The Unwinding of the Miracle
Julie Yip-Williams
Contributed by Shemika Thormahlen
Chapter 5

The chapter begins with a vivid description of the journey in a fishing boat as the author was escaping Vietnam together with her family. Yip-Williams remembers crying throughout the journey — something that upset her grandmother, who would have wished to have thrown her into the sea. The author recalls the events of this particular day because it was when her first conscious memories were formed, which were characterized by hunger, fear, and the hope to live. Yip-Williams notes that the whole boat experience was primal and frightening, an event that her parents never spoke of again.

As days go by, the author feels like she is drawing closer to insanity. She wishes to be a voice to those who feel the same way, or are going through other trials, by talking honestly about her experiences, which help establish a bond with her readers. As loneliness continues to swallow her, Yip-Williams wants her audience to understand that this kind of connection is what keeps her going. The author also wants her readers to understand that cancer is a condition that eventually can cause death and there is no way she can continue pretending to live a normal life. Her life is now filled with jealousy and bitterness as she tries to figure out how much more time before another family vacation would be possible. Cancer was now spreading to the other parts of her body, including her ovaries; she was afraid that it would soon spread to her brain.

On May 20th, Yip-Williams notes that her left ovary had increased by 2–3 cm. The tests revealed it was cancerous. Despite the discovery, some of her body parts had recovered. As an individual who adores bravery and courage, the author seems to be interested in understanding who is more: a cancer patient who relentlessly gruels treatments with the hope that they will eventually be fine; or the cancer patient who walks away from treatment and chooses to feel good, and only seeking treatment much later with the sole purpose of easing the pain. Even though society would prefer an individual who takes the treatment option with the hope of getting well one day, the author notes that it takes a lot of courage to ignore treatment, live life, and only take the medication to ease the pain. She, however, believes that the second path is more comfortable even though it depicts cowardice.

In this chapter, the author also mentions that she is tired of trying to live a normal life when cancer is eating her up from the inside. She has given up on trying any other new or crazy stuff that her doctors suggest. On one occasion, she writes an email to Mia’s violin teacher expressing her sadness about being unable to watch her daughter practice or perform. At the same time, she asks Mia’s teacher to take care of her because Josh has a lot to do and may not find adequate time to support her talent. As she is about to die, Yip-Williams continuously reminds her husband that he should never abandon their children when he marries another woman. Additionally, she made him promise that they would not leave the apartment that she had dedicated herself to renovating for the sake of her two daughters.

Cancer has significantly changed the author, as she writes about how she regularly experiences anger and sadness. Yip-Williams believes that her husband is probably exhausted from handling her darkness. As she writes, her last days are filled with hate. She hates people — something that she never used to feel. The author mentions several instances when she felt like yelling or punching somebody. Although she had thoughts of doing crazy things to people, Yip-Williams asserts that these people are not who she hates the most — but mothers that were diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer and, somehow, got cured. It makes her question why she had to undergo the tough journey, but not them. She feels like she does not even care anymore because she was on her deathbed. Every time she took a test, the tumors were growing significantly; and based on the fact that she had tried more than three treatment options, chances were that the remaining options would not be of any significance.

The author makes it clear to her readers that she has been able to endure challenges, complete the apartment project, and look after the children because of her instincts and powerful sense of obligation, which she refers to as muscle memory. But because of her deteriorating condition, she wanted to prepare her sister to be the surrogate mother, other than Josh picking a random woman. Even though her sister had avoided this conversation earlier, both siblings came to terms; she also agreed to move closer. Even though Josh was devastated, the author made it clear that she was only trying to address his fears, and she would want him to have a balance of work and home affairs. Yip-Williams wanted her body to be cremated and her ashes scattered in the Pacific Ocean. Her memorial service would be conducted in a church, and Mia’s violin teacher would perform at her funeral.


2016 marked significant changes in the life of Yip-Williams. In this chapter, she narrates her life with cancer, moments of insanity, courage, love, and (finally) her hate for people. She begins by describing the nasty experience in which they were thrown in a boat with hundreds of people in an attempt to escape unbearable times in Vietnam. From an analytical point of view, the author attempts to provide a detailed description of the events of that day, depicting her grandmother as someone who would have wished to end her life at any moment if given a chance. The author believes she has grown into a very determined woman after surviving this ordeal.

She also writes with the main aim of validating the emotions that most people undergo throughout their lives, whether they have cancer or not. She firmly believes of a special connection between her and this group of people because they share similar problems in one way or another. Cancer takes everything from a person, including happiness. However, in this book, the author warns people from upholding false hopes and living primarily with the pretense that they will defeat the disease.

As much as cancer may deprive happiness from an individual, Yip-Williams encourages her readers to find happiness in the little things they have. For instance, the author had a dog, Chipper, that would make her happy. Even with the discovery of cancer spreading in her ovaries, she would find joy in Chipper’s company. On many occasions, she would engage in conversations with neighbors and other people concerning dogs.

The major theme prevailing across the chapter revolves around courage, love, and hate, with the author being particularly interested in understanding who is the strongest where a cancer patient is concerned Even though people expect individuals to be medicated and keep battling the disease, Yip-Williams believes that it is more profound to have faith.

In preparation for her eventual death, the author decides to prepare for her children’s future. She writes a letter to Mia’s violin teacher, instructing him to take care of her (as well as her talent), and her sister, to prepare her to be the children’s surrogate mother. It is clear cancer has made her jealous; yet she wants the best for Josh and their two children. However, there are moments that the author is filled with rage and wishes to yell at people. When an individual encounters difficult moments, which may have been defeated by other people, chances are that a type of hatred will grow, with questions of why they will not survive. All in all, the author wishes her readers to understand that the cancer journey is filled with emotions and that — sometimes — they have to struggle with the dilemma of either fighting against it, or accepting reality.

The analysis would be incomplete without talking about “muscle memory”, a concept that the author uses to describe the powerful sense of obligation that makes an individual plan for the future more effectively. Yip-Williams notes that it is from this particular kind of muscle memory that she was able to deal with challenges, take care of her family, and prepare for what is to come. Individuals in a similar situation throughout the world are encouraged to emulate this aspect as it will push them through the most trying moments of their cancer journey.

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