A Short Story About Cancer, Losing Control, and Gaining Life

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I was the kid in 4th grade that loved when the day’s schedule was outlined on the chalkboard in the beginning of class each morning.

I found comfort in knowing that 9:00 was math time, 10:00 was English and Noon was lunchtime. This routine carried into my later years, where color–coordinated agendas and to-do lists ran my life. I even made a mental list of how my future would go: graduate from college, find a job, fall in love and make gorgeous and/or ugly babies whom I’ll love anyway because my future family would represent my success in checking off another item off my list.

My list decided to self-destruct two months before my college graduation, when I found out I had cancer. As I stared numbly at the “Bald is Beautiful” posters in the doctor’s office, I found myself still so determined to draw out my now very vague future. I mentally planned when I would re apply to internships and jobs. I saw it as the same as before, just adding a few chemo treatments into the agenda. And for a while, my plan worked; I struggled to finish my senior year courses online in-between chemo sessions, and even managed to organize my chemo schedule so I could drive back upstate to sit with my classmates at graduation.

Reality didn’t get its shit together until the day I lost my hair.

All of it. Because that, my dear friends, was the very gut wrenching, tug-on-your-heart-strings moment where I acknowledged that my illness was real. That night, I stared in the mirror for the longest time with tears brimming in my eyes. I finally admitted to myself that I was no longer in charge of where life would take me, and I had no choice but to accept it.

At first, it felt like I had lost the instruction manual to building a piece of Ikea furniture; there was no more step-by-step direction to what the outcome would be. Without losing sight of my general goals, I slowly learned to stop placing deadlines on tasks. As a result, there was so much time allotted for experiences I never would have planned for. I met amazing cancer survivors and fighters, began cooking more, created a blog, and even went on trips with my family. Ironically, cancer did the complete opposite of what it was meant to do: it made me a much happier person.

healthy after chemo and cancer inspiration

A photo a friend took after my first round of chemo. It took two years for my hair to grow back.

Two years and two cancer recurrences later, I managed to complete my internship and pass my licensing exam for dietitians. I adapted with each recurrence, seeing it as a new route to pave my future. I knew I was a better version of myself when I accepted a job offer one week after finding out that my cancer had spread to my lungs, having zero idea how I would balance having a full time career along with being a full time 25-year-old with shitty lungs.

This story doesn’t end with a dazzling description of my success, because in real life, it doesn’t really matter how any story ends, does it? With the infinite amount of possibilities that could happen between the beginning and the destination, why focus on one expected ending?

6 Practical Reasons to Quit your Job from an Impractical Person

6 Practical Reasons to Quit your Job from an Impractical Person

By | Career, INSPIRATION | No Comments

I fly on one-way tickets. My travel stories almost always involve meeting a stranger. When asking about my status, close friends know better to inquire where I am, rather than how I’m doing.


I’m 98% sure that the same people will find it ironic that I’m writing any sort of article implying pragmatism in the title. But what they may not consider is that I am the firstborn daughter of immigrant parents. And as the subject of both older-child syndrome and Tiger parenting, my unconventional tendencies have always been grounded by logic, even quitting my job. Twice. So here’s a practical list of when and why it makes sense to re-think your current 9-t0-5, or anything else for that matter.


1. To quit, I first didn’t quit.

Let me preface this by saying that I hate quitting. I stayed at my first job for four years (a veteran compared to how long people stay in one apartment in New York City, much less a job). I wanted to make sure that I was leaving for the right reasons: that I wasn’t leaving because I had a few bad weeks at work, that I hated one particular project I was assigned, or that I was just tired of a rough commute. (Getting wedged between someone’s armpit and a guy’s gym bag during rush hour is a daily routine when you’re my size.)

I wanted to make sure that I was leaving because I was plateauing on the learning curve, that my resume was no longer expanding, and that I wasn’t growing on a personal level. When I tallied the list in my head, and the cons of staying outweighed the pros of job security, I handed in my two weeks notice.


2. We waste time by being scared of wasting time.

I speak at universities about travel and personal development and I hear the same story again and again: people questioning their majors, and later on their careers. They are scared of starting over and admitting that what they had signed up for wasn’t right for their skills, interests or personality.

While quitting and starting over in a different field or taking a break from work seems contradictory to progress, the times that I left my job and the occasions where I’ve turned down offers, ended up being my most productive periods. I realized that every day I spent doing something that I wasn’t really interested in, was a wasted opportunity I could have used to pursue something else. I used the time off to research alternate options, to practice new skills, and to network with people who could potentially help me with my career later on. And traveling? It’s the perfect set-up to get you out of your routine and to re-evaluate all of the above.


3. I got comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I hear it often: people are afraid of leaving a major or comfortable job because they are afraid they won’t find something better. I was one of them; I spent three out of my four college years in a major that wasn’t right for me and later on at a job I was no longer happy at. I realized that I was so concerned about not lining something up for the future, that I was neglecting the present. I finally accepted that uncertainty is an inevitable part of the process and instead of focusing on why I wasn’t qualified for something, I focused on doing the things that would get me there.


