The Unwinding of the Miracle
Julie Yip-Williams
Contributed by Shemika Thormahlen
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Chapter 3

The chapter begins with a thrilling fact: for people with friends who also have cancer, they may start “falling one-by-one”. This is what the author experienced in the first weeks of 2014, where she witnessed various individuals succumbing to cancer, including celebrities and a close associate called John, who died after his battle with brain cancer. Another friend of Yip-Williams, Gloria, had died of complications associated with colon cancer, which got her concerned. Kathryn, a cancer sufferer, inspired her to fight cancer with bravery. All in all, Yip-Williams believes that battling cancer demands more than just stamina; it requires spiritual strength to fight deep within themselves.

Before her chemo, Yip-Williams narrates her experiences with two of her cousins. They traveled all the way to accompany her through the first chemotherapy session. January 13th was a momentous day of her life because she unexpectedly met a number of special people in New York City. Her best friend, S.J., showed up by surprise, along with Josh some moments later.  She summarizes the events of that day as “the crossroads of the world”. Cancer has made her value such precious moments. She recalls not being able to go to the movies because her mother thought it would be a waste of time and money, especially how she cannot really see well. But now, things have changed — and everyone wants to show her love.

In the 14th section of the chapter “2014”, Yip-Williams writes about hope — a word that she feels is mostly used by cancer patients. On the eve of her HIPEC surgery, Yip-Williams wanted to believe that everything will be okay, and that something positive was going to happen. The author’s life experience in Vietnam had been her most significant source of hope. Additionally, her survival during the days of the civil war in Vietnam showed her the value of faith. Her mother recalls how they were helped by a soldier into a rickety fishing boat that packed almost three hundred other passengers. The journey marked the beginning of her destiny. Years later, she was with Josh, hoping that HIPEC could cure cancer. Even though, ultimately, she would have to die, Yip-Williams wanted her hope evolving into something else: “hope for my children, hope for the human race, hope for the soul”.

The whole cancer thing makes Yip-Williams feel like a lost girl. Everything in her life has significantly changed. Back then, she loved cooking; but cancer has made her wary of food, in fear that it could accelerate her condition. Eventually, she lost interest in food. Even buying a new SUV would only spark moments of sadness and despair. Behind every smile was a woman filled with sorrow. Josh was a sad man, too, and most of the time he would get angry over the pains that his wife had to undergo because of the cancer. A year after being diagnosed with cancer, the author begins to experience nightmares that are mostly triggered by certain events or places — and on each occurrence, Yip-Williams feels that her time is nearing.

Once again in this chapter, Yip-Williams writes to her audience about her perceptions with religion. Even though she recognizes the presence of a higher power, she lacks words to explain how God had manifested in her life. She feels grateful for the love that she has received from family and friends. Yip-Williams recalls receiving a call from one of her doctor friends in LA. When she told him that her colon was almost completely blocked with a cancerous tumor, the doctor advised her to find a more reputable colorectal surgeon from an established facility. That day, a lot of things happened — including her transfer from Garfield Medical Centre to UCLA, the very place she received her eye-surgery years ago. The author narrates that every moment felt like it drew her close to death. For once, she could never think of what would happen tomorrow or the day after that.

Prior to her diagnosis, she encountered a lot of nightmares, with the most common one featuring her as the main protagonist in a Greek tragedy. Throughout this particular one, she keeps on thinking that — at some point — she will be hit by a terrible fate. Particularly, Yip-Williams believed it had something to do with cancer and its fate. After she was found with a mass that was suspected to be cancer, the author immediately started having nightmares of Josh and her friends crying over her. Interestingly, Yip-Williams notes that her husband, Josh, is not as strong as her when it comes to dealing with life challenges. She felt that the disease was much harder on him. At one instance, Josh would play Pac-Man with a deal that if he broke the record, Yip-Williams would beat cancer. He did.

