August, 2010

Encouragement From Noriko

It has been a week since my 3rd chemo. Though I go to bed expecting that tomorrow will be better than today, my body has felt heavy and food has tasted horrible still. “ Don’t you remember what the nurse said? Because chemo accumulates as cycles go by, it will get tougher,” said George. No, I don’t remember that, yet  I do remember  some  people  saying such a thing. Though I still need to take three more chemos, is this true? I started Googling, and then my eyes were caught by words “ chemo brain” even before I found the answers. It is a side effect on a brain from chemo that affects memory, understanding, reasoning, etc. I’ve heard those words, and I thought that was a joke, but it’s not! The Internet says sometimes this side effect continues even after chemo is over. This sounds really scary! I continue Googling, and then all of sudden I thought about Noriko. She, who signed up for bone marrow donations 12 years ago, was recently contacted for an exam.
For living organ or tissue donations, donors always have some risks. Apparently a bone marrow donation is done with total anesthesia and a recovery from pain takes a few days. As I was talking about this over the phone with Noriko, she said, “I’ve gone through so many painful experiences. So I don’t mind if it’s just pain.” “ If I didn’t do it, and a patient dies, I may regret it.” People who need bone marrow transplants are usually leukemia patients and although I don’t know any donors, I know a quite a few people who needed or need this transplant. I understand how vital the donations are, yet I don’t have any courage to donate by taking the pain. On the other hand, Noriko is willing to take a risk for a stranger she doesn’t know. “ Love your neighbor as yourself”—a teaching of Jesus echoes into my ears again. As I thought about her, that she loved our Lord with all of her heart, I thought worrying about my side effects wasjust a little thing. I have to do what I have to do: take my chemo, trust our Lord and “let tomorrow worry about itself”. I stopped Googling and instead, I emailed Noriko to thank her.

A Happy Day

Yesterday was really a good day.  I could sleep soundly the night before and in the morning, as I made carrot, apple & lemon juice by a brand new juicer, it tasted SO Good!  It means my  taste is coming back. For lunch George and I went to Costa Mesa to see his old friends, who flew to San Diego from PA for a vacation.  Thank God, again, I could enjoy good conversation as well as a quiche & chicken vegetable soup.     If it were two days ago, I couldn’t have, but thankfully so far my side effects are fading away instead of persisting.

Even in the evening, I had enough energy to go to the Happiness Hour at church to study about happiness.  Every person who saw me made a big smile saying, “ You look great.  I am glad to see you!” Their greetings were so sincere that I felt happy instantly.

While Tolstoy quotes, “ Happiness does not depend on outward things, but on the way we see them,” you may not be satisfied even in the good circumstance or can be happy even in the bad circumstance; In another words, I learned that happiness is our choice instead of expecting it to come from surroundings.  Interestingly, a Japanese book I read today also was making the same point: In “ Love From The Depth” , Tomihiro Hoshino, who is quadriplegic but a well known artist drawing with his mouth in Japan, quotes, “ Illness or Injury as such involve neither happiness nor unhappiness.  People’s ideas and attitudes toward life are what allow illness and injury to make them miserable.”  Nobody wants to be paralyzed, or have cancer.  Yet even if it happens, we don’t necessarily need to be unhappy.  The Bible says : When we run into problems and trials, we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.  And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

I was encouraged, again!

♱ Ephesians 6: 13-6:17

Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.  For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

♫ | What a Wonderful World

by Louis Armstrong

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you.

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world.


What a Wonderful World w lyrics – Louis Armstrong
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” Sweet Music for Autonomic Nerves”

I found a big card and a CD in a package from Japan.  It was from the family of Takuma (12 yr old), who had a heart transplant at UCLA Medical Center 9 years ago.  He has been in and out of a hospital in Japan for a year or so because his transplanted heart started weakening.  Though heart transplant is a miraculous treatment that saves a life from the verge of death, unfortunately it is still not a full treatment.  Takuma, who became a soccer athlete, is now fighting again against heart disease and numerous side effects of drugs.

Since I found cancer, receiving continual support and prayers from so many people, I’ve experienced how much it means for a person to receive kind words even if it’s simple.  God has been working on me, and I’d like to respond to him becoming more compassionate and be able to give freely.

As I sent Takuma a book of Snoopy, now his family sent me the gift.  I appreciate their thoughtful words on the card drawn by Takuma’s sister, but also the CD“ Sweet Music for Autonomic Nerves”, which is really soothing.  Next week when I get sick from chemo side effects, I will listen to this CD thinking about a little fighter, Takuma.

from “Sweet Music for Autonomic Nerves”                                                                Takuma 2010

Helping a Japanese Medical Student

When I feel well, I’d like to do what I can do or should do.  One of the goals of Grain of Wheat Inc. is to support students who want to work in a medical field.  Today George and I introduced a Japanese medical student, who wished to work in the U.S., to Junko, who used to be a Grain of Wheat volunteer and now is a resident at Children’s Hospital Orange County (CHOC).  We drove to the hospital in the City of Orange this afternoon. CHOC Children’s is a nonprofit organization that serves families without medical insurance and Junko works 80-90 hours per week.  In spite of such a busy schedule, she took time for the student.

The two discussed the difference between Japan and the U.S.’s medicines and hospitals, and shared their dreams with passion. I was encouraged listening to them, people who really want to give themselves to care about patients, not because of money or status, and I wish them all the best without being trapped by greed and power from the society.

After leaving the hospital, George and I drove to the downtown and found a small, cozy Italian restaurant.  Though Italian cuisine is George’s favorite, I have avoided it since my taste change.  Yet, tonight may be different. And it was!  After the good work, I enjoyed it even more than I thought, with a good conversation with George.  On the way home looking at the beautiful dusk from the freeway with many lanes, I felt abundantly given richness and hope for tomorrow.

