Resolving to do more. And also less.

Lauren over at The OffBeat Report posted on her approach to resolutions. Much like me, she admits to not being good at setting—or, in my case, keeping—them, so she went a different route and simplified her goals to being about more and less.

What I love about this approach is that, despite the use of the words “more” and “less”, it really makes your goals far more qualitative than quantitative. And not to mention, it makes them more attainable. And that’s the point, right?

Considering the number of things I’m aiming to improve this year, it took a lot of consideration to narrow down my “official” goals to a manageable number.

Less nonsense.
I’d like to commit to spending less time on things that have no real benefit. This includes things like Netflix binges, iPhone games (except brain-training and similar “thinking” games), following celebrities on social media, and following non-celebrities with too much drama.

Less waste.
I am a planner to the nth degree. An over-planner, I’d even admit. And this can be wasteful in many ways. I mean, I don’t always need to have my fridge stocked as though all my nieces and nephews live with me. I also should learn to cook for less than 10 people. Similarly, I need to re-evaluate my party-planning strategy. Our themed events always turn out really great, but what am I going to do with cowboy boot ornaments and cactus cocktail stirrers now?

More friends.
Okay, technically this isn’t a “more”. It’s a “better”. How about “More better friends“—does that count? Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends. I love that I have people to go to concerts/sporting events/bars with. But as I get older, the friendships that I find make me a better person are the ones that are there when your loved ones are sick, or come visit after surgery, or contact you just to see how you’re doing. And not only do I want to surround myself with people like that. I want to be like that.

More “me” things.
Manicures. Pedicures. Massages. Hair appointments. Museums. Live music. More dresses. More places to wear dresses. Solo dinner/movie dates. Heck, solo getaways! And high heels… I’m coming back for high heels! Okay, okay. Maybe 3 months for the heels… after I’ve officially recovered from surgery. :)

2014 was a tough one with the loss of Dad, but I’m on board to make 2015 a-MA-zing. I hope you’re all ready for it, too.

Good grief.

Eight weeks ago, I lost my dad. It feels like it was just yesterday—I can replay the days leading up to his death by memory. I can close my eyes and see his last smiles, laughs, tears, and breaths.

Having been so involved in my dad’s whole “cancer journey”, I was maybe the most prepared in my family for the day we had to say goodbye to him. And since he passed away, a part of me has been in an awkward waiting pattern expecting a massive wave of grief to hit me. I must have some emotional breakdown coming. They say it will hit me eventually. They say it can happen at any time. They have a lot to say.

Who is they? Well, simply put, they is you. they is me. They is all of us.

In the midst of all the emotion and chaos surrounding the first few weeks of Dad’s death, I had one of the funniest conversations with my mom. And believe me, it was hard to find reasons to laugh at that time. We talked about the things people said to us upon hearing the news of Dad’s passing or when paying their respects at his service—things, mind you, that were entirely intended to be encouraging or comforting.

But we were so emotionally drained that it was hard to feel anything other than grief. Words would come out of people’s mouths and just bounce off some invisible and impenetrable force field. We would hear you, but we’d just file it away for mental processing at a later time. Unfortunately, by the time we had energy to think about those kind words and warm thoughts, they were anything but that.

For example, if I had a nickel for every time someone told me to “be strong”, Dad would have been in a much fancier coffin at his viewing. Of course I knew that these comments came with good intentions, but the truth of the matter is that I really wanted to scream:

“Do you know the amount of strength it requires for me to be standing here, under these circumstances, wearing a dress, high heels, and makeup after not being able to sleep or eat for the last 10 days? Meanwhile having to hug and interact with nearly 300 people standing behind you in a single file line repeating the same things over and over to me?”

By telling me to be strong, there was implication that I was at the bottom—that they thought they were already looking at the crumbled version of me. And they had no idea.

But that wasn’t the most bothersome thing I heard over and over again. For me, the worst “kind words” were the ones that evolved into stories of other people’s grief.

“I know exactly what you’re going through.”

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve all said it at some point in our lives. And with just as much thoughtfulness and love as the people who have repeated it to us in the last few weeks. But in all honesty, it is such a selfish sentiment. It does two things in such a short time: 1) it takes the moment away from the person grieving and makes it about the person speaking, even if they don’t tell you “the story” of the time in their life that they felt exactly what you’re going through. and 2) it devalues many of the emotions the griever is struggling with.

I felt like my dad and I had the greatest father-daughter relationship in the world. I felt like he was the strongest and most amazing cancer patient ever. I felt like he tied our family together in no way any other family could understand.

