The Only Thing Left

The Only Thing Left
“We are no longer looking for a cure.”

I’ve been quiet for a long time about one of the strongest people I know — my dad.

In Hong Kong, my sister texts me that my dad is in the hospital. I didn’t get the details but instead counted down to the days when I’d see him next. The first evening of my return, I visit the hospital and he stands to hug me. His cheeks are hollow, eyes huge.

We talk about the sights I’ve seen, how he’s been counting down and knows the date today: December 19th, the day I fly home. “I lit a lantern for you in Taipei,” I say. “It turned out to be a four-hour round trip. We wanted to go hiking but it was raining, so we came right back.”

“It was worth it,” he says. “I felt better the next day.”

We walk into the TV room without a TV, and I hear from the resident doctor for the first time, about the cancer. It is in his heart. They are no longer concerned about the strokes; the cancer is travelling to his stomach, blood, and brain.

“We want to give you end-of-life care,” the resident doctor says. “To make sure you’re as comfortable as possible.”

“If at all possible,” he says. “I want to continue chemo.”

“The chemo wasn’t working,” she says. “And you’re too weak.”

“I don’t want to give up,” he says.

“Can I see the scans?” I say.

He is adamant and energetic and so much of the person he was, the man his coworkers called the King, the man who solved my problems. I was gone for little more than three months — you cannot tell me that he is now approaching the end of him life, when he is gesturing in front of me.

How is this the image of someone who will soon pass on? Motioning with my balled-up tissues towards the door, I rise. “If it happens,” my mother says, “we’re okay if you watch over us from another world.”

I ask myself whether I should’ve stayed in Vancouver, or flown home early without knowing the entire story. But then my dad would’ve hated that I didn’t finish what I started.


On Day 2, I sleep until 5pm. Again, he is sitting by the bed. I show him my Hong Kong flag that my friends signed for my goodbye. “We need to get the other oncologist for chemo. We need to try everything we haven’t tried before.”

The needle in his arm is ready for a blood transfusion. “Good thing I talked to this new doctor,” he says. “Almost missed the chance for recovery. The transfusion.”

It kills me.

“Any hope is worth it,” he says.

The Only Thing Left
It’s Day 3 and he wants to leave the hospital.

“I feel fine,” he says.

“That’s what you said last time,” my mother says, “and it didn’t work at all.”


On Day 4, he says, “Let’s follow the hospital’s plan.”

Palliative care. Despite doing exercises to regain strength, he is the thinnest I have ever seen him.


Day 5, and eleven people sit down to decide the course of his life. It carries on like any typical meeting about an app or an event, where someone leads and different teams report.

The Stroke Team. Palliative Care Team. Community Nursing Team.

For the first time I realize that my dad is often confused.

“He wants to go home,” the social worker says, “and we want to honour that. He has made an incredible rebound physically.” Anyways, there’s nowhere else that he fits, because he no longer agrees to the Do Not Resciciutate forms he signed.

Everything that I’ve wanted to do with him, or learn from him, comes back to me.

He can fix a computer by sticking pieces of paper into a machine (“It’s only temporary–don’t move the papers.”). He works more hours at the airport than he is ever paid for. He has a decent temper.

We said we’d do the Grouse Grind hike again, walk around the Whistler ski village, make scrambled eggs at home.

I’m awake at 4am and I miss him. When I was younger, he’d ask about piano. He’d drive me to teach piano lessons after school and I’d have milk and a sandwich in the car.

There are so many things I had wanted to learn from him.

The Only Thing Left
The next days are a blur. He repeatedly asks every doctor for treatment, the whole-brain radiation, to be rid of cancer. Except the cancer is in his heart, stomach, and brain.

On Christmas Day, I get him a blueberry muffin. “There are antioxidants in blueberries,” he says.

“I know,” I say. “This is only for Christmas though — muffins are too sweet.”

“The doctors are talking about radiation again,” he says. “It’s my best chance for survival.”

The doctors say radiation will only make his last days all the more painful, and possibly not make a difference as we’re looking at either weeks or months.

“I don’t want you to do it,” I say.

“Stop,” he says, frustrated. “If they offer it, I’m going to take it without thinking.”

“Do you know why none of the doctors are willing to do it for you?” I say. “Because it’s dangerous. Because it won’t work. Because it’s painful.”

I ask why he signed the Do Not Resuscitate forms, then.

“I’m not sure what I signed,” he says. “But I’m retracting it.”

