Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Reads

The book chosen this year for our community's book to read together is The Eighth Promise: An American Son's Tribute to his Toisanese Mother by William Poy Lee. I didn't intend to get up in the middle of the night to finish it yesterday, but a mid-winter Michigan thunderstorm late last night seemed to get my usual sound sleep out of kilter. I was glad to have a good book to take my mind off the unusual storm.

This book is a son's tribute to his mother along with an insider's view of both childhood and young adulthood in San Francisco's Chinatown, beginning in the 1950's through the tumultuous 1960's and 70's. It is a true, riveting first-hand account of a Chinese-American experience. I admit that this book has helped me to recall my visit to Chinatown's Grant Street with new eyes and has added a deeper understanding and compassion to my overall view of the immigrant experience in the U.S.

In fact, "to live life with compassion toward all" is the eight promise that Mr. Poy's mother gave her own mother before leaving her home village in China to come to America in 1950.

As I finished the book last night, I had very clear and vivid memories of my deep desire after finishing my cancer treatments in 1995 to share my compassion for other cancer survivors. Very simply, I hoped that I could find a way to share my personal experiences and professional expertise to help the millions of other cancer survivors have a cancer recovery journey that was less difficult than my own journey has been. I did not have a clue how I was going to act on these early desires, but I decided that If I could help even one person navigate and transcend the fears with both information and inspiration, I would be able to sleep well at night (well, most nights!).

Only within the past week did I hear myself tell someone that it has been nearly 13 years since my second breast cancer diagnosis in 1995. Thirteen years!! Thirteen years sounds like such a long time, yet they have gone by in a flash with my compassion still deeply felt for anyone else who has traveled a cancer journey. In fact, I never go anywhere without a tissue in my pocket or purse because I know that I will meet someone nearly every single day who will share their own cancer story with me. I have learned that each individual story shared with me is inspirational and brings tears to my eyes because I truly understand the challenges each person has faced or is currently facing in order to optimize their odds for both long-term recovery and quality of life, in addition to finding meaning in life after a cancer diagnosis.

Although this book has nothing to do with cancer per se, I highly recommend taking the time to read it. After all, it is a book about optimizing odds for long term survival, improving quality of life, and finding meaning in life.

Tonight, I'll end with one of my favorite poems and a grace, both speaking about compassion. I first remember seeing this short poem by Emily Dickinson on the wall of Evanston (IL) Hospital's Kellogg Cancer Center where my first breast cancer was treated in 1984.

If I can stop one Heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain.
If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one Pain

Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again
I shall not live in Vain.
~~ Emily Dickinson

For each of us food is the source of
sustenance, the basis of life; and when we
offer this gift to one another, we are not only
nourishing each other's bodies, we are
feeding one another's spirits. So receive --
and give -- the food of your life as the
powerful gift it is.
~~ Daphne Rose Kingma

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

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