Five For Fighting

My oldest daughter, Eva, turns five on Friday. We celebrated by inviting her entire class to the Vaunce Trampoline Park in Gangnam for bouncing and ball pits and food. They were running around like whirling dervishes and we parents scavenged for leftovers afterward because the kids didn’t eat any of the plates of ribs that were served, instead going for fried chicken, fries, pasta and pizza. (Silly kids, they didn’t realize the ribs were the best.)

My mom talks about how she still remembers the day I was born like it was yesterday, so I guess it’s completely normal to feel like no time has gone by since the day baby Eva and I cooperated to bring her into the world in 2012. Time is so elastic — it feels both near and far, depending on how you look at it.

I remember Eva nursing until she got “milk drunk” and her big head flopping back into my arm nook. I remember watching a presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney while doing laundry while Eva was just a few weeks old, and Obama seeming so unprepared that pundits flipped out, thinking he was going to lose the election. I remember taking baby Eva to Costco in a Moby wrap, which I only use when the newborns are less than four weeks old because it’s the only time those wraps are comfortable. I remember how confident she made me feel about motherhood because she was just a really easy baby.

Eva is a much more high maintenance kindergartner, now. She is a natural artist and creative with her imagination and play, she is loud and boisterous and constantly irritated by her sister, Isa, who really has a sly way of getting under Eva’s skin. She loves to explore Google maps, particularly the Street View feature, and, owing to a lot of travel, is really at home in hotels. When she plays make believe, we often have to make believe we are at the gate of an airport, going on a trip to Japan. Eva also loves meetings and a certain order to things, and my mom thinks this is because she’s a Virgo. She likes agendas and lists and checking items off on lists. It doesn’t matter if it’s a to-do list, a grocery list, ingredients for muffins, the girl loves lists.

Happiest of Birthdays to Eva. Just like that, she’s five years old.

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My Dude OBGYNs, In Vignettes

Yesterday I listened to a podcast episode about pelvic health, inspired by the uneasy experiences some women have had with their gynecologists. They advocated and featured nurse-midwives, who tend to be more feminist, holistic and just badass ladies. As someone who birthed all three children with midwives, I totally agree they are awesome. Midwives should be considered as a go-to option for regular exams whether you want/have children or not. But I’m also quite cool with my dude OBGYNS.

Three of my dude lady-part docs stand out in particular, mainly because I shared some unconventional experiences with them. The experiences are not graphic, they’re just … unique.

Dr. Katz

While on a semester-long break from the University of Missouri, I went to live in Houston with my mom, who was diplomating down there at the time. To occupy myself, I took a rather irregular schedule of classes at U of H and trained for a marathon. I also decided to work a side job as the front-desk check-in girl at the 24 Hour Fitness at San Felipe and Voss, mainly just to get a free gym membership.* What I remember about that time in my life is eating a lot of Whataburger (same intersection) and working alongside a few real roided out sales guys who liked to guess womens’ weight when they came in.

Every morning, a genial, portly, tan, white-haired guy checked in to ride the recumbent bicycle for a good 45 minutes before maybe lifting some weights, showering and going to work. Since he was a regular, we began chatting and eventually I learned he was a well-known lady doc in H-town. As I had grown up in Dallas, I didn’t have a gynecologist in Houston. So I decided, hey, Dr. Katz is cool, I’ll make an appointment! And that’s how he became my practitioner as well as a gym buddy with whom I’d ride recumbent bikes on occasion. He’s stuck in my memory because we spent the morning of September 11 together. After a marathon training run at Memorial Park, I went to the gym to cool down by riding the bike while watching TV with Dr. Katz. That’s when we saw the plane hit the first tower.


Dr. Hugh

My two years as a reporter in upstate South Carolina (the foothills of Appalachia) felt far more like foreign correspondence than being out here in East Asia. I was exposed to more absurd, utterly unfamiliar situations than I was able to fully appreciate at the time, and far weirder than my experiences as an actual foreign correspondent.

