Ep. 2 Transcript: In Defiance of Pain (with Yejin Lee)

The Black Cancer Podcast

Episode 2: In Defiance of Pain (with Yejin Lee)

Running time: 70:09

Yejin: My relationship to anger, it felt powerful. It felt generative. It felt active. It felt like you could do something about it. Whereas sadness and grief, it just felt like – you dive deep into a hole and then you don’t come out.

[Music fades in]

Jodi-Ann (as host): Welcome to the Black Cancer podcast. My name is Jodi-Ann. Our guest on today’s episode is Yejin Lee, who is actually a friend of mine from our undergraduate years at Boston College. Shout out to Nijah who introduced us her first year, my second year on campus. Right away, I knew Yejin was brilliant and an incredibly serious student of social justice movements. We were connected through those values, but we weren’t close. It wasn’t until many years after graduation that I even learned that Yejin’s mother passed away. I never knew how she died. I never knew when. Yejin and I never even spoke about it at all, much less its impact on her then and now, until this podcast. Our conversation hits on hard lessons about how we as women of color relate to our bodies as we process pain. We explore the blessing and the curse that is our strength, our embodied expectation to be strong, and what it takes to heal. We talk about the 2020 movement for Black Lives, the tools we use to grieve and the power of our voices to survive. Here’s my conversation with Yejin.

[Music fades out]

Jodi-Ann: Hey Yejin, thank you so much for joining me today for the Black Cancer podcast. 

Yejin: Thank you so much for having me. I’m honored to share my story with you, especially.

Jodi-Ann: This conversation’s really interesting for me because we know each other. Knew you from college, Boston College, and over the years just saw you speak a lot more about your mother on social media. And when putting this podcast together, I thought of you and was so excited that you raised your hand for this project, for the opportunity to share a little bit about your story with-with me. ‘Cause there’s a lot of this that I – I don’t even know, as someone who knows you and see who else this might be able to touch in some way. And so, I would love to get started, if you can share a little bit about your mother.

Yejin: Sure. Um, so my mother, I am a Korean American. Both of my parents moved from South Korea. My father moved to this country in the 70s and then my mom, much later to marry him. But, my mom was a deeply brilliant, very responsible sort of in some ways classic middle child. Uh, she had an older brother and a younger sister who actually had polio. So my mom, I – there are these stories of my mom carrying her younger sister to school every day, um, and helping her with a little bit of physical therapy. So, she’s a very loving, caring person. And she also went to, what’s considered one of the best, um, high schools for girls in South Korea and ranked, I think #2, in the full school. So, she was hella smart, really, really smart. Um, and, you know, I actually hadn’t really known much about her own childhood until more recently. 

But I learned that her father died from lung cancer when she was a young woman, around the age that I was when my mom passed. And suddenly she became super responsible for her family’s financial care. Um, and it sort of threw her life into a, into a tizzy. And, um, I think that her initial plans for being – she studied French in college and I think wanted to be, um, at some point, some kind of, you know, simultaneous interpreter. Um, I think the idea was that she would work for the French Embassy or something. But that was all sort of foiled, uh, when her father passed away. And suddenly, her older brother, who was you know, really pursuing his career. And her younger sister who had overcome polio, and was also very special and very smart. Um, she was like, “Okay, I’m the middle child, Imma take care of everything.” So, her life sort of shifted. She ended up working for Singapore Airlines. Um, and I think she was doing the booking, um, which at that time, obviously, the internet was not a thing. So this was very complicated and hard. And at the time in South Korea, that was one of the best jobs you can get as a woman. So she was working that and then was introduced to my dad, ended up moving to the US and sort of leaving behind her whole entire life, including her family and including some of the financial responsibilities that she had started a family in this country. Um, in New Jersey, little suburb town. And she was an incredibly doting mother. She, all the energy that she had in the world, before I think she put into raising her children, me and my brother, my older brother. Um, she was very focused on the potential of her children, especially with me. I think there was sort of a gender thing. Um, she was hoping that I would meet my potential in a way that she felt she wasn’t quite able to. And then she softened a little bit over time. Uh, she had very high expectations at first and was very clear about those expectations. And then, as she saw the different ways, both of her children responded to the kind of pressure, she sort of made some adjustments. She’s the kind of person, she’s very quiet. Would always take a pause before answering a question. She would say, “Hmm, let me think about that.” and then would respond. When I was very young, I was quite talkative, and I continued to be talkative,[Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] but she once told, um, me she grew up, Buddhist, practicing Buddhism. And she would say things like, “Yejin, do not speak, unless you can improve upon silence.” I was like, I’m five years old! I don’t know what that means. [Jodi-Ann Chuckles] What does that mean? Um, but that was sort of the way that she carried herself. And she’s extremely kind and loving. But there was something about her that was often considered intimidating by people. It was almost like a moral intimidation. People knew that she was always moving through the world with deep integrity. And so, they would seek her approval and want it, but also often know, they would know that they wouldn’t get it because they were doing something a little bit self-centered, or they were not being very self aware. And so, she had this power, even though she was quiet. She had a very quiet strength about her. And, whenever I talk about quiet strength, [Jodi-Ann: Mmmhmm.] it’s a kind of strength that I actually hope to learn to and embody. If I have any kind of strength, it’s very loud. [Jodi-Ann Chuckles] But I think about her. So that was a bit about her as a mother. Oh, an example of something – I was, in some ways the very classic, stereotypical middle class Korean American and I was playing competitive classical piano solo piano. She would come to all of my lessons and take notes. She was not a musician. She didn’t really know what was going on. But she would take so many notes and would even sometimes record the lessons so that she could later listen and get more information to support me in my learning. So, um, even though she was quiet, she had a kind of intensity that I think in some ways still lives in me.

