Friday, December 30, 2011

Who Would Have Thought?

After my surgery, I had several appointments with each of my surgeons. I've already met twice with my breast surgeon. I was supposed to make another appointment for the beginning of January. I tried to make the appointment at the doctor's office but was not able to. I made a mental note to call the next day but never did. I knew what I had to do but kept putting it off - you know, patterns or issues?

Last week I got a phone call, from my breast surgeon's scheduling nurse. She called me to make the appointment! That has never happened to me before. Usually, doctors are so busy that they can't keep up with who is supposed to come in. But mine did. Of all people, the busy breast surgeon who is the director of breast surgery at the hospital that I go to.

Then, I got a Christmas card from my oncologist's office. It was a gift card to Target. This is the second gift card they have sent me. The first one was in August for school supplies for the kids. What kind of doctor's office does that?

God surprises me again and again. He is so good to remember us and bless us in so many different ways!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Patterns or Issues?

There is this pattern in my life. I've seen it many times. It usually comes to light when I have a lot of things to do. Usually, things that I don't want to do. The last time I went to see my oncologist, she gave me the names of a few doctors to make appointments with. For some reason, this was really burdensome to me. I could not move. I could not function. I wanted it to go away.

Each day I would wake up knowing that I had to call and make appointments but I just couldn't do it. I would over think situations. I would over think that it was not a good time of day to call the office because of this or that. Then it would be 5:00. Too late.

One of the doctors I have to call is a new primary care doctor. If you remember, my last primary care doctor misdiagnosed me. I am a bit skiddish about getting a new primary care doctor and then having to ask to transfer all my records. Another doctor that I have to see is for the oophorectomy. I still don't know what to do about that one. Should I get my ovaries removed or ask for some other medication? So many side effects both ways. The last doctor is for my hepatitis. So many doctors. So many specialists. I am not one who likes to really shop around a lot. If my oncologist recommended a doctor, I am one to just go with that person. Do I look for someone else? So many questions.

I really need His wisdom. I really need to call. Alright, I have issues... make appointment issues.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Wednesday -10:00 AM - Central Time

I used to be taller than this guy. A lot taller than him. Our paths crossed 8 1/2 years ago. My friend had asked me to tutor someone from her father's church. I had quit my job teaching a few months earlier and was pregnant with A2. I still remember the first time I met him.

Kevin was finishing second grade and was a really sweet kid. I made him work really hard. Sometimes I feel guilty about making him work so hard. He had to write a lot of things for me. Sometimes he had to rewrite what he had rewritten. I enjoyed seeing him progress and mature. I ended up tutoring him for two years.

Over the years, his mom was very gracious to me. She would call me and drop by our house. I hadn't seen her for quite some time until I saw her at the Costco parking lot. My cancer came up and she told me that she also had some news for me. I thought that she was sick because she looked like she had lost a lot of weight. I had to wait to find out.

Kevin's mom came to our house the next week and told me that Kevin had thyroid cancer. He is a junior in high school and had surgery last Christmas at the Mayo Clinic. Unfortunately, they couldn't get all of the cancer out, so tomorrow he is scheduled to have a second surgery. It has taken this long to try to reschedule another surgery.

I beg of you all to pray for Kevin. I was so encouraged to find out that God has been comforting him and his family. This situation had brought them closer to Him. 

Please pray:

  • that the surgery will continue as scheduled (Wednesday / 10:00 am / Central Time). 
  • that God will give wisdom and skill to the doctors and surgeons. 
  • that the surgeon will be able to take out all of the cancer. 
  • that the surgeon will be able to repair the damage done to Kevin's vocal cords.
  • that Kevin will have a quick and complete recovery. 
  • that God will take care of the fact that it is Kevin's junior year in high school.
  • that God will comfort and strengthen his family.

Asian Snack Mix

This year, I was limited to what goodies I could make for Christmas. Really limited. My husband was too busy and tired to help me with any large scale baking projects, so I had to keep it simple. I already knew that I wanted to make the White Christmas Snack Mix, but I needed something to balance it. Then, I found this recipe for a salty and Asian snack mix from La Fuji Mama.

Let me tell you that the liquid mixture smells like a buttery, Asian bakery. It smelled so good in my house. I made one batch and realized that I needed to make more. I had gotten a late start (8:30 pm) and my husband started to get really sleepy. I sent him upstairs and set the timer to remind me to stir this mix every 15 minutes. Why do you have to stir it every 15 minutes? It will burn if you don't. Please set a timer.

This snack mix takes more time than the White Christmas Snack Mix, but it is worth it. I did find the first batch a bit salty, but it might have been because I had added a little more soy sauce than stated - my bad... The first batch was really good, but I also wanted to make a batch with a little kick to it. For the second batch I added Tabasco. It was very good. I made 3 batches total. My arm hurt at the end but I couldn't help myself. I couldn't stop myself from making this. Please don't tell my mother.

For those of you who have never heard of nori komi furikake, it is a dried seaweed mixture that you sprinkle on your rice. My sister's mother-in-law sprinkles it on her oatmeal. There are a lot of different ways you can eat this. I found it at a Japanese super market. I believe that they sell it at Korean super markets also.

We had some leftovers of this mix and I ate it all. Hopefully, my husband won't notice.