The last thing we can hold onto is hope. We don’t know how long a life well-lived can continue. We don’t know how fast an injury will recover. We don’t know how great a musician’s practice will perform onstage.

But we can hope, because hope keeps us strong.

The Only Thing Left


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  • Reply John Alderson January 5, 2016 at 9:00 am

    Hello Grace,
    I don’t know you personally but through your very moving post I feel as though. I do
    know you!
    I think your dad is very courageous. Perhaps we should all believe in miracles. My mum died in 2012 and last year I was diagnosed with cancer. Through all this I find playing Chopin the best therapy. Your posts on playing piano have helped me keep motivated and I thank you for that.
    Funny how the saddest music can make you feel better!
    I wish you and your dad well, whatever the outcome. xx

    • Reply Grace Lam January 5, 2016 at 2:49 pm

      Thank you, John. This is an uncertain time and we all have difficulties. But let’s make the most of our time here. xx

  • Reply Anne January 5, 2016 at 9:51 am

    I am very sorry for this very sad turn of events. Strength to your father, you and your family in this very difficult time.

  • Reply Mike January 5, 2016 at 9:55 am

    Oh, Grace, this is just terrible. I woke up this morning thinking that it was about time for a letter from you so that I’d start the day with a smile, and I got one, but this… isn’t what I wanted. He seems so young — I don’t understand how all this could be happening. But, he has friends and family around him, and there always is hope, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed for him; doctors have made mistakes before.

    • Reply Grace Lam January 5, 2016 at 2:47 pm

      Thank you, Mike. I’m glad your day started with a smile.

  • Reply Maria January 12, 2016 at 7:27 pm

    Your father is a remarkable man. I can only imagine the heartache this must bring. Hold onto all
    that is good and that will always remain with you from him. My heart goes out to you. Thank you for sharing your journey with us- we are right beside you x

  • Reply Diana Lam January 15, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    You are the bravest and sweetest girls I know. We love you.

  • Reply Jocelyn (Lady J) March 16, 2016 at 11:48 am

    Hi Grace, I don’t check my email like I should and today I ran across your email and its two months later almost.I’m sorry to hear about your father.I lost my bro two years ago .Its hard looking at someone you love and can’t do nothing. But my God can do anything but fail. As I’m writing. I’m in tears just hold on ,God will take care of you and your entire family. Be encouraged and be bless. My prayers go out to you and your family
    Musically Yours
    Lady J

  • Reply Aatreyee Sarkar September 15, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    Hey Grace.
    I , like many others here don’t know you personally. Infact i live far far away from where you do. But again, thoughts and feelings do not have any boundaries. Your post is wonderful and i must say it was a very brave thing for your father to do. Keeping hopes is what, i think, hurts us most. But then again. We are humans. And that is all we can do. Keep hoping. I, myself, am a very sensitive person, getting attached to every little thing and that keeps hirting me. But for evey little thing, i do keep hoping. Makes me feel like a hypocrite i guess.
    After reading your piece, i remembered this poem i once read. It is a very simple one. However, as i believe, its not always complex words that you need to express something. It is just opening your heart and unfold it in form of simple words that can touch peoples souls.
    Its called Slow Dance (anonymous).

    • Reply Grace Lam September 16, 2016 at 9:23 am

      I think writing about it helps, though I’m not sure about having it online; everything lives forever, including hurt. Then again, I’m not sure that this hurts anymore.

      The poem is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

      Slow Dance (Anonymous)
      Have you ever watched kids
      On a merry-go-round?
      Or listened to the rain

      Slapping on the ground?
      Ever followed a butterfly’s erratic
      flight? Or gazed at the sun into
      the fading night?

      You better slow down.
      Don’t dance so fast.
      Time is short.
      The music won’t last.
      Do you run through each day
      On the fly?

      When you ask How are you?
      Do you hear the reply?

      When the day is done
      Do you lie in your bed
      With the next hundred chores
      Running through your head?
      You’d better slow down
      Don’t dance so fast.
      Time is short.
      The music won’t last.

      Ever told your child,
      We’ll do it tomorrow?
      And in your haste,
      Not see his sorrow?

      Ever lost touch,
      Let a good friendship die
      Cause you never had time
      To call and say hi
      You’d better slow down.
      Don’t dance so fast.
      Time is short.
      The music won’t last.
      When you run so fast to get somewhere
      You miss half the fun of getting there.

      When you worry and hurry through your
      day, It is like an unopened
      Thrown away.

      Life is not a race.
      Do take it slower
      Hear the music
      Before the song is over.

    What do you think?