Jodi-Ann: That’s incredible. That’s absolutely incredible. Do not speak unless you can improve on silence. [Yejin Chuckles] I never do that. [Chuckles]

Yejin: Me neither.

Jodi-Ann: And I love how you speak about her in a way of who she is, who she was, and how that continues to live on in you. [Yejin: Mmm. Mhmm] Right? ‘Cause even before this, just hearing you chat about, you know, when you shared that people think you’re intimidating or use that same kind of describers for you as well. In a way you are also describing your mother. So it’s pretty cool. When we see our parents in us – or see ourselves in our parents when we talk about them.

Yejin: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s also related sometimes to the stories we tell whether it’s about other people or ourselves. I remember at some point I read, I have a few emails that my mom sent to me when I was a freshman in college. My mom passed away the February after I started my freshman year of college. This is sort of a gnarly time, but there was some email she had sent, uh, the beginning of my first semester of freshman year. And I had avoided reading some of them because they were reprimanding. I remembered the subject titles, I was like, I’m not going to reread this one because she’s yelling at me and I don’t want to experience that. But I recently reread one and I was like, Oh my god. I had completely forgotten that I am the way that I am because she was the way that she was. So what I mean by that is in her email, she was actually writing about how disappointed she was that I had lied about, like a boyfriend coming to campus to visit overnight scandal. I didn’t tell my parents. Somehow they found out. It was this whole disaster. But I had used some like lame excuses in an email, “This is the reason I did that. And I’m so sorry…” Blah, blah, blah. And she just went point by point. You know, English not being her first language, but was like, here’s a bolded statement. Here is how I am actually going to turn this around and let you know that I don’t believe you when you say this and that you’re using this as an excuse. And I was like, I do that shit, sorry. [Jodi-Ann Chuckles] I do that all the time. [Jodi-Ann: You can curse, it’s okay..] Okay. [Chuckles] I do that shit all the time where I’m like, I’m going to annotate the shit out of what you said. 

Jodi-Ann: Yes.

Yejin: In service of you learning and in service of accountability from a place of love. And I was like, I forgot that she was that way. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] And so, because I think I had made her out to be – and sometimes this is how memory and grief work, um, on a particular pedestal not particularly complex, um. And yeah, I was just like, Oh, she was either very yelly or she was this. And it turned out that she was all of those things combined. And [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] even though I’d forgotten that that has been living within me for a really long time. And the more I get comfortable with who I am, grow confidence, become more trustful of myself, the more I actually feel like, I’m like my mother. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] I long told this story of, I am so different from my mother. I’m much more like my father in personality. My mom – I’m, again, not quiet – Um but I was like, oh, there are other ways that, I’m living, embodying things that she taught me.

