Signal | 2022 | Watercolor, Gouache, Acrylic, pencil, color pencil, and Crayon on paper |
9.4 x 7.4 in ( 24 x 19 cm )

Every weekend, we tried to go to places where Dingo could be more like a dog; off-leash, smell nature and chase real animals. There are a few of our go-to places, and one of them is a small mountain covered with sand and desert plants. We call it the dusty mountain. It’s been almost a year since we all went to these places together. After the weather got cool enough for Dingo, we went to the dusty mountain. Not long after we started walking, my right leg got tight, making walking extra heavy. But still, I was happy I was out there. I made sure to have a good cup of joe because it was my thing. I almost felt like I was back to my old self. The rising sun covered my skin with warmth protecting it from the cold air. The yellow-brown mountain looked so shiny and dazzling.

Dingo seemed to enjoy himself too. He was busy sniffing and marking many plants. Sometimes when he was so busy moving from bush to bush, he didn’t notice we were far behind. When he saw us, he ran back to check on us. On a very sandy area, he ran back and forth frantically. He must like the feeling of the sand on his feet. About halfway in walking, I noticed he kept sitting down. I knew something was up. I called my husband, who was in front leading us. When we all stopped, Dingo went into a bush and sat down. It was weird. Then I saw him smiling. We know that smile. He always makes that face when he is about to throw up. And sure enough, he did shortly after we noticed the smile. He must have eaten some plants he should not have. After he cleaned his stomach up, he was back on the trail, running around like a happy ol dog again.

His weird smile isn’t the only thing we know about him. He has an upset stomach when he starts shaking a lot without a particular reason. Whenever he goes to the potty, my husband and I consistently report his poo condition to each other. If there is any slight change, we discuss it in-depth if we need to be concerned about it. And there are many more small details we look out for him.

On the other hand, how much do I know about the signals my body sending me? Do I even pay attention to my bowel movements? Since I got diagnosed with cancer, I’ve been thinking about why I got cancer. I was unlucky, I thought at first. Then I was ashamed that I let myself get cancer. Then I blamed my doctor, who missed my symptoms. From all the speculations, I concluded that I ignored many signs that my body tried to tell me I wasn’t well. I was a naive young one. I thought my body was young and healthy enough to handle so much abuse, especially with alcohol. I had symptoms for a while that my body no longer handles alcohol well, such as redness on my skin after drinking, which was abnormal for me. I tried to eat healthily. But with drinking, you can’t really do so, and I didn’t really understand what healthy eating was. I exercised a lot. I grew up practicing a martial art, Kendo, from age ten. Exercising was always part of my daily life. So again, I naively thought I was healthy because of it. I didn’t know health comes with what you eat first, then exercise.

A few years before I got the diagnosis, I noticed abnormal spotting outside of my menstrual cycle. I was regularly checked by a doctor, and every time I mentioned it, the doctor said it could be from stress, and sometimes she didn’t even comment on it. I blamed this doctor for a while. But I always felt uneasy about seeing blood unexpectedly. I should’ve gone to a different doctor to make sure. The amount of bleeding was increasing very slowly over the years. I was telling myself probably it’s nothing. Then Covid happened. Clinics and hospitals were one of the many places I wanted to avoid. I skipped my annual check-up. Just one year, nothing will happen in a year, I assured myself. The bleeding didn’t stop, of course. It got worse and worse to the point I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I finally went to see a new doctor, and I got the news. I have cervical cancer stage 3b.

Even after I started a new life with cancer, I failed to read my body’s signal. The biopsy made me bleed even more. I knew bleeding was the most dangerous thing for cervical cancer. But still, I didn’t think it would apply to me. I changed my diet dramatically and started losing weight fast. But I was getting weaker too. It wasn’t only the diet that made me lose so much weight. Eventually, I passed out due to heavy bleeding, and it was the beginning of hell.

So I learned the lesson.  Did I?  This unreasonable habit of ignoring signs didn’t go away right away.  One day when I was in the hospital, my body started shaking extremely fast.  It was like I was shivering in cold but more intense, and I couldn’t stop it.  I was dealing with the ups and downs of temperature, so I thought it was me just getting cold.  I tried to calm myself down.  Usually, when you are shivering, if you relax, you can stop the shaking for at least a while.  But I couldn’t stop.  It was getting worse.  I finally decided to call help, and that night I was moved to ICU with a blood infection.  One final lesson I had happened after I came back home.  I have a nephrostomy tube for my right kidney.  One day I noticed the urine on the bag smelled different, and more tissues were coming out.  I again tried to think it was because it was in the bag.  Nothing serious.  A couple of days later, I woke up middle of the night to go to the bathroom and saw the bag was red.  The following day I started having a chill.  I finally decided to go to be checked out.  It turned out that I had a kidney infection.  At this point, I couldn’t understand myself.  Why did I keep letting myself in this situation?  I had to change.

Since the infection, I’ve been paying close attention to my body’s signals. I always contact my doctor if there are slight changes in my body. Fortunately, I haven’t had major issues since, except for small hiccups with treatments and procedures. Every time I pay attention to Dingo’s signals, I remind myself to read mine too. It’s hard not to think, what if I had paid attention to so many help signals in my body? I might not get cancer or at least caught it earlier. I know it’s all could’ve, should’ve, would’ve. From these hard lessons and thoughts, I strongly desire to tell people to pay attention and never ignore their body’s signals. And if you are concerned, even if your doctor tells you everything is fine, go to see another doctor to ensure you are okay. Never tried to self-diagnose your symptoms. I do not want people to get morbidly anxious about every small thing. But we live in a time when having health issues and taking lots of medications are the norm; it’s easier to overlook what’s really happening in your body. So please take care of yourself like someone you care for and listen to the signals. If you lose yourself, you can’t care for anybody.