Being Students Together

The summer has gone well for us. We attended Cathy’s brother’s wedding in China back in June. Then I made the drive from Houston to New Jersey with my dad and brother to help my brother move to Princeton, where he is attending seminary. Since then, I’ve been studying physics full-time in preparation for grad school, while Cathy has been taking a sociology class–her last requirement before nursing school.

Now we are about to be students together. I will start classes on Monday (August 22nd), and Cathy will begin the following Monday. Cathy’s nursing program should take about a year and a half to complete. I, on the other hand, am likely to remain a grad student for six or seven years. That’s about the average time it takes people to finish a PhD in physics, it seems. When I was an undergraduate, that sounded like an eternity. Now it sounds like a short time.

I’ve taken advantage of the summer to engage in some creative projects as well. I wrote and recorded a song based on Psalm 139 and Romans 8, which I intend to post on YouTube at some point. (I’ll put a link here.) I’m also working on a screenplay with my old buddy Saqib, who is a film school graduate. We’ve been having a lot of fun with it, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out. In addition to that, I wrote a pretty lengthy essay about the status of America’s education system.

My biggest project of all, however, has been to write up a comprehensive account of our experience with cancer, the fundraising concert, the unbelievable real estate fiasco we were embroiled in, and the amazing support that we received from YOU. Right now, it stands at over 100 pages, single-spaced, and I’m working on the third draft. I intend it as an expression of thanks to everyone who helped us out, and as a testimony to the amazing way that we were provided for in the midst of some pretty ridiculous trials. I hope I’ll be able to publish it, in which case I will donate all proceeds to a cancer foundation. My target completion date is December 30th–the anniversary of Cathy’s final radiation treatment.

Cathy’s next checkup is scheduled for November. Please pray that we’ll have good news at all checkups from here on out. And please drop us a line from time to time!

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New Beginnings

A whole semester has passed since my last update, and I have lots of wonderful news to share.

Cathy went in to MD Anderson two weeks ago for her first check-up since she finished her radiation treatment on December 30th. Nothing showed up in the tests, and she has been classified as “potentially cured.” Unfortunately, there’s no way to know for sure that you’re cured until five years pass and you can look back and say, “If I weren’t cured, something would have shown up by now.” However, we are happy and optimistic, and we have a lot to look forward to.

Cathy has been accepted into UT Nursing School, which was her first choice. It’s right here in the medical center, a 20-minute walk from where we live, and it is one of the best nursing schools in the city, so she couldn’t have found a better situation. She is still finishing up her pre-nursing coursework, which includes the obvious necessities of Dance Appreciation, Texas Government, and Philosophy. (You wouldn’t want a nurse giving you an IV if she didn’t have a solid grounding in the ideas of Plato, Martha Graham, and Rick Perry; I mean, good grief, what if she believed that your pain was only a figment of her imagination?)

In January, it was announced that HISD would be laying off a significant number of teachers. I had been thinking about going back to graduate school for some time, and I thought I might as well apply. Initially, I wasn’t even planning on applying until next year–I wasn’t sure I was ready–but one of my professors at Rice persuaded me to go ahead and apply. So I did, and I was accepted. I will start in August as a PhD candidate in the Applied Physics Program at Rice. My one year back at HSPVA was quite good, and I am thankful for the experience, but I am excited about this new path. The graduation ceremony was last night, and I have turned in all my grades and keys, so I am truly free now. It feels good.

We got up at 3:30 this morning and I drove Cathy to the airport. She is going to China for her brother’s wedding. I’m going to join her in a little over a week. She’ll be there for a month, and I’ll just be there for a week. The early-morning trip to the airport was an appropriate book-end to the semester, because on the very first day of school in January, we got up at 3:00 to see Cathy’s parents off as they returned to China. I didn’t go all the way to the airport then, but I didn’t go back to sleep either. I finished up some last-minute preparations, vomited from stress, and went back to school and continued teaching. The winter break was so busy–daily radiation treatments, visiting in-laws, getting evicted from our apartment, etc–that I never really got to rest or prepare for the spring semester. As a result, I felt behind and overwhelmed all spring. Hence the lack of updates.