But hundreds of people were confident that they knew exactly what I was going through. And they took little pieces of those emotions away from me. Like there was nothing special about my loss—it was just like everyone else’s. Some people even joked that there were “clubs” for people like my mom and I: widows and kids who lost their parents to cancer.

The point is that I’ve learned about grief in the last eight weeks. Real grief. And I know now that it’s a very sensitive time in a person’s life. There really isn’t anything you can say that will make people “feel better” during a time like that, so sometimes it is better not to say anything at all.

If someone you know is grieving, try and really remember a time in your life when you went through a similar experience and dig deep to recall all the unique emotions you went through—all the emotions none of us could possibly begin to understand. Remember how people’s words swam aimlessly around you when spoken. And just remember that sometimes the best thing you can do to express your love and support is through action. There was one family I clearly remember who came to my dad’s service that I hadn’t seen in over 10 years. And I knew they had recently lost their husband/dad, too. They immediately made their way to the reception room and relieved my extended family from refreshment duties and stayed there the entire night entertaining, serving, and cleaning up after our guests. They understood, and it was one of the most loving gestures I remember during the last eight weeks.

If you are grieving, know that the people around you love you. In spite of what they say and/or how the things they say make you feel. They mean well. We mean well. Know that no one can ever understand exactly how you feel in this moment—this is yours. Don’t let any of us take it away from you.

Dating (and re-dating) in my 30s.

The end of my last relationship was both sudden and long-awaited, both quick and sluggish, both a pain and a relief. I found immediate comfort from someone from my past… one I had been seeing quite often during the last year or so of my failing relationship since my job required me to travel all the time. We only saw each other as “friends” (yes, with quotes) during that time, though our history (and my lack of self-control) made it difficult.

He came out to see me the week after I’d left my ex and I saw him a few weeks later during another business trip, but it was obvious that 1) I had no desire to jump into another “relationship”, and 2) I wanted even less to revisit my past. He urged me to do both, but ultimately he understood there was no changing my mind.

In spite of reason #2, two separate run-ins with other people from my past followed shortly after, both experiences surely having earned their own blog posts at a later time. So, I was officially dating—or “re-dating” to be more specific.

I can probably write a book of reasons to avoid the Pandora’s box of relationships, but these 3 experiences proved to me that dating someone from your past can sometimes be valuable, even if they still don’t evolve into something long-term. I no longer look at my high school boyfriend as a monster because I got another chance to experience him and see him as a completely different person: a man. I got closure on the guy I considered “the one who got away” because I realized that he was still the person he was a dozen years prior, so really, I got away and he stayed where he was. And well, let’s just say, the boy who I experienced many “firsts” with… I no longer remember him for that one awkward Friday afternoon. We’d both learned a thing or two since our teenage years.

Now, I can’t speak as fondly of the fourth experience. 3 out of 4 wasn’t bad. And hell, you’ll get another post out of it.

Pray for Ron.

When Dad was first diagnosed with Cholangiocarcinoma, I sought out resources and people who might be able to hold my hand through the process and/or to tell me what I should expect. I struggled to find people who had heard of “bile duct cancer”, or even had any idea what the bile duct was. I found a handful of active blogs from various places in the world of people or families dealing with this type of cancer. And I learned that it’s easy to become emotionally attached to someone thousands of miles away. And though you may not have ever met, you could still feel like you were on that journey with them. Because you were—I was. Their journey was my journey.

A friend I’ve known for a very long time shared a link on his Facebook profile seeking help for a friend of his who had been diagnosed with cancer. Ron is 36 and has a 5-year-old son. It had only been 7 days since my dad’s death, and as I read his story and saw those 5 words—stage 3 bile duct cancer—my heart broke all over again, as though it was August 2, 2012 and we were just learning of my dad’s diagnosis.

After sharing this story with my family and talking about it more with them this past weekend, we decided to give all cash contributions made to our family to Ron’s family, in honor of my dad. We’re on this journey with Ron, his son, his sister, and their family, and I hope you—my friends and loved ones—can continue to show your support to us and to our new friends. They have setup a daily 9pm devotional prayer, so I ask you to join us in prayer for and with Ron.

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Strength is a result of courage, inspiration, motivation, and will. While I will continue to ask God to provide Ron and his family with the strength they need to go on this journey, we will do what we can to offer them inspiration or motivation in this fight.

If you are moved to make a donation or want to be able to follow Ron’s story, visit his YouCaring page here.

