I’m Catholic and I like Mustard

No one should rely on CNN as a news source if they want to keep pace with the happenings of our world as its pieces are strewn with editorial biases, but I will very briefly reference a piece by CNN today simply because it highlights the main reason I chose to believe in the Catholic faith.

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In his paper, “On Love in the Family,” Pope Francis writes, “But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness” (see, that was a brief reference). Many Catholics, and Christians, for those who insist on dividing us, interpret and practice their faith too literally, aiming for sinless lives and strict service attendance– this leads to unnecessary gossip, judgment, and exclusion from the Church for many. We think we are being strong by upholding the ‘church values’ and  casting people out, when we are really succumbing to the fear that accompanies differences and discomfort.
This relates to my belief in the Mustard Seed Faith side of Catholicism. Let me explain.
“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.” (Matthew 13:31-32)
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We are mustard seeds waiting to be sewn, watered and cultivated, so that we may grow into shelter and food that meet the needs and feed the hunger of others. The relationships we carry throughout our lives help us become skilled individuals who can then use these skills to help others grow as people. We are to live our lives with grace and goodness, to believe that we were placed on this Earth with a mission to live positively and act purposefully to have an impact on our relationships with the people of our world, no matter how different they may seem.
“And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” (Matthew 17:20)
A mustard seed, however small, has the potential to grow to a remarkable size. No matter how small we may feel as individuals, we have the potential to be a part of something much larger and become remarkable individuals. Even if you have a mustard seed sized faith in God as I do, nothing is impossible. It is not the quantity of our substance, but the quality that matters. It matters not how frequently you volunteer, but the substance of those actions. It matters not how many people you know, but whom you know and in what capacity you know them. It matters not what faith you practice, but how you practice it.
Following the Path of Jesus means, at least in my opinion, that we are meant to groom ourselves and master our skills so that we may one day serve and help others. Too often we turn our cheeks when faced with adversity, and many have a hard time opening their arms to those from whom they differ. We shouldn’t define ‘Good’ as leading a sinless life and attending every service possible, but it should be a quality we aim for in our relationships as we find ways to love both the individuals who surround us and ourselves. You can learn a lot about someone’s character based on how they treat a stranger– waitstaff, customer service representatives, the homeless, fellow voters and political rally attendees, and random passersby– and these days I have been seeing a lot of ugly.
To love others, we must first love ourselves successfully and appreciate that no matter how small our number in the world, and no matter the faith in which we do or do not believe, we are instilled with the potential to become much greater and larger than we may feel.
Be a Mustard Seed. Let others feed you and help you grow. When the time comes, it’ll be your turn to cultivate the growth of others. I do not believe this is a Catholic concept– the desire to be good is a basic quality of humanity and just simply being.
I am here, I am Catholic, and I like mustard. 
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I’m the Cooking Monster

It’s been so long since last we met,
Lie down forever, lie down.

Okay, enough of my Alma Mater’s fight song. 

Quite some time has passed since my last blog post and a lot has happened– I will try to be succinct. 

Last I wrote, 11 March, I had dominated the wheel with the help of my yoga instructor. Boom baby. I kicked off the weekend with homemade Key Lime pies for pi day and enjoyed my rest days. 

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Oh so zesty.

Days later, Tuesday 15 March, after I had finished class, I was swept away to urgent care by a dear friend because of pain and inflammation in one of my mastectomy scars. I almost encountered my sworn enemy, a creepo nurse that had sexually harassed me during a previous trip to urgent care, but my friend and assigned nurse rescued me. I was prescribed an antibiotic, grabbed Taco Bell with my buddy, and went home.

Wednesday, 16 March, I attended my last yoga session. I went for a follow-up with my surgeon immediately after class. Dr. Party had me strip from the waist up, sterilized the area, stuck me with a needle to administer a local anesthetic, and suited up. The nurse grabbed my hand, I looked her in the eye, and Dr. Party sliced me open. I WAS WIDE AWAKE. I kid you not– I was awake for this surgery and it sucked. I watched as he removed infected flesh and then stitched me back up. I’m one week out from being cleared to exercise again and I am still having a hard time digesting the fact that I was awake. 

