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Trials and tribulations turned out to be a saving grace for Amy Leu who candidly shares her story.

AB: What do you want to share with us today?

AL: It was by chance that I was diagnosed with breast cancer last August of 2022 and had my lumpectomy in October, even though I have no family history. I went to get a mammogram because I wanted donor eggs. I ultimately miscarried twice previously via IVF. The miscarriage

kind of saved my life.

It’s unfortunate that women who have breast cancer are treated all the same, we’re put-on hormone therapy for 5+ years, and radiation, even if you’re in your childbearing age, they usually don’t give you options. However, one oncologist Dr. Ann Partridge from Dana Farber in Boston who heads the North American study for a global study for women after breast cancer treatment who want to get pregnant, spent a full hour on me to share some options with me. She shared that there are other women that has similar type of tumor as mine and has paused hormone therapy to have children. My case is, because of my age I’m going straight into donor egg IVF before starting hormone therapy. She assured me that I should be ok, and within 2 years, I have the same probability of recurrence compared to women that are not trying to get pregnant and on hormone therapy. Her study’s data is reassuring, and I left Boston feeling more hopeful than ever. These past 7 months have been huge and life changing. I used to be a very timid, scared, introverted and a self-hating person, afraid of saying the wrong things before the cancer. The cancer was a push forward for me to get rid of the self -hatred and self-doubt, pushing me to cross that line. Now I just need to be myself and that’s the only way that life could work.

AB: Are you part of a support group?

AL: I’m getting used to my new self and the realization that I’ve changed. I am planning to find a group.

AB: Tell us a little about your background.

AL: I have an older and a younger brother. One is in Shanghai and the other in Taiwan. Both left NY after finishing graduate school and I’m the only one that stayed. I came here when I was 7 years old with my brothers. My parents stayed in Taiwan to do their business with the Middle East- exporting toilets and sinks, bathroom ceramic-my dad was one of the top guys who did that in the 70’s and 80’s. He was really busy back then and we never saw him. Mom would come to New York 3-4x/year and see us for 2-3 weeks at a time and then she would leave. It would be heartbreak every time she left.

AB: Who did you stay with, who took care of you and your siblings?

AL: My mom’s cousin has an older female cousin who they paid to come to New York to take care of us. She was in such pressure to take care of other people’s children so to compensate with the fear she pretty much locked us up in our room. I was with her from 7-17 years old until I left to go to college. I grew up in Long Island but don’t have the Long Island accent, instead I have a Californian accent because of watching TV, since I was not allowed to have friends. My older brother was such a studious kid, so much so that when he had a brain tumor and was operated on

when he was a junior in high school, he still graduated valedictorian and went to Northwestern and afterwards, Columbia. He was still studying even after he had his operation and with stitches in his head. He didn’t spend much time with me. My younger brother was annoying to me at the time but now we are best friends. Back then I had my brothers but I pretty much was siloed within my own world in my room by myself.

AB: How did you entertain yourself?

AL: I drew a lot of sketches, listened to music and sang, played the piano and daydream about moving to the city.

I went to UCLA and I had too much fun. From no freedom to all the freedom in the world, I didn’t know how to manage myself. I would cram all-nighters, had horrible sleep and eating habits. I used to eat bags of gummy bears to cram for finals and I developed a sugar addiction in my freshman year. I transferred to NYU to study communications and journalism. After, I went to Parsons for fashion design. If I can do it again I would have stayed in LA, but in hindsight, NY helped me become who I am today. I stayed in NY because I felt no one would really judge me. I needed the environment where I can be more independent without expectations and limitations.

