From Brazil to Thailand

Last week marked the ninth year since the first time I arrived in Brazil and since then living in Brazil was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. I learned how to speak Portuguese, I learned how to Samba, and more importantly I learned what it is to be Brazilian, the knowledge of which satisfies me in a profound way. Brazil has so profoundly changed me that I confess my blood is forever tinted green, yellow, and blue and while a part of me wishes life here would last forever, my time in Brazil is coming to end. Life begins anew within the next six months I’ll be closing up shop in Brazil and making my way to the next location of residence which will be Thailand.

The decision to move to Thailand was already made before the beginning of my cancer episode and I’m now returning to enact plans that were interrupted previously. Thailand is going to be a bit different for me personally than Brazil, what distinguishes Thailand from Brazil is that I’m half-thai and the ties of family there make it a place where I can be long-term and perhaps for the rest of my life. I’m excited to get over to Thailand and I think it’s one of them most exciting places on the planet right now. I’m eager to learn how to speak Thai and what it means to be a Thai a question that’s slowly been creeping up on me my entire life. I’m not sure exactly when I’ll make it to Thailand but I’m looking towards the end of this year.

The journey continues…

 

Why I quit Facebook Over the “Seen” Feature

I was using Facebook to try to get better acquainted with a girl whom I was attracted to and was only beginning to get acquainted with. It was a Friday and I sent her a proposal that we should do something that she had already suggested some time earlier. Being that the idea was her suggestion I was fairly certain she would accept but we weren’t at the level of familiarity where I could be certain beforehand however the idea was fun and it meant spending more time with her and well, I was already starting to get get that feeling of anticipation in my stomach. I wrote the proposal as a private message and hit send and saw the message get posted on Facebook in the thread where only her and I could see it. Immediately after I posted it, not even like 15 seconds more, a little word appeared that gave me a sign that my plans were unfolding with great speed as there appeared under the message I sent one little innocuous word that would end up ruining my entire weekend, “Seen”. Hungry, and about to go out for lunch, I decided to linger and a collect my reward in the form of her return message and acceptance of my proposal, but nothing happened. Okay cool no problem, but it’s coming soon I thought. I waited a half an hour and still nothing happened. I took my phone to the sandwich shop and kept hitting the refresh button, but nothing turned up. The rest of my day was spent compulsively checking my Facebook for her message and getting more frustrated with each new check showing that I was still fruitless and all the while the “Seen” text seemed to notice my desperation while taunting me and laughing at my suffering.  Why wasn’t she answering me? Did I read the situation wrong? Maybe it was how I worded the message? Better read it one more time… Hours became days, and my sense of anticipation dissolved into resentment. I looked through her photos posted on Facebook and it was clear to me that we were completely different people, what was I thinking? It was now Sunday and two days had passed since the message was sent and I decided she was ignoring me. I was well on my way to resolving never to speak to her again and then bing…  The red icon lit up showing a new message came in, and it was from her. She thought my proposal sounded wonderful and she accepted, she was camping all weekend and had just returned and would call me later so we could sort out the details. My whole demeanor changed and suddenly she was the greatest thing in the world again, but yet there was still this lingering resentment that it took her so long to reply even though she had a completely valid reason, and I don’t even know if she really saw it or if she decided to wait to reply because she didn’t have time at the moment and quite frankly under any other circumstance I wouldn’t have cared. I once just fired off an email and waited for the reply not knowing at all whether the person on the other end and read it, and not caring. That realization my friends was the moment when I realized it was time to quit Facebook.

One of the things that I’m aware of when I visit Facebook is that it’s a business whose customers are advertisers and the product that it sells to them is you. The problem with this is that the intersection of where commercial interests and one of the most important things in my life, namely my relationships with my friends makes me very uncomfortable.  If you consider why the “Seen” feature was added to Facebook you’ll see that it wasn’t put there to make interacting with your friends more fun, it was put there to pressure your friend into responding to you and to keep you coming back looking for the expected response. In tech world parlance this is called increasing engagement and is one of the chief business goals of Facebook because it’s what makes them more valuable to advertisers. It isn’t enough for Facebook to say, we have almost the entire planet in our system they also need to convince marketers that those people are also spending all their waking free time making Facebook posts, liking Facebook items, and commenting on Facebook content. In service of this goal Facebook is a Silicon Valley powerhouse that pays exorbitant money to hire the best and the brightest who study everything you do and employ techniques of psychology, statistics and learning to adapt Facebook in ways that make you want to come back and compulsively check your news feed.

