I knew my life would change, but not like that. My plan consisted of taking my life in New York City for more than ten years and placing it on the other side of the world.
The first two months were engaged in logistics – finding an apartment, finding out how to pay bills, learning the best bus route to reach the CNN office every day. I was so worn to go sightseeing, I told myself that when I settle in my new place, I could start getting to know the city seriously.
I found the circle. And then I found something else shortly after moving – a lump on my right chest. I felt like A large, flat, heavy stone sprouted inside me overnight.
Within a week there was a rush of appointment – mammography, ultrasound, biopsy, results, referral. But I knew what happened before anyone told me. I knew in my deepest self, like knowing that I was in love.
CNN Hong Kong Day holiday party, I got the news I guessed – stage 2B, requiring six months of chemotherapy, followed by surgery and radiation. I told my family about a 13-hour time difference by e-mail.
My sister, who had never set foot in Asia before, flew from the US in early January to be with me during the first two weeks of my treatment. After arriving, the jet was delayed from an all-day Raleigh – San Francisco – Tokyo – Hong Kong route, entered my apartment and went directly to clear vomiting.
Before cancer, I was not a person who liked inspirational quotes or go-get-’em-tiger conversations. I was still not after cancer. But one thing my illness did was force me to leave my insecurities.
There was no longer an option to hide when I felt conscious. The person I took a bath as a toddler was watching me vomiting 20 times a day, and he wasn’t judging me for that. When I was diagnosed, a third of Hong Kong’s medical staff saw me topless. And soon my friends would see me in the most vulnerable situations – with mouth sores, hemorrhoids, nausea and muscle drowsiness, and still wanted to hang out with me.
When I sent my sister back home, I didn’t know that I was racing at an invisible time. We were all.
Virus outside, disease inside
A few weeks after my treatment, we started hearing the news about a new virus that is heading towards China. Our bureau chief sent us all to work from our tiny high-rise apartments. All public Lunar Year events in the city have been canceled.
At this point, many Hongkonger – including me – thought the city officials were overly cautious about how bad the SARS was being managed. People wore no masks unless they were sick, there were no mandatory temperature controls, and most businesses remained open.
A few friends planned trips to Hong Kong to visit and help me. However, as the coronavirus approaches and Asia begins to lock itself, each flight is canceled one by one.
My hair started to fall into chemo around the Lunar New Year for two weeks. I decided to bite the bullet and shave them all. Every hall in my neighborhood was closed – I agreed for the holidays, everyone in the city takes a week off – except for a barber shop. The hairdresser looked astonished and astonished to see a woman entering. He didn’t speak English at all, and I didn’t speak Cantonese, so we communicated with the Google Translate app on my phone.
Kowloon is the author of the Jade Market in Hong Kong.
Courtesy of Lilit Marcus
“It’s bad luck to cut your hair during the New Year,” he wrote.
“I have no luck anyway,” I said. When he nodded once again, I removed the character of “cancer”. He nodded immediately and got to work.
I was bald after ten minutes. The hairdresser did not charge me.
“I’m sorry,” he wrote. It would be one of the hundreds of times I’ve heard these words over the next six months. What I could not express yet was that I was not upset. I felt lucky. It is fortunate to get healthcare, have a supportive Hong Kong community – CNN colleagues, many of whom I’ve just met, and a good long-term prognosis. Sure, I felt surreal. But in 2020 everything felt surreal.
I wondered how I would explain my new look to everyone in the office, but the coronavirus made it trivial. Our office decided to remain closed indefinitely while the virus was spreading.
This private Hong Kong tour gives travelers the chance to see one of the busiest ports in the world.
A travel editor that doesn’t travel
Even when I vomit 10 or 12 hours a day, I was traveling itchy I still wanted to be drawn. As a way of exploring more places in Asia, I planned to take advantage of Hong Kong’s central location and excellent airport and hoped to report from different locations as editor of CNN’s Travel section. It was normal for me to fly at least once a month in the USA. Suddenly, this was no longer an option for me or anyone.
Covid-19, ironically, was the perfect drape to get sick. My oncologist told me to wear a mask, use a hand disinfectant and protect myself when my immune system was compromised, and then overnight the whole city had cancer with me. None of my coworkers knew that I answered e-mails from my oncologist’s office instead of my desk, or that my cheerful social media situations were mostly smoke and mirrors. The expensive wig I chose for office clothes only appeared occasionally in Zoom calls. Contactless market practice has become the norm as the coronavirus continues. And sometimes, just sometimes, all the days have passed when I forgot that I was sick.
Although I could not wander around in Laos or calm down on the beach in Bali, I received a gift to get to know my new home better than I expected. One weekend, a group of people struggled with the famous Southwest Dragon’s Back hike on Hong Kong Island. Finally, we came to a beach and although it was March it was already hot enough to get into the water. I just brought a bathroom cover for this special occasion, but instead I pulled and jumped overboard, bald and pleasant.
This year I learned the word joss or luck. A colleague I trust brought red joss paper Printed with flowers and pineapples – to represent growth and prosperity – as a New Year gift. You had to burn your ancestors as a proposal, but I had no heart to do this and instead I hung on my apartment wall. It sounded like I was living in the eyes of a hurricane. In a city of seven and a half million, only four died of the virus. My Hong Kong balloon was filled with joss.
Finding joy in an unexpected place
People think cancer makes you wise. Look at all the TV martyrs in the thin and pale and bald and saint, who quietly deliver life lessons before they die – it was Dr Mark Greene, the first pop culture experience with cancer, who died noble on a beach trip in the arms of his lover.
There is something about taking a close look at your own death rate, which should deepen you. But the truth is that sometimes people get sick. Beautiful people get sick and remain beautiful. Rough people get sick and remain rude.
This was one of the reasons I did not want to share the diagnosis with people, especially when the coronavirus appeared. The internet commentator discussed whether the coronavirus is real or who deserves to achieve it. Despite the relative security of Hong Kong, I still felt a little paranoid every time I left my apartment with the masked everyone. It is better to be secretly ill than to have to live vulnerable in society.
In April, during the four months I entered chemotherapy, Hong Kong recorded a week of zero new coronavirus cases. The restrictions applied began to increase slowly. Restaurants can fill capacity again, as long as dividers are placed between tables, and their maximum crowd size can be from four to eight.
If you asked me how I expected my big steps to Hong Kong a year ago, I would talk about all the great trips I would do in Asia and the crazy adventures I would do. City. However, as the expression progresses, life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.
Getting sick during coronavirus and still getting first-class medical care and continuing to live my life reminded me of joy every day. It was a gift to be able to buy a grocery store for myself. Going for a walk was something to be celebrated instead of an ordinary task. Cancer showed me how strange and beautiful miracle it was to sleep at night and discover that you wake up in the morning.
The seasons have changed. The sun came up and went down. My tumor became so small that lumpectomy was planned instead of mastectomy. The children went back to school. And life continued to act, as it tended to do.