This place was the buckle of the Bible belt, home to Bob Jones University (where women are still not allowed to wear pants) and the only place I’ve ever witnessed a KKK cross burning. While in Spartanburg, I went to a family physician for birth control, which should be noncontroversial, but Dr. Sanctimonious told me he was proud of the fact that he did not prescribe birth control because he didn’t believe in it, his faith guided him and la la la la. This surprised me but not that much, and instead of reporting him I just found an actual OBGYN, whose first name was Hugh. I’ll call him Dr. Hugh. He spoke softly and also had white hair, but unlike Katz, was thin and wiry. He was very sweet, like a southern Mr. Rogers.

I started seeing him during a time I was single. I remember this because right after the pelvic exam, while I was still in those gyno table stirrups, he whirled around and ASKED ME IF I WAS SINGLE, as he had a young medical resident that he really wanted to introduce me to. (To this day, I still wonder what it is that he saw down there that made him think, I should play matchmaker!) Two weeks later, when the hospital sent me my pap smear results, Dr. Hugh had handwritten a message on it. It said something like, “Turns out the resident I told you about is actually engaged! So sorry.”


Dr. Chung

Dr. Chung helped deliver Isa and Luna, our two girls born in South Korea. He’s a Korean who speaks pretty good English, as he caters to a lot of Western clients and is an advocate of natural birth, which is rare and perhaps considered a little hippie-ish among South Koreans. He is so chill that he barely examined me throughout my two pregnancies here. But he has a knack for saying and doing things that would definitely be considered inappropriate in Western medical settings. Like when I ran into him six weeks after birthing Luna in the packed waiting room of his practice and he started in on how smoothly my birth went. In front of everyone, he goes, “When she came out, didn’t it feel like an orgasm to you? It’s orgasmic, right?” I stood in silence for a few beats, trying not to acknowledge the roomful of people around us, and said something about how it certainly was a relief to deliver a healthy baby. (BUT THE ANSWER IS NO.)

A few weeks later, my assistant and I were nervously sitting at one of those processing windows at the Seoul Immigration Office, where I was applying for an Alien Registration Card for Luna. The issue at the immigration office is even though its clients are not Korean, the staff there barely speak any English. And it’s bureaucracy-laden. So between the lack of language and the layers of paperwork, I almost always get rejected there the first time I try to apply for registration or renewal. It was going to happen again, when Dr. Chung saved me! The rather stern lady at our window was going over our papers and noticed Luna’s birth certificate from the birthing clinic and immediately softened.

“Oh, I also gave birth at the same center,” she told us. “Wow,” I said. “Did you have Dr. Chung? He’s great, right? Very chill.”

“And very handsome,” she says, with no expression.** (Assistant Jihye had to translate this, with a chuckle.) She approved Luna’s registration.


In conclusion, I barely know these guys but in some ways they know me quite well. And I’m grateful for each for taking good care of me, being a friend to the extent a doctor is a friend, and for the, uh, memories.

*This was my second job at a gym. In high school I did a stint as the smoothie girl at the Q Fitness Club in Plano, where I would get $20 tips for making $3 smoothies, so, clearly I was led to believe working at gyms was lucrative.

** Dr. Chung himself once told me he was considered very good-looking in Korea, which was helped by his height. I’m gonna say he’s about 6’2″.

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Let’s Blog Again, Like We Did 15 Years Ago

Remember when everyone blogged? Here’s what I remember about it: I thought the audiences for these things were limited to the people who I personally told about them, so that was approximately 14 people. Things got out of hand during my early 2002 intern stint at The Taipei Times, where I reviewed nightclubs while underaged and more comically, when my LiveJournal was secretly being read by all my Canadian, British and American expat colleagues, who I was totally blogging about. I had a crazy crush on one of those colleagues because he was a brooding-yet-brilliant asshole. I never named said crush and instead just relentlessly wrote about being in lust with him. Unbeknownst to me, the men in the office started a pool over who it was. One night, while stoned at a party, one of these guys decided he wanted to end the office pool so he told me about it. I was so humiliated I didn’t go to work for a week. They never figured out who the dude was. I wonder what he’s doing. Probably being brooding/brilliant.

