“Cancer may have affected my physical limits, but it can not take over my mentality. It can bring sadness, anger, and hardship to delay my dreams, but it can never take my love, my happiness, and my will to defeat this evil disease.”
My name is Goe Yang. I was born and raised in a small town called Fond Du Lac, WI and am currently residing in Florida. I am the youngest of seven wonderful siblings; four brothers and two sisters. Growing up I’ve always enjoyed singing, Hmong dancing, and art which have all carried over to my adult life. I’m a big believer of embracing my culture and have learned to sing kwv txiaj (folk song) from my mom and have also taught Hmong dance. The Hmong culture is so beautiful and I hope to pass on the beauty of dancing and the language to our children so that our culture will live on.
As a child and throughout my lifetime my parents have always emphasized the importance of education and becoming successful. After high school I began my college education not knowing who I wanted to be or what I was destined to do. I switched my major a few times and felt lost about my career path. I really didn’t know what I was going to do for the rest of my life. One thing I did know was that my dream was to make a difference by helping others. The funny thing about dreams though, is that they can be shattered at any given time with no apparent warning; maybe for the better, maybe for worse. That happened to me. My dreams were put on hold as my life suddenly turned into a nightmare. My goals shattered and my life forever changed.
It started on Christmas Eve. I was taken to the emergency room after fainting. I can clearly recall the car ride there and how I was feeling. The ten minute car ride seemed like ten hours and I could slowly feel my body giving up on me. Every breath I took, I felt that much closer to passing out again. The events that led up to this point started with flu-like symptoms, fevers of 103°, loss of appetite, sore throat with an inability to ingest any food, and large circular bruises that started to appear randomly all over my body. Til this day the words of the ER doctor still replay in my head like a broken record, “If you came in any later, you would have not made it alive”. After being admitted and having a bone marrow biopsy, it was confirmed, I had cancer; a blood disorder known as Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML).
I was 21 years old, healthy, active, happy, and there I was seconds from facing death with a blink of an eye. I was admitted to Moffit Cancer Center and began the new year of 2009 with chemotherapy. The side effects were fatigue, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, mouth sores, fevers, chills, night sweats, and spitting up blood. After a month and a half in the hospital I returned home. However, I was not who I use to be physically or mentally. That was something I had to learn to accept. I continued to fight the battle with this illness and though my mind told me I could do it, my body always refused. Eating, bathing, dressing, and even talking was so exhausting and I constantly found myself back in the ER and admitted to the hospital over and over again. Blood and platelet transfusions as well as bone marrow biopsies became a typical part of my routine, yet I continued to be optimistic and positive.
After about a year I was in remission, but only to find out that the cancer had come back once again. I built myself up so high from the dirt and yet again I was knocked back down to my knees, even deeper than before. The cancer wasn’t ready to give up devouring me or putting me through agony. My fight obviously wasn’t over. This time around my symptoms were different. I began to have severe migraines that would frequently keep me up at night. The pain was so excruciating that I often found myself rolled up in a ball on my bedroom floor where it was nice and cool from the tiles. Once the bone marrow biopsy confirmed that the cancer had returned, I was then admitted once again to Moffitt Cancer Center. I tried to remain positive about my situation, but it was harder this time than before. Why wasn’t the first time enough? Why must I endure this pain again? Is it even worth fighting anymore? With so many unanswered questions I began to let myself fall.
One night the doctor came into my room, handed me a picture of my MRI brain scan, and proceeded to tell me that the cancer had spread to the fluids surrounding my brain. He stated that without treatment the cancer could possibly enter into my brain and cause severe brain damage. The procedure for that would be given in the form of spinal taps to administer the chemo drugs into the spinal fluids. I was exhausted. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong and I held on to little hope; I gave up fighting. I built up the courage to accept my fate and I no longer wanted to experience the pain. My positive attitude silently changed to a peaceful mind just waiting to be taken away from this earth, finally accepting death. It wasn’t until one night when I had fainted once again that I realized my purpose.