Jodi-Ann: Every time you send an email that says, “See responses below in red.” [Laughter] You’re living out the spirit of your mother. [Both Laughing]

Yejin: Oh, honestly, there was a recent time where I’ve been part of this group trying to hold, um, this white liberal man accountable for some harm that he’s been causing out in the world. [Jodi-Ann: Mhmm] And, I annotated this message he had put out in the world. It was like, three pages single space before I copied and pasted it into the email. And I was like, this is an act of love, I promise. [Jodi-Ann: I’m loving you.] I’m doing all of this because I believe in your ability to change and grow. But I was like, “Oh, hey, Mama, I see you.” [Chuckle]

Jodi-Ann: Yep. Hey, mom. [Yejin: Mmhmm.] And so, [Sigh] I want to go back, um, ‘cause you mentioned about her passing, but just thinking about that process around her cancer journey, I’m curious how you first learned about her diagnosis. 

Yejin: Yeah, you know, I was actually chatting briefly with my dad because I don’t remember so much about the moment of learning about her diagnosis. I do remember I was a junior in high school at that time. I was the class president. And I only share that not to brag, but because [Jodi-Ann: You can brag.] I remember one day [Both Laughing] there was one day where, um, I think it was some kind of spirit week before homecoming and I just remember being in a haze. I don’t remember exactly what had happened. But there was some learning about my mom’s diagnosis and I was just sort of…It was the first time that I remember feeling really dissociated. [Jodi-Ann: Mmhmm.] And it felt like I was watching myself move through the hallway and I was talking to some of my fellow students about, you know, spirit week and the float that we needed to build while also watching myself do it. Being like, how are you functioning this way? You are so sad right now. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm.] Um, but other than that, I don’t remember a whole lot, um, except, you know, for the fact that I was a junior in high school. Um, you know, she immediately got treatment. We’re sooo privileged. I mean, I think a lot of the work that I currently do around, you know, racial justice and equity is so much about our personal relationship to power and being able to acknowledge our privilege. And one of the privileges that I have is, um, growing up with a family that’s filled with doctors. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] So we have this, sort of, army of family members who were ready to help advocate for the best care and the best doctors. And so, we were very lucky, um, and not just lucky, like, positioned to be privileged in that particular way. And, um, ended up, going through chemo and radiation and,  removing the cancer, not the – the full breast. And, um, everything seemed on the up and up. And then it turned out a few weeks before I went to Boston College, they had learned that it spread – that it came back and that it spread.

I was beyond myself. I mean, the idea that I would suddenly be far away, not so far, you know, New Jersey to Boston is not crazy far. But the psychological distance, um, was kind of hard to – to bear. And I know that my mom… I later learned that my mom really put up sort of a strong front [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] in order to convince me and make it more okay for me to make the decision to go to school, um, and I think some of that was really informed by the fact that my mom’s experience of college and beyond was totally impacted by her father’s passing, and she didn’t want her experience whatever ended up happening to interrupt the possibilities for my future. So, she ended up – um, I wouldn’t quite characterize it as lying – but she would, uh, make sure that she sounded really, like she was doing very well [Jodi-Ann: Mmm] while I was in the first semester of my freshman year, and we talked almost every day. My mom and I had a really, really close relationship, um, and probably started off in a relatively unhealthy way where I was just like, I want to please, I want to impress! [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] I want to… and internalize her high expectations of me at a really young age, um. But then it turned into something really loving and active, and so I would talk to her almost every day, and she would tell me about how her treatment was going, um. And then it was around Thanksgiving of that first semester freshman year where my mom, uh, we were home for the holiday and she had ended up sharing that she was not going to continue treatment, and that it had spread too far. And she felt like she couldn’t be the person she really wanted to be while undergoing this treatment. And she was a really amazing potter. My mom was incredibly gifted with her hands [Jodi-Ann: Yeah], and she was so creative, and had a really beautiful orientation around aesthetics that was, I think, really motivated by some internal stuff. And she was like, I really want to be able to create until the very end, and if I can’t do that, then there are other choices that I can make. So, that was really hard to hear and that it was hard to know that they were expecting me to go back and finish the semester. [Jodi-Ann: Oh my God] …That is a period of time between Thanksgiving and, um, you know, the – the end of that semester, the winter break that I really don’t remember. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm] I think I somehow and, you know, this is where disembodiment perhaps served a function. It was helpful for me to not experience what I was experiencing. Um, but I finished the semester relatively strong academically, of course, the most important thing there. [Jodi-Ann chuckles]