I am the Queen of Misfortune. Dr. Party is still trying to get me on the schedule for my SIXTH surgery, and I am just biding my time until that day comes. I was scheduled to get some mastectomy ink on April 10th with Lisa Doll from Rose Red Tattoo in Elkridge, MD, but I now have to delay my tattoo session. I was ecstatic and have been extremely patient because I was fortunate enough to have my tattoo fully financed by two local non-profits: Critters for the Cure and The Red Devils. I was also supposed to have part two of my interviews with a reporter from NPR who is working on a piece about mastectomy tattoos. She had already interviewed me over the phone once, and my in-person interview is next week… but it looks like she won’t be joining me for my tattoo session on April 10th since that is no longer happening. 

That’s a brief summary of my health issues, but let’s not even talk about grad school. I refuse. I had to turn in two papers this week and still have one more item due this weekend. Can I live?! Why did I think pursuing a full-time grad program while working full-time would be a good idea? I think I’ve lost my mind. 

Phew. So much for being succinct.

I am clearly a big ball of emotion…. but I am also The Cooking Monster. To cope with the tsunami of stress that has enveloped me, I have been cooking my happy little Asian ass off. Remember how I promised to try a new recipe every week? Well, I haven’t been using Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings, but I have found other recipes to try. Ready to be impressed? Let’s go!

I was craving eggs… well, breakfast foods in general. I decided that I would try to put an egg in a biscuit and it was a complete success. 

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Can you see it? A majestic, boiled egg inside of a homemade cheddar garlic biscuit with sautéed veggies on the side.

I then baked some cheeeeeesey mac n cheese and piled it onto my waffle maker for International Waffle Day (25 March). It isn’t the sexiest looking dish, but it was soul-shaking. Those rice krispies? My roommate said they were comforting crack candies. Yup. That is an accurate description.

After feeling guilty about shoveling fatty-kid pills down my gullet, I turned towards colorful veggies for comfort. I made noodles from carrots and sweet potatoes, dressed them with sesame oil and a bit of soy sauce. I topped the faux pas-ta with coconut green beans and half a chicken sausage.

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red & yellow carrots + 1 fat sweet potato

Now on to the grand finale: my homemade, red soybean paste ramen. I can officially say that I have mastered the art of soft-boiling an egg. Omnomnomnomnom.

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Homemade ramen with cremini mushrooms, chicken dumplings, a soft boiled egg, and garnished with chives and seaweed.

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Look at that sexy a$$ soft boiled egg. Watch the yolk drip out. Yassss. 

I promise I won’t get fat guys…. and even if I do, I am sure you will all still love me.

I am here and I am an unassuming badass. 

-The Cooking Monster

broken glass & wheels…

Medium Rare, a steak and fries bistro in Cleveland Park, brought pure joy to my life Wednesday evening. Fresh bread, a crisp salad, and two servings of steak, cooked medium rare, went into my belly. Oh, I can’t forget the secret sauce they use, which I suspect contains liverwurst, and the french fries. FRENCH FRIES. My absolute favorite guilty pleasure.

I was accompanied by a friend of mine, who was kind enough to drive us there. When we got back to his car, I stepped on glass. I then realized that someone had busted his window. He had a backpack in the car that had been sifted through, but he determined that nothing was taken. There was a broken window but nothing was missing from his car.

I am his car: temporarily broken, pieces all present, and reparable.

Today, Friday, I received a call from my providers stating that they had an arrival time for my procedure this coming Monday.

“Pardon me?”

“This is Ms. Whatsherbucket, right?”

“Uh, no. I think you’ve got the wrong patient. You had my hopes up though. I thought you managed to get me on the schedule for my revision surgery.”

“Let me transfer you over to the surgery scheduler.”

Rrrrrrring, rrrrrring, rrrrrring

“Hi, ma’am, yes. I am looking at the schedule right now and both of our surgeons are booked through July. You will have to wait.”