Remembering Dad.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about my dad in the last 12 days, it’s that he was loved. He made such an impact on the lives of everyone he came in contact with. At his viewing and service, a large group of his co-workers from “the machine shop” came and shed tears with us… even the manliest of men were brokenhearted at losing this quiet and simple man. My parents’ neighbors came. Most of them didn’t even know who I was, even after living there for half my life. But they knew him. He was the kind of guy you wanted to know. One of the nurses who treated him in the ER 18 months ago came. One of the receptionists from the infusion center came. Even his dentist came. The list goes on and on, but it all contributed to a single message. My dad may not have had wealth, fame, or power, but he will forever be remembered for the impact he had on other people’s lives.

Below are some videos from his viewing and service for those of you who were not able to attend. Many thanks to my cousin, Leny, for videotaping these!

Live performance of his grandkids and I while we shared the slideshow of our family photos (also below):

Photo slideshow:

Eulogy:

My parents’ church also hosted a Celebration of Life service in my dad’s honor. It was so moving to see how much he meant to his church family and to also hear of the impact he had on them and their church as a whole. Many thanks to Abe who also created a video/slideshow to honor my dad’s memory. It’s a real tear-jerker! Just hearing my dad’s voice gets me every time. :(

Twelve days… which means that it’s been almost 2 weeks since my dad has passed. How quickly time has flown by. That just proves that time doesn’t just fly when you’re having fun. It flies all the time. Cherish every day. Tell people you love them. Show them you love them. Let’s not wait until they leave us to express how much they mean to us.

We are so thankful to all of you for getting us through these last few weeks and beyond. We find our comfort in your and our wonderful memories of him and hope that you do, too.

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We love and miss you, Dad!

Day 579: See you later, Dad.

With heavy hearts, we said goodbye to my dad this morning. And in true character, even in his death, he put everyone else above himself. He waited for everyone he knew was flying in to be with him. He continued to fight death while dozens of us hovered over him in tears, not wanting to let us down. He held on until his hospice room fell quiet as people began to go home (or sleep on the floor next to him). Minutes after my mom sent my brother, my nephew and I home, my dad exhaled for the last time peacefully, sharing his last moment on this earth intimately with my mom.

While we grieve the loss of a wonderful man, it’s hard not to feel relieved for him. Although he made it look easy, his cancer battle was no walk in the park. No more doctor appointments. No more blood draws. No more IVs. No more chemo. No more insulin. No more pills. No more random concoctions that we read about or saw on Dr. Oz. :)

I see my dad in my reflection. I see him in the things I say and do. I see him in my mom, my brothers, and in all of his 9 grandchildren. I see him in his 7 brothers and 3 sisters. I see him in my cousins. I even see him in my friends. He will forever be with me.

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

i fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

e.e. cummings

See you later, Dad. I love you.

In loving memory of Renato Felix Merced. (May 24, 1950 – March 4, 2014)

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Day 566: 1 year, 6 months, and 17 days.

It has been 566 days since Dad was diagnosed with cancer. If you sat with some of the medical experts we’ve met or read the blogs/articles we’ve read along the way, they would tell you that life expectancy of a cholangiocarcinoma patient upon diagnosis usually ranges from 3-6 months. But the last 1 year, 6 months, and 17 days (and counting) has been a journey, a struggle, a blessing, a blast, and a whirlwind all rolled up into one.

I apologize for not having posted for quite some time. 2 months after Dad’s diagnosis, I started at a new job, and as things got busier at work, my dad’s health was stable and treatment continued normally for the course of the next year. So needless to say, I have plenty to share since my last post!

In August, we hosted our first fundraiser for Stand Up 2 Cancer. It was in the form of a mini-concert and the kids and I threw together a set of songs ranging from Bruno Mars to The Beatles to Journey to Sara Bareilles. My dad was going to join us for the songs he knew, but he decided at the last minute that he’d rather play with us the entire time!

The few months after that, I began planning a surprise trip to celebrate my parents’ 35th wedding anniversary. My dad had mentioned to me how he really wanted to visit Universal Studios in LA again. It had been 15 years or so since we’d last gone. Almost the entire family got to share in a weekend of celebration. We spent some time at the beach, hired a private chef for a 5 course family dinner, and finished off the weekend by experiencing Universal Studios in the best way possible… with the VIP tour!

My parents impressed us all by riding almost every single ride with the rest of us! They only didn’t ride the last two because it had been a long day and Dad was exhausted, but they rode all the big ones! It was such great fun and since we were escorted for the entire day, we got to share every bit of it together as a family.