My college roomie Amy ran a blog called “Unsolicited Advice” and I checked it all the time even though we were always like, sitting right next to each other. I don’t think any irreverent person in the Missouri Journalism program lacked a blog, actually. Everyone seemed to write under pseudonyms (a sign of those times) and I chose “Jack Foley” after the George Clooney bank robber character in Out of Sight. I named my blog after a line from a different movie — Waiting for Guffman. Inside the crop circle in the film, it was weirdly always 67 Degrees with a 40% Chance of Rain, so that was what I called ye olde blog. Those were the days. Those blogs felt realer, maybe because we had more characters to use and fewer image filters to choose from. The internet wasn’t feudal and algorithms didn’t decide as much about which friends you kept up with and which ones you never read about.

That was a long windup to a point, which is that confronted with Facebook feeds and Tweetdeck barrages and Instagram and Snapchat and whatever the kids use these days, some people are returning to the old-school style of blogging. Mainly it’s the internet dude Dave Winer, and my friend Jenny (who I wanted to BE in 8th grade). And I think I want to try and do it more, too. As Winer notes, “Out here on the open web, as long as you stay away from the BigCo silos, there is no algorithm. Just people. No one but us people.”

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Poking Fun At My Brother Never Gets Old

I found a photo of Roger when he was 15 and I was 17 and promptly texted him about it.

As y’all know, there are few things that delight me more than teasing my little brother, who at 33 years old and 6’2″ is not that little. I was at my parents house last week, where there are so many great pictures from yesteryear, like this Hu family shot from 2000, when Roger was clearly going through some stuff, as he admits.

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“I miss the days where we would hit empty bubble tape cases wrapped with duct tape with hockey sticks against the garage, or go to the creek and catch the fish that were washed out of the creek during the heavy rains.”

–My brother Roger, feeling nostalgia for childhood now that he’s #adulting

The Egg Roll/Rolling Egg Tradition

Today is what my friend Anna calls “The Day After The Day Of The Shining Star,” because my birthday follows former North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il’s. (Kim’s birthday is the “Day of the Shining Star,” so I get “The Day After,” naturally. Along with Michael Jordan, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Paris Hilton and my birthday besties John and April.)

I can’t believe I’ve never written about my family’s birthday tradition! I guess now’s a good time. The tradition is the egg roll, or an egg rolling, to be precise. Not the fried appetizer, but an actual rolling of a hard-boiled egg down the birthday girl’s body, from head to toe and down each limb, to roll away any negativity or bad vibes from the year before. Then you crack open the egg and eat it for birthday breakfast.

Here’s my mom doing it for me in Taipei a couple years ago. While rolling the egg, the elder talks the whole time, wishing away all the sadness or badness. I always get emotional when I happen to be with my mom and she can actually roll the egg for me like when I was little.

In my adulthood, sometimes I’m not with mom or dad or grandma on my birthday, and so my husband has to roll the egg for me, which causes him great anxiety. On my 28th birthday, his egg-rolling-anxiety caused a GIANT FIGHT between us that lasted for two or three days.

There is a lot of superstition tied to egg rolling, too. On my 19th birthday, everyone forgot to roll my egg for me. It was then one of the worst years of my life, to this day. Before my 32nd birthday, I happened to be in Taipei a few weeks ahead of Feb 17 so my mom planned to roll my egg for me before I headed to the airport. But the eggs didn’t boil in time, so we had to go downstairs to the 7-11 and improvise with a tea-egg (the shells of which are already cracked, since they’re braising in tea). Mom rolled me with the tea egg, but tea eggs don’t work! I went home and had a miscarriage and my au pair quit in some high drama involving her OK Cupid boyfriend and it was just Not. A. Great. Start. To. My. Year. So my dad came to DC and re-rolled my egg, and instantly things turned a corner.

That is the power of the egg roll.

If I’m REALLY lucky, I happen to be with my 94-year old grandma around my birthday, and SHE can do the egg roll, which is the luckiest egg roll of all. But her primary egg roll responsibilities are her own kids: Aunt Linda, Uncle Steve and my momma.

This year Matty had my egg ready for rolling first thing in the morning, and my daughter Eva was so psyched to see this weird thing happening that she insisted on being lifted up so she, too, could help roll the egg. Later my Seoul girlfriends joined me for a day at the spa, since I’m a little limited in my partying this year due to being eight-months preggo. Buy my sweet friend Sarah flew her ass in from Singapore to spend the day and weekend with me, which means a whole lot. I missed our times together and we’re doing some quality catching-up.