Um, and…actually needed to do a lot of convincing of both of my parents to stay home the second semester. My mom ended up passing away that February – February 12th, 2006 – and that was really rough. Um, the thing that was also a little bit hard about that was she was so deeply and well loved by so many people, that there wasn’t a whole lot of alone time. And I wanted to share that on the night that she – on the day that she passed away…and it almost felt it was snowing. And it had – we had sent a lot of people home, we’re like, “Oh, you should go home, um, you know, take a shower, rest and then come back.” But it started snowing and it became clear that she was about to pass and…the snowfall came and it made it harder for people to reach my mom’s room in the hospital [Jodi-Ann: Mmm], and so it ended up just being … the family with my mom in the end. So, it – to me when I see snow in February, I think, Oh, mama sent this for a reason.

Jodi-Ann: [Sighs] You were so young, when that all happened.

Yejin: Yeah. I was a baby.

Jodi-Ann: And – like freshman year of college, everyone’s in this frame of mind of starting this life of independence and in the background, the foreground, kind of integrated into all of that is, you know, your relationship with your mother as she’s navigating this journey, and ultimately towards the end of her life. [Yejin: Mmm] You know, when you look back on that, do you think that being older now that you would have handled that time differently, or do you see how you handled that in new ways?

Yejin: Hmm, what a great question. I guess I’ll first respond by, say – describing a little bit of how I dealt with it or didn’t deal with it at the time. So, I was eighteen, um, and I was pretty emotionally mature being – you know – my mother’s daughter, but I was still a child. And you know, that semester that I took off I ended up asking some professors for, like, homework so that I could stay a little bit sharp. I – you know – I am very much my father’s daughter in some ways, he does not know how to be still, he cannot – even now – he’s, you know, in his mid 60s and does a crazy amount of yard work. He cannot look at a little weed growing in the ground and not pick it up. [Jodi-Ann Chuckles] He’s just constantly on the move. But I remember he and I, we actually built, like, a patio in the backyard as a project. So, we – like – dug a crazy amount of ground, put down a crazy number of stones. We were just like “Labor, labor is the answer!”. And so yeah, I was coping by being busy, and I think by taking on this identity as a caretaker and caregiver – for my father, for my older brother, for the people who I saw as most impacted by my mom’s passing, of course, not really thinking about my experience outside of just this role, um, that I needed to play. So I think, you know, ultimately, all of this was a form of distraction. I mean, some of it was generative and good and I felt, you know, capable and skilled enough to take care of my family. But also, um, it was a form of avoidance. You know, when I really think about it, and I think something that I’ve realized more recently is just my intense fear of stillness. You know, uh, you know, some of this is also about, like, capitalism, racial capitalism, too. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] What is our relationship to productivity, and worth, and value? But there was also this idea that if I’m still …I will have to confront some feelings that I’m not ready for. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm.] And so, I think my way of processing or not processing was by staying super busy, becoming deeply emotionally invested in other people in my life, and in some ways, maybe trying to find pieces of my relationship with my mom in other people.

Um, and I’ll actually say that once I returned back to school, I was like, deep in the Black studies world and there was something really… I don’t know, there’s a possibility that at the time, there was like an appropriative approach that I was taking on. But there was something so amazing about how so much survived the Black Atlantic. So much was able to creatively reassemble and how brokenness was never really central. Um, and so I think I invested deep in the world of African Diaspora studies, um, was so moved by so much of the stuff that I was reading and learning. And so I think my brain, you know, being able but the comfort of the cerebral without actually being attached to the experience of feeling, the experience of the body for a really long time was super helpful, because I wasn’t ready to deal with the grief. And I guess the last thing that I’ll say about how I initially responded, um, beyond keeping really busy at some point when I was back in school – I was taking six or seven courses a semester [Jodi-Ann: Wow] and was working. Yeah, this was – I found a notebook that I had used in college and every half hour of my life every day was calendered. It was intense, um. [Jodi-Ann: Wow]