“Really? My surgery was done incorrectly for the umpteenth time and I have to wait almost half a year for you guys to fix it?”

“Yes ma’am, I’m sorry. You’ll have to wait. Is there anything else I can do for you.”

“Clearly you can’t do anything right for me in the first place, so no thank you.” Click.

Yes, those angry words came out of my mouth and I was shocked. It is not her fault, but at the end of the day it felt good to get a bit of that sassy angst off of my chest, that very chest that Dr. Party has put through hell and back.

Hearing the scheduler’s words hurt, but I refuse to step backwards when I have come this far. My pieces are still here and I will be okay.

The other day I wrote about defeating the Red Tide and conquering yoga class. That was a milestone for me. For almost two years now I haven’t had as much control over my life as I would prefer. I have had several surgeries and I am danger prone/clutzy. The list of things that I cannot do is finally growing smaller, and the list of things I have control over is expanding.

Today, again, I added to the list of things that I can do. Wheel pose, or Chakrasana, had been my enemy in 2012. It took several sessions before I could do the full backbend with my feet flat on my mat. With my surgery in January and the hole I had in my incision last week, I have been avoiding that pose by holding bridge pose, or Setu Bandhasana, for as long as I could manage. After class today, I decided to quit being a sissy and approached the instructor. I gave her a quick rundown of my story and she agreed to help me get the lift I needed.

We went to my mat and we started with an assisted wheel. I grabbed her ankles, lifted my hips, and then managed to push my chest up and straighten my arms. She helped me move my hands to the mat and I pushed onto my toes to get my pelvis even higher. As I pushed higher, I started bawling. My breath was shaking and my tears poured down my forehead. I felt incredible. 

I lowered myself to the mat for a break before pushing up into wheel on my own.

(I’ll work on getting more height with my feet flat on the mat later)

After I settled back onto the mat, the instructor stood over me and got in my face.

“F*** cancer! You made it your b****! Don’t let anything stop you.”

She pulled me up into a hug and I thanked her.

She’s right.

Nothing will stop me, but if something does, I promise I will have fought with everything I had.

I am here. 

 

 

Yoga and defeating the Red Tide

My friend Crusty introduced me to hot yoga during the summer of 2012. I woke up every morning to run one mile, go to work, swim 5-10 laps at the pool, and then I’d end my day with a hot yoga class. I was not exceptionally fit, but that was the fittest I had ever been. I felt like a lean, mean, fighting machine.

Three years, one summer training camp at Fort Knox, and five surgeries later I find myself back in a hot yoga studio. Today is Tuesday, March 8th, INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY. My first yoga session since January 2013 was on Sunday and it hurt. I figured the best way to ease the pain in my ass-cheeks and thighs was to run, so I took to the Rosslyn hills Monday night and ran them until I could barely even manage to wobble-walk.

In anticipation of feasting on a yoga class for lunch the next day, I packed a bag of clothes and hygiene products, showered, and tucked myself into bed.

I woke up this morning mentally prepared and physically rested for my yoga session. Then it hit me… I hadn’t paid any attention to my calendar, and my dreadful enemy, the Red Tide, had managed to ambush me. Uh oh.

The female body goes through hell– cramps, periods, and eventually, for many, pregnancy. We also face an absurd amount of body shaming as a result of our society’s bogus beauty standards. In the past week I have had someone rudely tell me that I was ‘too chubby.’ It was such an odd thing to hear considering I’ve had several people at work tell me I need to eat because I’m starting to look like a twigHuh?! So on the one hand, I’m too chubby, and on the other hand, I’m too skinny. So which is it?

I look in the mirror, and whether I am clothed or in my birthday suit, I am pretty happy with myself. After all I have been through with breast cancer, my weight is the last thing I want to hear about. I maintain a relatively healthy diet, but french fries are my weakness. IS THAT SO WRONG?! 