(Pictures are very rustic. Someone teach me Photo Shop!!)

Asian Snack Mix
(adapted from La Fuji Mama)

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup butter (one stick)
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 - 1 tablespoon Tabasco Sauce (optional)
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup sugar
7 cups Chex rice cereal
3 cups of Honeycomb cereal
3 cups of Bugles
1/2 cup roasted cashews
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
1/4 cup nori komi furikake

-Preheat oven to 250º.
-Place oil, butter, corn syrup, soy sauce, (tabasco, cayenne,) and sugar in a saucepan.
-Melt over medium heat.
-Keep stirring.
-Pour Chex, Honeycomb, Bugles, cashews, and peanuts in a large bowl.
-Drizzle 1/4 of the liquid mixture over the cereal mixture and mix.
-Then, sprinkle 1/4 of furikake over the cereal mixture and mix.
-Keep alternating and mixing between the liquid and furikake.
-Be gentle when mixing and make sure to coat all of the cereal.
-Pour into two baking pans.
-Bake for 1 hour, stirring the mix every 15 minutes.
-When done, pour the mixture over paper towels to dry.
-Store in airtight container.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel - which means, "God with us."

Matthew 1:21-23

Matthew 1:18-25 is the passage that I have been reading and rereading for the past few days. How did Mary survive being pregnant before marriage? Of course, it was the Holy Spirit who had placed the child inside of her, but how did she not get stoned to death or shunned by her family? How was she willing to face humiliation, misunderstanding, and possible death? How did Joseph not lead an angry mob to stone Mary? Jealousy and pride could have made him do it. How did Joseph accept her and the precious child inside of her? It could only be GOD.

How beautiful that two people gave up all of themselves (pride, plans, what they thought was right) to immediately obey God. How blessed they were to have been chosen to be the parents of God's precious son.

Jesus came to save us from our sins so that He could have a relationship with us. Jesus, save us from our sins. Be with us, and speak to our hearts this Christmas...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Shampoo and Vinegar Anyone?

I made my own shampoo. Okay, I said it. Don't look at me funny. I made the decision to do this after reading about all the parabens, phthalates, and other chemicals in personal care products. Some might think that I'm hanging out at Whole Foods too much, maybe I am?

These are the facts of my life:
  1. my body has a compromised immune system. 
  2. my body has a weak liver. 
  3. my body doesn't need more estrogen. 
  4. my body doesn't need extra chemicals.

After getting sick, I started to read up on this subject. The more I read, the more aware I became of things that I had never given a second thought to. We continue to use non-stick fry pans even though the fumes from them can kill small birds. We are warned not to breathe in the fumes of gasoline or to let it come in contact with our skin, but we put it all over our bodies in the form of petroleum jelly. If you want to read something really scary, read this article about what they do to the 100% orange juice that we drink. It gets stored for over a year and has chemicals put in to "revive" the flavor! Articles like this are unbelievable! We think, "Not in America!" Okay, okay...getting off of my soap box.

I want to acknowledge that it is close to impossible to be chemical free in the United States. But I do want to simplify the products that I use. Thus, the shampoo. It was really easy to make and it does make your hair squeaky clean (literally). What about conditioner? Organic, apple cider vinegar of course! Huh? Yes, vinegar. It is supposed to restore your hair to its natural pH level.

I used it for quite a while after my surgery. I noticed that my hair was getting really clean but it was a bit drying. I didn't mind the shampoo but the apple cider vinegar took some getting used to. It actually made my hair really soft, but the smell... The smell was strong. It also kept my kids out of the bathroom when I took a shower, which was wonderful. All the moms out there know what I'm talking about! When I blow dried my hair, most of the smell would dry away. But, there was always a faint smell left over that would fade as the day passed. This made me paranoid.

After my surgery, I had to keep meeting up with each of my three surgeons and my oncologist. I wore hats to try and contain the smell (also because I had crazy hair because my husband was blow drying my hair). One time I stopped by my brother's house and had my sister-in-law smell my head. She said it was okay. Phew!

This is the conclusion that I have come to: I have to find a more conditioning shampoo recipe and a different conditioner. For now, I settled for the Whole Foods brand shampoo and conditioner. It is the 365 brand and the price is very similar to the shampoo that I buy for our family. If you have a good recipe that isn't hard on the budget, please email me. I'm still searching but when I find that great recipe, you can be sure that I will share it with all of you!

For those who are curious, here is the recipe for the shampoo:

Easy Shampoo Recipe
(adapted from Mom's Aware)

10 oz.     water
1 - 2 oz.  liquid castille soap
1 tspn.    glycerin

Mix together and use as regular shampoo. Use up in a week or two.

You can add essential oils which are natural scents.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

White Christmas Mix

One of the things that I enjoy doing for Christmas is making homemade treats for people. I could go out and buy something, but I enjoy making something homemade. The snack mix recipe that I am going to share was given to me by a fellow teacher many years ago. She would make it every Christmas and bring it to the teacher's lounge. I would stand by the counter and eat and eat!

Over the years, I have made it for family, friends, fellow church workers, and deacons. People are always skeptical thinking that it will be too sweet, and then they try it. Then, they cannot stop. It is addictive. It is sweet and salty. It has passed the "Asian" test. My kids jump up and down when they see that I am going to make this.