NOTE: I have no idea where this tradition comes from. It’s just been passed down my mom’s side of the family. I have yet to start doing it for my daughters, but I think I will this fall when Eva turns five.

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The Most Memorable Stories I Got To Tell In 2016

“Being a journalist … it’s a grand, grand caper. You get to leave, go talk to strangers, ask them anything, come back, type up their stories, edit the tape. I mean, it beats working.” -The late, great David Carr

Sake from paper cups on the Shinkansen with my mom, photog and fixer, in February.

Nostalgia is probably my favorite emotion, even though it’s not an emotion. I love it so much that it is a blog category here, and I also feel pre-nostalgia, or what the Japanese call 物の哀れ, mono no aware, a longing for the present — missing a moment even before it’s even gone. (I think this might explain why I started keeping a journal when I was five years old and have a career that’s essentially just documenting things.)

Anyway, in order to indulge in this nostalgia and to escape from the reality of the news each day, I have resolved in this new year to read more books (predictable) and blog for myself more. One thing I wanted to time capsule while it’s fresh is my first full year of reporting since 2013. (I spent the back half of 2014 prepping the international move and then several months of 2015 on maternity leave).

I looked at the list of 50-something stories I reported last year from scattered places: South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Laos and twice from Hawaii, thought back on what was most memorable — behind the scenes — about reporting and writing them. So instead of being a list of the “best” stories in terms of traditional metrics like listener engagement or impact or whatever, these are the ones I really remember telling.

Preserving the Tradition Of Kabuki-Performing Kids In A Japanese Mountain Village
Memorable because: This tiny town is a special place that took a long drive to get to, but I was joined by my good friend Ben, who I knew from Washington and speaks near-perfect Japanese. He used to live in this village as an English teacher, so it was a homecoming for him. The night before the kabuki festival we ate a family dinner with his Japanese mom friends from his old English-practice group.

We passed by rice cleaning machines on the side of the road to get there, a first. Watching the dedication of kids as young as six perform this ancient Japanese art was magical and inspiring. I’ll never forget how backstage, the littlest ones just wanted to play with my fuzzy microphone.

Fukushima Evacuees Are In Temporary Houses … Five Years Later
Memorable because: My mom decided to come on this reporting trip with me and my fixer, Akane, and the photographer, Kosuke Okahara. Kosuke was a get because he is usually in Europe. But owing to his devotion to the Fukushima survivors, he returns to the area each year. He came with us to neighborhoods of temporary trailers that nuclear meltdown evacuees have been in for five years now, cramped but making homes and community from them.

I was still breastfeeding, so I had to pump every few hours for Baby Isa, who was at home in Korea. This meant pumping in the backseat of our tiny rental car, so poor Kosuke, essentially a stranger, had to get a glimpse of that. On the Shinkansen ride back, my mom announced she had swiped a bunch of paper cups from the car rental place when we returned our car, which allowed us to down a bottle of sake while on the bullet train. We were all wasted by the time we got back to Tokyo.

Obama Visits Hiroshima
Memorable because: I’ll never forget the quiet on the lawn of that memorial park before Obama arrived. It was stunningly quiet, a heavy quiet I’d never experienced. And then the Obama speech was pitch perfect for the moment, a speech that was appropriate for history and poetic in its affirmation of humanity. I’ve never gotten emotional while covering a politician’s remarks; this was the first time I teared up during a speech, ever. Read the whole thing, or watch it. I broke down somewhere around “So that we might think of people we love — the first smile from our children in the morning; the gentle touch from a spouse over the kitchen table; the comforting embrace of a parent…” Then I had to pull it together and go live on Morning Edition right away.

Meanwhile, there’s another breastfeeding story here; I pumped in the bathroom and then the Peace Park restaurant had to pack and freeze my milk for me while I was working.

The Sacrifices Women Make To Be K-Pop Stars
Memorable because: I wrote the piece in Washington after doing the reporting in Seoul, because I was home for two weeks to host Weekend Edition Sunday in July. Being at the NPR HQ to put this together meant a more collaborative effort in making the final product. But this was also memorable in its insanity. During the interview, this Korean K-pop star was not introspective at all about what she had put herself through in order to “make it” in an industry where beauty standards are completely determined by middle-aged men.