But yeah, I think I also started leaning deep into anger. I got so comfortable with anger during this period.  And it never crossed my mind until I started therapy later that I could be angry with my mother or angry about what happened related to my mother. But I was like, let me just place all this anger – I mean, a lot of it was appropriately related to, like, white supremacy or you know, patriarchal practices. But,I think I was also angry about lots of things and it was like a beautiful funnel for it, [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] and for me, my relationship to anger, it felt powerful, it felt generative, it felt active, it felt like you could do something about it. Whereas, sadness and grief, it just felt like – you dive deep into a hole and then you don’t come out. I think that’s how I initially responded by keeping super busy, being very angry. Um, I think the way that I would deal with it now…I mean, I think that I have more, um, tools to actually emotionally process stuff. Um, I still have deep tendencies to overwork and to feel like, um, busy-ness is better than stillness. I don’t even like stretching, for example, that’s too still for me, and it’s also painful. And so I’m like, why would I do it? Um, but, yeah, I think I would approach it with a little more readiness to confront the variety of feelings. I – for a really long time avoided sadness because it felt passive. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] Um, so I think I would welcome it more now, but I would probably still do some similar things. I mean, um, stay really busy, invest in other people, try to replicate some elements of my relationship with my mother in other friendships. Yeah, but it’s an interesting question. I think I’m, like, a little healthier and more, um, [Chuckle] more…uh, just – I just have more tools to process [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] and metabolize hard things.

Jodi-Ann: No – I think that reflection is really important because sometimes we regret the way we reacted or handled things when we were younger, but we had different tools then. [Yejin: Absolutely] We have more tools now so we can see things differently, react differently. But that doesn’t mean that we need to feel shame or guilt for how we handle things when we had less information and less tools. [Yejin: Mmhmm] But I think what’s still consistent is this relationship of being women of color, this expectation to be strong, this expectation to still be productive and to overcome things, and to hold things for ourselves, and to care for our families and our communities – like this expectation put on women of color across race and ethnicity, you know, in a lot of ways, is something that at least for me, I feel has been embedded in me from a really early age and it sounds like it’s a part of your story as well. When you reflect on your identity, um, racially, culturally, in your gender, you know, how do you think that has impacted your own story? Right? [Yejin: Yeah] Your relationship with your body? Your relationship to pain? You know, how you talk about disembodiment, like, you know – how do you think about yourself in your identity, in relationship to your own journey with your mother’s passing?

Yejin: I mean, what an amazing entry point to – to thinking about identity. Um, and also what an amazing entry point to thinking about experiences. Um, I guess I’ll say that, you know, moving immediately into a caregiving role, uh, to me, is deeply gendered and also cultural. Um, I think that you know, there’s often an expectation in many cultures, but particularly in this case, it’s a Korean culture of daughters taking care of-of families. Um, I also think that, you know, one of the last things that my mother told me was to make sure that my brother and my father got along. And, there’s some, you know, history there that is complex and, um, you know, as families are all complex, right? But, I really took on that responsibility. And, um, I realized later that that ask was perhaps not – I don’t know if “reasonable” is the right word – but I was like, I was a baby. I was like, okay, what can I do? But yeah, you know, there was this expectation that I would – I ended up going to work with my dad. My dad has a-a private dental practice. Um, and so I would go answer phones. I would come home and you know, do some laundry and cook – I learned to cook the first time – I now love cooking. 