This year, I wanted to continue the tradition of making this mix. Too many people were counting on me...  I just had to adjust the way that I made this. Translation: I had to figure out a way for others to do the work. Due to my arm issues, my children opened cereal boxes and were constant "gophers" for me. My husband melted the chocolate, poured it out, and later put the snack mix in containers. It was truly a team effort this year.

***Please note that I am not a professional photographer. I still do not know about lighting and positioning. I also experienced how difficult it was to make something and take pictures at the same time. Be patient and have mercy.***

I made a massive amount because I have a lot of people to share with. I must have used 10 boxes of cereal, 2 lbs. of pretzel sticks, 2 bags of m&ms, and 6 bags of white morsels.

This year I tried the Nestle brand morsels.

You have to line your table with wax paper, and tape it down so that it stays in place.

Pour the cereal in layers. Why? It's just more organized that way!

Melt one bag of chocolate and pour over mix.

Mix the chocolate into the mix. Use plastic gloves because the chocolate will harden on your hands.

Melt another bag of chocolate, pour, and mix again. Continue to do this until you have the desired amount of chocolate coating.

Make sure to coat all of the mix.

White Christmas Mix

1 box of Rice Chex
1 box of Corn Chex
1 box of Wheat Chex
1 box of Cheerios
1 bag of Pretzel Sticks
1 bag of M&Ms
1 jar of Roasted Peanuts (optional)  (I don't add these because my children have peanut allergies)
2 bags of white chocolate morsels

  1. Line table with wax paper and tape down.
  2. Pour out all the cereal, pretzels, m&ms, and peanuts on wax paper.
  3. Melt the chocolate following the manufacturer's instructions.
  4. Pour over the mixture.
  5. Mix chocolate into the mixture.
  6. Spread out and let dry.
  7. Place in air tight containers in cool place.

*This blog does not take responsibility for weight gained while eating this mix. Make and eat at your own risk!*

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

D - Pression

The one thing that really surprised me about my crazy, cancer situation was that I wasn't depressed. I know myself. I am willing to admit that I am a person who is prone to depression. I'm not supposed to say that out loud as an Asian American nor as a pastor's wife, but I don't want to lie. There have been several times in my life where I have plummeted to the depths of despair. These were times where I couldn't just "snap out of it." I couldn't just think happy thoughts and be happy again. It is something that some people hide (as I did) and others cannot understand.

Learning that I had stage 4 breast cancer, thyroid cancer, hepatitis c, and rheumatoid arthritis was definitely a time that could justify traveling down that dark road. But, I wasn't depressed. Don't get me wrong, I did have days that I felt down but I didn't stay there. Depression clings to you and doesn't want to let go. Not being depressed perplexed me. Why wasn't that dark cloud hovering over my head? Was I in denial? 

The answer came from my husband's mouth. It was simple and true. Why hadn't I thought of it sooner? People were praying for me. A lot of people. My family. People at my church. People at my parent's church. People at my sister's church. People at my mother-in-law's church. People at the school that I taught in Korea. Friends and their churches. Relatives of my friends and their churches. Pastor friends and their churches. People in the U.S. and around the world. People who didn't even know who I was or what I looked like! Something only God could do...

From that horrible day in February until today, I have felt this quiet assurance that He wants to draw me closer to Himself. Like a child being lovingly embraced. Embraced to feel loved and protected.

God is so good.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Lately, I've been singing a song from the early 80's. It is a song that my sister sang when she was in youth group... in the early 80's.  She sang this when I was in elementary school and she was in high school. She is five years older than me. She liked to sing and had a really nice voice. I heard a lot of her singing and took in the songs. Sometimes, I sang some of those songs. She told me not to sing in public. She's not a mean sister. She is a very kind, loving, and giving sister. She was just telling it like it was. My husband has suggested similar ideas. I've come to terms with my singing abilities... but I still sing.

I know where I'm going,
And who I'm gonna see.
I have a friend named Jesus,
Waiting there for me.
He has given something,
That only He could give.
He gave His life in payment,
So that I could live.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dulce De Leche

I moved to Argentina a little before turning one. We lived there for 5+ years before coming to the United States  My sister, brother, and I spoke Spanish. We all have Spanish names. We were all in the Spanish bilingual class. Although I am the youngest of my siblings, I can remember the most. Memories... unfortunately not the Spanish. Sometimes they think that I am making stuff up. I am not.

I remember getting stuck between the couch and the wall and really freaking out. I'm still afraid of getting stuck between the couch and the wall.

I remember taking some ground beef and putting it in a drawer and squishing it between my fingers (come on, it was Argentina). Heard my mom come. Closed the drawer. Forgot about it. Opened the drawer a few days later and saw little worms everywhere. Don't remember after that.  

I remember giving a girl a rock and telling her to take a bite out of it (of course I took a bite first and I can still remember the taste)... still feel guilty. Don't worry no one had cracked teeth.

I remember my friend telling me that you could crumple her plastic record and that it would still play on the record player. There was a lot of crying. Her mom had even given me banana pudding. That was a big mistake, still feel guilty about that one. 

I remember drinking a lot of mate (strong tea that you drink from a metal straw). We would put a heap of sugar on top before pouring in the water.

I remember going to another friend's house and having her grandmother give us bread and butter with sugar on top. I also drank some milk with sugar mixed in. My stomach hated me that afternoon.

