Around this time last year, I was closer to dying than I ever was… again.
(I know, geez Emily, that’s sooooo dramatic) *rolls eyes*
Whatev’s y’all, reflection is important for growth!
This time last year, I was admitted for intensive chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplant).
Things felt scary at that time with the type of chemotherapy that would have killed me if the donor cells never made the flight over to Hong Kong…
… and if my anaphylactic shock to a platelet transfusion was attended to any later than it was (hence why I strongly dislike hearing this from medics “let’s wait and see”)
Things felt pretty awful at that time where I questioned the point of continuing things at all… (yup, I went there, briefly)
I felt helpless, scared, ugly, lonely, drained from agony and pain.
As much as it sucked (ASS), those emotions contrast one major feeling today, and that is gratitude.
The elevated feeling of gratitude MOTIVATES me to OWN that DRIVER SEAT today!
I choose peace over being bothered (assholes will get what they deserve, I don’t need to play God)
I choose ownership of MY priceless real estate (my mind) over letting squatters in with their noise.
I choose the freedom to love over obligation to.
It’s a hell of a ride but I’ve always had amazing support of my parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances and strangers-turned-new friends… Cheering me on!
The past 3 months in Spain turned out to be EXACTLY what I needed for my mental health and physiological health. While it was a continued process of ripping out the fucked up foundation to rebuild, time spent there had expedited the process, advancing to the stage of rewiring thoughts that actually serve me.
So, in a sense, the old Emily has died.
I’m birthing the new Emily
That’s mainly what this update video is about. Let me know your thoughts once you’ve watched it?
“Recently, she completed her first live talk recounting her experience as a cancer survivor at an event hosted by Joint Dynamics, a physiotherapy clinic in Hong Kong. She has also made guest appearances on Pacific Muscle Chats and Hong Kong Confidential to share her experiences in mental and sexual health as well as dealing with cancer, and has been featured in articles by South China Morning Post and Liv Magazine. She has big plans in the pipeline for an interview-style podcast series, speaking to people from different walks of life about the topic of resilience…”
Today, Hong Kong announced they are officially banning face-mask wearing at protests and in public, effective from 5th of October, 2019.
News reported that we won’t be prosecuted if we’re wearing masks for health reasons, however, mask-wearing will now be seen as defying the law, more than ever. Even if we ain’t harassed by the police to remove our masks when ordered, we still face increased tension and potential harm from civilians who associate mask-wearing with anti-government interests. I already had a man confront me about my mask and black T-shirt (for cancer awareness) while waiting in the post office queue in Happy Valley, one of the more peaceful neighbourhoods on HK island. In Spain, I’m constantly being stared at, glared at with weary eyes, that’s only because majority of the public are not aware.
With international news like this causing more people to speculate, I’m quite tempted to make t-shirts stating the reason why immune-compromised people like me NEED a mask for our protection.
Protection against people who have the flu but still out spreading their viruses to the public
Protection against those who carry contagious bacteria but don’t know they do
Protection against disease-causing air pollutants because, you know, we’re all tryna make a buck and climate change ain’t a priority for most.
Cancer patients fight hard to live…
to not die from chemo… before dying from cancer..
The thought that our progress, our lives, be jeopardized because governments can’t figure out humane ways of dealing with citizens needs…? It is unfortunate BUT we as the people are better than institutionalization.
So, I ask that during these times, we allow opportunities to develop compassion for each other, respond instead of react. Talk about it with your peers, your neighbours, even when provoked by strangers.
For me, I will practice not being defensive while maintaining vigilance.
My experience in presenting is on fitness content but when I sat down to outline this talk, self-doubt crept in. I wondered how I could bring value when I’m just talking about myself. So, I procrastinated and didn’t work on my powerpoint slides until a few hours before the talk (classic) 🤷♀️
In the midst of sweating and last minute preparation, I forgot to eat, which is oddly when my mind feels the sharpest and the most focused. Similarly to when I practiced prolonged fasting, which I mention in this talk.
The event is part of “Inside Scoop”, an informative and educational series of talks pertaining to health and fitness of all scopes, hosted by Joint Dynamics in Hong Kong.
Geoff is an Exercise Physiologist based at Joint Dynamics who also specializes in Chronic Disease Management. He has been instrumental in my recovery process with training. His topic at this event was on Anti-Fragility training.
