慈濟傳播人文志業基金會
Chin Up Through Life’s Challenges

Lin Mei-yun has cancer in various parts of her body. Even so, she doesn’t look at herself as a patient, but as a mother and a wife. She does her best to care for her husband, a stroke patient, and she encourages her three daughters to work hard to have a good future instead of relying on others for help.

Thank...you, Mei...yun.” Yang Fang-xing (楊芳興) uttered those words with difficulty, his left hand holding a walking aid and his eyes intent on his wife, Lin Mei-yun (林美雲). He was thanking her for taking good care of him after he had experienced a stroke.

Except for the sofa set and the TV cabinet, the most prominent thing in the Yang family’s 180-square-foot living room was a single bed behind the sofa. Though the bed was covered in thin blankets, one could still see that it had sunken in, a sure sign of heavy use. Mei-yun said, “We’ve been sleeping in the living room since my husband’s stroke. I’ve almost forgotten what our room upstairs looks like!”

Lin Mei-yun and Yang Fang-xing accompanied their youngest daughter, Wen-lan, to a Tzu Chi scholarship award ceremony. Wen-lan donated her savings in a coin bank to Tzu Chi that day too. He Zi-hua

 

I can’t let my daughters become orphans

Fang-xing used to be a newspaper carrier until a stroke laid him low on January 31, 2015. He was in a coma for half a year. His parents and three daughters urged Mei-yun to let him go, but she insisted on saving him. She said that she herself was seriously ill and could leave this world at any time. She didn’t want her three children to become orphans.

About ten years earlier, in 2004, Mei-yun, then 36, was diagnosed with breast cancer. The disease was already in an advanced stage when detected, and it had spread to her lungs, liver, lymph nodes, and bones. Her doctor said that she had only half a year left. “Half a year!” It was a huge blow—after all, she was just in her mid-30s, and her youngest daughter, Wen-lan (雯嵐), was just in first grade.

Despite the grim prognosis, Mei-yun refused to give up hope. She decided to undergo all prescribed treatments. One of her breasts was removed, then she began receiving alternating chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The treatment regimen lasted four years. That was the toughest period of her life. The chemotherapy injections were so strong they would knock her unconscious. The doctors would give her first aid, admit her to the hospital, and discharge her when she had gotten better. Despite the ordeal of the treatments, she continued her maternal duties as usual—household chores, tending to her kids’ needs, you name it—just as if she hadn’t fallen ill at all.

Having contracted cancer at a young age, she was stigmatized by others. People murmured: “Did she do something bad? Why else would she have fallen victim to the disease?” But she couldn’t afford to let such unkind conjecture and speculation get her down. She had to be strong for her children. After countless rounds of treatments at the hospital, being knocked unconscious by the strong medicine, and being revived by the doctors, she finally finished her treatments. However, that wasn’t the end of it all. She would need to be on medication—anti-cancer drugs, painkillers, etc.—for the rest of her life.

“I’m prepared for the worst,” said Mei-yun. “I’ve even purchased a niche in a columbarium for my ashes.” She lifted her blouse, revealing a morphine patch on her abdomen. Despite her worrisome condition and uncertain future, she is upbeat and positive. She says that she is in a cheerful mood when she wakes up every morning because she has lived to see another day. She lives every day as if it were her last. She feels that every day that she lives is another day gained.

Mei-yun’s husband miraculously woke up half a year after his stroke. She took him home after he had been in and out of hospital for eight months and began caring for him herself. Thus began another challenging chapter of her life.

There are people worse off than us

Since her husband, partially paralyzed, was no longer fit to work, Mei-yun took over his newspaper carrier job. She set out in darkness every morning around two in a van for her delivery rounds. By the time she finished delivering all the newspapers and returned home, dawn had already broken. She’d take three sleeping pills and lie down by her husband to catch up on some sleep. When he woke up, she got up again too. She fixed breakfast and then helped him with his rehab exercises.

Their three daughters seemed to have grown up overnight. The older two, in college, and the youngest, in high school, all began working part-time to help with their family’s finances. “They have been my biggest comfort since my husband had his stroke,” Mei-yun said.

When the youngest daughter’s homeroom teacher learned of the misfortune that had befallen the family, she contacted Tzu Chi for help. Volunteers visited the family to determine if they needed assistance from the foundation. They learned that though Fang-xing had woken from the coma, his mobility and speech were severely affected. In fact, he qualified for government subsidies for physically challenged people. After evaluation, the volunteers decided to give the family monthly financial aid too, to supplement their living expenses.

When they told Mei-yun about their decision to provide the family financial aid, she politely declined their offer. She said to them, “It would be enough for me if you could come to my home regularly to chat with me and allow me to release my emotions.” Respecting her decision, the volunteers began visiting the family regularly to extend care to them.

Mei-yun explained her decision to her daughters. “With the volunteers’ visits, we’ll be getting a lot of emotional support—that is what we really need. There are many families worse off than us, and they are the ones that need help. You three are all earning money, and I have a steady income as a newspaper carrier. We can get by without the aid from Tzu Chi. Besides, we’ll feel less of a burden spending money we make ourselves, and we’ll spend it with more care.”

