Jenny Kwak

I Carry My Cancer Patients in My Heart

“I am grateful for witnessing your courage, your strength is inspiring, your wisdom is eternal, and you are not alone”: These words, written on a paper heart with irises around it, sit on my desk. I feel fortunate to be a behavioral health clinician, providing therapy to patients with cancer who are undergoing radiation at Stanford’s Cancer Center.

She Left before the Snowmageddon

Her spirit left the week before, and her body lay inside her casket shrunken. She died on January 29, 2019 and her family would need to let her go. She had lived eight years with Alzheimer’s and, despite a valiant effort and family support, Sue Insuk Kwak could no longer be trapped inside her body.

A week and a half before, I went to Seattle to see my mother for the last time. I tried to coax her to eat and to move, but at sixty-five pounds she was declaring herself no longer part of the living world. She was, quite deliberately, choosing to die. 

Standing Up by Speaking Up

My parents immigrated to the U.S. from Korea when I was two, in 1972. We were lucky we left when we did, or my father, a pro-democracy professor at Korea University during Park Chung-Hee’s regime, might have been jailed. We were also lucky my mother was a pharmacist, as the U.S. was accepting pharmacists and nurses then. We moved to Seattle and made our home there.
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