Miles is a Functional Medicine practitioner based at Life Clinic Hong Kong, whom helped me with all of my questions about nutrition, toxin management and testing. His topic at this event was on epigenetics.
Thanks to Vee, I have a recording of this talk, as well as lucky draw prizes from Aerial Arts Academy and TRYBE, both important communities throughout my recovery.
What was supposed to be a 20-25 minute talk turned into about 40 minutes… and there I was wondering how I was gonna talk about myself for 20 minutes 🤦♀️ So, heads up on the switch of video and audio quality!
This was taken on a good mood day a month ago, fresh after a haircut
(I know, I’m at the point where I GET to have haircuts now! #BaldToPunk)
I have more good days than not-good days, and I’m here to acknowledge those days.
Recently, I’ve needed more space.
Since last week, I’ve gained more clarity from anger. That when it had never been expressed for almost 19 years, that monster just got stronger and morphed into a Hulk-Zombie busting out of its grave. I got so good at repression that I no longer know how to release rage or have a good deep-GUT-CUTTING cry… until last week.
It felt like I finally cried for Mama Pham, for Ah Mah (Grandma), for Auntie Marie, and for myself. They were mother figures to me who all died of cancer. Getting closer to understanding anger is finally helping me properly unpack grief, shame and fear.
This kinda feels like a new start, though challenging, it’s a start nonetheless for the better. Some might say we should leave the past as the past and move on, it may be applicable to some situations but not about everything. It’s also easier not to relive the pain but I know now that the band-aid won’t hold forever. That wound will fester into infection, if it hasn’t already.
For the pursuit of healing for total health, I accepted the choice to relive that 15 year-old self and verbalized what I should have expressed.
MAAAAAN, that was hard.
But, it being difficult is only temporary. Wounds heal optimally with suitable care. Today, I have a higher level of appreciation for psychologists – knowing it was a safe space, that I’m not there to be judged or to be pitied, but to be guided by someone with experience was crucial when exposing wounds. And for me, my pot needed to be stirred strongly. That shit had too much sugar, too much spice and a whole lack of love – my recipe was whack.
Words have power.
I started a practice to write type out what were unsaid, where those unsaid words turned inwards with such negative effect. I’m sharing this particular one and will state why at the end of this post.
———— Part I : DS ————
I felt hurt
I felt used
I felt like I wasn’t worth anything to you
I felt angry that you didn’t listen
I told you I wasn’t ready to have sex
I told you I wanted to wait for marriage
You didn’t listen, twice, you didn’t listen
I trusted you
How dare you take advantage of me
How dare you rob me of the opportunity to consent
I told you again that I didn’t want to have sex, despite after that night
You said “It’s not like you’re a virgin anymore”
I felt worthless when you said that
I got pregnant because of you
You are older, so I relied on you to guide
But why didn’t you use a condom?
I was scared about the pregnancy
I wanted to feel protected
To feel loved regardless
But you didn’t want the baby
You then changed what you said that you will support my wishes
Then you wanted me to have a miscarriage
I felt confused
What the fuck was I thinking
I allowed you to give me alcohol and drugs
I felt ashamed
I wished you would have offered to be there with me at the abortion clinic
But I had to be the one to request
I felt ashamed again for having a need
You said you’re going to get high with your friends after my abortion
And we haven’t even left the clinic yet
I felt numbed by that time
The nurse told me I seemed as cool as cucumber right before the procedure started
On the inside, I was fucking terrified
So, extremely, terrified
The painkillers weren’t strong enough
I felt it all
IT. REALLY. FUCKING. HURT
But I put on a strong face, not for your sake, but for my Dad
He had to sit in the waiting room with you, probably fighting every urge to not beat the shit out of you
You never asked me if I was OK
I felt ashamed that I had disappointed myself – in my promise to God, to my parents
Along with the potential of a living human, I also aborted myself
I felt that I was unworthy of living
I chased to be numb and started drinking by myself at home
I shut myself in, I didn’t speak about us to anyone
That was out of habit already, because you wanted to keep us a secret
No one could know, that would fuck up your friendship with someone close to me, you said
I felt unworthy
Because our relationship was not as worthy as your friendship to him
I thought love should trump over everything
Damn, I was naive
I needed to distract the pain
I cut myself
With the intention to die
You noticed nothing
You never even asked how I was after the abortion
By the time you cheated on me
The pain came like a familiar friend
Yet, I stayed with you
You were the only person who knew about how I lost my virginity and my abortion
I clung on to you, confused as to why
That wasn’t what I’ve watched in movies and TV
Was that what love is?