Speaking of our apartment woes of last December, I found out a few weeks ago that the man who evicted us has been convicted of his wife’s murder. She was killed in December of 2008, and he wasn’t indicted until January of 2010. He was out on bail for a year, during which he bought our apartment complex at an auction and evicted half of us after making our lives extremely unpleasant for over a month. I alternated between praying for his redemption and his destruction. It seems that destruction won out, as a result of his own actions. I can’t deny feeling somewhat satisfied after what he put us through.

Anyway, things are going well. Please drop us a line. Now that school is out, I’ll be less likely to leave messages unanswered. Thank you all again for following our story and supporting us.

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Entering 2011

My last update focused on our recent travails–specifically, Cathy’s car accident and our persistent harassment at the hands of a professional intimidator. Since then, our car has been repaired, and it seems to be running almost as well as it did before. Our troubles with the property dispute got worse before seeming to get any better. In fact, it may be some time before we can say for sure that it’s all over. I will say no more on the matter except that our lawyer has told us that we have strong grounds to sue the new “owner” (the court may yet decide that he never had any legitimate claim on the property) after all that he has put us through; and although we don’t want to sue anybody, we’re prepared to do so if he causes us any more trouble. Aside from the seed of potential for further difficulty in this one area, which will hopefully vanish without sprouting, things appear to be looking up for us.

First, the biggest news: Cathy had her last radiation treatment on Thursday, December 30th. After nine months, she has completed the entire course of treatment prescribed at the very beginning by her oncologist. To recapitulate, she went through six months of chemotherapy, then surgery, and just over six weeks of radiation. Throughout it all, she remained enrolled as a full-time student, taking prerequisites for nursing. (There were brief flirtations with pharmacy school and PA school.) Even after her surgery, when she had the fluid drainage tube coming out from under her arm and connected to a bulb that was strapped to her side, she continued attending classes and lab exercises. She studied hard and took her final exams along with everyone else before finally resting for Christmas vacation; but even during the vacation, her rest was interrupted by early-morning trips to MD Anderson for her radiation treatments. Finally, on December 30th, we went with her parents for her last treatment. She got to ring a bell, as she had done at the last chemotherapy treatment, and she got hugs and congratulations from the nurses and other patients. We now pray that her battle with cancer is truly over, and that we can move forward without fear.

In the meantime, Cathy’s parents have been visiting us from China since November 21st. My parents rented a beach house in Galveston over the Thanksgiving break, and the six of us (plus Peewee) spent a relaxing four days there, interrupted only by a trip to Houston for one of Cathy’s radiation treatments. The weather was nice for most of the trip. Our fathers enjoyed talking to each other via electronic translators (which often produced highly amusing mistranslations); our mothers enjoyed cooking together; and we enjoyed reading and watching Peewee run on the beach. (Cathy was still studying most of the time.)

The fall semester at HSPVA wrapped up nicely. My students and the HSPVA community have all been very supportive and sympathetic with us in our struggles.

On December 22nd, we moved. Cathy’s parents helped us pack all our things during the preceding days. We are now almost fully unpacked. It was not something we would have wanted to be doing over the holidays, but things had become so unpleasant at our old apartment complex that when an acquaintance contacted me to offer us a place to live rent-free, we decided that it would be best to accept the offer. That was our biggest Christmas gift, and it has been a miraculous and timely blessing for which we are extremely thankful.

The end of Cathy’s treatment and gift of a place to live have given us a pleasant end to what was otherwise a largely unpleasant year. A friend told me over lunch that his new slogan is, “Life is a team sport.” He doesn’t like the image of the lone cowboy fighting and living on his own. Life without community and fellowship is hollow and less meaningful (if not meaningless). As I consider our experience of the past year, I agree wholeheartedly that without support from our family, friends, and church, our burdens would have been far too much for us to handle, and I cannot even try to imagine what would have become of us. Therefore, I would like to close 2010 by expressing our immense, heartfelt thanks to all of you who have supported and encouraged us in any way at all. Because of you we are able, despite all we have faced, to look into the future and smile.