♫|You Raise Me Up

written by Brendan Graham

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up… To more than I can be.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up… To more than I can be.

There is no life – no life without its hunger;
Each restless heart beats so imperfectly;
But when you come and I am filled with wonder,
Sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity.

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up… To more than I can be.

Celebrating George’s Birthday

After Sunday worship service, I went to the hospital for pre-blood work for Tuesday’s Chemo.  The result came in to my computer as soon as I got home.  Everything is in an average range.  This was good!

In the evening, we as a family went to the annual music summer concert at the church with a picnic dinner.  Also, since the 17th would be George’s birthday, tonight we brought big cakes to celebrate it with the people who got together. Our church, standing on the cliff with a 180 degree view of the ocean, used to be a mansion given as a birthday gift from a wealthy man to his wife. A couple times this beautiful church was used even for movie scenes.   Dinning on the patio with a glorious view – with Catalina Island on the left – the city of Santa Monica on the right, and with a golden sunset on the horizon, made us feel as if we were so rich.  After people jumped in to help me, (I was disoriented), hand out cakes, we moved to the instant amphitheater with chairs and lights set out near the fountain to  enjoyed a rock’n roll concert.  it started with “Happy Birthday” in Italian for George.  There were people who were dancing, too!  It was fun to watch people having a good time. Then at home we continued to celebrate his birthday with gifts and lots of  laughter. Happy Birthday George!

The 4th Chemo Infusion

the  17th was the day for the 4th infusion.  Since I could not sleep at all the night before due to a Steroid which eased the side effects, I slept for the whole time of the infusion. At home I am giving myself shots of Neutropenia. Though I am still not used to self-injections, this is preventing me from the risk of infections.  Reading the Bible, which lifts me up, I am waiting for the rough time to go away.

Is This Year Productive?

It has been about 4 months since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and the summer is almost over.   I feel like the time flies faster and faster recently, but  I wonder if I am growing this year:   Or is this another bad year being disturbed by cancer?  I asked George how he evaluates if his time was productive or not.  He answered that he evaluates himself twice a year on his birthday in Aug. and the end of a year, with his journal, based on the values that God wants us to have.  So, I did the same picking out several values as rulers to measure my growth.

Self-Evaluation

#1.  Gratefulness

Receiving plenty of  prayers and support from both the U.S. and Japan, almost every day I feel I am blessed.  If I can enjoy some ordinary food, that I used to eat all the time, that makes me so happy. Smiles from people I see makes me so happy.   Compared with the time before the cancer, when I felt my work was not valuable and I accumulated complaints, this is a great improvement!

#2.  Humility

I have heard from organ transplant patients saying, ” You volunteers are helping us so much that we don’t know how to pay you back.” Giving is difficult but so is receiving, too.   To receive unexpected grace, we have to become humble. When Jesus offered to wash disciple’s feet, Peter at first couldn’t take it.  For him the idea being washed by a great teacher sounded too much to receive.  Yet Jesus said, without washing his feet, Peter wouldn’t have any relationship with Jesus.  I don’t know how to return the favor I abundantly receive and that makes it difficult to receive.  But if  I don’t receive there is no relationship and if I receive with humility, the humility helps me  reduce criticism or complaints, increase gratitude and respect, and become a better listener and eventually a better servant.  God is working on me.  A half-step improvement.

#3 Love & compassion

Being loved first, I am aware that God wants me to take  my part to serve people;  to be compassionate, also.  He is feeding me with great love through this battle of cancer so I can be a better loving person.  It is not the time to visit people in needs but I can pray for them, and express my care in words.  When we “wash each other’s feet”, our relationship with people and God gets more intimate. That’s the result.   Another improvement.

#4 Integrity

When we try to do or seek right things in God’s eyes, sometimes they go against a trend of the majority, and then we often face criticism and  obstacles.  Even if not, being honest may bring painful consequences and it’s not always the first thing we want to do. Yet the discernment comes not from how we feel but from the Bible and it requires humility, obedience, and love.  I am struggling with this.  Need improvement.

#5 Forgiveness

For a long time I had a conflict with my mother.  The more I found the same deficit inside me, the bigger the conflict became and we had many fights. Yet this has become the past.  God has worked on both of us and I can be truly thankful for what she has done for me.  A big plus in growth.

Though I know there is a long way to go,  at least I see some improvement this year in my self-evaluation.  May God produce lots of fruits from this nasty cancer!  May God mold me and change into  a better person!

Ami Came to L.A. Again

Ami, who had a heart transplant at UCLA at age 7, came to L.A again. This time it was all for fun!  Yet back then, the family was desperate: Ami had a stroke and her parents were not sure if she could recover or she would make it to fly to the U.S.. Meanwhile they had to raise more than a million dollars for medical travel costs, also. It is now 5 years later, and the family who brought grown up Ami looked so happy.

“She always wanted to come back to L.A.,” said Mom. Though her first 6-month-stay for the heart transplant was not easy being full of tests, exams, an all night surgery, drugs and numerous side effects, she seemed to keep only good memories.  Even now she has blood work every two weeks, monthly check ups, and takes 8 meds every day. She has a disability caused by her stroke, too.  However, neither she nor her family complains at all.  Holding the arm of her little brother, mother, or with dad, she looks so content always; even at the boring times such as adult oriented shopping or conversation. Seeing her and her family again, I renewed my gratitude for the generosity of the U.S. and the donor family that saved her life.

From right Ami’s mom, dad, Ami,  her brother and volunteers