Sometimes I Forget How Far We’ve Come

Sometimes I forget.

Forget why we began this trip, this new RV life. How easy it is to get caught up in the middle of life — with all its ups and downs — and forget how far we’ve come.

But when I revisit pictures like this, I am reminded of how far we’ve come together as a family, in regards to our health, and how much we love each other.

These pictures were taken between 2014 and 2015, when my husband of almost 22 years, Darrell, [if interested, he has his own separate blog] was diagnosed with cancer, when we dreamed up the idea to reduce overall stress in our lives by quitting our traditional 9-5 jobs, stop paying for a mortgage for a SF Bay Area house we could barely afford, and live and travel the world together in a RV as a family.

There’s still some stress now, but it mostly stems from work-related and time-management stress as we both work on-the-road part-time chasing wi-fi.

But nowhere near the stress of worrying that you don’t have much time on this earth with the love of your life and your son and stepdaughter’s father, burdened with high costs and massive amounts of debt.

In 2014, when Darrell went into his regular General Practitioner’s for a cough that refused to disappear, he discovered something was  amiss when the chest x-ray technician gasped at the sheer size of the mass that appeared on his black and white screen. From there, it became a mystery game, a hunt to discover if he even had cancer, and if so, what kind.

Most importantly, we all wanted to know: How long did he have left to live?

We were at a loss as to what to do. Should Darrell turn vegetarian again? He had been vegetarian for over 15 years. I imagined the freezer full of Morningstar burgers and fake bacon. I had recently adopted a Paleo diet and it had already helped me come off all my meds, but I still had weight to lose. Other friends suggested juicing and the Gerson Therapy. Others suggested other alternative therapies. We didn’t know what to do, what to choose.

Only three years before, Steve Jobs had died and I read up on all kinds of diets and scenerios, imagining the worst outcomes possible. But then a good friend who followed a Paleo/Primal way of eating Darrell’s mentioned the ketogenic diet. “There’s talk that cancer feeds on sugar, on glucose,” he informed us while visiting from out of state.

A former biology/chemistry major, Darrell immediately latched onto the science and chemistry behind the ketogenic diet. It made sense. We began searching online and came across Ellen Davis, Dominic D’Agostino, and Miriam Kalamian. I immediately bought e-books and devoured everything I could on the subject. My sister, who had lovingly spent much of her time babysitting and helping me with my virtual assistant clients while we went to doctor appointments and during hospital stays for the two biopsies, introduced me to the audio book by Jimmy Moore: Keto Clarity. Later, I found Patricia Daly, Martina Slajerova, as well as Maria Emmerich.

In the meantime, as I learned how to cook and eat keto, I adapted many of the Paleo recipes I had from all the Paleo cookbooks I had amassed, such as Melissa Joulwan and Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo. I encouraged Darrell to reach out to Miriam Kalamian for a Skype consultation, and he did. She was extremely helpful and encouraging, and I remember making my first mug cakes from recipes she had sent us, in addition to the ones I was making out of her e-book.

At first we didn’t know what type of cancer Darrell had. It was right before Thanksgiving in 2014, and Darrell’s fantastic oncologist in (Alta Bates Summit) Berkeley pulled some strings and found a doctor who would do a biopsy in Concord, at John Muir Hospital. That doctor speculated Darrell might have thymoma. Then there was talk among other doctors brought in that it could be a teratoma. We looked it up. Could Darrell’s tumor have teeth, have hair? Even through the despair, we found a moment to joke around. What if Darrell had a miniature clone growing inside his chest, where the tumor was located? That year, we skipped Thanksgiving, spending it in the hospital.

We were told Darrell needed to stay in the hospital for several days. He was fed orange juice, sandwiches, dessert. While Darrell had the biopsy which would take quite some time, per the doctor, my sister, my kid and I sat in the waiting room, taking turns playing the piano. We also spent some time in the chapel area, writing heartfelt notes, wishing and praying for the best possible outcome. The doctor at John Muir pulled me aside after the biopsy was over to inform me that he believed Darrell had a thymoma that would require open-heart surgery, chemo, and radiation. “He’s not going to be able to work anymore, not for some time. In fact, it will be hard,” he said gruffly, a doctor with not the best of bedside manners. And with that he was gone. I was left in tears, worried about my husband’s chest cut open, the danger around cutting near the aorta.  Later, I remember being comforted by my sister-in-law over the phone shortly after.

No one ever tells you how time seems to slow down when you’re awaiting a cancer diagnosis. Especially around the holidays.