I highly recommend the VIP tour, especially when you have a big party of 12-25 people. And I’d be doing you a great disservice if I didn’t also recommend you ask for Heather as your tour guide. She was PHENOMENAL!! Team Heather! She was also coerced into being our videographer for a mini movie my brother insisted on creating on the set of War of the Worlds.

Shortly after all the fun and excitement of our mini family vacation, it was time for the holidays! My brother DJ, his wife Corinna, and their daughter Summer were packing up and getting ready for their new adventures in Houston and I also moved to a new place closer to my offices, where I hosted our joint Texas-themed Christmas and going away party. It was great to end the year with the family, good food, and (for some of us) too much of “Auntie Gemma’s Sexy Texas Tea”. ;)

Since then it’s felt like the new year has been spent as a much needed recovery period from the last six months! All the kids are back in school, DJ and family are in Texas, and the rest of us are back to work. And Dad continues with his chemo treatment.

In the last few weeks, Dad’s edema in his feet has gotten worse, which makes walking very difficult and painful. Because of the effect this cancer has on his liver, his body is unable to flush out these fluids normally, so they remain in his body. When he wakes up in the morning after hours of being off his feet, the swelling appears to go down, but as soon as he stands up, the water rushes down into his feet and legs. His legs feel extremely heavy, and simple things like getting in and out of the car have been hard.

His blood pressure has also been extremely low and his blood sugar has been extremely high, and combined with the edema, the normal things like eating and drinking are conflicting with his ailments. The low blood pressure requires him to have more salt, the high blood sugar is making him very thirsty, and salt and water are making the edema worse. As you can imagine, it’s been quite a dance trying to get everything under control.

After 15 months of chemo, it’s beginning to look like the cancer is building a tolerance to the drugs and Dad’s body is responding less to the treatment for now. Our oncologist will continue to monitor my dad’s lab results as we move forward with chemo, and we’ll consider making changes depending on how things progress. The treatment plan Dad is currently on is the most aggressive “chemo cocktail” for this type of cancer. If we switch to different drugs, they will likely be less effective and opens up the possibility of new and different side effects which is why Dad elected to keep on track with the current plan.

I will continue to post updates in the coming weeks, but please continue sending your prayers for my dad. It is very much appreciated!

Day 307: Graduation.

I apologize for going silent on this blog for a while, but sometimes no news is good news? Hopefully I haven’t worried you.

I’ve actually had very little need to continue updating this blog in recent weeks because Dad has been well enough to stay in touch with friends and family himself, so I’ll consider it a good thing that I’ve been able to keep quiet. ;)

In this case, I’m posting about good news. Great news, actually. It’s been two months since my last post, and I know that because today marks the day my dad completed his classes to become a certified Senior Peer Counselor for San Mateo County.

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(I will share more photos in a future post, but we’ve misplaced the cord for the camera.)

For the last two months, Dad has been attending 3-hour classes twice a week to complete this certification program. And meanwhile, he has continued with his chemotherapy treatments with only a short break so that he could visit our family in Chicago for a weekend and celebrate his brother’s birthday there.

His health has remained in good condition and he continues to “make chemo look easy” as his nurses have said in the past. He had a CAT/CT scan two weeks ago and Dr. Huang has confirmed that the results were also stable, so there is no reason to make changes to the treatment Dad’s on.

We appreciate the continued prayers and the warm thoughts that we’re often sent. Please continue to keep Dad in mind.

Day 244: What Makes My Dad Awesome.

I see my dad in such a different light now. Every day, he amazes me with his strength, his faith, his positivity, his humor. Everything.

Last night, I learned something even more awesome about him. Yesterday, my dad went to an orientation to find out how to become a certified counselor in San Mateo County. Beginning next week, he will be spending half a day on Mondays and Tuesdays helping to counsel people who are ill, depressed, and/or troubled.

If my dad were depressed himself, I don’t think any of us would blame him. These last few months have certainly not been easy for any of us, especially him. But to think that he has found the inspiration to help other people amidst all of this… I can’t even find the words.

But I am glad. He is the best source of inspiration that I could think of. Hands down.

Day 237: Clarification.

It appears that information I shared in my last post was misinterpreted and has spread like wildfire.

In other news, my niece and nephew’s mom (Michelle) just wrapped up her cancer treatment on Wednesday after just about 6 months. She was undergoing both chemotherapy and radiation, and still served as a point of encouragement and inspiration for me and my dad.

As stated, Michelle is the mother of my niece (Allison) and nephew (Aaron). They live here in California.

My post did not have anything to do with Michelle Merced (my cousin) or her mother (Tita Melly), who live in Illinois.

Just wanted to clarify. :)

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