2016 was a year of self-reflection. It was the year that I realized that my dad’s cancer was a blessing and not a curse. I’ve had true growth that wouldn’t have happened in any other capacity. Yes, it sounds so cliché but seriously, I found the meaning of life. When your absolute worst fears are put in front of you—what do you do? Do you fight or flight? I always thought I would be a “flightier”. You know; the girl who absolutely hates confrontation; the girl who needs to be liked by the world; the girl who needs constant validation in everything. Nope, not me anymore! I’m a fighter and the only person who has to like me is me!
However, my path is made easier by the fact that my warrior, my samurai is in remission. I can never express enough my love and respect for those who still give back to the stomach cancer community despite losing their loved-one. I can’t even imagine. But me—I’m lucky. Although, I do have a lot of insecurity about it and I don’t take this gift of time for granted. In fact, the first time and the only time I heard my dad’s oncologist say “remission” was when he was introducing me to a colleague of his and said, “This is Aki. Her father is in remission.” I just about had a heart attack!! I so wish I had these moments all the time.
Okay… well, going back to the beginning of 2016—which started fantastically. I wrote a great Goodbye 2015 blog post that I never actually got around posting. (it is that damn insecure thing—but I did today or else this blog post wouldn’t make much sense). I had a lot of “Ah Ha” moments in January. For one, I realized that through this awful, terrible cancer that life was this precious gift. For two, Hope for Stomach Cancer received nonprofit status 501 (c)(3) from the IRS. And for three, my dad was doing good.
In 2016, my role as my father’s caregiver was turning into something so minimal. He had an interventional endoscopy, 2 CT scans in March and September, follow-up visits with the specialists, and 4 primary care visits and lab work. He had a few eye problems and 2 surgeries but those had nothing to do with his cancer… just old age. Of course I still dealt a little bit of anxiety around testing (okay a lot a bit)—but truly, 2016 was a great year for my dad’s health and for mine.
The fear of recurrence never goes away. I don’t let it take over my life like it once did. I don’t know what the future has in store for all of us, but I know I’ll be okay. It’ll be okay. We are a strong family and I don’t have the time to waste on the “what if”s.
In 2016, I was able to devote 110% to Hope for Stomach Cancer. Honestly, it has been my greatest joy and honor to share all I know to build something that can help so many people facing stomach cancer. It’s very much in its “start-up” phase but it’s turning such an ugly chapter in my life into something positive. I’ve started wonderful relationships with people all throughout the industry, and made amazing friendships. For the first time in my life, I enjoy Mondays because I get to follow my passion every single day. This passion has my heart!
Even as amazing as 2016 was on paper, in real life, insecurities, and emotions crept in. Despite having some really great personal wins, there is always that feeling… Am I doing enough? What if I fail? And it’s hard …. watching your friends die. It’s hard watching other types of cancer make headlines and progress. It’s all hard and sometimes I found myself consumed in self-doubt.
Everything about stomach cancer is complex… even the color to represent stomach cancer—periwinkle. Seriously, what type of color is periwinkle? Is it blue, is it purple? It’s something in-between. And that’s the problem with stomach cancer… everything about stomach cancer is something in-between. We borrow chemotherapy from colon cancer; we borrow targeted therapy from breast cancer. There is no one “right” path. When I think about my dad’s journey, I know now that we made all the “right” decisions. But back then, I was never sure.
With stomach cancer being complex…you can imagine how complex it is to run a newly founded nonprofit serving the stomach cancer community. My friend’s brother started a nonprofit at the same time I did and recently I was informed that it was already taking off and raised so much money. His mission is to give water to kids in Africa. When I heard that I was inspired and so proud of him—and then she asked… the dreaded question… how was Hope for Stomach Cancer coming along?
And the truth is… it’s coming along but it’s nowhere near where I’d want it to be. It’d be very nice if I could hand out cures to all stomach cancer patients, but that’s not the reality of it.
I’d have to say the hardest part of 2016 was being privileged into Rachael’s* life. Rachael was a 28 year old girl who wanted nothing more than to start a family. She had a mixed heritage like me and was an only child like me. She loved life and faced stage IV stomach cancer with so much grace. She wouldn’t and couldn’t accept that she was dying. Despite the pain, she continued seeking treatment until her body couldn’t handle it anymore. She had so much heart and so much love—but it wasn’t enough. Recently, she passed but in her story there has been so much inspiration, courage, strength, and most of all HOPE.
I’d like to say that Rachael’s story is the exception but it’s not. There are a lot of young people facing stomach cancer. It used to be the old man’s cancer long ago. Now it can happen to anybody. I can literally write a story every day about someone under 50 years old diagnosed with stomach cancer and it breaks my heart.
What do we do?
Every day I am challenged by that very question. Sometimes I pursue leads that get me nowhere and sometime I have a fantastic idea but no funding for it. I do know one thing… every day I will continue to fight for stomach cancer.