Jodi-Ann: You’re amazing. Your photos are sick, like –

Yejin: I just mostly like to be able to eat things and that’s my main motivation for cooking. Um, but yeah, it was the first time I was like, oh, I’ve never cooked for a bunch of people before. I remember the first time I made mashed potatoes I, um, accidentally put sugar instead of salt. It was disgusting. Um, but yeah, honestly, I felt even though there was a part of me that was like, this is gendered, [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] I also felt extreme pride in my ability to do this. I was like, I know that I am a child. And I know that I’m taking on some important caregiving roles. And it’s interesting to talk to my dad about that period, too, because, um, of course, we have different perspectives for different people. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] And, uh, he was like, “Oh, a lot of the decisions I made, I made so that, you know, we could be together and so I could take care of you.” And I was like, “I thought I was doing that. [Jodi-Ann laughs] I thought I was making the decision to take care of you.” So I mean, maybe it was a moment of collective care. We just don’t quite remember. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] Um, but yeah, that was certainly gendered. Um, I think that also, you know, honestly, sometimes I can’t tell what it means to be authentically oneself. And you know, authenticity can be a very problematic concept, right? [Jodi-Ann: Mmhmm] But, um, you know, there’s-there’s a part of me when I was young, I was really almost obsequious. And some of that could have been because I grew up around like, mostly white people. But I wanted people to like me, I was very people pleasing…and, um, also, it was clear later in my life, that there were these assumptions about how I move through the world, given the fact that I’m five one. I’m a Korean American woman. Um, and so I wanted to, at some point, reject that and ended up falling more into, um, roles that sort of demonstrate strength in a particular way. So I was like, I want to demonstrate that I’m not passive. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] I want to demonstrate that I am strong. I want to reject all of these assumptions that people have about me. And so I think I over emphasized the importance of strength in the way that I was defining it for a lot of years. And then when I also think about the way that my mom…gosh, she would not complain, ever, about any of the pain that she was in. We would have to proactively notice that her breathing was pretty uneven. “Are you able to breathe?” And she would say, “You know, I’m just a little bit uncomfortable.” Which we later understood meant that she was in so much pain. And so I think bearing witness to that, and then also, you know, I was in my youth very, um, I was rewarded for being high achieving, and it also meant that I was extremely busy as a young person, and I would get sick from it. You know, there are stories of me going to a piano recital, um, and then, collapsing right after because I had 103 fever. And so, I think it was taught at a young age that endurance of pain was an endurance of suffering. If you’re able to do that it means that you’re strong. And then bearing witness to the way that my mom was processing her pain as someone with cancer, combined with like, the “Fuck you! I am a strong, capable woman of color. I’m also partic – I’m not a passive Asian American woman. And you will not fight me.” [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] Um, I think all of that contributed to this need to be strong. And, you know, I realized recently in, um, an experience of physical therapy, that my definition of strength was really the ability to withstand pain.[Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] And tolerate pain. And, I think that a lot of it is wrapped up in things that I learned from my mother, which you know, she was also a Korean American woman who, um, had suffered a great deal and had a lot of gendered experiences and expectations. And, um, I think she also had a lot of hopes for me. You know, I remember – it’s so funny – I remember sometimes she would buy me the shortest skirts. When I was in high school. I was like, Mom, I’m almost embarrassed that you’re buying me these short skirts. But there was something about – I think she was really excited about the kind of liberating experiences I could have as a woman in this country. This is sort of my take on it. And the hopes that she has for me wearing this tiny ass skirt [Jodi-Ann laughs], uh, being like, this is freedom! This is liberation!

Jodi-Ann: Burn your bras! Wear the short ass skirt. You got this.

[Both laughing] 

Yejin: There was something about that. And I was like, I want to honor that as well. So um yeah, I think all of these things combined definitely primed me to have a particular relationship to pain. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] Um, and, I ended up…not until last year – I’m now 33 – I didn’t start working on embodiment until last year. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] I didn’t know how deeply disembodied I was. I am someone who will realize now, even though I’ve been, like, trying to notice it, and be more mindful and present. I’m a fist-clencher. [Jodi-Ann laughs] I’m always clenching my fist. My husband Nico plays this game where he’ll actually, I won’t notice, but he’ll put something in my hand and I’ll just grab it. And so I will have like a sock in my hand for 10 minutes and not know that I’ve grabbed this sock. But that’s just an example of I-I’m so tense. I can be really intense. I have these crazy, sad knots in my neck and my shoulders. I clench my jaw. I have – I’m also a self described butt-clencher. [Jodi-Ann: Mmhmm] [Laughter] Um, so I’m just like, super tense, but I never noticed it. I just thought that was completely normal. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] Um, and, yeah, so when I think about this idea of Oh, okay. I think that I’m strong because I can tolerate pain physically, which is also probably why I avoid stretching, um, I realized how that translates emotionally. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm] Oh, Okay. Do I think that emotional strength comes from the ability to withstand a tremendous amount of emotional pain? [Jodi-Ann: Mmm] I think I did. I did for a really long time. And that’s also why I sort of overvalued and over privileged anger over other emotions because it felt like defiance of pain. Or like, a “productive”, quote on quote, “productive” way of orienting around pain. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] Um, yeah, so I think a lot of that is gendered and racialized and-and the cultural piece, I think, the expectation around what role I would play as the the daughter of the family – that’s certainly something that at first, I was really proud of my ability. I was like, look at me being so capable, and then later became deeply resentful. Um, and…uh, I now have a really beautiful relationship with my father, but it was pretty hard in that moment. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] Back then.

