My Valentines.

I’ve said a lot more in this blog than I would’ve ever guessed pre-cancer. Sure, I’ve put myself out there in terms of being a TV news reporter (I don’t want to know even a slice of what people have said about me!). Where personal life is concerned, I’m rather private.

But for this Valentine’s Day, I really want to dedicate some major public props to four super special people in my life. The DMSF. My Quad Squad. Core Four. These are the people you want in your corner when The Hulk of Side Effects crashes through the wall and chucks itself between the ropes before barreling at full speed toward your weakened body (which… by the way.. is waging war on itself, already).

They are my everything.

I wanted to cook a great Vday meal + dessert to show them my thanks but I’ve been feeling uber wiped. In fact, I'm not publishing until after Vday because of the side effects. So instead… I’m serving up the sweetness here (hopefully). Excuse some of the potentially vomit-inducing mush and gush. (Ironically, I’m writing this through a pretty terrible bout of nausea.)

My light.

021417 Mango.jpg

It wasn’t until sometime around college when I finally, FINALLY appreciated her for what she is: a human being. A very witty, astute human being.

Honestly, being almost six years my junior made it tough for me to take her seriously. She was always just my baby sister. I got her to fetch me water till she “wisened” up sometime in elementary school when she realized she was being used, then simply refused to do my bidding for free. So I made up a fictitious character against which she’d have to compete for my affection. (Terrible, I know - but smart, right?) The water-fetching lasted for months after thanks to my evil genius!

Back to that time in college… Christina said something, I don’t remember about what/whom, but I very vividly remember her words, her train-of-thought waking me up like a splash of ice cold water: OMG. She gets it. She gets…the world. She gets it better than I do. 

How could that come from my baby sister?

Well, since that time, she has definitely eclipsed me in tallying “wise observations about the world.” The happy-go-lucky, introverted, shy, cute girl is now a confident, sarcastic, beautiful young woman. For the first time in my life, she has also taken the role of “Jie Jie” (older sister in Mandarin) because she’s assumed the caretaker role since my diagnosis. 

It has been a foreign feeling. A heartwarming one. 

I called her on that Tuesday, December 13, as soon as I got the call that the first X-ray showed something questionable enough to trigger an emergency CT scan. Her response from work? See you in an hour. I protested but she was not to be swayed. She wanted to be there for me as soon as possible and nothing would ever get in the way of that. I know she knows I’d feel and do the same.

She brought me a lot of snacks, drinks and an overflow of what she knew I needed the most - jokes. She sensed the anxiety I tried so hard to hide and worked even harder to calm it away. Her weapons of choice are always the sharpest: the humor and the smiles cut right through my immediate pain, offering up - even if only for a moment - a release. 

Every time I’ve been in the hospital, she’s the first to raise her hand and spend the night with me. It’s clear she wants to ensure I am at my most comfortable level despite whatever obvious pain I’m going through. What food do I want? Do I want a massage? Lotion? Hair done? Help in the shower? All her by my side. I remember looking over at the chair next to the hospital bed. Her body was draped partially over the side, almost as though she was sliding off, but this was her makeshift bed. She was asleep, I’m sure so tired from taking care of me. Still, never one peep of complaint. Not once.

Not only is she that gem of a best friend, she’s got the shine that makes everything more enjoyable. In fact, when it came time to pick who would stay over with me in the hospital she would joke, “Duh, me. I’m the fun one!”

That, she is - and by a wide shot.

My hug.

If you want to meet the person with the biggest heart in the world, the softest heart in the world… here she is. Mi madre.

She’s the youngest of five and aptly the cutest mommy in the world. She also keeps it real, which is where I inherited my no-poker-face. Whatever we feel, there it is via our expression.

Not only is she genuinely kind and overly-giving, she is a super fashionista! I used to say (still do) that she has more fashion sense in her pinky than I do my entire body. I remember during my Bebe-infatuation high school days, I’d walk down the hall to leave the house which meant walking past her room. She’d be sitting on her bed and look at me, reacting at my outfit with each step I took.

One reaction was subtle: the end of her mouth curling up.
The other reaction… not so much: her judge-y eyes. 
They clearly said, “What are you wearing?!” 
But for good measure, she’d go right out and say, “What are you wearing?!”

She has devoted her entire life to taking care of others: being there for me, my sister and my dad in every way possible, from taking care of the house to taking us to every possible lesson/event out there (art, piano, soccer, swim, debate, etc.). Never complained. I look back now and realized just how spoiled with love I have been my entire life, and a big chunk of that is thanks to my mom. 

She also just knows exactly how I’m feeling and what to say. When I was confronted with cancer and immediately started talking about IVF, she pulled me aside and gave me the best talk I could ever hope for. She drained any pressure from the situation and told me that no matter what I decided, life would be good. I didn’t have to have kids to be happy. The way she looked at me and comforted me made me cry, but they were happy tears.

Some things can only be done/said via mom and get through to you. I am so lucky that I share a bond with her that allows me to be as honest and open as I need to be and know that she will not judge me at the end of it. 

Not only does she give, give, and then give some more, she does it with more love in her heart than anyone else I know. It’s not lip service - it’s mi madre.