I remember walking on a Sunday night to eat pizza in the city. My father had the onion pizza.

I remember hunting down the twin/siamese bananas at my parents fruit and vegetable store. I still look but have never found them here.

I remember that milk came in these plastic bags. 

I remember sneaking to eat these salted sardines that my mom kept under the kitchen sink. 

I remember going to get ice cream with my sister's friend's cousin. I think her name was Laura. She was tall and blonde. I still remember the taste of the ice cream: banana with dulce de leche.

Dulce de leche... mmm mmm mmm

Dulce de leche (a type of milk, caramel spread) never left my heart. I never thought that they would have it here. I did find, what I will call,  a fake dulce de leche in a can. Let me be blunt, "Not good." Thus, my quest began to search for an authentic dulce de leche recipe. I tried one recipe that had me stirring the milk for over 5 hours. Not fun but it turned out really good. Brought back a lot of childhood memories. I did not want to stir the milk for 5 hours again so I tried looking for a simpler recipe. Simpler recipe, find I did. And the taste was magnificent.

Some of you might have had the Americanized version in cakes, cookies, and pies. Please listen to me, you have to make it at home to get the real taste or I guess you could go to Argentina. The taste is smooth, creamy, and not too sweet. Yes, I said that it is not overly sweet. People, my mom even likes it, and she does not care for sweet creations. American caramel is sweet. Dulce de leche is not too sweet.

One of the best ways to have it is to spread it on freshly baked, french bread. Or between lemon, shortbread cookies, but that's another story...

Here is a link to a beautiful picture of dulce de leche.

Dulce de Leche
(adapted from David Lebovitz who adapted it from The Perfect Scoop)

1 can of condensed milk

-Preheat oven to 425º F.
-Pour the condensed milk into a glass baking pan.
-Place the glass baking pan inside of a larger pan.
-Fill the larger pan with hot water (halfway up the side of the glass baking pan).
-Cover the glass baking pan tightly with aluminum foil.
-Bake for 1 - 1 1/4 hours.
-Make sure to keep the larger pan filled with hot water.
-Check to see if the dulce de leche is brown and caramelized.
-Remove from oven and cool.
-Once cool, whisk smooth.
-Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator.
-Spread on warm, french bread.
-Eat within 2 weeks, if it lasts that long!

Friday, December 16, 2011

CCA 2011

When we went to Korea, we made plans to visit the school that I had taught in for two years - Central Christian Academy. It was a place where I had been stretched and challenged as a Christian, as a teacher, and as a person. It was an amazing place. I wanted my children to see where I had spent two years of my life in Korea. It was also the place where I had met and could now see Es (yes, the Korean Canadian, eh).

We went there on a Sunday morning. The school had several mini churches meeting there throughout the day. We went to the one that Pastor Joseph Kim led. He helped found and lead the school to the excellence that it has achieved. It was so exciting to be in the new building that they had built. Just being in the CCA environment, which brings the home, church, and school together, made me excited.

At the service, God surprised me. I saw Pastor Joe's mother, Trudy Kim. She is an American who got married to Pastor Billy Kim in the U.S., and then moved to Korea. Not modern Korea, but post - Korean War Korea. She lived there during a very difficult time in Korean history. She speaks Korean. She cooks Korean. She had always amazed me.

I had the opportunity to work with her when I was at CCA. At that time, she had opened up a pie shop at the school. I volunteered there after school. They sold sandwiches, coffee, juice drinks, and many different desserts. It was such a comfort to have these sweet pieces of America at the school. I used to go there after lunch to get dessert before teaching again in the afternoon.

A few years back, I had gotten an email to pray for Trudy because she had been battling cancer. I believe that it was a type of myeloma which is a bone cancer. The treatment she had to endure is the type of treatment I hope to never have to go through. We later found out that she was the only person to walk out of that cancer treatment center in California. God had worked a miracle!

As we sang, I saw her walk past our aisle and go to the front. Seeing her was such a surprise and encouragement to me. I had found out about my cancer 3 days earlier. Seeing Trudy gave me new hope. I knew why God had sent me there on that day. Later, I found out that she normally was not in Korea during the colder months. This year, she had come back earlier. I know why.

Some would say that it was a coincidence, but I don't believe it was. I believe that God wanted to show me that there was hope. At that time, I didn't even know about the cancer in my bones. But God knew. Salvation comes from Him alone, and so... I wait.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Menopause and Me

My breast cancer is estrogen positive. That means my cancer is fueled by estrogen. Not all breast cancer is hormone driven, but mine is. My oncologist had tried a hormone drug called Tamoxifen when I first was diagnosed. After three months of taking that, the tests (MRI, CT, bone scan) showed that it had not stopped my cancer from growing. That was when they had to induce menopause in me (to shut down my ovaries) and give me hormone drugs for post-menopausal women. With the wonder of medicine, I was given a monthly shot of Lupron to induce menopause.

After I heal from my mastectomy and thryroidectomy, I will have to have a oophorectomy (listen to the pronunciation). Yes, it is a funny word. I had to have the doctor repeat it twice and spell it for me. What does it mean? I have to have my ovaries removed. Why? My ovaries produce too much estrogen. My Lupron shots work to shut down my ovaries, but it is not a long term solution. Keeping in mind that I also have hepatitis C, strong medications are not good for my liver.

