the delicate art of not seeming ungrateful

i feel like the last few posts have started with excuses about why so long has passed between blog posts. my reasons, this time, are threefold.

first, i was traveling for a good chunk of the last month. one of my closest gal pals and i road tripped through europe to go present my short at a tiny independent film fest in germany. the trip deserves a blog post of its own (probably on my other site), but what i will say here is that it wasn’t as much about seeing (and eating) europe as it was getting out of cancer-centric thinking for a while. about turning epic fails into epic bouts of uncontrollable laughter. i swear i laughed more freely and heartily and often in those twelve days than i have in, maybe forever.

after coming back in time for my next infusion, i headed off again. this time, an east coast road trip with my dog to visit my cousin in maryland and my best friend and her brood in north carolina. this trip was about catch ups over wine and card games, dialogue with children, a full arch double rainbow, accepting that it was time to buy oscar a choke collar and starting to finally wrap my brain around all that has happened in the past few months… my second reason for not updating this blog. my brain simply could. not. compute.

i acknowledged the amazing outpouring of congratulations after  my treatment triumph with a lot of smiles and nods and fist pumps and ‘comment likes’ on facebook. but to be honest, the weeks that followed felt like some bizarre dream sequence. the total time from when the i found out that my cancer had progressed to being told that my treatment had achieved the best possible outcome was three months. three months. i barely had time to fully absorb the idea of being really sick, especially because i never actually got to the point where i physically felt sick.

and then, there’s the main reason i didn’t write. i didn’t know how i could put voice to my apprehensions without sounding like i was, in any way, complaining in the wake of my miraculous ‘complete response.’  those last two words in my last post  –  ‘what now?’  may have seemed like a clever way to say ‘woo-hoo! i actually HAVE a future to plan.’ i intended the words that way, for the most part, but there was also this other, deeper and a bit darker connotation. the looming reality of having to make some huge decisions about what shape my life will take, moving forward.

one of the first thoughts i had after receiving the news of my clean scans was ‘now i want my life back.’ many people have asked me if, now that i’m ‘better’ i would consider going back to  korea, and the answer to that is no.  that life, the life i knew for the better part of the last decade, is gone. it is the past, and i am ok with that.  i had planned to come back this summer anyway, so i suppose, in a way, i am right on schedule for the new start i was after. it’s just that i had expected to make the transition on my own terms, with a specific plan of action already in motion to safeguard myself against the reverse culture shock i knew would be waiting for me.

but what does this new start look like? in what environment does it grow?  do i start to look for a stable source of income (ie day job) or can i finally make screenwriting – the thing i love doing the most – my actual day job. i mean it is, already. i dedicate a good chunk of every week to both writing itself and marketing the completed projects i have.  but sometimes i feel like the film industry is  a secret society and I have yet to discover the secret handshake. that said, i’ve spent a lot of time in these past few months applying for opportunities that could act as springboards to that next level. and i can only keep plugging away and hope that these seeds will result in fruits.

one of the more troubling pieces of the ‘what next’ puzzle is where to live.  the clinical study i am on will run through the better part of 2016… another year and a half of biweekly infusions of the nivolumab. speaking of which, i recently learned that i am one of only about 240 people in the whole country on this study, and based on what my team told me at my last appointment, i think that the findings will be staggeringly positive. a total game changer for melanoma. i could, in fact, move if i really wanted to, as nivo is now commercially available. but why would i give up the opportunity to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of drugs for free from BMS? that would just be silly. and so new york it is, for now.

the thing with new york is that the cost of living is friggin’ ridiculous, and i’m certainly not in a position to blow a good chunk of my savings on first, last and security on a spot in brooklyn without knowing where my next paycheck is going to come from. don’t get me wrong – i’m not scared about whether or not i will find work. this is my longest period of unemployment since i was fourteen years old. i know i will always be able to find a solid way to feed and house myself. but i’ve gotten so, so used to feeding myself well, having space, being able to afford travel – and what i will be able to sacrifice for an NYC zip code just doesn’t seem ideal for me OR for my 80 pound yellow lab.

so it dawned on me one day that, while i am tied to twice monthly visits to NYU Langone, I don’t actually have to live in the city.  I went to school up in NewPaltz, the only place I’ve lived that had a similar semblance of the tight-knit community as the one I found in Busan. Upon asking around a bit, I learned that Kington (about 2 hours north of NYC)  has undergone a sort of renaissance in recent years, absorbing some of the bohemian sprawl from New Paltz and Woodstock while preserving an urban feel. After doing some research, I’ve found that apartments are affordable and there may be potential for me to get an adjunct teaching position at one of the multitude of community colleges in the area. so there’s that. it’s an option, and a good one.

my step dad and i were having one of our ‘meaning of life-y’ talks about my transition and i told him how fucking scared i am to be 40 and single and unemployed and in a dependent living situation. how making the decision of where to live and work is weighing on me to the point of paralysis. as always, i said this with the disclaimer that i know how lucky i am to be alive and in fair health and have the freedom to make these kinds of decisions.

he gave me one of the most phenomenal pieces of advice i’ve ever received.

‘let me ask you a question…’ he waved a finger in the air.


‘when you moved to busan, did you know what you were going to find?’

‘no. not at all’

seriously, i had no idea. i thought i was going to go there for a year to save money for a round-the-world trip and then land back in the states.

‘then  just look at this next move as your next busan. wherever you move is going to have it’s own surprises, and they might be just as awesome. and if  not, when your treatment is done, you will move on again.’

it’s so true. and it’s so simple. and with that next breath, i was finally, finally able to – not just know, but feel  relief of knowing that my cancerbeast, at least for now, is locked away in a solid cage… feel gratitude for the kindnesses the universe has bestowed on me… feel freedom in having a future ahead of me to plan.

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4 Responses to the delicate art of not seeming ungrateful

  1. lucy says:

    another beautiful post. it’s so hard to grasp the enormity of the swings of what you’ve been through. possibly the only thing that makes less sense than an out of the blue advanced cancer diagnosis is its complete revision three months later… i am struggling to deal with this emotional whiplash as a person peripheral to you, and i am so loving reading your words as you go through it… you are amazing… it is crazy… I love this post and completely agree with it… and also btw want to put you in touch with some friends of mine also upstate (Marianna from Lion’s Mouth Opens and her boyfriend an amazing musician Zak Clarke or something)…. into the unknown… it always is… and you are just so eloquent about it… and I also hope that we can get the word out about this transformational new drug!!! xxxx


  2. Nu says:

    I love this post xx


  3. Groundfish says:

    Wonderful post, Jen. Best wishes, all/ways, K.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mercedes Calderon says:

    Jen, somehow I found your story through Miriam Phillips doing Nerium in Korea, through Emily Banke doing Nerium in Fla! That’s how the universe works….. Full of Grace. I don’t know how I may help you but I Lived in New Paltz for a long time and have friends and acquaintances that know the Kingston area. message me after you friend me on FB. Maybe I can help, maybe not, but you never know how the universe is working.. Blessings on your continued journey. Mercedes Calderon

    Liked by 1 person

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