a universal donor, O Positive, and with all the recent disasters and emergencies happening around the world, the Red Cross is in desperate need of O Positive blood.  Trust me, they call me incessantly every eight weeks to get me down to the office.

My Grandma passed away peacefully at home.  She was sitting in her own bed, surrounded by relatives and friends.  A nurse was with us in the room, cooing soothing words that Connie was getting ready to pass on and that we should all prepare ourselves.  I remember staring wide-eyed at my aunties and cousins, trying to figure out what to do.  We were just waiting for Grandma to die and I felt tear welling in my eyes and my throat.  The nurse finally said that she was gone and when I looked at Grandma, her jaw was opening and closing so she couldn’t be dead.  Unfortunately, the nurse said that was an automatic muscular reaction and that Connie was indeed gone.

I’ve lost grandparents, uncles, friends, acquaintences and co-workers to cancer.  There is no clear cause as to why some people get cancer.  The American Cancer Website has very clear and easy to understand informaiton to learn more about this group of diseases lumped under the term, cancer.  They write the following:

“Cancer is such a common disease that it is no surprise that many families have at least a few members who have had cancer. Sometimes, certain types of cancer seem to run in some families. This can be caused by a number of factors. It can be because family members have certain risk factors in common, such as smoking, which can cause many types of cancer. It can also be due in part to some other factors, like obesity, that tend to run in families and influence cancer risk.

But in some cases the cancer is caused by an abnormal gene that is being passed along from generation to generation. Although this is often referred to as inherited cancer, what is inherited is the abnormal gene that can lead to cancer, not the cancer itself. Only about 5% to 10% of all cancers are inherited – resulting directly from gene defects (called mutations) inherited from a parent. “

And then there is that very specific, breast cancer, which has prompted me to write this week.  Two very strong women, who are both rays of sunshine to everyone they touch, are in various stages of chemotherapy in their fight against breast cancer.  They are both very open with their experience on Facebook so that friends and family can understand and support.  One woman, I will call her Smiley, hosted head-shaving party before she started chemo and her daughter joined her in shaving her own hair off.  The party became a celebration of life and way to show solidarity with Smiley.  She is documenting chemotherapy treatments in photos and I marvel at her brave attitude.  But Smiley is a service woman in the US military.  She is no stranger to hard work, discipline and fighting.

My other friend, Sunshine, has been a survivor for the last several years.  She was quite young when her diagnosis was discovered, in her 30s, and endured treatments like a champion.  Sunshine also knows how to fight, as a Muay Thai kickboxer.  Her fighting spirit has served her well as she battles this disease.  And recently, the doctors discovered a mass that needs to be treated with chemotherapy.  Before the treatment started, Sunshine cut off her long tresses and raised money to harvest eggs for her future baby.  Preserving a future for fertility and procreation is not something I had ever heard about before Sunshine.  Of course I donated money and tried to spread the word about her cause.  I know my sister also made a donation, for which I am grateful.  The harvest was successful, Sunshine has a half dozen eggs.

And then I received one more piece of shitty breast cancer news about yet another dear friend.  This time she is my hula sister.  Hula sisters have a unique bond.  To be a cohesive group, ready to perform or compete, hula sisters have to sweat, work, sing, laugh, cry and sweat some more together, following the kauna of a hula mele and choreography of a kumu hula.  If you’re lucky, you also get to drink and disco disco and enjoy the world together.   But hula sisters feel me on this one.  It isn’t enough to take a class together, there is a special connection that forms with hula sisters.  That connection is for life.

I say all that because one of my hula sisters, who is a cervical cancer survivor, was diagnosed with a breast cancer tumor this week.  She will need surgery and all the treatment that surrounds surgery.  It felt like a punch to the gut to hear the news and I wanted to burst into tears as I read the email on my iPhone last night.  We are all praying for everyone fighting the fight.  And I’ve discovered there is this Breast Cancer Culture.  More than raising awareness of the disease or funds for research, Breast Cancer Culture is about women being strong and feminine and brave.  The color pink is associated with breast cancer to ensure that women continue to feel like women through their treatment and therapy.  Treatment may mean a mastectomy and losing one’s hair.  Therapy may mean dropping weight but not being able to exercise.  There is a spirit and a flair to “fight like a girl” against this terrible disease, breast cancer.  I know my friends are fighting like the mother who is also a soldier, a Muay Thai martial artist and hula dancer that they are.  All of those identities are a part of being a woman.

 

Every morning at 9am PST, we are sending a prayer mob/ho’oponopono out to my hula sister!