Menopause is not fun. Sometimes, I get annoyed very, very easily. That is when I need to physically remove myself from the situation that is annoying me. In other words, go upstairs when my family is downstairs. Sometimes, I just want to be by myself. I need some space, is all. Sometimes, I get angry over the littlest thing. Are you looking at me! Sometimes, clumps of hair wash away when I take a shower. You have to see these clumps of 7 - 10+ hairs to believe them! They scare me! Then there are the hot flashes, which one time made me look a little OCD. Sometimes, I want to eat but don't want to eat anything. Sometimes, I just want to cry. Not cry because I am sad or depressed. Just cry to cry. That's when I ask my husband to show me a sad, sad movie so that I can just cry.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Going to the P.S.

A little while back, one of my children asked me the following question: "Mom, why are you going to the plastic surgeon? Are you getting something done to your face?"

When I heard this, I had to keep myself from laughing. I guess there are a few things that could "freshen"  my appearance, but I had forgotten the innocence of a child. All they know about plastic surgery is that people change their facial features. My child had never learned that plastic surgeons also work with other areas of the body and reconstruction.

We had a talk. I explained my mastectomy again. I also had to explain that the plastic surgeon had to reconstruct that area. I think that everything is clarified now.

Yesterday, I had an appointment with the plastic surgeon again. It is interesting because I feel a bit shy about entering that office sometimes. The reason being that I don't want people to think that I am having a Hollywood, 90210 procedure done. I almost want to wear a sign that says, "I HAD A MASTECTOMY AND I AM HAVING RECONSTRUCTIVE SURGERY DONE."

I had a lot of questions that I needed to remember to ask my doctor. Of course, the day that I did go to the office, all those sharp pains that I had been experiencing disappeared. It seems as if those "pains" know when I am going to the doctor and "hide" out until after the appointment. The doctor wasn't sure why I was experiencing the sharp pains. Hopefully, those pains have hit the road. In a few days, I can start doing some of the mastectomy exercises to get full range of motion in my arm again.

An extra bonus was that she saw the scar on my neck and told me to do some scar maintenance. She said that massaging my scar would help the appearance in the long term. I was truly thankful that she told me that. It was not a scar that she had made because another surgeon had operated there. But, her input as a plastic surgeon was truly appreciated.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Giving a Hand

I needed help this past Saturday. Big time help. My friend, Esther (not to be confused with Es the Korean Canadian, eh),  was going to come to our house. I broke down and asked her to help me. I was desperate. I needed her to cut my nails. Huh? Yes, I needed her to cut my nails (fingernails, not toenails).

Cutting your nails is one of those mundane things that you take for granted, like flossing your teeth, lathering up your hair with shampoo, scrubbing sticky stuff off your floors that your husband doesn't notice but you do... My nails were getting really long. One of the girls at church even made a comment on how long my nails were. The problem was that I didn't have enough strength in my arm to press down to cut my nails. I also couldn't file my finger nails to get the shape that I desired - all you women, and some men, know what I'm talking about. The repetitive motion of filing my fingernails was not something I could do right now. Maybe if I did it super slow and it would take me 8 hours.

My husband would have done it. He offered, but I knew (he knew) what would happen. He would cut them down until it hurt, and I wouldn't be able to pick anything up. I could have asked A3 to bite them off. He is really good at biting off his own fingernails and toenails. But, I decided to ask Esther (remember, not Es the Korean Canadian, eh). She said yes and I cannot tell you how I glad I was that she did. My nails turned out terrific!

It is not good for women who have mastectomies to use that side of their arm. If you have a double mastectomy, using both arms. The more you use your arm, the more water builds up in your breast/arm area. Then, the doctor has to go in with a needle (I assume) and drain that water out. I have some water build up and might experience this on Tuesday...

The lesson of the story: if you see someone who recently had a mastectomy and she has some long, gnarly nails, don't judge. Instead, ask her if you can help cut and file her nails... unless she likes them that way.

Monday, December 12, 2011


I can't begin to tell you the grace that has been shown to us these past few months. There are no words to express the gratitude in our hearts. People have given us so much love, support, homemade meals, gift cards, red ginseng, scarves, homemade kimchi, blender... My children have been taken out on playmates and cared for... People have been so kind, thoughtful, and generous.

There have been so many times that I have just fallen to my knees and cried. The same question coming to mind: "Why are you so good to me, Lord?" All I could do was thank Him, because I know that every good thing in my life is from Him.

Emotionally I feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed to be receiving so much from so many people. Some people have never even met me. Some, I have only met briefly. Some, I haven't seen in 15 years. Please forgive me for not being good about sending out "thank you" cards. It has been one of those overwhelming things that opens up a floodgate of emotions for me. Please know that in our hearts, our family has thanked God for each one of you! Blessed be the name of the Lord!


"The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace."
Numbers 6:24-26

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Coming Back to the States

Before coming back to the States, I was also informed that I had rheumatoid arthritis and hepatitis C (people get this from sharing needles / blood transfusions). A drug addict, I am not. Blood transfusion, I have not. At that point I started laughing... Literally. This whole situation seemed like some type of drama from Korean television. Finding out about these other illnesses, actually made me feel better. I just couldn't help but laugh, and I did. Not like some crazy person, but like someone who knows that God knows and is in control. He must have some type of plan in this...