The Cup Noodle 45th Anniversary
Memorable because: Of the fun fact we learned about Cup Noodle and how it is tailored differently for different consumers. In Asia, it’s a compliment to slurp your noodles, in America, people think it’s rude. So Cup Noodle deliberately cuts their noodles shorter for American audiences so that they don’t have to make slurping sounds to eat them.

Obama’s Final Summit With Japan, At Pearl Harbor
Memorable because: It was my last time with the White House press corps for awhile, because Mr. Trump is not likely to come out to Asia anytime soon. And it was the end of an era — the Obama era — and the culmination of his years long friendship with Japan. The Japan tribute to Pearl Harbor victims was an answer to Obama’s tribute to Hiroshima earlier in the year, so I was glad to be able to bookend the spring experience with this trip. A fitting end to an era of covering President Obama, which dates back to his days as a candidate in the Texas Primacaucus, when I got a one-on-one interview with him in a bathroom.

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September 11

On 9/11/2001 I was living in Houston, on a semester off from Mizzou, and training for the Houston marathon, which is held every January. So that morning I headed to lush Memorial Park to do a workout with my training buddies at five in the morning, since that’s how early you have to run in Houston because otherwise you might die of heatstroke.

We were finished with our speed drills that morning by before seven. So from there I drove to the 24 Fitness gym on San Felipe and Ross where I would often go stretch, cool down or lift weights. I picked a recumbent bike in the first of two rows in front of TV screens, right next to Dr. Alan Katz, who was also my OB/GYN after meeting at the gym and shooting the shit every once in awhile. (I figure, hey we always chat on the bikes, you might as well make sure my girl parts are healthy.)

Sometime during this chatty bike ride we saw on the screens the plane hit the first tower. It was completely unclear at that time what was going on, we suspected they were filming a movie. It wasn’t until I got home and took a shower and saw the second plane hit that I realized we were under some sort of terrorist attack. It was terrifying, considering we’d really spent the rest of the summer concerned about a spate of shark attacks near American beaches.

I called my mom, who was at work at the Taiwanese consulate, who said I should probably just stay home from college classes that day. I did, and when she got home from work we went shopping, because she was like, “We should spend all our money in case we’re not around much longer.” When we got back into the car after walking around the mall like zombies, while we were sitting in the parking lot, the radio was playing the U.S. Congress singing “God Bless America” together on the steps of the Capitol. We sat there and cried.

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Mr. Fenney

My zero hour geography teacher in 11th grade was Mr. Fenney. Mr. Fenney — late thirties at the time — was a hipster in Texas, before hipsters existed. He liked to talk about Italian art films to high schoolers, explain why the colonists had completely fucked Africa for forever, and treated us teenagers as far more enlightened than we really were.

We were also basically never able to get a rise out of him for anything. One afternoon, after a particularly difficult exam that morning, I busted into his 7th period class and announced to the whole class of mostly strangers, is this the Europe exam?! “That test raped me in the ass this morning!” Mr. Fenney just sort of chuckled and then went about his test proctoring. (Side note: What was I even doing?)

As these things go, I don’t remember any of the book teaching that Mr. Fenney did. Just the asides and random tidbits about the world that he would teach us, like showing us how nonsensically Africa was carved up. And since we had to memorize some land masses and rivers after coloring unlabeled maps as homework, I might be able to identify Laos on a map today (maybe).

The most salient memory I have of Mr. Fenney is what he slapped up on the overhead projector on the first day of class. It was a quote by T.S. Eliot:

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

It’s a famous T.S. Eliot missive, as I know now. But to my 17-year old self, this was revelatory. And it’s largely guided my life, it turns out. So I think of Mr. Fenney fairly often, and the esoteric — but crucial — impact he made on me. Thanks, dude. Sorry I was such a pain in the ass.

