The 2013-2014 beijingkids Health Guide is the latest resource for Beijing families dedicated to providing information on family health care, maternity, eating and breathing safety, mental health, emergency care and traditional Chinese Medicine. Articles from the guide will be featured twice a week on our website. Find the full version here.
From the editor
One autumn day ten years ago, my mother told me over the phone that she had discovered a lump in her armpit.
It had just been a few years since my father had passed from stomach cancer – an ordeal from which none of us had fully recovered – and I felt the all-too familiar pangs of dread welling in my gut as my mother described how she had gone in for a test and that the results would not be out for two weeks.
Although she tried her best to downplay things and reassured me not to worry, I sensed the trepidation in my mother’s voice as we moved on to talk about other more mundane topics.
When we received word from her doctor that she did in fact have Stage Two Breast Cancer and that it had already spread to her lymph nodes and caused the lumps to grow under her arms, it felt as though my family was the butt of an incredibly cruel cosmic joke. I spent the rest of the day at work in a daze and the rest of the evening feverishly Googling ‘invasive carcinomas’ and ‘Stage 2 metastatic breast cancer’ until resigning myself to a few hours of restive sleep.
It wasn’t long after that my mother had a complete mastectomy – the first of what would turn out to be an eight-year saga multiple surgeries and seemingly endless rounds of treatments and therapies (pills, injections, radiation, chemo – the whole nine yards).
Things were looking up for a while after that initial surgery. My mother recovered and settled into her new life and began spending most of her time in Beijing to be closer to my wife and me and her new granddaughter. Cancer seemed a distant memory as we were all lulled into our daily routines.
But four years later, during Beijing’s Olympic summer, it came back, screaming in our faces and here to stay.
That summer what we thought was merely bursitis in her hip and leg turned out to be advanced metastasis of her cancer, which had spread into her bones, abdomen and liver.
This horrible revelation set off another round of surgeries and treatments that lasted for the next 2 ½ years. She never fully recovered and in April of 2011 my mother passed away in the middle of the night in Irvine, California at the golden age of 67.
Mom was born in Shanghai and attended nursing school in Taiwan, where she spent the bulk of her childhood. She and my father emigrated to the States in the late 60s, first to Kansas City and then to Austin, Texas, where my father studied for his PhD at the University of Texas at Austin while my mother worked night shifts at a local hospital.
As my sister and I got older our mother stopped nursing and devoted the next period of her life ensuring that we had good educations and a happy, healthy upbringing.
But during my senior year when I went overseas to boarding school after my father was transferred to Dubai, she began suffering from empty nest syndrome and fell into a deep depression.
This adversity turned out to be a blessing in disguise – my mother, seeking treatment for her depression, met a local Chinese émigré who practiced traditional Chinese medicine.
Under his care she underwent a series of acupuncture sessions that helped her to gradually feel better – an experience that not only changed her life, but also gave her a new calling.
In the summer of 1991 my mother came to Beijing to study TCM. It was her first time back to the Mainland since early childhood and she was struck by the dynamic changes taking place in this familiar, yet completely foreign, land. She returned from her internship completely obsessed with China and insisted that I come to Beijing to study Chinese the following summer.
Had it not been for her prodding, I’d probably still be languishing in a suburb in Houston swatting mosquitoes and grumbling about yard-work. Perhaps someday I’ll go back to this existence, but I have no regrets over leaving it behind for my life and career in Beijing.
My mother taught me many things but the most profound thing I learned from her was to value my health, a lesson that became all the more important as I watched both of she and my father face their illnesses with dignity and grace.
On the day she passed away my mother’s last words to me were the same as she always said to me when I was growing up: “Hao hao zhao gu ni zi ji” (“好好照顾你自己,” “Take good care of yourself”).
And so I’d like to share the same advice to you, Dear Reader. Forget grades, sports, peer pressure and finances – teaching your kids to value their health above all else is the single most important lesson you can impart to them.
Take good care of them and take good care of yourself.
This article originally appeared on the editor’s page of the beijingkids Health Guide.
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Some of the articles covering the seven areas (family health care, maternity, eating and breathing safety, mental health, emergency care and traditional Chinese Medicine) within the guide will be featured twice a week on our website.
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