Losing GG

In the morning of February 18, I connected to the Internet, after a week’s Chinese New Year holiday, to find tons of mail in my mail box.  I was in high spirit until I read a mail from an old friend, GG, who had not contacted me for over half a year.  She is living in the US now.  

She has been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer with no known cure. With treatment, she can have another 15-20 years. But the disease is going to sap her physical energy greatly.

She wrote, “I hate to feel ‘bad’.  It is not me! There will be more tests, surgeries, and monthly injections of a chemical. I think I’m losing interest in life………no more adventures, no more cooking, no more lively conversations with strangers.

“9-11 certainly caught everyone's attention where I live, it continues to stay ‘front and center’ in everyone's mind.  I have traveled by air since 9-11, and have felt secure - or was it just my fatalistic view.  When it's my time, it's my time....”

I read the mail several times in disbelief. She had been one of the most optimistic and adventurous persons I know!

For the rest of the day, I was in a daze. The word ‘cancer’ was all over my mind.

It was giving me goose pimples.

I recounted the number of people I know who have cancer or had died from the illness: a friend with brain tumor and breast cancer; a neighbor with nose cancer; another neighbor died of skin cancer a few years ago; and several women acquaintances with breast or ovarian cancer.

In some cases, the cancer was discovered at the most unfortunate times: divorce, financial setbacks, and death of a family member. The initial shock reverberated through the patients’ personal networks.

Why are these happening? They are good people!

As a nutrition student in a Canadian university, I did practical training in counseling depressed cancer patients who refused to eat. 

The word ‘cancer’ didn’t affect me emotionally for I was looking at the illness purely from a medical viewpoint.  I didn’t know the patients personally.  All I had to do was counseling and writing reports on how their eating habits were changed by counseling.

I didn’t go into this line after graduation.  After years of meeting and knowing people with cancer, I now look at ‘cancer’ from a personal angle. The illness changes patients’ life entirely; it could spur them to write brand new chapters in life or pull them downwards in a spiral with other setbacks.

People interpreted it differently: ‘a wake-up call’, ‘part and parcel of life cycle’, ‘a punishment for sins in the last life’, ‘God’s plan to change for the better’, or “God is calling for a reason’.

Still in shock, I looked through the e-mail GG sent me last year before she disappeared from cyberspace. She wrote about her hobby – visiting places not frequented by tourists.  Her mail made me envious of all the things she saw.

“Dearie, you missed one of the biggest events of the year which was the
Annual Possum Festival for three weeks in Wassau, Florida.  Amazing events: Little Possum King and Queen Contest; Possum Gospel Singing;  Possum King and Queen Contest; Men, Women and Children’s Hog Callin’ contest; pancake breakfast; bluegrass music and strong quartet in praise of possums; performances by local artists and those from other states; clogging (a kind of community dance); Possum Parade; Possum Jam and Cornpone (American Indian bread) Baking Contest; and Senior Citizens Wausau Quilt Club Auction.” She detailed all the events with excitement.

Her words were alive on the computer screen.

“We bid for a quilt created by a group of ladies, the eldest was 92 years-old.  We didn’t get it for the ladies didn’t like us!  They posed for my camera. Cute!” I could hear her laughing.

“Then.....the annual POSSUM AUCTION! Eight of these little long-nosed, long-tailed, scraggly-furred critters were held up by their tails, one at a time, and each was auctioned off separately. Each of them cost more than the quilt!

“I was intrigued, so I asked the fella who raised these little critters, ‘What's the difference between these creatures and the ones roaming in my backyard at night?’

"His reply was that they were exactly the same.  I asked him what I could do with those in my yard - hoping that he would offer to buy the ones I caught in my backyard…so I could make a bundle.

“His response was, ’Shoot ‘em, or eat ‘em – not much good for nuthin’ else.’

“When U come to visit me, you will get curried or claypot possum. So be prepared.”  Her laughter rang in my ears.  I remembered the delicious dishes she made in her dinners.

Then she went on to tell me about the funny bets she made with people she met in the Festival.  She won and made new friends. They explored the Festival together.  It was so like her.    

“We had worked up a mighty thirst, so we moved over to the place where four men were dipping ice water out of tin tubs, under a large homemade sign which read, "Blessed are Those Who Thirst, for They Shall Be Satisfied"(In Wassau, no alcohol is served.)

“Then we had the specialty of the day -- Possum 'n Taters!  The meat tasted like shredded beef!”  She spent the rest of the day participating in all kinds of events with her new friends, blacks and whites.

The next mail she wrote was a detailed description of the Annual Gopher Race and the environmental work she was involved in.

Another one was about the "Antiques Roadshow" in New Orleans. “People took their family treasures to the big auditorium where 70 antiques appraisers are ready to examine and place a monetary value on the items. 

People came with large chairs, tables, carved wooden pieces from ships, giant ivory veneered incense urns, oil paintings, and everything else in size right down to the fine jewelry. 

If an item were of significant value or interest, one was asked to sign a legal form of one kind and quickly ushered to the "green room" where the owners got pancake makeup applied to faces.

Then, an appraiser and the owner were ushered out into middle of the crowded floor once again, where an area was brightly lit and surrounded by TV cameras.  There, the owner would be interviewed by the appraiser and told the value of the item, for the first time.”

“We had a jolly good time trying to get into the ‘show’ with our Asian stuff. Lovely!!”  An animated face speaking excitedly came alive in my mind.

“Am I going to ‘lose’ GG as who she was?”  I asked myself loudly. The question disturbed my sense of hope. 

During the afternoon tea-break, a bookmark with this saying from Vietnamese Zen Master Thick Nhat Hanh caught my eye, “People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong. Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?”

I read it over and over again that day. The calm, smiling face of M, another friend, who has been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease came alive.  When she was living in KL, she took mini buses and walked all over to explore the rich cultural fabric even though she had difficulty with physical movements. 

She saw the joy of life in everything she encountered. She wrote stories about what she saw with her pen in her trembling hand. She also did oil paintings of people she met and told fabulous stories about them.

During that time, I had a personal setback.  It was her stories that inspired me to keep going.  She was determined to live fully every moment of her life despite her debilitating illness that was taking away her integrity gradually.  When she couldn’t write with a pen, she learnt computer so she could write with the keyboard.

There I was, healthy and still young, moaning about a small loss and thinking that my life ended then. She put me to shame with her determination, “When I can’t write or draw with the computer, I would draw by holding a brush in my mouth.”  

Why was I complaining?  I decided to move on. 

That night, I wrote GG a e-mail, urging her to start adventuring again and embark on an online journal. I told her about a woman with a terminal illness, whose online journal was so popular that millions logged on to read about her daily life.

She reverted immediately, “I’m coming to Malaysia this year.  Can you recommend some unusual events for me to visit?” 

The Year of the Dragon in 2012 is going to be a powerful year where negative things are going to transformed into positive happenings. I will help her to write her journal with vibrant colors.  Most of all, I want to help her to dance like a Dragon- fly, flip, swing, turnaround – even if it is all in her mind, just to see her smile happily!

By Chong Sheau Ching


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