It is during her stay at UCLA that Yip-Williams’ diagnosis was confirmed. Everybody now knew, including her cousins, that she had stage IV colon cancer. After the surgery, they were set to travel to New York. At this point, she reminded herself of the meanings associated with the syllables of her Chinese name. ‘A’ meant “a fallen leaf always returns to its roots”; she was finally going back home to meet her entire family and friends.

The author writes that numbers are a way of calculating the future. Ever since her diagnosis, everything about her life has always been revolving around numbers. It is during this time of cancer that Yip-Williams realized how she differs from Josh: her husband believes in science and numbers; while she believes in religion. The diagnosis made her understand that science and faith are not so different, especially in the context of cancer. She also points out that the duo has been raised in two different backgrounds: Josh from an established family in Carolina; and Yip-Williams from one of the most impoverished environments in Vietnam. She compares her life with Josh’s, and the odds of ever meeting Josh were zero. Their meeting was probably because of the numerous different paths that end up crossing randomly. She narrates the story of Flight 447, elaborating that while the odds for survival may be minimal, they do not predict the future — and how they can also change with time.


In this chapter, Yip-Williams focuses on the events and activities that occurred in 2014. Many themes arise from the chapter, including the power of hope. As far as the book is concerned, the author refers to her life — as well as those of others, like John. They never thought that cancer was slowly living in them. The author also mentions other individuals she has known with cancer, and how they have strived to fight the disease with the hope that they would eventually beat it. However, she firmly asserts that cancer is more likely to overpower its patients.

In some sections of the book, Yip-Williams talks about hope and religion, and their role in the lives of people — especially those with cancer. By reading a book that a friend proposed, Yip-Williams acknowledges that it is critical for individuals to never give up on hope. More importantly, they should maintain a realistic expectation throughout their fight. Infused with faith and religion, it is something that is often overemphasized among cancer patients — and where the hard truth is that, sooner or later, they are all going to die. Throughout her life experiences, and those stories told to her by her mother, Yip-Williams understood the value of hope. She says, “It is like a fire in our souls, sometimes flickering weakly, like the flame of a single candle in the night, and sometimes raging mightily, casting a warm and brilliant light of limitless possibilities.” Yip-Williams believes that hope is a form of survival, and therefore essential in people’s lives; no matter how weak it becomes, it cannot be extinguished. Despite how she has mastered the art of hope, the fact that it is unsustainable scares her sometimes, and have therefore led to its rejection as a coping mechanism to endure cancer and its suffering.

When faced with difficult situations, it is possible that an individual may feel lost and out-of-place. For instance, before she was diagnosed with cancer, the author used to love cooking and own high-end cookware. But after the diagnosis, things changed. Despite how neuropathy made cooking painful and annoying, Yip-Williams no longer found pleasure in food as she believed it would somehow accelerate her cancer — which made her feel lost. Similarly, when she was with other people during social events, like the time when she brought her girls to two different birthday parties, she had the urge to announce her cancer to everyone. The author attempts to bring out the aspects of how people living with cancer feel in the presence of those who do not.

From an analytical point of view, it can be argued that cancer patients sometimes experience nightmares that are triggered by the fact they have cancer. Psychologists say that nightmares are mostly triggered by depression and anxiety. But in this chapter, the author recalls having nightmares that were mainly triggered by memories associated with a place or certain people. Most cancer victims end up dying, and it could be from this thought that the author envisions herself encountering a terrible fate: death. Moments of devastation are likely to have triggered such terrible nightmares.

Another theme brought out in this chapter concerns fate and fortune. While Yip-Williams believes that her life has been primarily shaped by destiny, it is the aspect of fate in which she does not understand — specifically as to why she was born blind and into a low-income family. She fails to understand why she survived death at a very early age, and only to experience cancer later in life. Even though she believed in a higher power, she could never find the answers to explain why things happen the way they do. Ultimately, the author equates all these to the power of fate.

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