By Ben Bang, 17, Senior writer, Palos Verdes Peninsula HS
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Ben can’t wait to see his mom this summer.


Four years ago, when I lived with my family in Korea, my mom found out that she had stomach cancer. Since she was diagnosed early, I thought she’d be fine after she got treatment. She had surgery to remove a third of her stomach and for two months she went back and forth to the hospital. But I never visited her because I was busy with school and didn’t fully know what was going on. After her treatment, she stopped working and ate a special healthy diet but she seemed better, so I forgot that there was a possibility of cancer returning.

A few months after her treatment was finished, my family and I moved to California for a year because of my dad’s job.

That year was like a break for us. We went on trips to Mexico, Yosemite, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. Our family would eat dinner together, which we rarely did in Korea. In Korea, my mom worked and I would spend all day at school or tutoring. When I had free time, I would go out with my friends. Now my mom was home all the time and I got to spend more time with her. Sometimes when I was eating after school, she would tell me stories about her past, like how she won an academic prize and got to visit the United States when she was in high school. I was surprised to find out she was smarter than I thought.

I also realized how similar we were. We can make friends easily and we’re both forgetful. Whenever I lost my homework or wallet, I would jokingly say, “I got this from you, Mom.”

After my dad’s work was done, he and my sister returned to Korea. I liked how in the United States I could choose my own classes and do more extracurricular activities, so I decided to stay and live with my aunt. My mom said she would pack our stuff and move me to my aunt’s house before leaving.

It was just me and my mom

For the next two months, my mom and I spent so much time together. We would go to the laundromat and I would read for school while she took a nap. Even when we read and didn’t talk, it was still comforting to know that she was there.

I loved this place at the top of a hill where I used to run for cross-country. It was one of my favorite spots in Palos Verdes because I could see the entire field covered with yellow flowers and the ocean in the background. A few days before she left, I showed it to her and she loved it. She thanked me for sharing the view with her. She said she would’ve regretted it if she hadn’t seen that view before she left.

When she dropped my stuff at my aunt’s house, I pretended I was OK but after she left I couldn’t stop crying. I missed her already.

School started the next day. After my mom returned to Korea, she called me every day. But in early November my dad called instead. He sounded worn out.

Illustration by Lily Clark, 16, Immaculate Heart HS

He asked how I was but I interrupted, “What’s wrong? How come Mom’s not calling me today?” After a few seconds, he said my mom’s cancer had returned and spread throughout her body. Her survival rate was less than 30 percent. He said the doctors were doing everything they could to cure her but there might not be much time left for her. He bought a plane ticket for me to fly to Korea for winter break. I couldn’t say anything and he said, “I guess it’s pretty late there, so go to sleep,” and hung up.

After I put down the phone, I broke down. Tears kept coming out. I didn’t want to believe it. That my mom, who was always there for me, whom I said goodbye to just a few months ago, didn’t have much time left didn’t make any sense. Why didn’t I spend more time with her? I just got close to her, why do you need to take her away from me now, God? I started pounding the wall with my fist. What’s the purpose of staying in the United States if I can’t see her? Why do I need to wait for winter break?

After a while, I stopped pounding and crying, but my mind was scrambled. I lay on my bed not knowing what to think when I saw that it was already past 1 a.m. I thought I should stop acting like a child and pull myself together.

All I could think of was praying for her and doing my best at school to send her good news. I started praying every day for her recovery. At church I asked my pastor to pray for my mom too.

A few weeks after my dad’s phone call, my mom called. I didn’t bring up her cancer because I didn’t want to talk about it. So we talked for only a few minutes. She encouraged me to keep doing my best and I told her “don’t worry about me.” After I hung up I broke down again. I wanted to hold her hands and see her smile. I was sick of feeling like I couldn’t do anything.