The “Seen” feature is one of these devices, but what’s more interesting is not what you see at Facebook but what you don’t see. I’ve seen some really cool features built by some hacker friends that make Facebook much better if better is defined as letting you have more fun with how you interact with your friends but these cool features will never see the light of day because Facebook legal has a history of hammering down anything that allows you to interact in ways that isn’t sanctioned by Facebook. How you interact with your friends is a mission critical objective and you have no choice but to accept what Facebook decides is good for you. This power to define the interaction subtle as it may be has far reaching consequences and may even result in you losing a friend because of some perceived slight that didn’t really exist. Now these things happen even when you aren’t on Facebook but the powerlessness of deciding your social interactions is something you accept by using Facebook. For me, I’d rather see you in person where we can have a drink of wine and say things to each other knowing that no else is listening, watching and manipulating our interaction for their own agenda. Doesn’t that sound like how it should be?

 

My Time with Cancer

I was in Brazil when it happened. Standing in line at a laboratory waiting to find the results of a specimen I submitted the week before after a colonoscopy.  The girl behind the desk was attending an older couple in front of me, I recognized her from the week before, she was young probably no more than 22 years old and you could tell she was very nice and personable with everyone she attended probably somewhat unaware of the news she was delivering them. The old couple left and it was my turn, I greeted her and before I could tell her that I was there to pick up my results she asked me my name right away, “Sr. Timothy neh?”.  Yes, I responded and she immediately got up to go in the back and get something. Then I waited, and I waited, and I waited. When she returned she handed me a sealed envelope and asked me to sign that I received the envelope. Having signed the envelope, she very cheerfully wished me a good weekend since it was Friday and I walked out of the office into the hall where the elevators were. I couldn’t wait another minute, I finally would find out what it was that made the past 8 months the most uncomfortable of my entire life.  I would finally find out why I had the urgent need to go to the restroom constantly and why only  mucus and blood came out.  I opened the envelope and the letter was only about four sentences long filled with Portuguese medical terms I didn’t understand, but one word stood out and when I saw it I knew instantly what it meant, it hit me like a hammer; “Adenocarcinoma”.  It was cancer, or to be more precise colon cancer. On the drive home I was out of mind with panic and nearly crashed my car three times.

In the year and a half that followed I returned to the States to stay at my parent’s house in Anaheim, where with their help and the American medical system, we managed to save my life. The news at first wasn’t very good and there were a lot of questions, the results from the colonoscopy I brought from Brazil used medical words in Portuguese that I had trouble translating and misinterpretation made it seem like the tumor in my colon was in a bad location and I was told to prepare for the possibility that I would receive a permanent colostomy bag. I remember the doctors going out of their way to tell me that the colostomy wouldn’t be that bad and that plenty of people with it lead normal lives, but it had that feeling of someone trying to convince you of something they didn’t really believe and that you could tell it simply by how much they were trying to convince you otherwise. Fortunately it was found that I wouldn’t need a bag, they performed another colonoscopy and discovered that the location of the tumor made it possible for them to cut out that part of my colon and then reattach it together and I would more or less be back to normal. The surgery was a success but a new complication entered the picture. Cancer cells were discovered on my liver during the surgery, so the surgeon performed a second procedure to remove the cells from liver. The discovery of cancer in my liver means that the cancer cells in the tumor in my colon entered into the blood stream and then attached themselves to my liver.  Colon cancer likes to spread to either to the liver or to the lungs, once there if it takes hold the possible good outcomes decline rapidly until only an unfavorable one remains; death. In spite of the metastasis to my liver my possibilities were good because the cancer cells found on my liver had clear borders meaning they hadn’t penetrated deep inside my liver but rather were sitting on top and so the surgeon was able to remove them.  In the ensuing year I did six months of chemotherapy, which I will say is one of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life, but it wasn’t horrible or painful like what you might think. I didn’t lose my hair, I didn’t vomit once, and I didn’t waste away to an emaciated state. The bright side of colon cancer is that it’s “curable” and it looked like I was a good candidate for a cure in spite of my stage 4 metastasis.