Did you even love me?
Am I not worthy of love?
I wanted to feel protected
Instead, I started to build a solid wall
I stopped trusting you
So how fucking dare you make me feel guilty for leaving you
How dare you risk me losing my job by showing up at my work, begging that I take you back
I felt disappointed in you for not owning the break up like a responsible adult
How dare you call me a “cold-hearted bitch”
I felt grief from the feeling of loss – my virginity, my values, my self-compassion
How dare you lock me in my own car punching away at the dashboard when I told you NO
I felt afraid of you
How dare you text me while I’m in school, threatening to shoot yourself with your dad’s gun if I don’t get back together with you
I felt guilty, that I had to tell my teacher and guidance counsellor why I was upset and needed to leave school for you.
I felt guilty that the cops came for you and sent you off for a psych evaluation
But hey, you got all the attention and help when you’re hurting
How. Fucking. Dare. You.
You can probably guess the reasons why I chose to share this one. I’ve never said any of that to anyone – not my parents, not my brothers, not my friends (I didn’t have any close friends at the time) and not to him. I had channeled that anger inward to myself, resulting in over a decade of self-blame, shame and a little unforgiving towards myself. But I know I’m not alone, and neither are you.
I’ll tell you what I’m NOW telling my 15 year-old self …
IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT.
YOU DIDN’T ASK FOR THIS.
I GOT ‘CHU.
As long as you WANT to live and do good, you DESERVE to earn that right
To anyone else who feels this post, may I ask that we collectively practice more acts of kindness? To others and to yourselves.
It doesn’t hurt to smile for someone who needs to see one, no one is saying you’re being fake, you’re just being there for someone.
It doesn’t hurt to keep your opinions to yourself sometimes for someone who’s hurting, no one is taking away your right to say what you want, you’re just being there for someone.
An occasion is not needed to tell someone he/she/they matter, you ain’t lying because you’re sincere about that 365 days of the year.
Give each other permission to practice expressing anger in a healthier manner. Think twice before telling someone “don’t be angry” or “don’t cry” – two of the most human things.
It’s OK to not feel OK all the time. Faking positivity seems like another way to be ignorant BUT it doesn’t mean we need to label ourselves as negative. Observe – Accept – Release – Transform
Dig deep. That nasty-ass hole. Heal that shit. Channel some Wolverine power. Now live how we preach.
Don’t be afraid of that shit-hole. Say to yourself…
Diagnosis, Treatment & Bone Marrow Donor Registries
Diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (Blood Cancer) in April 2018 while I was in Spain. Age 32.
Induction chemotherapy started 2 days after diagnosis.
Returned to Hong Kong for 3 rounds of consolidation chemotherapies and a bone marrow transplant.
My wonderful donor match is unrelated and found thanks to the efforts of bone marrow donor registries in Hong Kong and in China.
Bone marrow matches are not easy to find, so if you do match someone, you’re likely the only hope of survival for said someone.
Learn about how YOU can save a life.
Learn how you can DO SOMETHING about cancer.
Search “How to be a bone marrow donor” in your country.
When I was invited to go on the podcast channel “Hong Kong Confidential” to share my story, I had no idea I’d go that in-depth with how I lost my virginity and had an abortion at 15 years old.
The host of the podcast Jules Hannaford, also the author of “Fool Me Twice “, held space for me as I verbalized for the first time how shame and guilt contributed to a suicide attempt and over a decade of poor sexual state. It was an emotional moment for me, considering how I had never told anyone in person prior to the interview. (Yet, I broadcasted to everyone for the first time. Yes, I realize how that sounds.) So ummm, Hi Mother, Hi Father, Hi Brothers… there it is… but hey, don’t worry, I’m good. I feel enriched with wisdom today and more driven than ever to pursue a possible career in mental and sexual health. I am very lucky to be presented with opportunities and am very lucky that I started seeing a psychologist last year.
The title of the podcast was named Tap Cancer Out, influenced by the t-shirt I was wearing. Please click on Tap Cancer Out to learn more about this Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Non-profit organization based in the USA. They host fundraising tournaments, seminars and have an online shop for your BJJ needs.
Speaking of TCO, the warm, giving soul of Margot Ciccarelli offered to run a charity seminar to raise funds on my behalf, having learned that cancer continues to be a financial strain on me and my family.