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On My First Female Role Model Besides My Mom

Last night I fell down a rabbit hole on Medium (usually it’s Wikipedia) and found a list of writing prompts that friend-of-a-friend Nicole Zhu used in order to keep up a daily habit of writing. Between sometimes writing here on this blog but mostly posting on my work Tumblr and a mandate to write for my day job, I don’t think the world needs more of my words. But I felt inspired by the prompts and realized I don’t sit down and reflect as often as I used to, because the explosion of social platforms means I do my sharing in pieces, in snapshots or Snapchats rather than wordier reflections. 

Anyway. I have kept up this blog and its previous incarnations for all these years, so I might as well take some of the prompts and give them a whirl every once in a while, eh? It’s certainly something to do when I am avoiding doing other tedious things, like paying the bills or whatever. [Clears throat.] With that, here’s a musing on female role models.


Let’s get this part of out of the way: My most influential role model, female or not, is my mom. My mom is pure love. She makes me feel safe always. “Listen to me and you can’t go wrong,” my mom says, confident in her wisdom. And she’s right. She is unapologetic about who she is, realistic about the world and her confidence gives me confidence. We laugh about inappropriate topics, since she shares a subversive, macabre humor. We cry together because we wear our hearts on our sleeves (unapologetically). We never want to stop exploring, a value she instilled in me long ago. She told me as a child, “Never live your life for someone else’s gaze,” a lesson that shaped me. She also explained to me when I was quite young the quiet cruelties of being a person of color in a pasty white St. Louis suburb, making it easier for me when I did feel different.

It took awhile before I found other female role models. I grew up surrounded by boys. My only sibling is a brother. My childhood memories of Roger are of our forceful physical fights (I learned how to always go for his nuts when kicking or punching), building homegrown skateboarding ramps on our driveway and buying Fun Dip in between innings at his little league baseball games. My entire neighborhood peer group was also made up of boys; in the four houses closest to mine were each kids in my grade, and all those kids were boys: Ryan, Craig, Tommy and Craig. We waited for the bus together each morning. After school, thanks to huge fenceless yards, we stayed outside playing until dark almost every night. We built forts, played Ghost in the Graveyard and Kick the Can, or wandered to the neighborhood creek where the rocks were jagged and the water could start rushing dangerously quickly when it rained.

Jenny! (Using her current Facebook profile photo, so that I know this is a Jenny-approved photo.)

Jenny! (Using her current Facebook profile photo, so that I know this is a Jenny-approved photo.)

So my closest female relationships didn’t really come together until 5th or 6th grade, when I formed a bond with a fellow subversive — Jes Ingram. I remember going to Jes’ house to play Sim City (which might have been V1), sleepovers watching/reciting Ace Ventura Pet Detective word-for-word and hanging out around her house with her older sister, Jenny. I think she was my first female role model besides my mom. Jenny never passed on words of wisdom in the way moms do, but instead led by example. Jenny was class president and much-admired and beautiful but effortlessly so. Unlike the other popular girls who spent a lot of time primping for boys or to pickup boys at the mall (yes my middle school friends did that back then), Jenny was ‘whatever’ about her place in the preteen hierarchy, and even cooler for it. She seemed to have deep, authentic friendships, which in 7th grade felt sorta hard to come by. But mainly I looked up to Jenny because I find being bored pretty much anathema to existence, and Jenny was never boring. She has so much personality that it oozes from her like the cheese of a four-cheese grilled cheese sandwich. Jenny’s Personality and her personality are innate and not replicable, but for acolytes like me, thankfully she read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies and listened to a lot of music, so at least through all that time with the Ingram’s I got to be inculcated with her cultural influences. (And her sister Jes’s, of course, who I will always trust implicitly.)

I’ve seen a lot of movies in which young protagonists are somehow let down by their role models in the end. But some 20 years after first looking up to Jenny, I can report that she has only exceeded my stratospheric assessment of her.

Last year, Jenny learned she had breast cancer. She’s sadly not my first friend to fight cancer at a young age, but she’s fought it with the most humor and moxie. (Because, of course.) A few days ago, she lost her boobies, as she decided that getting a double mastectomy was the best way to prevent a recurrence. She’s been chronicling her journey on her blog, appropriately titled “Check Those Titties.” Reading it regularly has reminded me of many things (to check my titties, for one), but also how exceptional she is. And that maybe I should reflect and write about these personal memories, because it’s a way to thank people like her, to whom I’m eternally grateful.

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