I grew up in El Paso, a desert town as far west in Texas as you can get. Now I live in the Far East, about 5 minutes away from Hong Kong’s infamous Fragrant Harbour. And it’s been a crazy ride between Point A and Point B, with a whole lot of dreaming, risk-taking, not listening, listening hard, failing and celebrating to underscore the journey.
After a summer of studying abroad in Scotland, and about to enter my senior year of university in Texas in 2002, I began to experience worrying physical symptoms that came seemingly out of nowhere; symptoms that really tried to steal my mojo, and symptoms that landed me in a wide variety of doctors’ offices, from delightful (not!) visits to gynecologists, neurologists, rheumatologists, immunologists, gastroenterologists and even an infectious disease specialist (I still have a photo that captures me excitedly drinking from stagnant pond water in Scotland because our tour guide said it was thought to be the “fountain of eternal youth” and “everyone did it”).
Fast forward about ten years, a few still-unexplained symptoms, and a couple of firm diagnoses (more on the specifics later), and I was learning to live very well with subclinical autoimmune disease that I’d kept at bay through study and instinctively focusing on deep nutrition, lifestyle modifications and the mindset that continues to help me today; that I have a healthy mind, body and spirit with some room for improvement, rather than a sick body on the hunt for wellness. Our thoughts are wildly powerful, after all.
By this point, I was living my dreams and living proof that wild life is worth the risk. I’d called Texas, Scotland, Florida, Colorado, Australia and Hong Kong home. I’d gone skydiving, skinny dipping (it’s healthy, okay?), performed as an electric violinist in front of thousands at arenas in Sydney, was working at my dream job as a worship leader for an international church in Hong Kong, and had married my best friend.
My Dad’s Cancer Diagnosis
Then, in 2013 my father was diagnosed with Stage IV, metastatic colon cancer. At this point, my personal studies around autoimmunity quickly enlarged to encompass the full immune spectrum, with cancer at the forefront. My natural bent, after the waves of grief and fear that come when a loved one is faced with a life-threatening diagnosis stilled, was to immerse myself in research around alternative (in addition to traditional) treatments because I instinctively believ(ed) that our bodies are hardwired for wellness. Beyond expanding my personal library with books on the subject, I, like many others in similar positions, sought the opinions of experts from around the world on my father’s behalf. And I learned a great deal in the process, though it was only the tip of the iceberg.
Unfortunately, my father passed away in January of 2015, a little over two years after his diagnosis. Beautifully, those two years, though filled with grueling (primarily traditional) therapies, were also highlighted with wonderful and hard-won moments; a twelve day road trip from Texas to Yellowstone National Park, two sparkling last Christmases together, and my dad’s first international flight in years to visit me in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year. I can still hear the laughter and picture my parents, husband and I on the Aqua Luna (a traditional Chinese junk boat with red sails) as fireworks exploded in the sky over the harbour.
The process of slowly losing my father was searing and it took weeks after his passing before I could put words to the raw emotions I was experiencing and even longer before the numbness of loss wore off enough for me to channel these experiences into art and creativity. I vividly remember a Thursday morning in May of 2015, just over three months after my dad’s death, when
My Mom’s Cancer Diagnosis