I finished chemo and months later was recommended to see another surgeon who is a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California and specialized in cancer of the liver. PET scans showed that their was some sort of mystery spot still sitting on my liver and it was difficult to tell if it was cancer or just an ordinary harmless cyst. The possibility that it could be cancer on liver meant that I might need another surgery. I was relieved to find out that the professor looked at the scans and didn’t see anything that made him worried, he suggested that it was premature for surgery and I should just wait and they would reassess the situation in a few months to see what the mystery spot was doing over time. It was a huge relief and I thought the best possible outcome was going to be my reality and I would be returning to the life that I left eight months before. Then I got punched in the stomach in a way that it seemed like fate was setting me up only to knock me down even harder.

The very next day we found out my father had bladder cancer. Bladder cancer I’m told, is an extremely rare form of cancer to contract it’s rare like being diagnosed with colon cancer at age 38 which I was also told. My father underwent a major surgery which involved removing his bladder and then cutting a portion of his colon out and reforming it into a new bladder. The end result impacts life in that he would never pee the same way again but the outcome for this type of surgery is good and the lifestyle change was doable. The surgery went fine, and then my father spent the next three weeks in and out of the hospital with some complications that eventually worked themselves out. For me the experience was like doing all five rounds of an MMA fight only to find out at the end that they changed the rules and now you would fight ten more rounds. It was around this time that I felt myself kind of losing it emotionally, it hit me harder dealing with the possibility of losing my father than it did with the possibility of losing my own life.

Fortunately over time things worked out and life returned to some normalcy. My father’s condition improved dramatically and he went from a delicate state after the return home to up and kicking and being the dad that I’ve always known. The surgery was enough to cure him and he didn’t need to undergo any further treatment like chemo. I should mention that the one who saved both of us was my mother. She endured having her oldest son and then her husband both contract cancer in the same year and she did everything she could to bring us both back, and she succeeded, I know it wasn’t easy for her.

When it seemed like my father was able to do alright on his own, I decided it was time for me to return Brazil and pick up life where I left off. I was looking forward to returning and reuniting with friends and a couple of days before I was schedule to fly back, I received a call from the professor’s assistant telling me that the professor wanted have a consultation with me regarding my lastest PET scans which showed that the mystery spot on my liver had reduced in size. Wanting to take the good news with me to Brazil I went to the office expecting to be told that the reduced size was further indication that my condition was improving and I was in good shape for my trip, instead I walked out with surgery scheduled two days later. Apparently the reduction in size wasn’t a good sign like I thought because it meant that the spot might be cancer instead of a cyst and it’s getting smaller might have been due to the effect of the chemo treatments. Since cancer on the liver is so dangerous we couldn’t afford to wait any longer and whatever it was that inside of me needed to come out right away. The second surgery was more complicated because it involved reopening incisions from the first surgery where scar tissue had developed, the outcome this time was also good, more than good, in fact I’ve not really thought about what would have happened if they found cancer but I’m sure glad they didn’t. The mystery spot was not cancer. Life goes on.

The big question of course is what does it all mean? Honestly, I have no idea yet. While you’re going through something like this it’s impossible to step back from it and see how it impacts your life. I’m definitely and irrevocably not the same person as I was before and I don’t know who I am at this point as strange as that sounds. Last week I returned to Brazil finally and I feel like the next phase of my life began however I concede that I might be still be in the phase that came before, it’s that kind of uncertainty I have just have to deal with for now. I have a chemo port catheter installed in my shoulder still because my oncologist felt it was premature to take it out, implying that cancer comes back a lot, and maybe I’m not out of the woods yet. I feel like I am based mainly from the results of the last surgery, and I’m not scared much anymore. Mundane stresses and worries about what life had to be melted away and there’s a certain power in something like this. It was a heart wrenchingly painful process but I feel like in the future I may look back at this time and consider it the best thing that ever happened to me. The possibility of that coming true is the road I’m on right now and I want you to know that if you read this far then you are someone that knows me well and I appreciate having you in my life. Thanks for reading.