This was the first weekend that both my Dad and Stepmom were together again. My Stepmom was gone for nearly three weeks in Taiwan. Then, my Dad jetted off to Hong Kong for another week and a half. Needless to say, I was very much looking forward to this weekend of hopping into my 1998 Toyota Corolla on this beautiful and sunny day to reunite with them.
A typical hearty and homecooked Chinese meal that I grew up with welcomed me with vibrant fragrances that awoke my dormant tastebuds: Steamed flounder with fresh ginger slices, stir-fried sugar snap peas with fish tofu, an array of delectable meats for my chopsticks to dance with, and much, much more. For dessert, we munched on lightly sweetened Japanese wafer cookies that were imported from Hong Kong itself, and then diving into white peaches and plump grapes that were the size of plums.
As usual, I kept to myself as my Father and Stepmom exchanged the four-toned Mandarian language, but then my ears perked up when my Stepmom abruptly launched into a conversation about her encounter with the fortune teller that my Father had asked for her to see.
"Your Father was very dang-shin about the latest uncertainty with your health, specifically if you should be getting the hip replacement surgery this Autumn..." My Stepmom said. "Dang Shin" meant "worried" in Chinese.
I could understand why my Father had been worried about me. Heck, I was worried about myself, though I would not admit it outright to anyone and would continue to smile no matter the fortunes and misfortunes that came trickling into my life through cosmic forces and through my own choices.
I was worried about this impending hip replacement surgery that I was still undecided and in the middle of my osteopath and orthopedic surgeon butting heads about whether or not I should get the hip replacement surgery. My osteopath was passionate and adamant that I had to get the hip replacement surgery to prevent my right knee from compensating and worsening to the point that I would have to get a right knee replacement. My orthopedic surgeon said I could not even consider my right knee and I had to seek out all alternatives before undergoing a hip replacement surgery that was not recommended for under age 40. I was in emotional turmoil and mental overload as I normally was with seeking many opinions because I could not make up my own opinion. One of my closest friends who knew me when I was a 6-year-old in pigtails and puffy cheeks post-Prednisone from my first kidney transplant said: "I think you have to get the surgery soon. I'm afraid that you are so use to the pain that you aren't giving your body and you a chance for something that can only be good for you." And, I asked her: "How do you know it will be good for me? How does anyone know it will be good for me?" She could not answer my question.
One of my newfound buddies had first said to me that I really should not delay the surgery any longer. Then, as an afterthought, he finally said: "It isn't fair that you are 29-years-old and have to make a decision like this that can result in either really good or really bad. But, then again, you've been through more than people twice your age."
My response was looking away and swallowing hard as a well of emotions filled me and nearly spilled over with anguish written all over on my face.
But, one of my closest and dearest friends of all who was the epitome of wisdom and logic and who had selflessly sent me tons of articles on possible alternatives to surgery said: "I can understand both your doctors points of view, but, in the end, it is your own body. Maybe you should make a compromise of waiting a couple more years and then getting the surgery. Can you wait a couple years?"
I stared at her with round eyes and said: "Honestly, I don't know."
In less than two weeks, a new bout of health scares have hit me. I've started to develop pressure and headaches that lead to nausea and the feeling as though I am going to faint or collapse after looking at the computer screen too long. I wound up in the emergency room again when I almost passed out at work. I'm not accustomed to headaches, so tackling this leaves me concerned and bordering on scared. Not one to give in to fear, I forced myself to temporarily forget the new health scares of headaches and nausea and the question mark hip replacement surgery by throwing myself into fundraising and still self-training swimming for the Transplant Games of America swim competition portion and doing two public speaking events.
On Saturday, May 12th, I trekked to the United Methodist Church in White Plains, NY to accompany one of the New York Organ Donor Network Public Education Specialists on the importance of registering as an organ donor. I shared my story to a small group of individuals that claimed they knew absolutely nothing about organ donation and transplantation and, consequently, were hunger for knowledge and then possibly signing up as organ donors. The Public Education Specialist were bombarded with unending questions about the entire organ donation and transplant process that we happily answered to.
Then, on May 14th, I left work early at 3PM to catch a 5:30PM plane ride to Washington D.C. as a "Patient Advocate" to speak at a Congressional Briefing about the "Policies and Strategies to Increase Physical Activity Among Adults with Arthritis," courtesy of the Arthritis Foundation. The Arthritis Foundation Director of Federal Affairs picked me up, brought me to a delicious Italian restaurant (I'm still dreaming of that ricotta cheesecake!), and the dropped me off at the Holiday Inn hotel where I completely crashed in a lavish suite room.
