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When I walked through my front door, the first thing I noticed was the odor. After the odor, I heard the groaning. I remember the occasion quite vividly, although it was ten or eleven years ago. My sister and I had just returned from the park with a neighbor, expecting everything to be normal. But soon I discovered that I would never be quite the same again—I was about to witness a scene, which shaped my life thereafter.
As we slowly inched into the living room, a staggering sight met our eyes. There, lying face down on a couch, was my father, ashen-faced and trembling. His head was completely bald, and his grisly figure appeared enervated. He was gasping for air, and then suddenly, he grabbed a blue pan, plunged his face into it, and vomited with such vehemence that it really shook me. Only then did I fully understand what it meant for my dad to have cancer. Before that afternoon, I used to think words like "cancer", "tumor", and "chemotherapy" described a simple disease that doctors knew how to treat like any other. And at seven years old, I had no reason to think any differently, for my father had simply told me that he might be "sick." But that first day when I saw the trauma his affliction caused him, I immediately realized that colon cancer was neither quick nor painless, but agonizing and disturbing. My father finally raised his head from the blue pan and uttered a weak "Hello," only to vomit again. My neighbor noticed the shock I was feeling, and put his hand on my shoulder. "Let's go to my house, Jeff," he recommended, "Let your dad rest—he has been fighting brave and hard."
My dad, my hero. The source of my love and guidance was now battling for his life. After the doctors detected the colon cancer in 1987, the illness became more and more malignant, and the effects on my family were more and more severe. The long series of debilitating surgeries and chemotherapy treatments consumed my father's life, and by extension, enveloped my entire family. My mom had to spend most of her time and energy, not to mention large amounts of money, to take care of my father's health. As a result, my mother had to set aside the needs of her two growing children, my sister and myself.
Because of this unavoidable neglect, I began "lagging" behind. Growing up without a "dad" figure at my side, I always felt distanced from my classmates. In elementary and middle school, I noticed that most other youths communicated and fraternized with ease. But I was quiet, timid, and introverted, since my parents weren't always there to encourage me to express myself openly. At one point, I felt so unable to simply express myself to others that I was avoiding human contact, and I couldn't bring myself to look at people's faces when they were speaking to me. Some children considered me an outcast; I was often the target of harassment and ridicule.
My depreciated self-esteem also adversely affected my performance in school. Ridiculed by my classmates into believing I was unworthy of merit, I ceased to believe I could excel as a student. My bad grades, in turn, lowered my confidence even further, for my dad had always stressed academics quite heavily—but after seeing my grades, I felt like I had failed my father. Furthermore, with my parents too preoccupied to foster my curiosity in activities outside of school, I missed the opportunity to discover my love for the piano at a young age. While others around me already played instruments, attended art lessons or played sports, I simply felt helpless to change my predicament. I was doomed to be a "late starter." Often, I would simply say to myself, "I can't take this any longer. I don't have the patience or the spirit for this—I just don't know what to do anymore."
Then I figured out how I could change my life. At the point when I felt like giving up for good and resignedly accepting my fate, I remembered my father. I recalled with perfect clarity the day when I had witnessed him atrophying away before my eyes, vomiting into a pan. And then my neighbor had said to me, "Let your dad rest—he's been fighting brave and hard."
I saw the truth in this statement. My dad fought and struggled to survive his disease, and never once did he give in, because if he had, he probably would have lost his life. But by enduring the suffering so that he could live another day to see his family, he taught me to steadfastly hold on to life. He taught me not to give up. When I realized that by following his example I could surmount any obstacles, I made up my mind. I would face the world "brave and hard," and I would cast off the anxiety, which constrained my personality from growing. I would work to improve my grades and shine as a student. I would harvest my talents with an active passion. No more delays. No more fear. No more shame, and most importantly, no more giving up.
After this revelation I made as a middle school student, I worked persistently to catch up and surpass my peers, and I have accomplished a lot of my goals. Since the sixth grade, my marks in school have progressed steadily upward. Particularly these past few years in high school, I've been proud of my exceptionally high marks. Additionally, I turned my eager determination to mastering the piano, and to this day I continue to cultivate my love for the instrument. I competed with musicians who had been playing since very young ages, when piano is best undertaken, but I remained resolute. With the strength my dad had taught me to apply to life, I pushed myself; I practiced and practiced, despite the increasing demands of my high school curriculum. Finally, I found myself actually skipping levels in the Certificate of Merit exam, and catching up with—if not exceeding—others of my age and older. In March of 2001, I am going to take a "level 9," which I reached in half the time most students take.
But more than any other achievement I pushed myself toward, I am proud of my ability to overcome my shyness. In eighth grade, I made the decision to join an Asian youth leadership program, which would compel me to communicate frequently with my peers. Furthermore, I knew my role as a mentor and community leader would teach me to speak clearly and confidently. My project has worked wonders. Now I feel at ease among classmates and friends, and last year, I even hosted an open house event for the program, speaking comfortably in front of a very large audience.
I am very proud of my ability to fulfill my true potential in life and I owe all my strength to my father, my reason for living. My dad has been at my side every step of the way. Even as a bedridden cancer patient, sick from chemotherapy, his example has taught me to face adversity and conquer it, no matter what the nature of the challenge. I will never forget his deep discomfort and agony, but the dignity with which he faced his suffering is equally memorable. His struggle with colon cancer became a model for my own struggle to improve myself. Even today I continue to fight, struggling with college entrance tests like the SAT. But I continue unshaken, knowing that the truest test of my ability is my determination to live bravely like my father and overcome the hardships of life. I can never thank my dad enough for what he has given me. He has become my role model, and as I face the future I can hear him say to me, "I'm proud of you son . . . you've been fighting brave and hard."