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What I am most unhappy with is the Red Tide. Periods can be painful, and mine often make it look as though someone has been murdered. Gruesome, I know. Periods can also be embarrassing. Many women wear darker colored pants, use multiple forms of feminine hygiene products, and are still paranoid of leaking in public. Combine that risk of exposure with agonizing cramps, many women won’t go near the gym or a yoga studio.

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OH THE SHAME!

I battled with myself today. I wanted to do yoga so badly, but was so afraid of having an accident. Finally, I reserved my spot for the noon class at 11:15am . Perfect. I can’t get a refund if I cancel within an hour of start– I had to go.

And to power yoga I went. I walked out of that yoga studio EMPOWERED. Cancer didn’t stop me, my weight didn’t stop me, and the Red Tide was defeated. It felt good. 

I’m home now, relaxing, and eating my dinner.

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TACO BOATS.

Yes. Taco boats. Chicken, corn, black beans, red peppers, onions, tomatoes, and cheese. Get at me. They are absolutely delicious. 

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Honestly– I regret nothing. I’m proud and taking time to celebrate. I will never be ashamed or embarrassed to be a woman again.

Vegas and the hole over my heart

February 18th, 2016- As I walked out of my plastic surgeon’s office, he looked at me and said, “This is it!” We had what we thought would be one final hug before I marched out of there with tears in my eyes.

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We spoke too soon…

My battle with breast cancer was relatively short compared to what many of my survivor sisters have had to go through. My treatment plan consisted of two surgeries over a six month period, no chemo, and no radiation therapy. It is now 1.5 years later, and I have had five surgeries, two seizures, and been on more drugs than I could have imagined.

Today, once again, I found myself in my surgeon’s office, and this time it was because of a hole over my heart. Okay, fine, a hole in my left breast, which, technically speaking, is over my heart when I’m laying down. Don’t panic though, it was a small hole from where my incision had torn open– several sutures had not yet dissolved and managed to push their way to the surface. Small hole, slight infection, no big deal.

As I waited for my surgeon, the nurse tossed me a gown to cover my upper-half. I asked why I bothered putting them on when the doc always took them off. She responded with, “Because you look sexy in them. Now puttem on!” At least the woman knew how to make me laugh.

My surgeon came in, examined ‘the goods,’ as he likes to call them, did a quick snip-snip and prescribed me a regimen of antibiotics. Then he stepped back, nodded, cocked his head, and frowned. Uh oh. He stepped out of the exam room, and came back with a measuring tape and marker.

My new girls are uneven. I knew it. I kept telling myself it was just my posture, but they are in fact uneven. He told me he would have the surgery scheduler call me to schedule a revision… excuse me? A SIXTH SURGERY?

Sigh… I jinxed myself, right? Nah. I’ve tried to reason this situation– “You have one of the best surgeons in the DMV area, be grateful!” “It is okay, it’s barely noticeable.” “At least you’re still cancer free.”

Nope, nope, nope. It doesn’t matter if I have one of the best surgeons in the region, I DESERVE to have my reconstruction done right and it should not have taken five, or potentially even six, surgeries.

He asked if I have any trips planned because a vacation would be good for me. I jokingly said, “I’m considering flying to vegas and recklessly letting out my frustrations. At least I can leave my mistakes and sins there.” Dr. Party jumped on it.

“I love Vegas! Do you like clubbing? EDM or hip-hop? I’ve got you covered if you want suggestions!”

Reconstructive surgeon by day, Que aka Que Dog aka Bruh by night. I forgot about this side of my surgeon, and the casual banter made me relax.

“Okay, so if you do go, you need to hit up Hakkasan and Drai’s. These clubs are on point. I go back every time!” Dr. Party looked up at the ceiling– I could tell he was quietly reminiscing to himself.

Every time?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.

“A man’s gotta have his fun. I go at least once a year.”

Several people have asked why I haven’t sued yet. First, I don’t think I have a litigious bone in my body. Second, the physician-patient relationship that has formed is strong. I trust that my providers are doing what they can to make things right, and that is because of how hard they work to make me feel like they care. They remember where I work, what I’m going to school for, and whomever, if anyone, I am dating. They ask how my mom is doing and if they can do anything more for me. They try.