The doctor in Korea told us to get treatment immediately. He said that the thyroid cancer could wait but the breast cancer needed to be treated quickly. My husband and I considered getting treatment in Korea. In the end, I just wanted to get treatment in the states and recover at home. Everything would be a lot easier that way.

The clinic in Korea provided a report of my physical exam. The information is written in Korean but a lot of the information (numbers) can be read by doctors here. A cd was given of the images of my mammogram and endoscopy. We also asked to have the biopsy slides prepared so that we could take them with us. Another biopsy,  I DID NOT want. I was still swollen and bruised up from the initial biopsies.

My parents had been introduced to a retired doctor from the hospital that I wanted to get treatment from. She got me appointments with my oncologist and breast surgeon. We got home on Wednesday and went to fill out forms at the doctors offices on Thursday. We met the doctors on Friday and were so thankful. They were both knowledgeable, competent, and most of all, empathetic to my situation.

The doctors were able to use the mammogram cd, biopsy slides, and information packet, we had brought back. They scheduled an MRI, CT scan, and ultrasound, at the beginning of the following week. An additional MRI was scheduled later that week to focus on some suspicious areas in my spine.

Approximately three weeks after finding out that I had breast and thyroid cancer, I found out that it was more serious than suspected. I found out that it had spread to my spine and that they needed to do a CT guided biopsy. That biopsy confirmed that the cancer in my breast had spread to my spine. I asked what stage of cancer I was. The oncologist and breast surgeon told me that I was stage 4. I actually thought that there was a stage 5 of cancer. It didn't hit me that I was at the highest stage that you could be categorized.

I keep repeating it, but words cannot express what goes through your mind. It really feels like your whole life passes in front of you. For me, two dominant thoughts kept rising to the surface:

                                      1. My children, my husband, my family, my loved ones.

                                      2. Did I make any impact / difference in this world?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Smoked Salmon = Easy Dinner

Someone gave us some smoked salmon. My husband asked me how to eat smoked salmon. My mind went blank. That happens a lot after 3 c-sections, 3 kids, and all that is going on in my life. I did remember eating smoked salmon on a bagel with cream cheese, red onions, cucumbers, and some other vegetables. This was the perfect opportunity to look online for an easy, smoked salmon dinner.

Food blogs. Food Network - even though we don't have cable. These are my not-so-secret addictions. I started looking at food blogs a few years back, when I was searching for cake and cupcake recipes. My eyes were opened to a whole new world. I wondered why I hadn't discovered it earlier. I searched for a perfect Swedish, princess cake recipe = marzipan cake = Swedish Bakery (Chicago) = Yum, Yum, Yum!!!!!!! Food Network, my nieces and nephews know. 

Well, I decided to visit a site that I really like: La Fuji Mama. The writer lived in Japan for a few years and learned many simple and delicious recipes. She even knows how to make tofu! I have made many of her recipes and have enjoyed them all: onigiri (triangle shaped seaweed rice with filling), caramel popcornJapanese strawberry shortcake, to name a few.

As I was browsing the site, I came across her smoked salmon, cream cheese, and jalapeño temaki sushi recipe. How awesome is that! I went to my husband and said that I had found the perfect recipe for dinner. 

He said, "Are you sure?" 

I said, "Yes." 

We had to tweak it a bit to use what we had, and it turned out so good! I cannot begin to emphasize how good this was. My kids were asking for more and more and more. If they hadn't had to go to their Wednesday night commitment, they would have kept eating. Please try this! You will not regret it!!!

Smoked Salmon, Cream Cheese, and Muffalata Rolls
adapted from La Fuji Mama

Smoked Salmon
White, sticky rice with quinoa and mushroom (We made 5 cups)
1/2 cup of quinoa
1/4 cup of dried, minced mushroom
1/4 block of Cream Cheese 
Nori (sushi seaweed)

1. Add quinoa and dried mushroom to rice in rice maker.
2. Cut the nori length wise (the long way).
3. Cut cream cheese into long, 1/2" strips.
4. Place a sheet of cut nori on your plate.
5. Fill 3/4 of nori with rice (from left to right, leaving 1/4 space on right empty).
6. Place salmon, cream cheese, and muffalata diagonally (top left corner to right bottom) on rice.
7. Roll nori into a cone starting from the bottom, left corner to the upper, right corner.

Everyone made their own. This made the meal a lot of fun for the kids. I apologize for not having pictures. After we finished the meal, I thought that I should have taken pictures because this is a recipe that should be shared. Please visit La Fuji Mama to see her version. This meal was truly delicious, nutritious, and big hit-ious! 

This morning I did remember how we had eaten smoked salmon in the past: in a seaweed roll with the salmon and cut vegetables. Delayed thoughts and reactions are a part of my life.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

ER in Korea

Nut allergies are everywhere in the United States. Classrooms ban peanut butter sandwiches or products made in plants that process nuts. Food labels state whether there are nuts in products. Moms carry Benadryl and Epipens in their purses, just in case their child accidentally eats something with peanuts.

Two of my children have peanut allergies. I read food labels. I carry Benadryl and an Epipen. I have also been to the emergency room with A3 (my youngest) two times. One of those times, I had to use the Epipen. His lips swelled up and his throat started to close up. It was a very scary situation.