My rock.

I didn’t realize I was a daddy’s girl till later in life. 

I should have known I was my father’s daughter when I was ten, running my hyper behind around the soccer field. During halftime break when all the other parents were feeding their kids cool orange slices and way-to-go’s, mine said this:

“God gave you elbows. Use them.” 

Now of course that was sarcastic (mostly) but it’s that kind of humor that helps describe my dad. He’s also the smartest person I know, both book and street. Not an easy nor common combo. Usually you’re lucky if you hit one out of the park,  much less two, but what can I say, the man’s also got high EQ it’s almost unfair.

And it was most unfair to your’s truly growing up. Teenagers never win in debates vs. parents, we all must eventually learn this tough life lesson. Now imagine that + dealing with someone who has all arguments buttoned up on all sides?! So I blame my early onset of defensiveness on my dad. I could never win with him, so I think I ended up chasing the thrill of “being right” with just about everyone else ;).  

Cherry on top? His super corny humor haha! He’s also not afraid to make fun of himself, making faces and embarrassing poses out in public. 

Best example of this: rewind to Steph in junior high. Family trip to Vegas. We go to the Venetian and get in one of those gondolas for a ride around what was one of the newest hotels on The Strip. The gondolier begins singing “Santa Lucia.” Much to my and my sister’s horror and to his delight, my dad stands up and begins belting out his own version. Cue applause from tourists who were very entertained. I curse those people as enablers for years and years more of the same dad antics - thanks a lot, guys.

Beyond that, we know we can count on him no matter what, something that I took for granted growing up. I thought that was just part of being a dad but he goes above and beyond.

I described it briefly before but I have to spotlight this again: the day I learned I had cancer, he took the news in the best possible way a parent could. He was calm but soft and loving. His tone was stern enough to acknowledge the gravity of the situation but light enough to feel like he was hugging me through the phone. This is not something just anyone can convey, but my dad is expert. For that I am super grateful.

He is my rock. He is our family’s rock.

My love.

You know who’s more private than me? This guy.

I, first, want to thank him for never even mentioning how much I mention him in this blog. He doesn’t like to post on social media, he’s not big on Facebook nor Instagram, but he’s never once asked me not to put up a photo of him or mention him on The Refract. 

I really don’t want to get mushy but with this man, there really is no other way. He is the real deal. When I think of wedding vows, for instance, I know I don’t have to “only focus on the good stuff.” There really is only good stuff. It’s the day-to-day with him that makes this so clear: Tim is there for me in every way. 

I just deleted a long list of attributes he has because I was already starting to vomit (ha) so instead I'll put it this way: his thoughtfulness grows along with our relationship. His efforts defy the usual impress-first trend. He puts more into his gifts to me as time goes on. My mom just let me know that he had conferred with her and my sister weeks ago on what to get me for Vday (which, btw, I truly did not expect after all he and everyone have done for me. So spoiled I am.). That's the stuff that helps me dig deep when the aches and pains seem like they're winning.

And there's also the way he looks at me. 

You guys. I’m like, balding. I have little short hairs that stick up on my head right now and they are holding on for dear life. The chemo drugs are winning that battle but dammit, they are hanging on. I kinda wish they’d surrender though because now I’ve got patches of hair here and there which makes me think that you just have to go one way or the other. There’s no pretty in the grey area, trust me.

And countless scars and bruises decorate the most random places of my body: neck, under arm, stomach, chest… 

Still, the way he looks at me truly makes me feel like the most beautiful woman in the world. I’ve done pretty well since shaving my head but now that it’s actually balding, I’ve had a couple really raw moments. The bury-my-face-in-my-hands-and-cry type moments. Each time I thought there’d be nothing to ameliorate the pangs of hurt but his words and his hugs did the trick. 

I have to stop before I start gushing to the point of complete annoyance but I do want to give one final shoutout. I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing this (sorry, no choice, buddy! Haha jk - sort of) but I remember one of the days devoted to sitting in the nurse’s office at the reproductive health clinic was all about paperwork.

The nurse presented about a dozen pages for us to initial. The crux of this was to talk about what to do with the embryos in case of…

There was no hesitation. In case of dissolution or divorce or anything, he immediately said, “They’re yours.”

He knows that this might be my “last shot.” Possibly. He knows how much this could mean to me. He said he knows I’ll be a great parent, regardless of our situation. It was second nature to him. This might not mean much to others, but in that moment, I was overwhelmed by just how thoughtful he was. It was seamless, there was no mulling things over. 

It was me he thought of first, not him, and he lives that every day. 

BTW: beyond our gratefulness exercise every night when we talk about at least one thing we appreciate about the day, we created a tradition of leaving surprise post-it note messages in the morning for each other. Even if just to say "I love you." Try it - it really kicks off the day in such a marvelous way. So... go to bed happy, wake up and start day happy!

Okay, I’ll stop. I’m surprised I haven’t given into my own nausea haha. 

Happy not-just-Valentine's-Day but Every-Day.
Yes, Happy Every Day. I like the sound of that much better :].

Big hugs,


Stephanie ChuangComment