Last week my cousin IM'ed me that my second cousin, My Van, got breast cancer. It took some time to register. Van is my mom's half brother's grand daughter. In Vietnam, relatives are a lot closer and got ranked like in the same family. Therefore she's supposed to call me "auntie" (she never did, just used the term for peer, claiming that she was older than me - 1 year). Van just turned 40 last November. Her youngest of 4 just turned 1. She stopped breast feeding in June, found a lump on her breast and went to the doctor's for it in September. Test came back after Thanksgiving: she got breast cancer. As of Monday this week when she went in for her 11-hours surgery she was at stage 3.
Growing up my cousin Van and I were close. We lived a few minute walking distance in Saigon. Her family's bedroom is on the third floor of her grandfather's house, where I spent almost every night watching TV since we don't have TV at home. TV was only broadcast a few hours a night every day, state owned of course. We spent many summers of our childhood in the country where my grandmother's house and her grandfather's house are of a few minute walking distance also. We spent afternoons laying on the branch of a tree branding over the river in front of her grandfather's house looking out the river, talking. I showed her my first poem. We "swam" in the river using inner tube, banana trunk to float since we were just a bunch of kids from "the city," never were close to any water in Saigon. I got a frantic moment there where a leech stuck to my thigh.
Then we drifted apart. Her family, after many attempts, finally successfully fled the country, spent some time in refugee asylum camps and migrated to the States. My father also fled with my two brothers, spent some time in Thailand, Philippine refugee camps and then got to the States, living in the same apartment complex with her family. My dad then sponsored my mom and I in 1992. My family of 5 lived in a 1-bedroom apartment. My second day in America I started working in Van's mom's Nails shop in downtown LA.Eventually I started at East LA College and did Nails to make a living. I then moved to Virginia, opened my own shop, finished up my undergrad, went to work for a year, went back to school and finished grad school. I didn't see Van for years until 2 years ago when I went back to California for my uncle's funeral. She got 3 kids, I got 2. My youngest is 2 months older than her youngest, both girls. We then exchanged numbers. I called her once last year right before she gave birth to her 4th. I never thought I needed to worry about her. She was a strong, independent woman. She sent her husband to New york for dentistry school, then she went back herself to be a pharmacist. I thought she lived the American dream and very proud of her.
It breaks my heart to learn what Van'd have to go through compare to the little surgery I went through last week and know about the discomfort that went with it. Makes me feel like a whim. On the other hand I'm confident Van will overcome this with the resilience my people have proved over times of darkness. I'm forever very proud of her.