Mom & Dad

This post is devoted to the points of view of both my mother and father.  I asked them both for their perspective on my situation and this was their response (please excuse any grammatical errors as English for them is a second language):


The operation took over the estimated time. That worried me!!  I asked myself, would he have been better off having had the surgery in UCSF or UCLA who had the surgeons that Pauline[1] recommended? Chris’s one-week stay in the pediatric ICU (PICU) at the University of Michigan hospital was very tough. I was really worried that he may become addicted to pain medications. However, his insistence of avoiding the use of any pain meds not only relieved this worry, but it also showed me his mental strength and toughness. I knew that no matter how tough the process of recovery was he would get to the finish line.

My older sister, mom, and wife in the surgery waiting room
My older sister, mom, and wife in the surgery waiting room

To me, the most important part of Chris’s recovery was the in-patient rehab. He was 100% focused and had a tight daily schedule.  I tried to help him get rid of any distractions and always made sure he could put all his attention into the task at hand.

Regarding Long Beach Island (LBI)[2]I wish we did not go to LBI and wished we continued to stay in the hospital for just one more week. To this day, I regret the decision of taking Chris out of inpatient rehab early because of my commitments in LBI.  I do think one more week in inpatient rehab would have made a difference for him and his recovery.

His vision recovery is the most important to me!!  Him being able to gradually feed and dress himself and eventually get rid of his wheelchair were triumphs of the recovery process. His speech recovery also makes me proud (Finally my Chinese-English came in handy).


                  When Chris called me and informed me that he had a 4 cm brain tumor at his cerebellum, I was on my way to San Francisco for a trip. Not long before that, he informed me that he was chosen to be the Chief Resident in his residency program. That was quite an honor.  When he informed me, I congratulated him but told him that health and family are the most important things. It seemed a coincidence that he soon had problem with his own health. I have encountered a few coincidences during the course of Chris’s brain tumor diagnosis and treatment. I later wondered myself, did my comment originate from my sixth sense or was it merely another “stoic” reaction to his exciting honor?

My father, Rei-Kwen Chiou
My father, Rei-Kwen Chiou

Another coincidence I encountered was when a patient came to see me after Chris had his surgery. As a Urologist that has practiced for over 30 years, I had never encountered a patient with a brain base tumor. But this patient told me that she had a cyst in her cerebellum. She was handicapped with many restrictions on her activities. She told me that she was advised by a top neurosurgeon in Oregon that she could not have surgery. “If you have surgery, you will die.” That neurosurgeon informed her. Watching her struggling even to walk, I truly felt blessed at Chris’s recovery thus far, even though he was still in the early phase of his recovery. Was God trying to hint something to me?

                  Another coincidence came when a patient gave me a brochure and tried to sell me a metal pen that he said was filled with special crystals. According to him, by waving the magic crystal pen, many neurological conditions would be healed. It was a few hundred dollars to buy one of these pens, however, my reason for not pursuing this was not the money but the principle that even in the most desperate situations, I did not want to submit to what Chinese called “mi xin” (a belief in something without sound reasoning or evidence). But I wondered, why had I never encountered that magic crystal pen except for after the discovery of Chris’s tumor?

                While I encouraged all the standard medicine and rehabilitation, I did teach Chris some Taoism health practices that I have found helpful for my own health, including meditation (based on Lao-Tze and his follower Huang, Yuanji) and some basic Tai-Chi exercises. I also showed him acupressure exercises that I adopted from various sources of Taoism and traditional Chinese medical literature.

                 From the very beginning, I recognized that although the tumor was benign, Chris had a tremendously difficult tumor to surgically remove and it had begun to cripple him. My anatomy class in medical school has taught me the complexity of the brain base adjacent to the circle of Willis: the area is covered with network of blood vessels and vital centers of our brain. Every vessel leads to a part of brain tissue that is vital for our life.  Every spot that the tumor attached to has vital function related to our body and life. That is why the patient of mine with a tumor in her cerebellum similar to Chris was told that if she had surgery, she would die.

