Mrs. Yip the funeral director called. “Your father must have loved you children so much, because when I touched his body the skin disintegrated in my hands.”
My father’s will to live through his two years of terminal colon cancer never left me. He was fifty years old and I was twenty two when I made the funeral arrangements at Wah Wing Sang on Mulberry Street in New York’s Chinatown. My friend Arlan— whose grandmother had passed away in the recent past knew what to do having made her arrangements– had brought me there and instructed me on what to expect. Through the office window I saw him waiting for me across the street.
I had taken care of my father through biweekly blood tests and weekly visits to his surgeon; changed bandages and daily administered a chemo block by attaching a syringe and administered a daily dose of chemo to a medic-port on his stomach.
Twenty years later I came down with breast cancer and through the twenty-two years of living with it, my demise was constantly predicted especially after the removal of the lower lobe of the right lung with a fist-sized tumor in 2004. Within a year tumors reappeared in both lungs and liver. At the time my daughter Xian was fifteen.
I was told I had six months to a year to live and I thought of my father: his will to live, his love
for my mother and his four children.
Xian had lived with the presence of this breast cancer and its ensuing seven surgeries since she was four years old. I had vowed watching her sleeping soundly in her trundle bed, “I will see her graduate elementary, junior high, high schools and college.”
Now at sixty-three years old—two weeks after my eighth surgery, a thoracic laproscopy— looking at my lovely twenty six year old daughter, I see many journeys together yet to come.
Fay Chiang is a poet and visual artist who believes culture is a spiritual and psychological weapon used for the empowerment of people and communities. Working at Project Reach, a youth center for young people at risk in Chinatown and the Lower East Side, she is also a member of Zero Capital, an artists collective; the Orchard Street Advocacy and Wellness Center, which supports people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer and other chronic illnesses. Battling her 8th bout of breast cancer, she is working on her memoir. Seven Continents Nine Lives (Bowery Books) is her most recent collection of poetry. And she is the mother of the inimitable Xian.