Korea is different. Nut allergies are not common. It is a foreign concept to Koreans. Nuts are ground into so many things. We My husband had to read food labels. When we went to a restaurant, we my husband had to asks whether there were any nuts in the food. My in-laws had to read food labels. It was something they had never experienced.

Well, my husband bought some banana cream bread from a bakery. He ate one and couldn't finish the second one. Not knowing that it had been sprinkled with peanut powder, my mother-in-law gave it to A3. After a series of events, we ended up in a Korean emergency room at around 11:30 pm. To make a long story short, the doctor didn't know what to do. It was the first time he had encountered someone with nut allergies. He was intrigued that this kid from the states had nut allergies, of all things! He ended up giving A3 a steroid shot and we were sent home.

When we went to pay for the emergency room visit, the real shocker occurred. The bill came out to $70.00! My brother-in-law commented that it was really expensive. My husband and I laughed. We thought that it was really cheap!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


While in Korea, we slept over my sister-in-law's home. My kids had so much fun playing with their older cousins. They were so kind and patient. We got family haircuts. We ate late into the night. It was quality time spent with family. Oh yeah, there was a visit to the emergency room, but I will write about that another time.

The Thursday after my exam and biopsy, my husband got a call on the cell phone he had borrowed from my mother-in-law. I knew right away that it was the doctor. My husband's voice lowered and got serious. He went into my sister-in-law's room and I followed him. That is when we found out. The biopsies confirmed that I had breast and thyroid cancer.

Words cannot express the emotions that storm inside of you when you hear that you have been diagnosed with cancer. Your bottom suddenly drops out. The dreams of the life that you had hoped for flash by. I started to cry, maybe wail a little... I wanted to cry quietly but couldn't. I started hyperventilating. I couldn't catch my breath to breathe. My husband comforted me and then went out to tell my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Writing about that day brings back the tears...

The thoughts that overwhelmed me: what about my husband and children?

A verse that I had been clinging to for a very long time reminded me of what I needed to pray...

My soul cleaves to the dust, revive me according to Your Word.
Psalm 119:25 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Korea After 12 Years

My husband's side of the family lives in Korea. My mother-in-law had come here twice but none of the other family had met my children. Knowing that they would be waiting a very long, time for us to save up enough to make a trip out there, my mother-in-law, brother-in-law, and sister-in-law pitched in and sent us the airfare. We were overwhelmed with their generosity!

Since we were going to Korea, I wanted my husband to get a full check up. He had had his gallbladder removed and had been diagnosed with gout after turning 40. In Korea, hospitals and clinics have everything set up so that you just show up, change into hospital pjs, get led from test to test, and are given the results a week later. The best part is that the cost is very minimal (compared to here) and the service is superb. Korean travel agencies even set up these type of "medical" tours for people.

My husband wanted us both to get physicals. We talked about it. Prayed about it. Almost did not get physicals. But God intervened. We were going to go to a large, university hospital but I started to chicken out. I was afraid of being in a huge hospital and being separated from my husband - the translator. At this time my friend, Es the Korean Canadian, connected us to a clinic. It was run by one of her church members. It was close to her, she could watch the kids, and then our families could spend time together. We had the whole day planned.

We arrived in Korea on Wednesday and went for our physicals on Saturday. The clinic was super clean and organized. We were led from test to test. The technicians were quick and precise. I was really amazed at the whole system.

After my mammogram, I waited to get an ultrasound of my organs, breasts, and neck area. We had to wait while they looked at my mammogram (they had these huge computer screens which showed the mammogram images - really high tech).

The doctor found each of my organs and looked to see if there were any irregularities. Everything was fine until he got to my right breast and thyroid glands. He found irregularities almost immediately. That is when my heart started to sink. We were told that I would need to have a biopsy. Luckily, they had a spot open that afternoon. They even gave us tickets to get a free meal at this jjuk (congee) restaurant. That is service!

Biopsies are not fun. Needles. A LOT of jabbing and poking. Efforts to be strong and not cry. But I still cried. Swelling. Bruising. Enough said.

How did I feel during this time? I cried with my husband. I was numb with disbelief. I had to keep it together because I didn't want to be "sick" in front of my in-laws. That night, we were going to have a family gathering with my husband's relatives. What do you do?

The one thing that stood out from all of that confusion was that God loved me and that He wanted to draw me closer to Himself. He was clear and very gentle with me when He spoke to my heart. This is something that words cannot explain. I didn't hear this loud voice talking to me. I didn't get a vision or a dream. I just knew, and He knew that I needed that type of assurance to keep going forward.

Monday, December 5, 2011

One and Half Years Ago

In the beginning of 2010, I started getting a sharp pain in my right breast. It would come and go. I finally went to the doctor for a check up and had my first mammogram. I was almost 40.

My mother had a cyst removed when she was in her 40's. My sister had had breast cancer three years earlier. They caught my sister's cancer early. We praised God that she wasn't staged. She had a lumpectomy and radiation.

They called me after my first mammogram. They told me that the radiologist had seen something "suspicious." I was told that they would do an ultrasound if they found anything suspicious on my second mammogram.

