She wasn't family.
I'm not sure if I'm allowed to call her a friend or a colleague.
Acquaintance is more like it. But even that term seems too high up there for me.
Regardless, I am dedicating this entry to Fawn. And I will never forget her.
It Began with the Newspaper
Back in Apr 2011, the San Jose Mercury newspaper had a front page article with a picture of an Asian woman crying.
Her name was Fawn. She was at then just diagnosed with terminal Stage IV Lung Cancer. That's bad news for anyone, but it also affected her husband, Rick, and three little kids. At that time, her kids were 4, 3, and 1. Boy, girl, girl. Fawn and Rick had a videographer with them so that in the future, their kids wouldn't just have pics of their mom, but an actual video. So they could see their mom speak and hear what she sounded like.
Just like anyone else reading that article, I was touched by Fawn's story. I managed to reach out to her and told her I wanted to help by donating some $. I couldn't cure her cancer but at least I could help soften the blow of her medical expenses. As a character remarked in the 1996 film Mission: Impossible, "Dying slowly in America... can be a very expensive proposition." So true.
If my foggy memory is correct, the first time I met Fawn was at a fundraiser for her. It was at this Italian restaurant in Alviso, CA. The place had really good spaghetii, I remember. That's where I met Fawn. I handed her a check, the first of a few I would give her.
Over the next 5-6 years, Fawn and I mainly kept in touch through emails. We didn't correspond very frequently, but when we did, I always asked how she was doing and kept sending well-wishes her way. If you read her emails, you could tell that she was a lady who was fighting the cancer with doctors and chemo, all the while raising her kids and working. Through it all, she was humble and thankful for every day of life she had.
Every now and then, she'd send out emails (whether mass email or personal ones), inviting me to family events, including her kids' bday parties. One of them was to renew vows with her husband after 10 years of marriage.
I didn't go to most of them, which I now feel ashmed of.
Admittedly, I was busy with work, volunteering, family, social life, etc. Her home was pretty far away. Very lame excuses, I know. Through it all, I just thought, "She'll be okay."
I did go to one of her kids' bday parties though. I still remember that inflatable jumpy house with other families with kids. It was a happy environment.
But the only other times I saw Fawn were when we met up for an occasional lunch or dinner. And when I say occasional, it's probably even less frequent than that. More like... once or twice a year, really.
Things just got so busy for me... and for her as well. So whenever we'd meet, it'd be like several months in the making. Communicating through emails, trying to set a date to just get lunch during the day. Both of our schedules were super busy.
And one time... I remember we were set to go to meet for lunch. Then a fuckin' unscheduled audit came up at work that day. Working in the medical device industry... it's technically audit season all year round. But I had to be there. I contacted Fawn and profusely apologized to her, cancelling our lunch just a few hours before it was to happen. Of course, she understood. Another time, she had to cancel on me too. Sigh, the things we do for our jobs...
About 2 or 3 years ago, we did manage to have dinner together. That was when I had this super big crush on my housemate. Fawn was like, "Go for it!" She later wrote to me that girls, especially Asian girls, tend to wait for the guy to make the first move. That was the kind of lady Fawn was. Even in the midst of her terminal cancer, she wanted to know what was going on in your life. Fawn was a big believer in not wasting any time -- she said that even after a few dates, if you're not interested in the girl, move on. Not surprising this is coming from a lady with limited time left, telling me not to waste my own.
Then last year... around the summer time, we managed to have a lunch (after more and more scheduling). I didn't mind making a long round trip drive from work to see her. You could kinda tell that she was wearing a wig, because of the hair loss from all the chemo. But I didn't say anything. When lunch was over, she was like, "Have a good summer!" Which, again, tells you that we didn't see each other all that much....
The Last Time
Finally, in Dec 2016, I decided to check out her personal blog. She didn't update it much and it didn't get much public views. But what I saw shocked me.
Her recent entries talked more about her physical ailments from the cancer and all the chemo treatments. In the end, her doctor said that she shouldn't reduce her quality of life and should go into hospice care. Fawn also said in her blog on how she came to accept her pending death....
I immediately texted Fawn. She got back to me and not knowing how much time she had left, I asked her if she'd like to meet again if she felt able to.