4. I stopped postponing.

For a good two-thirds of my life, I told myself that because I’m young and have time, I can travel and pursue my own business after I work at X number of companies. I applied this thinking to most things I did. I can pursue [i an awesome, life-changing activityafter I finish [iconventionally responsible activity]. The danger of this way of thinking is that we get comfortable. And familiarity breeds indifference and lack of action. It wasn’t until I gave myself a timeline that I left my first job and went on my first solo trek to Africa and it was the most life-changing thing I ever did.


5. I made friends with my finances.

People often assume that I’m like this to be doing the amount of traveling that I do and to be such a strong proponent of quitting your job. But what most people don’t know is that I set myself up for that sort flexibility years beforeDuring my first years out of college, I ate, slept and played within my means. I don’t think I was the only frugal college grad, but I do think that we tend to be more lenient on the day-to-day or material things: a Starbucks Frappuccino everyday, a designer bag that cost a month’s salary, or a new car bought on credit.

With the money I didn’t spend on those things, I paid off my student loans, invested in stocks instead of Louis Vuittons, and cushioned my bank account with savings. And with those savings, I was able to justify (while still hesitantly at first) leaving my job and giving myself the luxury of freedom and time to pursue more meaningful things.


6. I stopped making excuses.

Many of us– myself included– are privileged enough to be born in a stable country, with a roof over our heads and food on the table. We don’t really, truly have much to complain about. Traveling really hit the nail on the head for me. For the first time in my life, I witnessed young women carrying babies, tending to makeshift shoves hawking out their homemade goods. I saw punt-sized kids hanging on to their younger siblings, while selling trinkets on the streets. These were self-made entrepreneurs pooling whatever resources they had to pave their way. What excuse did I have to not take a risk and make things happen?


Coming Home: So Fresh and So Broke, Broke

By | Career, INSPIRATION, OUR TRAVELS | 8 Comments

I’ve been home for nearly 4 weeks and the same question has come up again and again: am I happy to be home?

money foreign currency travel colorful countries
Can Whole Foods start accepting Kenyan shillings please?

Despite the fact that I discovered that I’m filthy rich in every single currency except for the one I need, I’m surprisingly happy with my current coordinates. So I was surprised when a friend recently asked if I needed help getting up on my feet again. I was never down in the first place. I quit my job eight months ago to travel and volunteer; I’ve been without a steady paycheck since. But the fact is, I’ve never looked back. Nor have I felt so incredibly up.

Coming from the US, and especially from New York, we are so programmed to equate happiness with a steady paycheck that sometimes we forget to ask if our underwhelmed and over-caffeinated souls, are in fact, happy.

There’s a disposition to discount the importance of travel and the afterglow of a good trip where you feel refreshed, alive and motivated to work again.

So am I happy? Yes. I feel this incredible surge of energy to move on to the next chapter, to find the next cool thing to do, and to make the old and familiar- fresh again.

I don’t live in a fantasyland where I think I can live off my good looks (ha) and insurance will pay for itself (though it should). I don’t have any problem working my butt off to find my next job either. But at the moment, I am comfortable reveling in the slight discomfort of life without a steady check. Because truly, I think it’s the discomforts in life that challenge us to think outside the box the most.

Things I’ve Learned from Sleeping in a Truck


175 days ago, I boarded a one-way flight from New York to Kenya. In those 175 days, I weaved through 2 continents, 14 different countries, trekked through desert, walked through bush, and met some amazing people.

What did I learn from all this? someone asked me recently. Good question. I didn’t have an answer at the time. (Don’t you hate when that happens?) But as I fell asleep in a truck depot in Berlin three days ago, it occurred to me that I knew the answer all along. A friend I met in Swaziland months ago summed it up like this: “traveling makes you realize how much kindness there is in the world.”

I learned this from an old hostel owner in Lesotho. She could have charged my travel mate and I any absurd amount; it was freezing and her hostel was the only place to stay for the next sixty kilometers. But she asked for four times less then the normal rate so that we could stick to our budget and spend a warm night inside.

In South Africa, a combi driver insisted on bringing me to a hostel instead of leaving me alone at the bus station. When the hostel was full, he suggested that I stay with his family and to drive me back to town the next day. In Kenya, I was approached by a tour guide to rent a bike. Offin ended up treating me to my first meal of nyama choma and showing me around his village for the next three days. Of the two months I backpacked through Europe, I spent only one night in a hotel. The rest were spent in the homes of new friends who made sure I had a place to stay.

And finally, when I was stranded outside a friend’s flat at 3 in the morning in Nowheresville, Berlin, a livery driver offered to let me borrow the cot in an empty truck in his warehouse. “When I drive home in the morning”, he said, “you are welcome to come meet my family and have breakfast with us.”

Sound crazy? Probably. But only because we are so conditioned to doubt the sincerity of others that we forget to trust our gut and acknowledge when kindness crosses our paths.

As I sat with Obi and his beautiful family at breakfast, I was reminded once again of the incredible warmth and generosity of complete strangers. What I’ve realized is this: luck guides you in encountering the right kind of people but your attitude determines the richness of the bonds you make.

I could’ve easily stayed at a hotel or politely declined conversation, but then I would have never gotten to know Obi, see his beautiful home and meet his amazing family. I would have never fallen in love with half the countries that I did because I would not have experienced them with the people who guided me along the way.So here I am at the airport in Paris, waiting to board a flight to back to New York. I’ll be going back to where I started. But somehow, I feel 175 days wiser.