I went in and remember the technician looking at the markings on my first mammogram. She was trying to pinpoint the spots she needed to focus on. She would measure the mammogram with her thumb and pinky and then on me. When she was all done, I waited with anticipation and worry as she took it to the radiologist. It wasn't too long afterwards that she came back and told me that everything was fine and that I could go home.

Words cannot express the relief you feel when you hear that it is not cancer. You can breathe; you can relax. You want to jump up in the air and yell, "Yippee!" I called my husband telling him the good news.

Unfortunately, the sharp pain continued. The mammograms were in July and I went back to my doctor on my birthday. I complained about the continued pain in my right breast. She ordered an x-ray.

I'm not angry with the doctor, but I do not care to see her. Did I trust her? Yes, because she is a doctor. Did I question her? She is the doctor, I am not. Do I wish that I had pressed her for an ultrasound? In retrospect, YES.

Seven months later, I did find out that I did have breast cancer (on the side that had the sharp pain) and thyroid cancer...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pain Meds

(Saturday morning. Looking quite awake.)

One of the harshest realities of my surgery was realizing that pain meds don't like me. They really don't. I had a reaction to Vicodin when I had A1 (my oldest) eleven years ago, so I couldn't take it or any other drug in the same "family." The pain meds that had worked when I had A2 (my daughter) and A3 (my youngest son) have been taken off the market. That was a little alarming to hear!

This time, they gave me morphine. It was not nice to me, at all. I do not like morphine. I couldn't open my eyes because everything was spinning. They also gave me a drug to stop the didn't work. I threw up the little water, Italian ice, and vegetable broth that I had consumed. It just wasn't a pretty picture. I couldn't eat from Wednesday night (the night before my surgery) until Saturday morning (when I stopped taking the pain meds). All my body had was an IV and drugs.

I was sensitive to sound, smells, and opening my eyes. I was SENSITIVE. I didn't like sound, so people were whispering. I could smell perfumes and fragrances in an intense way. Talking was also very difficult. I had no energy, voice, or breath to talk. I could only speak a minimal amount of words.

Early Saturday morning, it hit me that I needed to stop taking the pain meds to feel better. I figured that it was better to feel pain than to feel nausea and dizziness. That was the day that the "clouds parted." The dizziness started to go away. I was starving and was able to eat some jjuk (congee) and keep it down. Once I ate, I started to get more energy. I just wanted to go home.

My parents brought my children to the hospital on Saturday for the first time. Prior to that, I had not wanted them to see me so sick. They walked in quietly with such serious faces. Seeing them made me cry. Cry because I had missed them so much. Cry like the first time I heard them cry when they were born. Cry like a mom who knows the worry each of them must not have been able to express those days that mommy was in the hospital.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Reality of Things

I had my monthly appointment with my oncologist today. I feel so blessed to have her as my doctor.  My husband and I feel "taken care of."

Everything went well with my surgery. The tumor in my thyroid was not as large as first thought. This was a real blessing. It was originally thought that my thyroid cancer was the oldest and largest of my cancers. That is what had come out in the ultrasound images from Korea. It turned out to be .6 cm. This was a relief because we had waited for the thyroid surgery (9 months from my initial diagnosis) so that all the surgeries could be done at once.

My mastectomy/reconstructive surgery went well also. There were two different tumors. One was dumbbell shaped and around 3 cm. The other was .9 cm. The breast surgeon (another doctor that we are extremely thankful for) made a very small incision (3 inches). She was able to do what she had to do without making such a dramatic cut.

The smaller incision allows more movement in my arm. I still can't lift my arms in the air, but I can lift them up. You never know how many muscles you use to do something, until you have surgery. My right arm has very little strength. I have to be careful because if I use it too much, fluid will build up inside of me.

The primary cancer has been removed. The cancer throughout my body and particularly in my bones is still there. I will continue with my hormone therapy to try to keep the cancer from growing. I will also continue to get my monthly Lupron shot to keep me menopausal. Why, you ask? Because my breast cancer was estrogen driven. Menopause shuts down the estrogen production in my ovaries. I will have to think about removing my ovaries in the very near future...

My cancer is really baffling because:
                    1. my age
                    2. I nursed all my children
                    3. my tumors turned out to be slow growing cancer cells
                        (a 1 out of 3)

I don't understand everything but I do have to look at what is true: God is God. He is in control. He understands. He loves me.

He is my only salvation and I wait for HIM...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Two Weeks

Two weeks ago I had surgery. Major surgery. It took 7 hours. There were 3 different surgeons (breast surgeon, reconstructive plastic surgeon, and ENT surgeon) working right after each other.

I remember going into the operating room. It is always so cold in there (I've had 3 c-sections). I asked them if they would keep me warm. I am always cold and this really concerned me. My last c-section had lasted two hours and had left me shivering with a pretty low body temperature.

The nurse said that they would keep me warm. She got a warmed blanket and put it over me. I saw two of the surgeons. Then the anesthesiologist told me that he was going to put me under. I don't remember what happened after that. I am very thankful for that because fears do creep up inside of you...fears that you might feel everything and not be able to move/tell anyone that the anesthesia is not working.

The next thing I do remember was being woken up and told that I was being moved to a hospital room. I couldn't open my eyes but I could hear voices. It seemed like they had just put me under and were already waking me up. I woke up to a new reality...