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Cling to Joy

 

On Monday morning, Cathy was driving to MD Anderson for her radiation treatment when she was broadsided by an SUV at an intersection. Fortunately, Cathy was not injured, but our car was damaged beyond drivability.

Cathy is certain that her light was green, but the woman who hit her insists that her light had just turned green. This is something that Cathy would not–in fact, could not–lie about; she is the type of person who admits fault when she knows she is wrong and whose conscience prevents her from lying in the first place. Yes, there’s a chance she was mistaken, but the evidence suggests that the other driver is lying (or mistaken). (I would present that evidence here, but my aim is not to prove who was at fault in the accident.)

The accident occurred during rush hour in the medical center (at Main and Dryden), and there were surely plenty of witnesses; but not one person stopped to help or make a statement. This really makes me angry. Since coming to America, Cathy has witnessed two accidents. In the first case she stopped and waited until police arrived to give a statement, and in the other she called the police to report the accident and offer a witness statement. Now, when she needs a witness, no one stops. No one calls. No one cares to tell what they saw. People just drive right on by.

I feel that America has not been good to Cathy. She has been a better member of our society than most of our citizens can claim to be; and yet, when she needed help covering the cost of treatment for her cancer, she was turned away by multiple aid agencies because she wasn’t a citizen and she hadn’t been a permanent resident long enough. Then on Monday morning, she sat in a wrecked car in the middle of a street packed with Pharisees and devoid of any good Samaritan spirit, right here in America the beautiful.

As if we weren’t already buried deeply enough in woe, yet another problem has recently come and settled in among our growing flock of burdens: the threat of eviction. Thanks to your generosity, we have been able to keep paying our rent–this is not a financial issue; but something strange has happened that has made it impossible to know to whom we should make our rent checks payable!

I am about to describe an impressively putrescent miasma of madness, so please brace yourself if you intend to read on.

Just over a week ago, the tenants in our apartment complex all found letters taped to our doors, saying that the property was under new management and giving us a new address to send our rent checks to. The letter was poorly written. There was a photocopy of a notarized deed attached, but one of our neighbors noticed that the address on the deed wasn’t correct, and I noticed that the alleged new owners misspelled the name of their own company. In short, the letter positively reeked of fraud. I could have written a better letter myself and put it up on people’s doors.

I called our landlord and asked whether he had sold the property, and he said he hadn’t. The next day, we found a letter from our landlord’s lawyer stating that the previous letters were fraudulent, and we should continue paying our rent to the original landlord. Case closed, right?

Not in my world.

A couple days later, two guys go door to door in our complex explaining that they’ve bought the property and we need to start paying them rent. They say they understand that we need time to verify everything, and they encourage us to call the county clerk and check whom the deed is registered to and pay rent to that person. Sounds reasonable, right?

One of our neighbors calls the county clerk, and the clerk says that yes, indeed, there is a deed with these new guys’ names on it. Then the clerk adds, “But that doesn’t mean anything. Anyone can file a deed, but that doesn’t mean they actually own the property or have the right to collect rent.”

Another neighbor calls the constable, who says that we should keep paying rent to the original landlord. He adds that if these new guys come back, we can call the cops on them.

My dad consults a lawyer, who sheds further light on the situation, revealing us to be submerged more deeply than we imagined in this dreadful vat of maggots.

Back in July, a former tenant sued our landlord for refusing to return his security deposit. The court ruled that the landlord had to pay the tenant. The landlord ignored the ruling. The court issued a writ of execution, confiscating the landlord’s property (our apartment complex) in order to sell it and pay the unhappy tenant out of the yield. The landlord then had his lawyer file an injunction, which should have prevented the sale. However, after the injunction was filed but before the property could be removed from the market, our new spelling-impaired friends bought it (for a paltry sum of $700, though it’s worth about $800,000). A ruling has not yet been made as to whether the injunction invalidated the sale. Furthermore, it appears that even if the sale turns out to be valid, our original landlord’s wife still owns exactly half a share in the property, while the new-come orthographically challenged fellows own the other half.

