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First Cut is the Deepest

Here goes. My first blog post and I have no idea what I am going to write about. Actually, I know exactly what I planned to write about but never thought I would get this far into actually making it happen.

On February 18, 2015 at 3:18PM, heaven gained an irreplaceable angel. My mother, Lily Lee Tseng, passed away in San Gabriel Valley Medical Center with her loved ones around her after two long years of battling cancer. I was not in the room when my mother flatlined. In fact, I had just stepped out seconds before to grab my baby cousin as we were preparing for the worst. It has been months but I still wonder why she did not let me be there with her when she let go. That I will never know.

My mother and I had a very interesting relationship. She gave birth to me at the age of 40 in a country she was still getting to know. Luckily, Alhambra and neighboring cities was and still is filled with Chinese businesses and families, so my mother was able to get by. While my father was still in the story, his profession as a travel agent and tour guide took him away from home all the time. My brother, who is nine years older, became the English-speaking head of household and my father-figure for most of my childhood. When my brother left for college when I was in 5th grade, it quickly became "mommy and me" at home, doing whatever we could to keep going.

Like most mothers, my mom gave me (and my brother) everything she had - literally and figuratively. We were her pride and joy, her life and soul. She was born in the Year of the Tiger but was not as big of a Tiger Mom as most people would think. She was kind and generous, though when she was angered, there was no stopping her fumes. She was the one who would curse and say a bunch of mean things for hours and hours, then when she finally calmed down, she would recognize how she spiraled out of control and apologize for hurting my feelings. We spent every moment together when I was not at school. I helped her with after school day care, and she stayed through my swim lessons or gymnastics classes every time.

Growing up, I was told that I was stuck to my mom. She came to eat lunch with me at school everyday until the 5th grade, though I don't remember being that needy. Her selflessness with my brother and me is what taught and inspires me to be selfless towards others.

In high school, as long as I kept my grades up, mom allowed me to participate in after school activities, sports, schools dances, etc. Those four years went by quickly, then it was time for me to go to college. UCLA was the last school that I got into, and I recall for the week before, mom feared that I would be moving far away for college like my brother did. Thankfully, I got into UCLA and became a Bruin for life. I hope I made momma proud.

In early Fall of 2013, my mom was diagnosed with cervical cancer while she was on vacation and visiting family in Taipei, Taiwan. Prior to this diagnosis, my mother had been complaining about feeling bloated all the time and more fatigued that usual after her line dancing and Zumba classes. We tried taking her to the doctors but with her basic health insurance, she wasn't able to get any results quickly. In Taiwan, doctors said her case was far along enough for them to begin treatment right then and there. My brother and I did not hear about this until our cousin called us to spread the news. I never got a chance to ask mommy why she did not tell us herself. Maybe I will understand when I become a mother one day.

After rounds and rounds of chemo and radiation, and even after a hysterectomy, mommy finally returned to Los Angeles in Fall of 2014. Though treatment was over, the after effects of chemo and radiation never left. Mommy was still feeling bloated all the time, stomach pain that had no explanation, trouble keeping food down, but always had an appetite. She continued to go to several doctors to get help but the most common answer she received was "only time will tell".

Well, "time's up", God said on the weekend of Valentine's Day 2015. Early Sunday morning, while on the East Coast, I received a text from my brother stating mom had another emergency and went to the hospital. This time she needed surgery and things seem to be a lot more serious. A few weeks before, Luca took mommy to the hospital because she was feeling nauseous and fatigued. Doctors gave her an IV, maybe some morphine then sent her home. This time, her colon bursted. She was in septic shock and had to have surgery immediately to repair the tear and prevent further infection.

When I received the text on the other side of the country, I thought about how different everything would be if mom were still in Taiwan, how I wished I didn't take that trip to NYC during one of coldest winters ever, how I felt so helpless yet there was nothing I could actually do to make things better. I was afraid and anxious. My flight home was later that evening so all I could do was focus on what I can control and pray that mommy was gonna be okay.

Things didn't turn out okay like I had hoped and prayed, but as I look back at that horrific experience, I am thankful to know that mommy is no longer suffering in pain and discomfort. Those last few months of her life was so agonizing to watch and admit to not being able to change things for her. I was working, staying busy with advancing my own life in this competitive world, and every chance I got to be with mommy, I tried to be there. It was not enough and never will be. If only we knew what was ahead of us, how that would affect the decisions we make.

On Easter Sunday, about one month after mommy passed, I decided to get a tattoo of a Lily on my wrist to represent her presence with me always and forever. Live, Love, Laugh, Learn, Lily all over my body. It's been a little more than 5 months and I still haven't talked to mom in my dreams yet. When she is ready, I will be too. I know leaving Luca and I was probably the hardest thing for her too. At the hospital, I reminded her that Luca and I will take care of each other. I sang her some of her favorite songs, I let her know that I would not be mad at her if she decided to let go. I wish I was there before she got on the ventilator. I did not get to hear her voice one last time and I am still waiting for the right moment to listen to all the saved voicemails mommy left me over the years.

This post is called "First Cut is the Deepest" because at the age of 24, I am the first of my close friends to lose a parent. Even though my relationship with dad was close to nonexistent the first 20 years, as he aged and neared retirement, and I grew older and more mature, we have bonded these past few years. Yet, because my parents had me a lot older than most other parents, I didn't get to get married, buy a house, have a child while mommy was still alive. That will always be a hard pill to swallow for me. Most of my friends sympathize, maybe empathize, with what I've gone through these past few months, but most don't truly understand this cut.

I can't say that I am completely okay, but I will say that I am not letting what I can't control interfere with what I can control. Everyday is a new day. The circle of life is inevitable. As much as I miss mom every single day, wake up thinking about her every morning, fall asleep wishing I could hear her voice and tell her "good night", there is not much I can do about her illness and passing. I am not sure what I accomplished out of this post, and have a feeling I will come back and make edits as my thought clear up. But I am glad I took a friends advice and wrote down some of my thoughts to release it all from being bottled up inside.

ResilientSee is my brand as I develop my Life and Wellness Coaching portfolio. Less than two months after mom passed, I was involved in a major accident with both cars are total loss. Luckily, no one was hurt severely. Then shortly after, my boyfriend's mother was diagnosed with lung cancer that metastasized and created a large brain tumor. My "mother-in-law" has a long road ahead of her, and having just gone through similar experiences with my own mother, I have to check myself and make sure I am focusing on only what I can control. I hope by sharing my life challenges and stories with others, I can inspire others to choose a life of resiliency. It is okay to feel down, or be sad, but never let that slow you down from become a better person individually and to our society. Everyone goes through things that are tough. I know for a fact my mother would not want to know that I am letting the pain from her passing slow me down in the growth and opportunities I have to excel. It is important to be resilient and truly see how we can make an impact in this world in a positive way.

With that, I conclude my Sunday morning brain dump. Stay tuned for more on why I chose to work with athletes and folks experiencing transition and life changes.

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