Breast cancer blog: Passport therapy - Edward Snowden and I

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 June, 2013, 9:29am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

Passport therapy rarely fails. I’ve used it before when reaching a complex career crossroads or to nurse a broken heart.

This time I turned to passport therapy as a temporary escape from Cancerland, and to briefly leave behind fears and anxieties related to treatment.

Maybe it is a bad idea. Maybe I should be resting more according to the aunt. I should be in bed. I should be on a microbiotic diet, or meditating. Instead I am headed to the airport, first to Taipei, then to Bali.

I have permission to escape because I now have a date. A week ago the folks at the hospital rang – nice young man from the government hospital. July 2, post-handover anniversary, I have a date with the oncologist and then the radiation round (five days a week for three weeks) starts.

Even in Cancerland, there are deadlines and much of the experience feels like work. There are, of course, moments of anger (why me?) to disbelief (no, this can’t be real). Being sick and getting well is almost a second job, one that takes precedence over all other things, including a cross-continental move back to the US and starting a doctoral programme. These massive projects seem almost petty in the scope of disease. After all, if you need to fight for survival and have been diagnosed with one of the most feared illnesses, nothing else matters.

So where to Ms Wu? A student of mine inquires.

This time I joined colleagues to Taipei – land of cheap and yummy street food, and polite people.

Life with a sentence means continuing to live as best one can in the land of normalcy, while knowing quite well I will need to face reality and pray that my body, pseudo-youth and spirit will not fail me in the boxing ring.

So for a few days I fought bouts of severe fatigue to work and play with my colleagues, I’ve done these trips a dozen times before, but this one felt different. Enjoyable and yet my body was vocal. I am on the younger vintage and yet I was tired, almost sluggish.

The trip was a tapestry of high thread counts, bubble baths, buffet breakfasts and meet and greets. We went on a one-day excursion to small towns where I could appreciate how simple life could be – the lives of many of these local folks were as ordinary as seasons, time, sunrises and sunsets. And at night, against the backdrop of neon street life and mass consumerism, I marvelled at the strangeness of the peddlers and stalls including a snake soup shop anchored by two pythons in a cage, both well fed. Their bladder in soup supposedly a remedy for health and vitality.

Then there was the street food that seemed to awaken my taste buds. I happily noshed on fried squid, fried breads, beef noodle soup and drank bubble tea. I pushed myself to live it up and joined colleagues at the massage parlour way past bed time. The old me may be more regimented. If life is as unpredictable as I now understand, then each day is like a lifetime meant to be lived to the fullest.

Regarding the monstrous task of tackling treatment and a cross-continental move, a friend half-jokingly wrote that he hoped I will have a smoother return than Edward Snowden. Poor Edward Snowden. Sometimes in life we are chosen to be a martyr or hero, which is completely out of our control. That much we had in common.

With that, I’ve returned to Hong Kong and am headed back to the airport for fun and sun in Bali. It is a bit like putting up my middle finger to cancer. Just boarding and bidding bon voyage is liberating, and most importantly good for the spirit.