To whom, then, do we pay our rent?

Our original landlord, who is in Florida and hardly ever sets foot in Houston, tells us to wait until it’s all settled. “Don’t pay me or the other guys for now,” he says. The new guys, who are here in Houston and have already started making changes to the property–changing locks, landscaping–are threatening to evict every tenant who doesn’t start paying them immediately.

As I said, it’s a real vat of maggots. (Note: We are following the advice of a good lawyer, and at the moment we are expecting everything to work out.)

Cancer. Bills. Car wrecks. Legal battles. Cold, heartless business. These incessant assaults upon our spirits have caused me to hate the world we live in.

There is balance, though. In the midst of every ill, there has emerged something good. While pulling out our hair trying to figure out how to deal with the threat of eviction, we have made friends with our neighbors. And above all, in the hour of our greatest need, you, our friends and family, have rescued us time and again with your gifts and love. Because of this, we cling to joy.

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Radiation and Parents

Yesterday (Tuesday, Nov 9), we went in to get everything set up for Cathy’s radiation treatment. She had some blood work done and had a physical therapy session. After that, she went to the radiation department, where they made a mold for her to lie in so that she’ll be in the same position for each radiation dose. Then they spent some time simulating the process; she has to breathe just right while they train the radiation beam on her in order to make sure the right spot is getting zapped. She’s scheduled for 32 treatments, which will be nearly every week day from November 15 to December 30.

We’re also getting ready for her parents to come visit us. This will be their first time in America, and they’ll be staying with us from November 21 to January 4. We don’t have a bed for them yet, so if you or someone you know has an unwanted queen-sized or double bed (that has no possibility of bed bugs or other parasites!), please let us know.

Meanwhile, Cathy is continuing to take classes in preparation for either pharmacy or nursing school. She has been amazingly strong throughout this 8-month ordeal, as she has been attending classes, studying hard, and taking tests even during the hardest stretches of chemotherapy and right before and after her surgery. She astounds me.

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Home from Surgery

Cathy was released from the hospital on Saturday afternoon (Oct 9). The surgeon said that the operation went well. He removed the primary tumor and the lymph nodes from her left side. She now has a drainage tube coming out of her side that will require some care during the next couple of weeks; hopefully that can be removed soon. Cathy was feeling well enough that we were able to go out with my parents this afternoon (Sunday, Oct 10) and enjoy the wonderful weather. Thank you all for your continued support and prayers.

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Surgery Scheduled for Friday (October 8th)

Cathy’s surgery has been scheduled for this Friday, October 8th. Last week, she went in for a consultation with the surgeon, and she also had another ultrasound to re-evaluate the status of the tumor. The ultrasound showed that the tumor had shrunk significantly, to the extent that the technician had trouble finding it. Later, we found out that they found a new suspicious mass in the ultrasound. A biopsy was performed on Friday to determine the nature of the mass, and we are awaiting the results. Since she is about to have surgery anyway, if the mass turns out to be malignant, they will simply remove it during the operation.

Aside from visits to MD Anderson last week, we also had to deal with a severely sick dog. Peewee, our Pekingese mix we brought back with us from Beijing, fell ill on Wednesday. He normally makes it through the night without having to go to the bathroom, but he woke us up several times in the middle of the night asking to go out. The next day, the situation was worse, and he wasn’t able to hold it in long enough to wait to be let out. Then, just after we had cleaned up his extensive mess, he started vomiting blood. We took him to a vet and found out that he had pancreatitis. He was given multiple antibiotics and an injection of water into his back (rather than an IV) to replace lost fluids, which left him looking like a little camel. He seems to have recovered now, and I’m glad that Cathy won’t be worrying about him when she goes in for surgery.

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