So not long after New Years 2017, Fawn invited me over for dinner. She asked me if I could bring take-out for her and her family. I was like, "Of course! Anything you'd like!"
I didn't mind driving all the way from work to Santana Row in stormy weather, buy $70 to $80 worth of food, and double back to southeast San Jose where she and her family lived. Sitting in traffic along the way... that was fine.
I also bought Fawn some rainbow daisies. Didn't want to get her red roses because it wasn't a romantic situation. I certainly didn't want to get WHITE roses because those are for someone who'd have passed away already.
Admittedly, I was nervous. I wasn't sure how to act, or what I should say. I've never really been in the company of someone who was in hospice care before. And when I'd leave, what was I supposed to say?
See ya later?
Nice knowin' ya?
Kaitie said be positive, but be whatever Fawn wanted me to be.
Bob W. (my mentor at work and with other things in life) said, just make yourself available to her and leave it at that.
So during the night, I tried to be uplifting and not sad. Fawn appeared fragile and lost her hair. Her speech was a little slurry even though she was fully cognizant. But nevertheless, it was good to see her again.
Her kids.... they were much older than when I saw them last. It's amazing -- they knew that their mom was dying, yet they acted totally normal, laughing and behaving like how little kids normally behave.
As for Rick: he's a nice guy. You could tell he was sad about his wife. But he was very friendly to me. When he said, "Hey, Derek! We haven't seen you since our kid's bday party!"... which was quite a few years ago. I told him straight up, with a tone of regret: "I don't have an excuse." Of course, Rick said it was all right.
That night, it was just mainly me eating with Rick and Fawn. Their kids were watching TV. Fawn couldn't eat much. We didn't talk about the cancer most of the time, but here and there, it'd rear its ugly head as a topic. Fawn said, "Even after I'm gone, you should still come over." Oh man, that just gave me a lump in my throat.
When it was time for me to leave, I did what Bob said. I told Fawn that please reach out to me whenever she wanted, and that I hoped to see her again.
Over the next few weeks, I'd still trade some texts with Fawn. They were brief, like "Happy MLK Jr Day! Hope your kids got the day off school so you could spend time with them." Nothing significant.
It was a Weds, late morning. I was just finishing up a meeting at work. Then a text came through from Fawn's #.
It was Rick.
"Hey, buddy. Fawn went to Heaven at 5:40am. Thanks for everything."
I replied back immediatey, saying how saddened I was to hear that. I told him to please reach out to me if there's anything I could to help. He just simply said "thanks". Which is totally fine.
Haven't heard back from him since.
I still have that old newspaper article from 2011. The one with Fawn's story. I should throw it away now, yet it seems wrong.
I still have her emails and texts. Should I delete those too? From someone you knew but who's no longer with us?
I still feel bad about not regularly corresponding with Fawn.
I feel bad for not going to all the family events she invited me to.
Heck, I feel bad for having to cancel our lunch because that stupid audit that one day.
And even though I got back in touch with Fawn after finding out she didn't have much time left, that also comes with being assailed by my guilty conscience: "Oh, now that her time's coming up so soon, you're finally going to go see her???"
I'm sorry, Fawn....
What She taught me
1. Be thankful for what you got in your life.
2. Don't complain about your problems. Someone else always has it worst.
She fought for almost 6 long years. Her original prognosis ranged from a few months to 2 years at best. Her courage to live that much longer was inspiring, to say the least.
Through it all, Fawn remained humble, prayed daily, treated every day as a gift, and continued to fight her lung cancer. She didn't let it stop from living her life as a devoted wife and mother of 3.
Seriously, my issues were -- and still are -- such first world problems compared to what she faced.
So 2017 has already been quite a humbling year for me. While I try not to whine about my own issues, I still tend to (ie. "I got cut off by those douchbags on the freeway again!!"). I try to remind myself on a regular basis to not be caught up in my own personal issues, that things could be a lot worse.
And yet, there are so many people out there who're like Fawn. They're facing what she had to face for so long.
Fawn, I don't know what to say. Except that I'm sorry. Rest in peace. I'm glad that I got to know you.