The next morning, the wake up call woke me out of my slumbar at 6:15AM. The Congressional Briefing was on May 15th at 9AM at Capitol Hill where I spoke alongside Dr. John Klippel, CEO of the Arthritis Foundation, Dr. Wayne Giles who was the Director, Division of Population Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Promotion and Health Prevention, and Zarnaaz Bashir, Director, Health Initiatives of the National Recreation and Park Association. Traffic was supposedly smooth and effortless, but I still wasn't awake. It was only when the trays of carbohydrate muffins, bagels, and scones and the Congressional Briefing commenced with Representative Sue Myrick (Republican of North Carolina) kicking it off that I was finally awake and hit with the fact that I was indeed at Capitol Hill due to the challenges that my osteoarthritis, avascular necrosis, and osteopenia posed to me every single day. If I had never had two of my kidney transplants and all these other laundry list of health challenges then I never would have been invited. I never would have had the chance to speak out. I never would have had this opportunity to make a difference and represent over 50 million adults and over 300,000 children that suffer from arthritis as well as over 114,000 individuals waiting for a life-saving organ. How cursed, but more so blessed I was!
When it was my turn to speak, I did not read from the paper. I spoke from my heart. I told them that there is not a day that goes by that my conditions do not make me question my quality of living and there is not a day that goes by that I do not treasure the precious moments I have with the people I love when there is and is not pain and when I can stand and walk for even a little while in the beauty of Mother Nature. It was only a 5-minute speech, but it would be yet another milestone for me trying so desperately to share my story to make a difference. Many people think I am silly to have made such a trip for only a 5-minute speech, but the purpose behind it is everlasting. The Congressional Briefing ended at 10AM and I had to rush in a taxi to catch my 12:15PM flight back.
When I returned back home, I was elated to find more emails inquiring about press interviews and invitations to a couple more speaking events, but I was more so exhausted with the pressure in my head increasing tenfold and my family and friends saying to me: "You have too much on your plate with making a deicision about your hip replacement surgery, work, and all these speaking engagements and writing projects. You have to take a break before you completely burn out." And, as much as I may crave to crash and do nothing, there is that bigger part of me that can't stop and won't stop until a cure is found for arthritis, until every single living and breathing person signs up as an organ donor to save lives, and until the healthcare system that almost all of us battle with is repaired and no longer broken to the point of hurting so many others more so financially and emotionally than plainly physically. I forget about myself and worrying about myself when I fight for others.
But, then when the speaking events are over and the praises are finished, the worry, reality, and whirring thoughts return with a vengence. The reality was there again and in my face when my Stepmother began to speak at lightning speed in her Mother Language Mandarin over English about her experience with what the fortune teller had to say about my life now and in the near future. My Stepmom held out a folded red piece of paper with heavily inked Chinese characters delicatly imprinted on to it as she spoke in Chinese.
My Father had to translate for my Stepmom, "2012 is the year of the dragon. This is an unlucky year. However, you are on a lucky streak this year in spite of all your health obstacles and challenges. The fortune teller said that you will be okay if you go through with the hip replacement surgery, but now is not necessarily the time because the dragon year is so unlucky and there are other unforeseen circumstances or conflicts at the moment. He predicted that you will face a greater health matter when you are 40 to 45-years-old."
My Stepmom lapsed into English again and spoke slowly as she pointed to the bright red and folded piece of paper with , "The fortune teller knew that you had some kind of health matter when you were in your teens. That would have been your second kidney transplant. He also said that you should go forward with publishing your book. I did not tell him anything about your health problems. He also said that between the ages of 28-32, you will have many, many people supporting you and there for you because you will need them. Lastly, he said that between 30-32, you will probably get married or find someone and you will make that person very wealthy or change their life and you will be wealthy yourself. You will have a good and long life no matter all the health challenges in your life because you are smart, strong, have a positive disposition, and are lucky enough to have many people who love and care about you."
My Stepmom gently handed me the paper that this fortune teller had carefully wrote on about my life. Fascinated and awestruck, I held the paper in my hands and stared at the characters. I wondered if I could truly believe what a stranger had to say about my life or if I was the one who created and laid out the path of my own destiny, fortunes, and misfortunes that has happened, is happening, and will happen in my life. Experiencing what I have in life thus far and knowing that there will be many extraordinary experiences that will be bittersweet, I believe what I always believe that life is a combination of choices that we make every single day (aka: Life is What we Make of it) and life is also unforeseen and amazing miracles and forces that are unexpected that could perhaps be called "fate intervening."
I folded up the paper and held on to it tight taking this faceless fortune teller's words to heart, yet knowing that there was so much more for me going forward from here on in because of what I chose to do and what higher forces would choose for and from me.
I will not have all the answers to my questions (and that is okay), but I will have all the questions and experiences to last me this beautiful lifetime.
Until we meet again Keep Smilin',
Sign up to be an Registered Organ Donor and Save Lives at: http://www.donatelifeny.org
For more information on Arthritis, go to www.arthritis.org