Margot, founder of NomadicID.com , will be collaborating with TCO and Masterskya in Brooklyn, USA on May 26, hosting a charity seminar and raffling online coaching hours. As stated in Margot’s public Facebook post, you may direct message her for details on how to donate thru PayPal.
All I can say is that I’m blown away once again by people’s kindness, in all forms.
My friends behind Trybe and Aerial Arts Academy support me tirelessly through fundraisers and projects (and let me in during non-kiddie-germ time of course 😀 ) The pole dancing and movement community with Marlo, Kenneth, and Cherry, in particular, the fitness community in Hong Kong rallied by Tricia , her team at Goji Elite and my dear friends Ea,Xiomara and brother Andrew, Hong Kong’s movement community rallied by Andres, Dima, and Tracy – have all demonstrated that compassion is all we need to take action.
I sound like a broken record and “thank yous” don’t feel like they’re enough. However, with each gratitude shown, I feel more motivated and focused to give back as much as I can on borrowed time.
As much as I share on social media, I hardly share anything about this topic online. Reasons not too morphed over the years. Now, no longer. It is with a deep understanding of differences amidst the same desired fundamentals and the value of learning through conversations.
So, in the interest of full disclosure about this chapter of my life, here are some bits about relationships BTS (behind the scenes) upon a cancer diagnosis. Perhaps we may enjoy some substantive conversations moving forward.
Firstly, what would your expectations be as a partner to the diagnosed? How about as a friend? As a family member? Would you be afraid of judgement for not wanting to stick around? Would you be more afraid of the pain from losing your counterpart than the joy of spending every last minute together creating memories? How confident are you with your promise to fight together? And how proactive are you when you humbly learn you don’t have what it takes? How dignified can you maintain while resentment builds from unmet expectations of your ill counterpart? If you give and expect something back, like affection, how real is your generosity? How do you fight your own struggle of needing attention and care from your counterpart too? How do you handle not being the most important source of support as you hope you were expected to be? How do you even speak of struggles together anymore if you’re always undermining your shit as “nothing like what you’re going through”? How do you hang on to hope and dreams of a future when things are significantly less certain? How deep inward are you willing to focus on and reflect your outward focus authentically? How do you care for your own mental and emotional health yet not make your counterpart’s cancer diagnosis about you?
These are some questions I asked myself in my effort to understand what it is like for the other person.
Do I know if they even think about these questions? No, I don’t know.
I mean, what do you think goes through the mind of folks who’s had a lot of chemo in their system?
I should probably mention that even staying focused on blogging was a challenge…
It took me an hour to remember one question I wanted to ask my doctor yesterday…
…OOOOHHHH maybe THIS is why returning to full-on-work-mode is not as easy as it sounds…
…Fuck, did I send that email I was supposed to?…
…Now what was I saying?…
I’m referring to this blog bit as “relationship BTS (behind the scenes)” because of the thought process emphasis here as opposed to the actions, and lack thereof, up to date.
Why am I pulling away? Why am I not willing to grant a caretaking role to feed another’s sense of self-worth? What is putting me off? How do I process internal reactions that may seem too aggressive for another’s fragile emotional state? Where do I draw the line between having compassion for the partner and wanting to say “harden the fuck up, I need you to be stronger than me”? Where do I draw the line between making the effort to outwardly change my behaviour for the sake of the relationship and feeling like a hypocrite for not real? Why am I interpreting their behaviour as such? How do I still be a team player when I feel like a dysfunctional team member or have the conflicting idea that I have to be the strong one for both of us? And when they pull away, how do I move forward with this disappointment and anger at them for not fighting, which is really me failing to express my expectations? How do I bring up the elephant in the room again, sensing that it’s more difficult for the other person to talk about with the Emily-with-cancer specifically? How do I demonstrate that while I may be more vulnerable now, I am not fucking fragile? What can I do to assure and comfort them while not wanting to coddle them? That last one is tough, most of us around me are neophytes in the game but even if you have been affected by cancer in the family before, it doesn’t get any fucking easier.
Now, I realize those are important questions and pretty much scream common sense. Yet, I haven’t practiced this thought process on a deeper level than I do now with the complex box of cancer chocolates, nor have I practiced this with everyone in my life in the past, as frequently as I will be now.