After about a week, the biopsy came back: Inconclusive. The doctor had cut around Darrell’s chest area and there still wasn’t an answer?? We were disappointed and angry.  So was Darrell’s oncologist. Apparently, he chewed out this doctor at John Muir who had recommended we go ahead and act as if this were a thymoma. Again, Darrell’s oncologist pulled some strings, and this time, sent him to Stanford, even though it was now close to Christmas. We were worried time was running out. Would we have time to shrink the seemingly unusually large tumor?

Our answers came easily at Stanford. This time, the doctor we were assigned to who did the biopsy was easygoing and made us feel at ease immediately, unlike the one at John Muir. He guessed it was lymphoma, not thymoma, and he was right. The biopsy was quick and easy, a short outpatient visit, and within a day or two, we found out Darrell was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (Stage 2B). The doctor assured us that if there was a cancer to get, this was “a good one.” Again, we laughed. Relieved. But our oncologist was still concerned with the size of the three tumors (7, 3, and 2 cm). He had three near his heart, and the chemo would have to pass through his aorta. I worried about how fragile that area was, how fragile the heart can be. Would he be able to handle it? (A lesson learned here: Just because someone is an esteemed rock-star doctor, he may not know all the answers. You are your own best advocate when it comes to your own health. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.)

But at the same time, we were both ramping up the ketogenic diet, now following Miriam Kalamian’s advice in her book, along with other keto for cancer books out at that time in 2015. We bought a scale, Ketostix at first, used MyFitnessPal for macros, then the Precision Xtra to measure glucose and ketones, discovering Dr. Thomas N. Seyfried’s book that Darrell immediately downloaded onto his Kindle, a dense medical book that recommended that the GKI be as close to 1 as possible. I wrote a blog post for Heads Up Health, a client of mine, about how Darrell and I tracked his Glucose Ketones Index during his cancer, and still do, now in remission.  He included some fasting as well. To support Darrell, I decided to eat mostly keto too. I was also intrigued to see if it could help my moods as someone once diagnosed with Bipolar Type II, having read in Jimmy Moore’s book that the keto diet had the potential to help those suffering with this disorder. I had been off all meds–including asthma–simply reducing the amount of flour and sugar back in 2012, and was encouraged by what a Paleo/Primal diet could do. Also, my doctor had warned me that with my latest HBA1C, I was now diagnosed with prediabetes. (In 2016, we began tracking our health using Heads Up Health, enjoying the ability to import medical records from different labs and using the Analyzer graphing feature to see how far we’ve both come in terms of our health, motivating us to continue staying keto-adapted.)

The oncologist, radiologist and the nurses in the chemo infusion room all noticed how rapidly Darrell’s tumors were shrinking. They also remarked on Darrell’s lack of the usual symptoms post-chemo: no hair loss, no nausea. Even though all food Darrell ate tasted like metal, he enjoyed eating the mug cakes, the fat bombs, bone broth and all the keto food I made using a Paleo/Primal lens. We kept his net carbs really low, at 12 net carbs, weighing and measuring portions, afraid to eat too much protein then, due to gluconeogenesis. I pricked my finger alongside Darrell daily, checking our blood glucose and blood ketones (beta-hydroxybutrate/BHB), then making sure his GKI was low as possible. The fasts helped with the chemo, lowering insulin and raising ketones. “Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it!” One nurse smiled warmly at us after checking Darrell’s blood test results before beginning his hours-long infusion, seated in a lazy-boy-like recliner, his laptop still propped on his lap as he refused to quit working full-time. His employers were understanding, wanting him to take time off, but working gave Darrell something else to think about, and this was what he wanted then.

During this time — several months — of weekly chemo infusions, Darrell stopped taking the BART train for fear of catching colds, compromising his immune system. Instead, he took a commuter bus near Oakland that brought him into San Francisco where he worked downtown for a FinTech company.

Although I know the treatment and oncologist helped, what Darrell and I both know today is that eating keto played a part in quality of life, and we feel it in our bones that it also helped in the rapid shrinking of the large tumors that resided in his chest.

Now it’s 2018 and in October, Darrell will have been in remission for three years. Even though much older now, we are both now in the best shape of our lives. Although not 100% compliant every single meal, we still incorporate keto eating and fasting into about 90% of our lives. What keeps us keto-adapted and in ketosis most of the time is tracking our health (e.g., blood ketones, blood glucose) with the Keto-Mojo (much more affordable blood ketone strips than Precision Xtra) and Heads Up Health (e.g., GKI, waist and hip measurements, weight, lab tests like the Hba1c), MCT oil, butter and ghee. And now almost three months in, we’re about to embark on a trip around the world in our RV, finally having the energy to exercise, to pursue our dreams. We recently sold our house in the SF Bay Area and downsized in the biggest way, leaving a 3K+ sq ft house for a 100 sq ft expedition vehicle/RV.


