End of a Decade

With the start of a new decade fast approaching, I would describe the 2010s as the following: traumatic—oh, man, was it traumatic, yet miraculously full of hope.

For one, the decade both began and ended with cancer, with my maternal grandpa and grandma succumbing to the terrible disease in the early part of the decade, and yours truly experiencing multiple near-death encounters around late 2017 through early 2019. As I have done since 2012, I have written annual reviews, but I did not publish my 2018 one, because it was just that shitty: diagnosed with primary mediastinal large B-cell lymphoma, relapsed while overseas—only to literally barely make it back alive for salvage chemo, awaited a bone marrow transplant that never ended up happening, since I, yes, relapsed again. I also had a tube inserted through a jugular vein in my neck for, at the time, an unknown amount of time (ended up being half a year). It didn’t seem quite so holiday cheery to publish what was basically a dying girl’s wish to find a match for the transplant.

There is something darkly humorous about how cancer has became one of the easier things to write and to talk about, as compared to reflecting on Sonia five or ten years ago. I say so because I do not feel proud of the kind of person I was—in fact, I feel ashamed, embarrassed, and regretful. There is not much use in reflecting on the details, but cancer has literally and figuratively given me a new life. A blank slate, to wipe clean the memories of the past, to be replaced by ones that were arguably worse yet still less vulnerable to self-criticism.

And yet, while it seems like I had no control over my cancer, my second (and FINAL) relapse earlier this year made me realize I did have a choice. A second opinion.

Although the urgency and shock of it all during the year of my diagnosis made it unlikely for me to seek, let alone consider, my options other than treatment at Johns Hopkins, hearing the plan my Johns Hopkins oncologist had in mind for me upon yet another relapse in 2019 made me incredibly fearful. Their plans had failed me, and I came to despise my oncologist and his team for how they ended up handling my case, as if I would be just another statistic.

I basically fled to University of Maryland Medical Center, where I made the fateful decision to switch treatments and embark on the journey that is CAR-T. And well, I’m still alive. I very likely would not have been able to say the same if I had stayed with my former oncologist.

Of course, this meant I stayed in the ICU for my 26th birthday, due to the neurological side effects of CAR-T, but now 9 months after treatment, I remain in remission.

As deeply as the 2010s have scarred me, I met my fiancé, right before my diagnosis. I didn’t feel it at the time, but I eventually came to see his appearance in my life as part of some sort of invisible hand. While two relapses somehow has not yet converted me to a devout believer in any religion, I do believe that something is out there, watching over me and giving me Hsuan. He, in turn, has given me all the hope for a future together and, most importantly, the hope to keep going in times when everything told me to give up all hope.

I also am grateful for my family and family friends, who believe in me and continue to support me.

Ultimately, the 2010s was a decade of resilience, and I feel thankful to be healthy and happy again.

Happy holidays, readers, and wishing you a great 2020.