Maybe I’m a sucker for compassion and they managed to pull the wool over my eyes, or maybe they truly care. I guess I will never know.

But this I do know: even though it will only take a few days for this hole in my breast to close, it will be quite some time before this hole in my heart heals.

The key word here is time, and if my surgeon hadn’t made me cancer free, I wouldn’t have much more of that left, now would I?

 

Fangirls and Food Goals

I live to eat. I work hard so that I may eat comfortably– what I want, when I want. I am determined to establish a financial foundation that can support my perpetual desire to eat and my curiosity for new cuisines, both of which I plan to force onto my (future) spouse and children. Every breath I take and every dollar I make is for the greater good of all people. If I don’t satiate this appetite of mine whenever it creeps up, I become a demented, manipulative, hangry monster. I think about slashing the delivery man’s tires whenever he is late, tying him to a chair, and guilt-tripping him into giving me a free meal. I stop acting like the kind person everyone believes me to be, grunting and growling through gritted teeth at whomever or whatever stands between me and my nommy-noms.

Okay, so maybe I am exaggerating a bit. In reality, I get sleepy, grumpy, and start disconnecting from people when I’m hangry, but you get the point. I’m not me and grabbing a Snickers bar wouldn’t, no, couldn’t fix the problem. My cravings must be fed.

Speaking of Cravings, I love Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, as individuals and as a couple. #Success #RelationshipGoals

Months ago, my friend Crusty tagged me in a photo on Queen Teigen’s instagram of the Queen herself indulging in the art of Taco Bell snacking. #HeroStatus I knew then that I loved her just as much as I loved her hubby John Legend and his soul-shaking vocals.

When my best friend/husband/wife Lina and I found out Queen Teigen was pregnant, we were ecstatic. Two beautiful, talented people would be bringing a life into this world.

Then an even bigger miracle happened: she released a cookbook.

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This is how I know Lina loves me– she bought this cookbook for me and inscribed it with instructions to cook her all the things. Well…

Last night, without Lina (oops), Crusty and I prepared Queen Teigen’s recipe for grilled garlic-soy shrimp with Pepper’s hot green pepper sauce. 

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Damn. Just damn. It was delicious. I’m not sure if this stems from my Filipino background, but I LOVE SHRIMP HEADS. So much flavor is retained in their prickly shells, and when cooked right, shrimp can be incredibly succulent and creamy. Eating shrimp with their heads on gets a little tough at times, especially when you see their beady, little eyes staring back at you, but it is worth it.

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What can I say? I live to eat. 

As stated in a commonly known, but slightly bastardized, quote by the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, ‘Not what we have But what we enjoy, constitutes our abundance.’ I say bastardized because we commonly believe that Epicurus meant we should “have the club goin’ up, on a Tuesday,” and should be shoveling our faces into the buffet displays at Golden Corral– ya know, the pleasurable things in life. But, believe it or not, excess and overindulgence quite often contribute to our own suffering if you look at examples such as alcoholism, drug abuse, and body dysmorphia. We should exercise prudence and live our lives in moderation to find happiness.

Now don’t get me wrong; I am a cancer patient so I avoid certain foods and mostly watch what I eat. I exercise for the purpose of feeling good, not looking good, and so that I can eat what I please. I truly find joy in every part of a meal, from preparation to consumption. I do not ‘eat my feelings’ to increase my mood, I eat to feel. I do feel guilty after shoving a fat, greasy burger with a fried egg and french fries down my gullet, but the guilt comes from overindulgence. Moderation makes life guilt-free.

I made a promise to myself when I was diagnosed with cancer. I promised that I would continue to live, be adventurous, and not hide in shame or fear. Part of that included a goal of eating at a new restaurant in the DMV area every week. If I missed a week, I had to make up for it by trying multiple in a week. I had no complaints about that. I have met this goal so far, and in turn, in the kitchen, I have only been preparing easy, basic meals instead of making and perfecting the complex dishes I had loved so much. I am not as creative in the kitchen, and I don’t take as many risks. I have become a boring cook, even if my companions don’t agree with that sentiment.