Life can still be stressful at times, but we have so much to look forward to now.

And with that, I cannot be more grateful.

Yellowstone: #RVLife

Yellowstone Geyser

“Nuggets!” My kid cries, bent over his screen, as if he’s been shot, heading to the bathroom. Outside, I hear my husband cough amid abundant birdsong.

We have traded the mosquitos for birds.

The last campsite — Yellowstone/Lewis Lake — had bodies filled with our blood.

Today we awoke in Montana; yesterday in Wyoming, in Yellowstone.
The states are beginning to blur, as are the days.

We are nomads, travelers, drifters. We are adventurers, overlanders, full-time RV travelers, #digitalnomads

We live, love, and fight in a moving cube.

Yesterday morning, we erupted, like Old Faithful, before the drive toward Mammoth Hot Springs. It was the usual arguments and panic about where we’d land, could we find a spot in time, given all we wanted to do, given all the miles we had to drive.

The eruption was great — talk of airports and dissolving our plans, our trip.

We had learned of constriction as the mechanism beneath hydrothermal features such as geysers, and as we drove toward the hot springs, I felt constriction in my chest. The heat of our anger, our frustration, like magma; our words flowing like snowmelt or rain, words that pelted with hurt and misunderstanding.

As we drove, I pondered the anatomy of a fight.

Always the eruption, the constriction, tempered by silence, space, and time. Ours simmered down to a low boil, punctuated by sightings of wildlife — a grizzly bear ambling matter-of-factly on the side of a road, bear-faced cow-like bison, families of geese waddling into the moving Yellowstone River below. Followed by walks to the volcanic mud pots that boiled with sulfer and smelled of soft-boiled eggs atop steaming bowls of ramen. One was named Black Cauldron, a fitting name. Later the hot springs and travertine terraces, ending the night in Montana, sipping wine and reading aloud short stories to my family — the eruption now subsided.


A Mindset Shift: The Difference One Little Letter Can Make

A Mindset Shift: What a Difference One Letter Can Make

It’s amazing how easily you can make a mindset shift simply by changing the ‘o’ to an ‘e’ in the phrases: “I’ve GOT to” to “I GET to.”

As ‘a glass is half empty type of person’ my entire life, I find myself needing to remember this on a daily basis.

Lately, with our recent move from our house to an RV, I’ve been struggling with going into this default mode; namely, looking at life via a negative lens. But doing this exercise allows me to quickly shift from despair and overwhelm to a more grateful and positive existence, which is what I’m perpetually aiming for, not wanting to be overruled by stress.

So here’s an example of a simple mindset shift I’ve decided to make:

  • I’ve got to make this work!  becomes ==>  I GET to live this life!
  • I’ve got to eat better!  becomes ==>  I GET to eat delicious keto food that fuels my brain and body, especially because I love the mental clarity, increased energy, and improved moods when I eat this way.
  • I’ve got to exercise!  becomes ==> I GET to sweat and I know it feels damn good when I do, especially afterwards during cool down. And I get to listen to, and feel fired up by, my favorite podcasts and music. Not only that, I love knowing that exercise lowers my insulin resistance and fasting glucose, drives up my ketones which is good prevention for cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimers. And it increases my chances for longevity, so more time on this planet to spend with my loved ones.
  • I’ve got to write that novel!  becomes ==>  I GET to write a novel that I haven’t seen out there in the world before, creating a fictional coming-of-age story about a young Asian American girl growing up Jehovah’s Witness who is faced with an emergency blood transfusion, afraid she’ll lose her chance at eternal life, all the while grappling with religion, racism, mental health issues, and her undeniable feelings for her best friend Rachel.
  • I’ve got to work!  becomes ==> I GET to work with awesome clients aligned with my values to help them write and edit content, from web copy and newsletters to social media and blog posts.
  • I’ve got to be a better parent!  becomes ==> I GET to spend even more quality time with my middle-school-aged kid, learning as I go, striving to be better, to practice patience, grateful for this opportunity of a lifetime to travel in a RV with my kid and husband, both of us teaching him–as best we know–about the world around us so as to leave him a better person on this earth.