I tried to sound positive when she called

At school, I worked hard to get straight As. Whenever she called, I told her “I will be there soon,” and “I’m praying for you every day, you’ll be all right.” After I hung up, I’d think that her voice sounded OK so I wanted to believe that she was OK. But then I’d think, what if my mom was just trying to sound strong? What if she dies? I imagined our family without her, rarely seeing and talking to each other—my dad going to work, my sister going to college and coming home late, and no one at home to greet anyone. Without my mom, our home would be just another place to stay for the night.

When winter break started, I flew to Korea. I hugged her and held her hands like I had wanted to. She was weaker and wore a beanie to hide her short hair. She joked, “It’s the new style. Do you like it?” She doesn’t usually cook but that night she cooked mackerels and a Korean soup, which are my favorites.

During the two weeks I was there, my mom went to the hospital again for chemotherapy. My dad asked me if I wanted to stay with her overnight. I said yes, thinking now was my chance to help her.

I had heard about her treatment over the phone but seeing it for myself made her cancer more real to me. Her wrist was hooked up to wires that held liquid medicines and painkiller. After a few hours, she told me she wanted to take a walk. She had to move around with a rolling pole that held medicines. When she got back, she lay in her bed all day. I turned on the TV, opened the window and did little things she wanted me to do, but she didn’t seem comfortable. Normally when she started talking, she would keep going, but she rarely spoke.

The nurse brought dinner but Mom said she didn’t have any appetite and gave it to me. She fell asleep after watching me eat. It was only 9, but I fell asleep in the bed next to my mom’s within a few minutes.

I woke up when I heard vomiting. I jumped out of my bed and flung the bathroom door open. She was throwing up even though she hadn’t eaten much the whole day. I rubbed her back, trying to soothe her.

“Mom, are you all right? I’m here so don’t worry, it will be better soon. Do you want some water?” I got her water, but that was all I could do for her.

I felt so useless. Even though I was right next to her now, I couldn’t do anything to reduce her pain. I felt tears starting to form, but I bit my lip to hold them back. What good would it do to show her my tears? She brushed her teeth and went back to sleep. But I couldn’t. I just lay on my bed thinking. What can I do? Why does she have to suffer like this? God, can you please heal her? After seeing her so weak and going through treatment, I began to think I should take care of myself so I won’t be a burden to her. Eventually, I fell asleep.

Two weeks was too short. I wanted to stay with her until she recovered, but I had to go back to the United States for school.

Months passed and I kept praying daily. I was anxiously waiting for better news. Then, on July 14, my mom called.

She beat cancer again

“Ben, I want you to calm down before I say this,” she said. I didn’t want to imagine the worst, so I didn’t think at all and said, “I’m ready.” She laughed and told me that after half a year of treatment, her cancer was cured. I was speechless so she repeated it two or three times, and I finally realized that she was safe. I got up and shouted, “GOD, THANK YOU SO MUCH!!” I even posted it on Facebook and got around a hundred responses from my friends saying they were so glad for me. Everywhere I went, I couldn’t stop laughing and smiling. I went to church that Friday. I told them about my mom and I couldn’t stop grinning the whole time.

I thought this was the way God revealed himself to my family and me. Even if God did not heal her directly, she found meaning and her will to live in his words. I was so glad that my prayers had been heard.

I couldn’t wait until August when I went to visit her. She slept significantly longer than before and couldn’t lift anything that was heavier than two or three pounds. She took medicine to reduce numbness in her hands and had her own healthy diet; but it was all good because she was safe now. There still is the possibility that the cancer will return, but with her healthy diet and positive thinking, I know that she will live until she sees my children and more.

Looking back to when she first got cancer, I realize how stupid I was for not appreciating her. I feel bad that I didn’t visit her in the hospital. I should have cared, she’s my mom. Now she’s more to me than just an adult who provides everything for me. She’s my supporter and friend. I am truly glad that she is still in my life.

Other stories by this writer …

There’s more to school than books. In Korea all Ben, 17, did was study, but in America he gets to pursue his interests. (October 2009)

A mouthful of beats.
Learning to beatbox has given Ben, 16, a talent to be proud of. WITH VIDEO OF BEN BEATBOXING!! (January – February 2009)