Jodi-Ann: What’s interesting too, about when we talk about being able to withstand physical pain to the point where we’re in pain and we don’t even realize, and translating that emotionally – where there are all these emotions that are going through us and we don’t even realize that either. [Yejin: Mmhmm] Right? And all of that has to go somewhere. And in some places they go in anger, they can go into, you know, high, um, effort coping – where you’re just doing a lot, um, a lot of productivity. It has – it has to be released somewhere [Yejin: Mmhmm] and at some point. I-I want you to tell the story about when your PT was stretching you. [Both laugh] [Yejin: Gosh] You know, sometimes we feel these things and we talk about them in an abstract way…and then we have to dig down in how this actually shows up in our everyday lives. So could you tell that-that PT story?

Yejin: I ended up making this appointment and during the initial consult, uh, this person told me, “I’m just going to move your body around a little bit. I’m going to touch you, I’m going to move things just let me know when it hurts or when you’re in pain.” That’s the only instruction. I was like, okay, simple enough. [Jodi-Ann: Got it] So she would move something around and then say, “Does that hurt?” And I would say, “It doesn’t have to.” And then she would make a face. And then, okay, she would move another part of my body ask, “Does this hurt? Or is this painful?” And I would say, “It doesn’t have to be painful.” And so by maybe the third or fourth time that I said that she kind of dropped whatever body part she was holding and was like, “What do you mean? What are you saying when you say ‘it doesn’t have to hurt’?” And I was like, “Yeah, I can deal with it.” [Laughs] [Jodi-Ann: Mmm] It doesn’t – it literally doesn’t have to hurt anymore. And she took this tone that actually reminded me a little bit of my mom when she was, like, a little bit disappointed in me. And she was like, “Is that what I asked you to do?” [Jodi-Ann: Damn] And I said, “No, ma’am. [Both laughing] No, ma’am.” And so she did it once again and was like, “Does this hurt?” And I said, “Yes, I think so.” Um, and then there was another point where she actually, she was like, “Yejin, do you get headaches a lot? And I was like, “I don’t know.” Um, and I said, “Why do you ask?” She said that I have a ton of knots in my head. I didn’t even know that was possible. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] Like, I don’t know enough about the human body. But I was like, I didn’t know you could have nuts around the skull. I was like, hmm, well, I just got yelled at and called in by my PT person [Jodi-Ann laughs]…so let me not lie to myself. Let me not gaslight myself. And yeah, and so I was like, “Yeah, I get headaches a lot. I get migraines a lot.” Um, and I’d normalize that. I was like, Oh, I get a migraine maybe once a month. Like to the point where I cannot open my eyes, I cannot go to work. It is, you know, immobilizing in that way. And I had totally normalized that. Um, so I answered the question. I was like (in small voice), “Yes, ma’am.” [Jodi-Ann: Yes, ma’am] And so that’s when I really started thinking about why I valued my ability to normalize pain. Um, I actually – if you don’t mind this – took this comparative theology course at Boston College. [Jodi-Ann: Yass theology] [Laughter] And, um, I think that the three religions we were comparing were Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism. And so we’re in the Buddhism section and we had to, um, I don’t remember who the professor was, but he led a guided meditation for five minutes and was like, “Okay, we’re gonna meditate for five minutes. This is what this means. Let’s see what it’s like.” I was like, okay…um, so the meditation goal was – had beautiful sound – and immediately, I was like, I am in so much pain. My back hurts so much. I don’t know what’s happening. So I focused on this for the entire five minutes and then, you know, we were called out of the meditation and the pain went away. And the way that I interpreted that for years, for years, was the fact that I did not want to be alone with my mind. And therefore created this pain in order to distract me. And then later a dear friend of mine was like, “Yejin, and I think it’s the opposite. I think that that was the first time in a long while that you acknowledged that your body was in pain.” And I was like, whoooaaaaaaaa. [Jodi-Ann makes brain explosion sounds] And that is what mindfulness can do. It can bring us to the present, it can do this work of bringing the mind and the heart and the body together to experience the same thing at the same time. And it’s really fucking hard. I hate it, but it’s also amazing and great.