The youngest daughter, Wen-lan, couldn’t quite accept her mother’s decision at first. She often saw her friends’ social media posts about their happy outings with their families during vacations and holidays, while she herself often had to work to help support her family. When her father was hospitalized, she had to take turns with her mother and sisters caring for him at the hospital. She felt that what had happened to her family was unfair. “Why did I have to be born into a family like this?” she thought in deep frustration. “Why is it me who has to experience all this? I go to school by day and do odd jobs by night. Sometimes I even have to help Mom deliver newspapers in the middle of the night. Others are sleeping while I work!”

Her attitude only began to change when her two sisters were awarded scholarships by Tzu Chi in October 2015 due to their excellent performance at school. Their entire family attended the award ceremony at the Tzu Chi Taichung branch office in central Taiwan. During the ceremony, a documentary about Tzu Chi’s aid to needy families was shown to attendees. Watching it, Wen-lan came to realize that there were really many people worse off than her. Some, for example, were orphaned early in life and raised by their grandparents. “I’m lucky,” she said. “I still have both my parents around me.”

Wen-lan is now in college. During weekends or on mornings when she doesn’t have classes, she gets up extra early and accompanies her mother on her newspaper delivery rounds. She works odd jobs too. Her parents used to run a breakfast shop, and at that time she was given large allowances and could buy pretty much anything she wanted. Now she gives some of her earnings to her mom to help pay for her family’s expenses and leaves some to herself. “I’ve come to understand that giving to my family is what I should do because other people have been helping and giving to my family too.”

Mei-yun on a newspaper delivery round

Perseverance

Mei-yun believes that stroke patients stand a good chance of returning to a normal life if they work hard on physical therapy. Therefore, she diligently helps her husband do rehab exercises, and she trains him to attend to his own daily needs as much as possible. Instead of feeding him, she lets him feed himself with his still usable left hand; instead of twisting open a water bottle or flask for him, she lets him do it himself. She also trains him to use the bathroom independently by steadying himself with one hand on the wall.

Even though Fang-xing has made slow progress and Mei-yun often has to pick up after him, she is tireless in helping him become independent. She knows she is doing him good by giving him chances to practice. “When he first had the stroke and I began training him to use the bathroom, I had to wash our bedsheets almost every day, but I never uttered a word of complaint.”

Mei-yun’s two older daughters have now both graduated from college, and the youngest one is doing well in school, so Mei-yun can breathe easier. However, her life is far from being worry-free. She has been on medication for her cancer for over 14 years. The tumor in her liver has become smaller, so she has stopped taking medicine for that, but the other tumors are still very much alive and a dire threat to her health. She was hospitalized for over ten days in March 2017 to treat a swollen lymph node. Her attending physician said to her, “All the doctors are giving you the highest doses of anti-inflammatory medicine that they can. You are so brave. You take it all without so much as a frown.”

Mei-yun has to rely on morphine patches to reduce her cancer-induced pain, but she still tries her best to live a normal life. “I know I can die at any time,” she said, “so I need to train my husband until he can take care of himself. That way, I can feel at ease handing him over to my three daughters.” She never avoids the topic of death in front of her children, and she talks to them about how to take care of their mobility-limited father in the future.

Mei-yun has now lived with her cancer for 14 years. Her doctors are all amazed at what a normal life she has led. They admire her for her strong will and perseverance in dealing with her illness. Ruan Xiu-juan (阮秀娟), one of the Tzu Chi volunteers who regularly visits Mei-yun and her family, lauds her for her strength and upbeat spirit. Ruan knows that she is often in pain—even those morphine patches do not bring her full relief. Sometimes the pain is beyond what the patches can alleviate. In addition, she takes so many medications for the cancer in the various parts of her body that Ruan feels dizzy just looking at them.

Even though Mei-yun is so ill, she rises early every morning to deliver newspapers, and she takes good care of her husband. Every time Ruan asks her how she is doing and if she needs any help, she says she is doing good. She doesn’t think her life is hard. On the contrary, she feels that she is better off than many others. Ruan feels that Mei-yun’s body is full of “positive cells.” She is very good at focusing on the bright side in life. Even though there is cancer in her liver, Mei-yun comforts herself with positive affirmations: “The medicine is working; the tumor has become smaller!” Ruan has learned a lot from her about how to face life’s challenges with courage and resilience.

Mei-yun helps her husband do rehab exercises.

Mei-yun, on the other hand, is grateful for the support and care of Tzu Chi volunteers. Her husband doesn’t like to go out, so she rarely has opportunities to chat with others. For that reason, she especially welcomes the volunteers’ visits. She finds an outlet for the pressure on her in talking with them. It makes her feel less alone. Their visits have other benefits, too. Their conversations with her husband stimulate his brain, and with their encouragement, he is more willing to do rehab exercises.

Besides their regular visits, volunteers deliver gifts to the Yang family on major holidays, and when there is a sudden change in the weather, they phone Mei-yun to check on her and her husband. “Be sure to let us know if you need any help,” the volunteers say. All of this makes Mei-yun feel very warm. “I’m very grateful to Master Cheng Yen,” she said. “Because of her, many people who live in the dark corners of society are able to receive care and feel respected and loved. I thank Tzu Chi volunteers for inspiring goodness in us too. They often encourage us to do what we can to help others.”

Mei-yun often tells her daughters that their futures lie in their own hands. “It’s up to you what kind of life you want to live. The work you put in shapes your future.”

God helps those who help themselves. Mei-yun is certainly a stellar example of that. In the process of helping the Yangs, Tzu Chi volunteers feel they have learned a precious life lesson.

March 2019