I remember feeling a sudden weakness, the room started to spin, and then I was in the silence of darkness. A few moments later I heard a voice saying, “wake up, wake up” and I realized it was the voice of my then boyfriend and now husband. I could feel my husband clutching me tightly and still pleading for me to open my eyes. As I slowly gained back consciousness, all I saw was chaos and unfamiliar faces of doctors, nurses, and technicians who ran to my aid. I learned later that I had fainted and experienced a mini seizure. That incident changed me completely.
After everything that has happened, I finally realized that I needed to stop being selfish and start being selfless. I had more fire in my fight now because I knew that I never wanted to inflict that kind of pain on my loved ones. I knew deep inside that there were bigger plans for me. I continued with chemotherapy and lost all my hair which was an emotional roller coaster for me. Without my hair I felt ugly, less feminine, and was always cautious about what people thought about me. Eventually I got tired of worrying and began walking around without a wig or hat to cover up; just me and my bald head. I knew that the people who loved me would still love me regardless and it was just a matter of me learning to love myself again.
Cancer isn’t selective and may be seen as a curse, but my eyes have been opened in a new light to see what a miracle and blessing the journey has truly been. I have gained more knowledge and understanding of what life is really worth because I’ve faced the process to death. Thank you cancer for the pain because with pain I became stronger and with darkness I have seen the light. Cancer may have affected my physical limits, but it can not take over my mentality. It can bring sadness, anger, and hardship to delay my dreams, but it can never take my love, my happiness, and my will to defeat this evil disease. Cancer motivated me not just to live like there is no tomorrow, but to also love like you have never loved before. Through my journey I lost people who I thought would always be there by my side, yet I gained people who I never knew would even walk the journey with me. I have learned to love the hardest people to love, the stranger, the evil, and the enemy because they are the ones who need the most love. They are ones who know not of love and happiness and their heart can possibly change through kindness. In the end, if all you receive is hate, at least you know you have not wronged them because you have only given love in return.
Our lives every day is a blessing and tomorrow is never promised. No matter what walk of life we are in, everything happens for a reason. We are given the struggles to appreciate the end reward that we work so hard to achieve. If with every situation you can find one positive light in a million negatives, then you will always come out on top and stronger than before. No matter how deep in the dirt you are, keep climbing because we must fall before we rise. Let the negatives be what motivates you to fight even harder rather than having it destroy you in the way it is intended to. We only have one life to live so live it with an open heart, open mind, and most definitely with endless dreams.
After all that I have been through, I was finally able to take a step forward. I recently graduated in May 2017 with my A.S. degree as a Physical Therapist Assistant. Through my school years I have always dreamt about being the student speaker at a graduation ceremony. This year I was given the honor to be the student speaker for State College of Florida’s Class of 2017. It was a rewarding moment to be able to stand in front of hundreds of people and deliver a speech knowing that this was what I have worked so hard for. I have since started working, with my caseload consisting of mainly pediatric patients and I absolutely love what I do. My plans for the future is to continue my education towards my bachelors degree in health science and continue on to a master’s and doctorate degree. I also hope that one day I will be able to provide therapy to Hmong people in Laos or other parts of Asia who lack the access and are unable to afford care for their disabilities. Eight years ago I was just a girl fighting for her life and now I’ve been given life in hopes that I can help someone live life.
To me, being a Hmong woman means recognizing your weaknesses yet being mentally strong to withstand the battles and criticisms you may face in life. I feel like our culture puts a lot of pressure on us as Hmong women by painting a picture of what we are supposed to be: a wife who will cook and clean after a long day of work, cater to the community, be fertile enough to bear children, someone who will remain silent and patient even when she should speak up, or in my case, “don’t marry her because she is ill.” Being a Hmong women means embracing the Hmong culture, but also to instill in the generations after us that we can be anything we want to be if we work hard for it regardless of what people say. It’s about helping other woman stand up for their life, their dreams, and their goals through encouragement and support. To be a Hmong woman is to carry the weight of all the negativity that is thrown your way, but only allowing the emission of positivity because THAT is true strength. So be the person who wakes up every day determined to accomplish a goal, change a life, and pour out love because the change starts with us.
Watch my graduation speech below:
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