I am making myself a new promise: no more indulging in chef-prepared meals, from now on I will make a new dish every week. I love exploring new and unfamiliar foods, but it is time to bring that into my home.

I will start my mission with this cookbook, Cravings by Chrissy Teigen– a model that can eat. Some call it a façade because apparently models can’t eat if they want to maintain their figures.

I call it inspiration.

#Fangirl #FoodGoals

 

Hunting for the Neuroscience of Heat and Violence

Economists and psychologists tell us that increased temperatures can drive conflict. Is there any brain science here?

Source: Hunting for the Neuroscience of Heat and Violence

**Everyone is raving about Leo D’s use of his Oscar speech to address climate change, but this is another instance where fans only care about issues when their celebrity idols do. Climate change has a significant impact on our lives. We adjust our thermostats more frequently and end up spending even more on electricity. It quite frequently ruins our much deserved vacations– skiing isn’t as wonderful without fresh snow on the slopes and we can’t go to the beach if there is a shit-storm coming. Harvest seasons do not exist for many since the seasons are no longer conducive to growing a healthy supply of crops. Most importantly, we as people get more aggressive as temperatures continue to rise; as temperatures get higher, tempers become shorter. Addressing climate change is not only about saving our environment, but saving ourselves.

Pilot.

I am the most beautiful, ugly person in all the world…

Now before you make any assumptions, I would like to clarify that statement: I, by no means, find myself physically unattractive. I am quite confident in my ability to enter a bar, have someone buy me a few drinks, and walk away without having paid a dime. I have also mastered the art of feigning ignorance when I’m catcalled on the street—if I don’t give them a reaction, they will give up and I can pretend like it never happened. At least that’s how it works in my mind.

A good friend of mine from my early college years hated hatefulness. I mean, who doesn’t, amirite?! Whenever one of us was spiteful towards another, she would shake her head and say, “God don’t like ugly.” We were a pretty close group and the spite was all in jest, but she was right. I wasn’t particularly ugly to any of my friends, and everyone knew I dedicated a significant chunk of my time volunteering in the DC area. There were even a few individuals who admired me, and, at the time, I thought they were bats*** crazy.

I treated everyone else kindly but was ugly to myself. I put myself through an unnecessary amount of hell. Even though I was accepted to Georgetown during the early admission phase, I thought I wasn’t smart enough. I went out of my way to help friends and family, and somehow believed that I was not kind enough. Whenever negative experiences came about, such as losing my father and having a boyfriend cheat on me, I managed to blame myself thinking that I deserved the pain I was going through. Honestly, that trend continued until a year after I graduated from college when the improbable happened—I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the tender age of 22 in July of 2014. I had no family history or genetic predisposition for it, and you better believe I blamed my diet and the fact that I worked out four times a week instead of five.

I promise I am not the only person who has fought this internal war. It seems illogical, I know, but if you consider how we are brought up, it makes sense. We are told to be kind to others and not bully them, and to be selfless because selfishness is wrong. So I was kind and I was selfless, but I was also ugly because I bullied myself. There was so much emphasis on teaching us to love others that I never really learned how to love who I was.

It is now 2016 and I can say that I have grown to appreciate my accomplishments, my struggles, and myself. I am beautiful and strong. I work full-time and I’m pursuing my master’s in a full-time program. Have I mentioned that I am also a cancer survivor? I am a BADASS. So why do I say that I am the most beautiful, ugly person in all the world? You remember that childhood game ‘Duck, Duck, Goose?’ Well, every once in a while that old thread of ugliness comes around to high five the ugly goose version of me in the face, activating the negativity. It doesn’t take long for me to tell her ugly self to sit down, but it is a source of undue stress. Again, I am beautiful and strong, but it would be disingenuous of me to deny that a sliver of this ugliness still exists.

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