Today I have the honor of sharing an interview with you. I suppose, in its own way, every interview is an honor. However, there are times when I am floored by the honesty, humility and grace with which people answer the questions I ask and Yuris answers had me subterranean. I read through her email with tears clouding my vision, making me pause and allow my body to feel the impact her words were having. BUT, before I (she) make(s) you cry, I want to give you a little back ground on how this interview came about.
I met Yuri several years ago through a mutual friend who referred her to me as a client- I cut and colored her hair for a time. She had an electric spirit about her then- petite, full of life, with great taste in music, food and fashion. I met her at a time where she seemed to be finding her groove, finding her passion, and in a way, finding herself. It was beautiful. I always enjoyed our conversations and looked forward to giving her a new cut. Somewhere along the line we lost touch. I got busy, she got busy, and then...
One day, while scrolling through instagram, I stumbled upon a photo she had posted... from the hospital. I was alarmed and confused. I clicked on her profile and felt a deep ache well up beneath my ribs. Yuri, the stunning, young woman whose hair I had cut only months before, was beautifully bald.
How do you respond to that? How do you tell someone that your heart is breaking for them, while simultaneously saying- you are a bad ass woman, you are strong, you are talented, and you CAN get through this? I certainly didn't know, but I also knew I couldn't not say something.... So I sent her an email (perhaps it was a text). The initial conversation led to another, we began to email on and off for a season. She modeled for a photo project I was working on, and the resilience of her spirit brought us all to tears.
In the time that has passed we stay in touch, checking in, saying hello, sending love and good energy into the world for one another. Through those emails and her project 'Notes to a Friend' I have gotten to know more of her story and the power behind it. Since being re-diagnosed Yuris community has risen up around her, supporting her in her work, her health and her heart. She has gone through hell and refused to let it consume her. How incredible is that!? I will confess that it doesn't surprise me. There is something special about Yuri, she holds light and life delicately in her grasp. I can't quite explain it, instead, I will allow her to do so.
Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about who you
are and what you do?
My name is Yuri Angela Chung and I am a freelance graphic designer living in
LA. I am 32 years old and currently living with Stage 4 breast cancer.
When were you first diagnosed?
I was 25 years old in 2010 when I was first diagnosed with Stage 3 breast
cancer. Right before entering my fifth year in remission, the cancer came back in
the form of Stage 4 breast cancer – which had metastasized to my lungs, bones,
What has the journey through being re-diagnosed with breast cancer and
treatment been like?
The first word that comes to mind is shock. Even though I knew that breast
cancer could often come back, I just didn’t think that it would happen to me. It
was shocking and sad and extremely cathartic. I had already fought this disease
and knew what it entailed; but this was a different monster. I needed to fight
harder; I needed to fight for my life.
From the moment I knew the cancer was back, everything moved in lightening
speed. A year passed by in a whirlwind of surgeries, radiation, and
chemotherapy. And I can’t tell you how many days I’ve spent in the hospital,
because I’ve lost count. But the days in the hospital, the treatments, the painful
surgeries – none of these wounded my spirit. Because the physical pain – the
needles, the bruises, the aches and discomfort – I can endure. What almost
consumed my soul was the nausea and inability to eat. I didn’t really experience
any form of nausea the first time I went through treatment, so it was a very
foreign thing to me. When it began, it came with full force; and it was so violent,
nothing would have prepared me for it.
The oral chemo that I began in January 2016 was the culprit of the nausea. It
taunted my body for 6 months until I switched back to a form of IV chemo in
June. It has been a long, rough road, but I am happy to say that today I am
nausea-free, and I haven’t spent a night in a hospital since then.
What gives you the most joy in life?
I love the people in my life. The love and respect I feel for my family and friends
has no boundaries –and that feeling alone, gives me so much joy. Also, my dog
Elvis – he gives me endless joy.
Where (or in whom) do you find the most strength?
My parents. They have taught me everything I know about strength, love,
generosity, and integrity. They inspire me in every way.
How did Notes to a Friend start? Or rather, where did the idea come from?
A few months prior to my diagnosis, I was working on a personal project with a
friend that focused on my growth as a young designer after cancer. During this
time, I sent him “notes” that I wrote while remembering certain moments I
considered important in my story. Then shortly after, almost like a scene out of a
movie, I found out that my cancer came back. And the narrative we were building
together suddenly became irrelevant.
When the recurrence happened, I was scared but also inspired. I needed to
continue my story, and I needed to continue to create. The notes I sent to my
friend were intimate thoughts that I had never shared with anyone – and now, I
felt the urgency of a purpose that I needed to share. And that’s how I started
Notes To A Friend.
Your community seems to have risen up around you, what impact has that
had on you (through treatments, illness, good days and bad)?
Notes To A Friend really invited my friends and complete strangers to understand
and respond to what I was going through. The real magic of social media is when
you can emotionally connect with another person through a photo, video, or even
just a few words. I’ve received so many messages from people all over, sending
me support and the warmest of thoughts. Even on a bad day, I can’t complain –
there are so many people rooting me on that I just have to keep going.
What music makes you feel better/what are you listening to? Are you a rage
punk person? The sappy singer song writer type? Or are you more of an
OG rap kind of girl?
Definitely an OG rap kind of girl! My music playlist probably hasn’t changed since
1999! But when I’m working, I love to listen to a lot of instrumental stuff –
Explosions in the Sky, Bach’s Cello Suites, scores by Hans Zimmer, anything by
Yo-Yo Ma – just to name a few.
I always tell people that I have very cheap taste buds. Give me some Rite Aid ice
cream or any form of carbohydrates, and I’ll be a very happy person.
Little life luxury you can’t live without?
The leisure to travel. Being a freelancer, I feel very lucky to be able to spend my
time in a way that I can control and plan. Time is so valuable and having the
freedom to choose how I spend my day or week is a privilege.
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
Write what you know.
What words do you have for women who are experiencing hardship right
now- whether it be breast cancer, loss of a child, or another trauma- where
do you find hope?
Only you can write your story; fight for yours.
Yuri is currently working on a new project for 'Notes to a Friend', give her a follow on instagram, search the hashtag #NotesToAFriend or follow @notestoafriend on twitter to stay tuned in with the incredible things she has planned.
I have read this interview over serval times and with each pass it creates a deeper sense of resilience inside of me. Yuri, your words are beautiful, your soul shines bright like a diamond (shout out to Sia) and your conviction is piercing to the core. Thank you for sharing your story, it has been well fought for. Your community, your family, friends, and strangers who carry you in their hearts are all by your side in spirit, fighting along side of you Yuri. It inspires and amazes me.
I realize the elections just happened but I must confess, I am #TEAM YURI2017 all the way.
To those who took the time to read this interview- thank you for following, thank you for supporting, thank you for the impact you make on the world around each and every day.
Light and delight.