                  My first conversation with Chris focused on 2 points: First, was that we needed to find the very best surgeon to do that surgery for him. Second, was why did we not make the diagnosis earlier. I recalled that I asked Chris to have a CT scan of head a few years ago to evaluate a headache he had been complaining of; it turns out that Chris was going to have the CT scan but stopped the study because of vertigo. It is likely that Chris had had that tumor for many years, and it would have been much smaller if we had detected it several years ago.

                  That thought reminded me a Taoism saying: “Do your Kung-Fu at the initial phase of things; Do not do a heroic life fight at the end phase.” Such a saying can be traced to Lao-Tze who wisely wrote: “Journey of a thousand miles begins with a simple step in front of you”. Not only journey, a lot of things in our life are that way. It began small but it grew to be a monster. It is effortless to nip a bud; it is tremendous work to cut down a tree. An ounce of prevention (or early detection) is worth a pound of cure.

                  However, we have to deal with the situation the best we can when it was detected. As a surgeon, I have vision for various phases of processes and have a habit of assessing the odds.  Surgery always carries risk, but we are blessed with tremendously skillful surgeons in various fields.  With a surgeon’s thinking, I know what Chris has to go through and knew that Chris had an excellent chance for surviving the surgery and attaining a reasonable recovery. I told Chris: “We will find the best surgeon and you are going to do well.” I recall that I also mumbled: “I am not sure you will be able to continue to practice medicine.” But I spoke so softly on that, just talking to myself.

                  Although in my career as a Urologic Surgeon, I have performed many major, meticulous surgeries, I always admire surgeons who strive to be the best in surgery in their field.  I would be too nervous to take that kind of risk operating at the vital center of our being. For these surgeons, one minor mistake can cost the life of the patient.

               Chris was fortunate to have a great and devoted mother who slept in a cot for a month at his bedside in the hospital. At our age and health condition, I don’t even think I could have survived that. When I visited Chris during his rehabilitation time, I was most impressed by the interaction between him and his mother. They were giggling all the time. But when I saw Chris wearing his glasses (with one eye blacked out to help his double vision) quietly holding his newborn son in his arm in the hospital lobby, I felt sorrow of Chris. Watching him hold a beautiful new baby in his arms also reminded me of when I held Chris in my arms and what surrounded Chris’s birth.  

Me holding Cormac with my stepdad and mom
Me holding Cormac with my stepdad and mom


                  We lived in an apartment in Minneapolis, fortunately on the first floor. I was in my residency, just as Chris is now in his residency. That night, we went out for a movie. When we returned to our bedroom, we were getting ready to go to bed.  Chris’s mom then fainted at the bedside. It turned out that her water had broken. When she regained her consciousness, I told her, “Don’t move, just lie there. I will go get the car.” I drove the car to our back yard and took Chris’s mom to the car. The apartment security came over and inquired why I had just driven my car to the backyard in the middle of night.  I simply told him that my wife was having a baby and rushed off.  Chris’s mom delivered Chris soon after our arrival to the hospital. It was a dramatic and unforgettable experience but it was a pure joy holding Chris in my arms. But now, I feel sorrow for my son who is holding his own son in his arms but is going through the roughest time in his life.

                  My brother Yen told me that for a period of time during his teenage years, he was occupied by the worry of death. He couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t eat for a couple of weeks. Our father then told him: “Just live until you can no longer live.” This simple statement brought him back to living from the dark cloud of death. Yes, in life, we have no guarantees, we can die any day or we can get a serious illness.  But as long as we live, we live. One day at a time, one moment at a time, we live for ourselves and our families. No matter what we have to go through, no matter what we have to endure we must do the very best we can with all the physical, mental, and spiritual strength we can muster.  As Chris’ grandpa put it, we must live until we can no longer live. We should always strive for the best and never give up.      


[1] My cousin, Pauline, both a surgeon and a writer made many phone calls to people she knew in the field of neurosurgery.

[2] I spoke of LBI in a previous post

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