It was a beautiful morning, the 20th of September, 2009. We opened up the curtains. We could see the winding roads on the hills in the distance. The sky was blue dotted with white clouds. We could even hear birds chirping. My wife said to me, “What a beautiful morning. I love the autumn smell. The air is so crisp and fresh.” Out of the blue, my son, Gabriel wanted to take a family photo. I have to tell you something here. My wife loves taking pictures. She blew up quite a few computer hard drives by storing too many photos. On the other hand, my son, as handsome as he is, really does not like his pictures taken. We usually have to bribe him to take pictures with us by promising him more game time or outrageous cash. But that morning, Gabriel wanted to take a family picture. So we lay down by Regina’s side and took the picture. She had not been eating for 13 straight days. Five minutes after we took a couple of pictures, we heard her having a couple of short breathings. Then she left us. She left us on the second day after her 10th birthday. Peacefully without pain. She left us knowing that we just took the last family picture. She was forever 10.
Regina Melody Tan was born on the 19th of September, 1999 in Red Bank, NJ. I remember the first time when I held her in my arms. She opened her eyes and moved her lips as if she were calling me daddy. At that moment, I grew out of boyhood into fatherhood. I made the promise to love her and to protect her forever.
She was a beautiful and smart girl. Watching her growing was a joy. I know, most fathers think that their daughters are the most beautiful and smartest girls in the whole world. I
do not disagree. Here I just want to tell you the story of her. How she fought her battle against cancer. How she became my role model.
In May 2004, she was diagnosed with malignant brain tumor. After the surgery, as soon as she opened her eyes, she told me, “Daddy, I want to become a doctor. I will not poke kids. Poking is no fun.” It made me cry and laugh. The brain surgery was just a poke to her. I cannot even look at the needle every time when I get a poke.
Right after the surgery, she got strong chemo and radiation therapies in St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis. Then again in June 2007, she had her relapse. At that time, most doctors told us to give up. But we did not give up. Thanks to her mom’s determination, we found Dr. Dhall of Children’s Hospital of Los Angles. Regina had strong chemo again after surgery. She miraculously lived. In September 2008, she had another relapse. She then had another two surgeries and gamma knife radiation. As her surgeon Dr. Loudon put it, she was a trouper. She was baked, she was grilled. Yet, she was still here smiling just like a normal kid. That was amazing.
You all must wonder how the past five years were alike. That was her story.
Thanks to my wife’s love and care and the support of our friends, extended family members and even strangers, she lived a normal and happy life even for the past five years. Yes, HAPPY life. I remember when she had her first treatment, she was conscientious about her look. She would put on a hat to cover her scar when we went out. She would put on a bandanna to cover her bald head. Yet, she grew to accept her new look also thanks to her many friends and schoolmates. They never excluded her
because of her look. She was surrounded by those wonderful kids. She attended school even during her chemo sessions at CHLA as soon as her white cell counts bounced back. She seldom complained pain. She enjoyed living very much, not lying in bed complaining about suffering.
While she was losing her capability to walk, she would climb and slide the stairs by herself. One night when I came home from a business trip, I carried her upstairs to sleep. She told me, “Daddy, you do not have to wake up early tomorrow to carry me downstairs. I can slide down the stairs.” Hearing her saying that and seeing her losing her mobility made my cry. She was happy, no complaint. She accepted things without whining and found joy in doing things while she could. Even towards her final days, she told us again and again that she was happy and content with us by her side. She was THAT happy. As a matter fact, for her final two weeks, she never complained pain and she never cried. We did not see a single teardrop in her eyes. Her mom had to ask her whether she needed morphine and most of the time she even said no.
She was daddy’s girl as evident by hair style. She taught me how to play Barbie and how to play princess tea party. She would proudly tell everybody, my daddy was the best Barbie player ever. We would dress up Barbie and Ken, pretending they would get married and have many kids. She would cook so many different dishes.
Talking about cooking, it was her dream to become a baker and chef. She baked cookies. She made sandwich for her mother on Mother’s Day. Of course she put too much onion in it. She thought daddy said that onion was healthy, the more the better (Sorry, Diana).
She loved to make salad for daddy. She would cut different vegis into small pieces. It was not an easy task for a small kid. Consider this. At later times, she was losing her mobility of her right hand, she could not even use her right hand to color. Yet, she managed to make salad for daddy because daddy just came home from a business trip. Every cut took a lot of time, a lot of concentration and a lot of strength. She wanted daddy to know how much she missed daddy and how much she loved daddy.
She was also such a caring kid. She loved to take care of everybody. You know, taking care of a cancer kid is never an easy task. You woke up in the night and sometimes you barely got any sleep. It was my wife who took the lion’s share of taking care of her. One afternoon, my wife was totally worn out. She fell into sleep on the sofa. Regina just had a doctor visit and had her chemo. When she saw her mom fell into sleep, she took her own blanket off, limped from her sofa to her mom’s, and covered her mom. I noticed that she was shivering. I asked her, “Are you cold?” She said, “I am O.K. But mom is sleeping. I do not want her to catch cold.” I could not help but crying. She was such a caring person. She loved everybody. Every time when I took her out to the mall, when she had her own money for shopping, she always remembered to buy something for his little brother. She was a great big sister to Gabriel.
You might wonder how we managed to live with her cancer. It was simple. Because she was a happy regular kid, always waiting for that sleepover with her best friends, planning for her next birthday, writing Christmas wish list in the summer, and dreaming of growing up. She was really easy to be content. She did not complain. Gabriel and I
could make silly faces to make her giggle, even when she was totally bedridden. She had fun in her short life. She brought happiness in our lives. She brought happiness to many people’s lives in her path. And she taught us the most valuable lesson in life. She had the courage to fight while she could; she had the serenity to accept what she could not; and she had the wisdom to know the difference. And she lived a full and happy life.
Now she is no longer with us. But she will always be in our hearts. May you rest in peace. Let us pray that we all have the courage to change things that we can; the serenity to accept things we cannot; and the wisdom to know the difference. You, my baby girl, were my role model, are my role model, and will always be. I love you forever, ever and ever.