Truth is, this round of intensive chemotherapy plus stem cell transplant hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. I mean, there were days where I could barely open my eyes and utter a word. I was hardly processing any of my own thoughts, let alone trying to have a conversation with anyone through messages.
Physically and physiologically, it’s a given, my body went through hell.
Emotionally and psychologically, they took a beating too. I think I hit my lowest point.
I cried lots this time. Over the most unexpected things sometimes. I even cried over oatmeal, which you can read about in the Hospital Diary post. Tears were present the one morning when I was in so much pain I practically begged for morphine, tears came when I binge-watched 13 Reasons Why, and sometimes tears just came out of nowhere as I lay in bed struggling to sleep for nights.
But hey, moving on to some proper updates now.
Transplant’s done and after 39 days in the hospital, I’ve finally been discharged. My legs were shaking out of joy and weakness when I finally walked out of the ward.
I feel like I’ve missed the entire lead up to Christmas and missed a big piece of closure for 2018, so imagine my joy when I saw this in the building lobby…
The road to recovery from a transplant is a long one of 12-18 months. Spirits and hopes are up that it’s only upwards from here and that my chances of survival are increased significantly. I got a lotta work to do #GotThis
For the first 100 days post-transplant, I’m technically still under isolation care, be it in the hospital or at home. Because my immune system is pretty much as strong as a baby right now, possibly even more compromised because chemo wiped out healthy cells too, including all of the good gut flora. It’s easier for me to catch any food-related illness. I’ve been told that I am to avoid supermarkets, crowds, public transportation, eating out, pets, plants and overall be sensible about exposing myself. That includes exposing myself to improper food handling, food-borne pathogens and unsuited cooking methods, hence why I was allowed luncheon meat yet not allowed fresh vegetables. Visitors during this time are also to be screened and to be considerate about their own health before deciding to visit too. A tiny sniffle at an early stage is sometimes the most contagious time and while it might not be anything to a healthy person, it can blow up into an infection, like pneumonia in a patient’s case. So visitors with kids and pets just have to take extra precaution prior to visiting anyone who’s just had a stem cell transplant, liking showering and changing before visiting or bring a change of clean clothes.
There were cleaning protocols as well for home. Particularly in Hong Kong, there’s the concern of mold and dust. We had someone come in to do a major cleaning of every corner, drawer and surface. Bought a bunch of cleaning supplies for daily wipedowns like cleaning shoes and backpacks with alcohol. Vacummed mattresses, couch, clothes and closet and bleached whatever that could be bleached. Not a bad way to start a little spring cleaning.
Food-wise, I had so many cravings when I was in the hospital and I went a lil’ crazy when I got home. I think I’ve pretty much exhausted these whacked out taste buds. Things are definitely tastier when imagined in my head than they actually are with my current taste buds. There’s a constant after-taste and it feels like there’s always a coat of something yucky in my mouth. So I’m either over seasoning anything I cook or I’m just reaching for the tastiest junk food around. Nonetheless, I’m still keen on cooking something different every day. I’ve been cooking a lotta western food (TACOS BABY!), think I’ll start on some Chinese cooking soon. Mmm “Dong Po Yuk”!
Activity-wise, I’ve been pacing around in the apartment, trying to rack up a minimum of 5000 steps a day.
I started doing some Yoga in the mornings via follow-along videos on FMTV! What a brilliant gift, ST!
My body feels so deconditioned like it’s starting from -100. I was on my back doing a strap-supported passive hamstring stretch and about 30 seconds in my leg was SHAKING like a salt-shaka. That had NEVER happened before. For reals tho, it’s like strength, balance, endurance and flexibility have all packed up and fucked off to another planet.
Also realizing I could use a non-slip Yoga mat ’cause Yoga is currently extra hard with a slippery floor. Manduka mats are closed-cell hygiene-approved and cushiony, right? #YogaPeopleHelpPlease
Lastly, hair loss. Now losing my hair the first time in April didn’t hit me as hard. Sure, it took me about a month to really embrace that change but once it started growing back, the “ThugRose” look became convenient and I focused on training and nutrition instead. This time, a lot more hair fell out leaving me 99% balder than in April last year. So THIS is what I’d be rocking if I really fucked off up on a mountain somewhere to lead a monk life. Do they let you wear beanies up there? Baldness is COLD.
This time around, Imma have me some fun with wigs! KB read my mind and sent me some from California for Christmas, that lovely human! I am so lucky!
Hong Kong though – Anyone knows of a donation centre for wigs?