To be quite honest, since we said good-bye to our house of ten years in Berkeley, CA last Thursday (April 5, 2018) to drive to Denver, CO to begin our new #RVLife, I’ve been in a state of shock, battling mild depression. It’s easy for someone like me to fall into a state of despair, which is why I am a person who constantly needs to surround myself with positivity, with supports in the form of inspirational and motivational quotes, podcasts, books, friends, even the virtual community on Instagram which I love.

Today, while my husband and our kid went out to finalize RV preparations, I finally had some space (both mental and physical) to reflect, recharge, and reconnect with myself. I spent time writing, reconnected with my accountability buddy and good writing friend this morning (actually meditating again!), exercised by myself using the hotel gym, and spent some time reflecting in my bullet journal. I asked for time off from my clients to use this week to fully move into our new home (the RV). That’s something I haven’t done since last summer, so to have a week off just felt decadent!

I realized that my tendency to focus on the negative can easily be shifted with a change in mindset, which forces you to be grateful for what you GET to do, rather than what you HAVE (or GOT) to do.

Coupled with self-care — a focus on nutrition (currently a carnivore keto diet and intermittent fasting), exercise, meditation, and creativity — I’m back in that space of believing anything is possible.


Note: I can’t remember where I got this quote from. It might have come from that book I love: ESSENTIALISM. But I could be wrong…

Starting Over: A New Life

New Life in a Blissmobil

Life, as I’ve known it, is about to change.

All my life, I’ve lived in the Bay Area, in California. Born in Millbrae, CA, raised in Concord–a tunnel away from San Francisco–and over two decades in Berkeley as an adult, I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by my entire family and circle of friends. I actually have friends from elementary and middle school I am still close to. Unlike my husband, a transplant from Texas, I have never lived anywhere else.

But now we’re planning to say good-bye to life as we know it. The comfortable life that my husband, Darrell, and I have built together as a family.

Recently, I entered a local bookstore in Oakland, scanning the shelves for books that remotely resembled what we were about to do.

There were no books with titles such as:

So You Want to Leave Everything and Everyone You’ve Ever Known and Travel the World in a RV.

How to Homeschool Your Middle-School-Aged Kid While Traveling the World.

So You Can’t Afford Your Mortgage Anymore, Can’t Fully Retire Just Yet, and Still Need to Learn How to Make Money, Yet Want to Do It Remotely from Anywhere in the World.

How To Take Your Child Out of School to Learn about Different Cultures and the Kindness and Beauty that Exists On This Earth, Despite What the News and Popular Media Would Have Us Believe.

The Side Hustle: Learning to Juggle Multiple Irons in the Pan in Your 40s and 50s.

How Not to Scar Your Teenager So That He Ends Up Writing Scathing Memoirs About His Dysfunctional Family Life.

I joked with the woman helping me search for books that I should write these books. She nodded, laughing: “That’s a missed opportunity.” The writer inside me, the one who had paid so much money for an MFA in creative writing, vowed I would do it, even if what I churned out ended up resembling the Watchtower and Awake pamphlets I grew up reading and hawking door-to-door, as a child of a Jehovah’s Witness mother.

As I browsed the bookstore for signposts to this largely unknown world I was about to explore, I found glimmers of it in the Travel section, near the back corner.

There were travel memoirs. Travel books specific to a country, city, or region in alphabetical order, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Books loaded with glossy photos and fold-out maps. I wandered to the Children’s section. There were middle-grade books about bullies, space, magic, and zombies. But where were the stories — fiction and non-fiction — aimed at kids traveling the world?

The woman and I walked all over the bookstore, but there wasn’t, to my surprise, not much of a selection. For some odd reason, I thought there would be an abundance. Recently, there seems to be a surge of people online–on Instagram and on blogs–who are traveling in their RVs or vans (lots of hashtags on IG with the likes of #vanlife or #homeiswhereyouparkit—especially overland travel–which is what we’d love to do). We’d seen pictures of 4×4 RVs crossing creeks, in remote deserts, beaches, forests, all over the world: Mongolia, Australia, Columbia. We had become smitten with the Blissmobil, especially…

The idea was born the year my husband discovered he might have cancer. 2014. That was the year my husband sat me down and showed me all of his passwords to all things financial. It was the year we finally decided to hire an attorney to help us with a will, cashing in the coupon advertised in a local magazine aimed at parents for a free two-hour session in Alameda. It was the year our son was about to turn ten years old. My husband’s daughter, my stepdaughter, had just turned twenty-two years old and was still living in Istanbul for grad school. We didn’t have the heart to tell the kids that their father had cancer.

Not just yet.