“Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.” — Buddha, founder of Buddhism

I have never smoked. I rarely drink alcohol. I try to eat healthy but could stand to lose weight. I also exercise kinda regularly. I know – sounds pretty boring so far, but keep reading.

About a year and a half ago, I noticed unusual things going on with my body: a mole that appeared out of nowhere, a rash so persistent that it had a life of its own, and a general crabbiness.

My primary care physician referred me to a gynecologist. The “gyno” was female, upbeat, and confident. How refreshing, I thought, a doctor who isn’t complaining about Obamacare.

The day after my exam, the gynecologist’s office phoned to schedule an appointment for later that afternoon. I should have suspected something. Normally when I ask for a non-emergency appointment, the response is: “Sorry, we won’t have any openings ’til hell freezes over.”

I sat across from the young doctor as she explained the details of my last exam. She subtly pushed a box of Kleenex toward me, foreshadowing that bad news was coming. To my surprise, I was perfectly calm. Meanwhile, I noticed there were tears in the doctor’s eyes. Being so young, maybe this was the first time she had to deliver this kind of news. “Results of your biopsy came back, and I’m afraid it’s cancer.”

As she seemed to need a tissue more than I did, I surreptitiously pushed the Kleenex back toward her. Shouldn’t I be more upset? I don’t mind admitting that I’m normally a crier. Happy, sad, empathetic, I well up when I see the dogs in the TV commercial whose lives can apparently be saved for 50 cents a day.

“What’s wrong with me?” I wondered. I mean, other than – you know – the cancer. Why am I thinking about what to make for dinner instead of whether I will live or die?

As I left her office, the doctor gave me a big hug. Or maybe I gave her a hug. I’m not sure. I did feel badly that I might have ruined her day.

I waited a couple of weeks before deciding to share the news with my family. My sister told a friend of hers who, in turn, said this to me: “Are you going to have to have radiation because my friend Ruth had cancer on her face and had to have radiation. Radiation hurts!” At that point, I decided not to tell anyone about my condition. I certainly didn’t need to hear stupid remarks like that one.

Anyone who has survived a major illness knows what happened next. One doctor’s visit after another. I saw more doctors, nurses and technicians in the next several months than I had seen my entire life, and that includes giving birth to four children.

I also turned to the Internet, obsessed with reading anything I could find on the subject — websites, chat rooms, and discussion boards. I came across many women facing the same predicament but too many of them were (Hmmm? How should I put this without sounding insensitive?)…whining.

Then one day, the seas parted and a bright light shone from the sky. Actually, I was shopping at Costco when I spotted an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. My eldest daughter babysat her two boys. Her boys were now adults with their own families, which gives you an idea of how many years had passed.

We both began working in the entertainment industry at a time when there were very few Asian Americans working behind the scenes. I noticed that she had the telltale Jamie Lee Curtis haircut many women adopt after they realize what men have known for centuries; that short hair is really cool! Like, I mean it keeps your head cool especially during those “private summers” known as menopause. And, yes, it also looks cool, too.

There she was, standing next to the bagel table. It was like Keanu Reeves meeting the Oracle in “The Matrix.” She had experienced what I was experiencing, except that she had gone through it a year earlier. We had the same type of cancer, the same doctors, and the same treatment routine. She could tell me what to expect and, more importantly, I learned what a true survivor looks like.

Since then, I have met a host of true survivors, many of them right here in the Japanese American community — mostly women, but men, too. I am proud to be one of them.

I have learned that true healing comes from inside, and of course it helps to have a sense of humor. Here are my rules:

• Don’t waste time bitching and moaning.

• Tell someone how you feel, but say it at the time you feel it — not days, months, years later — then move on.

• Say thanks for all the good things that happen to you.

• If you think that your life sucks, remember that it is within your power to change it. So change it.


“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and I could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.” — Erma Bombeck (1927-1996), American humorist and author

Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of The Rafu Shimpo or its management. Comments and/or inquiries should be directed to ellenendo@yahoo.com.

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