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Close Call

It was no larger than a pea and my husband said he couldn't feel it, that it was nothing. I called Kaiser anyway to make an appointment with OB-Gynecology. The faceless receptionist snapped, saying I had to see a surgeon. I didn't want to see a surgeon. Surgeons cut, don't they? I just wanted a doctor to examine the lump on my breast. I waited a month, hoping the breast mass would disappear, but it didn't. Reluctantly I made an appointment with General Surgery.

A few years ago, I had gone on a diet and lost a lot of weight. Quite by accident I felt a marble-sized lump in the center of my chest and I rushed to Kaiser's walk-in clinic. The doctor laughed and reassured me that it was just my siphis sternum, a long-forgotten bone uncovered by my diet.

There I was again, waiting to see a doctor. My heart pounded against my ribs. I hoped he'd laugh and tell me it was another bone and to go home.

It is a scary thing to imagine the possibilities of what can happen when you have such a growth in your body. Suddenly, it seems everybody's relative or friend has breast cancer. Newspapers and magazines are riddled with articles about this illness that afflicts one out of ten women. Mastectomy, radiation, even death-terrifying thoughts. It makes one realize how vulnerable and temporary we mortals are. A few years on this earth, then no more. I thought of my family, the children in particular. The youngest was only two. I just wanted to take care of them, to see the little one grow, to watch the other two boys blossom into young men.

Christmas, Children, Magic And Memories

Silver and gold. Red and green. Winking lights. The glimmer of tinsel in the air. The pungent smell of fresh pine wafting through the house. Christmas day at last.

My three boys wake up at 7 and rush to our Christmas tree, which sits in the den against the bookcase. My husband and I, sleepy but sharing their excitement, join them. The tree proudly displays its browning needles and decorations that twirl in expectation. The children rummage through the colorful boxes, which they have categorized, counted, pondered over-forever, they think. The oldest one starts grouping the boxes: Daddy's pile of gifts, Mommy's, Christopher's, Alexander's, and Andrew's.

Family tradition dictates that the youngest opens his presents first, but Andrew is only two and too young to understand that underneath the pretty paper are toys, books, and clothes for him. The older boys help him open the first few boxes, then he catches on and eagerly rips the paper off his other gifts.

A Beginning Remembered

I stepped on U.S. soil for the first time on March 16, 1969. It was a Wednesday. The Pan Am plane circled Honolulu, and through the window I saw a gray wet world. Where were the hula girls with leis, I wondered. I was 20-not really scared, you understand-just anxious to see a world different from the one I knew in the Philippines.

Trying to look smart in my beige suit, handbag slung over one shoulder, an overnight bag in one hand, and my X-rays tucked under my arm, I braved the rain and the tough immigration officers. My X-rays were clear, 1-20 visa in order, no contraband in my luggage, I was allowed into this country.

The next day the rain stopped and I looked around Honolulu. The coconut trees, sandy shores, and balmy weather mimicked the world I had left behind. No, this would not do. I wanted to see the America reflected in Hollywood films and American magazines.

A Magical Time

At the foot of the mountains we stopped at a gas station for gas and oil. We had been on the road for hours and my sister and I were restless. To stop our bickering, Mama instructed the maid to sit between us. I didn't mind because I could roll down the window and gaze dreamily at the tall green mountains. They looked full of mystery and promise.

Sitting in front, Mama badgered Papa.Are the brakes good? The zigzag road is dangerous. Why, last summer, a car tumbled down the mountains, killing all passengers-all.

I felt wary. To make matters worse, just as we were leaving, a boy of around seven ran to the side of the car and spat at me. His saliva hit my face. For a while I froze, then I burst into tears. The maid wiped my face and Mama lectured about peopl's rudeness. Papa said poverty can make people do strange things.

As we started up the mountain, its lushness captivated me. We curved around the narrow road, and when I looked down steep cliffs, my stomach quivered. To keep from getting too scared, I studied the pretty white and lavender orchids by the roadside. Ferns sprung up in clusters. All around were evergreens-Baguio pine trees-that I had seen only as cut Christmas trees. Numerous springs gushed out of the mountain sides. Waterfalls splashed down and misted up in mysterious fog. The place was enchanted, I decided.



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