I fell into depression and became anorexic and later bulimic during college. I think it’s caused by my not dealing with my childhood traumas and loneliness, thus it all came crashing down on me. I was trying to have control in my life. Back then nobody spoke about therapy and mental illness and no one knew how to help me. No one knew about my mental illnesses. It took many years for me to come out to my parents about my depression. At the time, I had a roommate who appeared to be perfect and put together but later found out she was suffering from depression and schizophrenia. When she had a mental breakdown, I realized this way of being was not good for me and begun to look inward at myself, why I am the way I am. When I hit 40 years old things finally started to turn around for me, realized my self worth and was able to overcome all those issues. It took a good 10 years to get better on my own. I stopped the eating disorder when I was about 27 because I was so sick of it. In my 20’s and 30’s, I also had an alcohol problem, partied and hung out with a lot of gay men so I can avoid my own feelings. I was connected with gay men because I understood being the odd one, the minority of society. Back then they couldn’t all come out and I felt the same way. I felt I couldn’t truly be me because I wasn’t confident in myself. Also I had these pre-assumed roles that I thought my parents wanted me to be, and wasn’t able to satisfy them, that I had to check off all the boxes. I never asked them what they expected, I put these strict, traditional expectations on myself. But now at 46, I finally told my family my whole story and told them how much I loved them. In a traditional Chinese family we never speak or show affection. My parents were sad to hear what I went through. My younger brother, who is 7 years younger than me, went through very similar issues that I had, and that’s why I say we are best friends because we helped each get through similar difficulties. I saw it happening to him and it made me so sad. Today he’s also much better and is now a dad. With my older brother I always had this misunderstanding that he judges us, and thought he was better than me, having the idea of perfection with him. But it was all in my head. When I shared what I went through, we were all able to verbalize our feelings and now we have this bond. For the first time I said I loved him and hugged him and felt like he was my older brother again.

AB: Where do you think all the expectations and pressure came from?

Al: I think it was the pressure or rather unspoken pressure that we had to be a certain way because my parents spent all this money and effort for us to live in the States. I want people to understand that it’s ok to face yourself even though you don’t want to. It’s ok to admit that you’re not a perfect person and to face your fears. Going through all that I went through, it came from shame but if you can really accept all of that then that’s part of your story. That’s your journey and you can’t take it away. I hope people especially being Asian in America, if we just accept who we are and be

proud of everything that we have gone through then this world would be much easier to live in.

AB: How did you get through everything?

AL: I picked up books about Buddhism and spirituality, also Taoism and I just gulped it all in. Buddhism really spoke to me. It took years but I stopped drinking even though I didn’t go to AA. At the time I was going through a difficult time with my first husband when I told someone about possibly going through a divorce and they recommended this book, ‘When Things Fall Apart’ by Pema Chodron, then the flood gates of learning about spirituality just opened up. This new openness to things that are greater than us helped me see the world differently. I shared every spiritual learning with my younger brother and it’s what helped both of us.

AB: Did you ever go to therapy?

AL: Yes, I finally did a year and a half ago and recently just stopped end of February 2023. It was much needed and helpful for me. He helped me accept my feelings. That was the biggest thing I took away from therapy, just realizing, noticing and accepting my feelings. That was the ultimate

thing that I needed. I started having more positive thoughts and feeling happy since then. In Asian society I think that’s what’s lacking. In Taiwan I don’t think they have the openness to talk about mental illness. They just give them medications and tell them to eat. They don’t have any support or resources for the elderly like my dad who is not doing so well. At age 77 he doesn’t have good mental support, deteriorating with his health and weight.

AB: I’m surprised because in Asian society, it’s usually expected that the elderly be respected and taken care of.

AL: I’m surprised too but comparing the mental health care in Taiwan and America, there are no resources or support for them, it’s still stigmatized.

AB: How is your Mom doing?

AL: Mom is 70 and is totally opposite from my dad living and enjoying her life, traveling and dancing, etc. Differences in personalities can really shape how one chose to live their lives.

AB: Do you consider yourself an atypical Asian or not?

AL: I do consider myself an atypical Asian because I’m a mix of East and West. I’m very much Westernized, am independent and I am not afraid to be myself despite going against Asian society norms. I went into my first marriage to be that typical Asian-he is Taiwanese, a doctor, and his dad a lawyer, all perfect on paper and checked all the boxes but we never really got along. I tried to be a typical Asian and conform and do things I thought my parents wanted for me. My marriage lasted three years but we were together for six years, with no children. Every single

decision I made went back to being myself which is opposite of what I thought my parents wanted for me. That internal conflict was always present in me, but now I see that I must live the life that I want to live, no one can live your life for you.

AB: What are your dreams?

AL: I want to to feel like I can contribute to something bigger than myself. After what I’ve been through, I want to be able to inspire and be of help to others who have gone through self-esteem issues, substance abuse, addictions and childhood traumas, to come out of it and become

an even stronger person because of it. I see myself being able to help people that way, whether it’s through my own immediate circle or different platforms such as breast cancer groups. I want to be more outspoken about my trials and tribulations so that other people won’t be afraid of theirs. I just want to give.

AB: What message do you want to impart to people?

AL: Love yourself for once and imagine how that moment of your life would be like and try to prolong that feeling. And then the world would seriously be an okay place to be in. I hope people can read this and can take something out of my story and make them feel like they want to

love themselves a little more today.

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