Jodi-Ann: Oh, man. Yeah, that [Exhales] – our relationship to pain, our relationship to our bodies are telling us and how we interpret those signals are…it’s so deep. Like, and again, like you’re saying – it’s very deeply rooted in our culture, and race and gender and all of these things. And then there are elements that are just us in our own story, right? You know, after my surgery, I was partially paralyzed, and most of my body was numb. So I’m looking at it, I’m telling it to do something and it’s not doing it [Yejin: Mmm] or doesn’t, you know, when it feels like it. [Yejin: So frustrating] And it’s super frustrating. Every day, I’ll wake up in the hospital and I’m like, my feet are just so numb, but they still make you move, right? Like I was in the process of relearning how to walk and do all of that. And, I just remember the doctor coming up to me and he said, “Listen, Jodi-Ann, you need to learn how to walk even though you can’t feel it.” [Yejin: Wow.] And in a way, encouraging me to ignore the pain and the feelings that were happening in my body and just kind of doing it. And that experience, which is what helped me regain mobility, is also what has emotionally traumatized me. [Yejin: Mmm.] Because I was in the part, and I’m still in this part of my life, where I’m acknowledging the – I don’t want to say “burden” because it’s not just one sided, it’s really complex – but, this expectation for women of color to be strong [Yejin: Mmhmm] and to kind of bear through and to ignore the pain and just do it. I was – I am in a part of my life where I want to kind of blow that up. Yes, I’m a black woman, and I’m not strong right now. [Yejin: Mmmhmm.] Yes, I am in pain. Here’s what’s happening to my body. And wanting to be open and to listen to what’s happening in my body for the first time. And then being put in a situation where someone is intentionally, what I felt was like putting me back in this box of: just bear it. [Yejin: Mmmhmm.] You know? Overcome this. You got this. Just kind of barreling through. And I-I could not mentally manage that. [Yejin: Yeah] You know, needing the space to be honest about what was hurting me, but then also being in a space where I had to ignore pain. [Laughs] [Yejin: Mmm] And so it just, I think – that’s why I love chatting with you about this and kind of digging into how pain shows up for us. What we do with it, what it means, what our history is with it, how do we overcome it? And then in some sense, at least for me, trying to be strategic about it. You know, maybe it’s not a blanket thing. [Yejin: Mmhmm] How do I know when I need to dial into myself? And when do I pull back? Especially in this moment, right now, you know, with the murder of George Floyd and this racial uprising that we’re in right now. I gave myself – like I would see something on Instagram or I see something on the news, with the protests that were happening and watching people get beat by police in riot gear – and I would just fire up quarters on my phone on the next screen. [Yejin: Mmm] And felt guilty of wanting to turn away from the pain, but then also wanting to accept that I need to turn away from this pain right now. [Yejin: Yeah] And when do I leverage the pain to kind of move things forward for myself and my community? And when do I know that I have to rest, right? It just – it, it can get – um, it-it’s so nuanced. Um, and I think it’s so complex in how we think about ourselves as individuals and how we locate ourselves in our family, in our communities and you know, in the struggle. [Yejin: Yeah] So, yeah, but anyway…[Laughs]

Yejin: I mean, I think the-the burden of-of needing to be strategic [Jodi-Ann: Oh my god] because of the world and our relationship to everything that’s happening. I mean, I’ll-I’ll share that, you know, part of…I-I actually hesitate to share this, but I will…um, in my work with my therapist, it pointed out that I brush off things that I experienced that are hard. And that I use, I over rely on the narrative of my privilege. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm] So for example, I will say, well, I have x, y and z. I am someone who, yes, maybe I experienced this kind of interpersonal racism in this moment, but because I don’t experience this, it is not right in this moment to like, I don’t know, in the present, process myself. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah, yeah.] Um, or I’ll say like, Oh, I had this – I actually resisted for many years talking about my childhood because I would, growing up in a Western society where individualism reigned supreme, even though I’m from a culture that believes more in like collective care, um, I believe over value agency – so I’m like, I am a grown ass person now. I know that these were some hard experiences. But I also grew up with class privilege. There was never a question of whether I would go to college. I am never followed by the police. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] Like there are all these privileges that I have. But my therapist pointed out that I would point to those whenever I wanted to resist inner work.

Jodi-Ann: Oof. Don’t come for me! I hate when the therapist come for you. 

[Both laughing]

Yejin: I feel attacked. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah!] But I remember being like Oh, shit. Okay. That’s true. And you know, one of the things that I’m grappling with in this moment of the the rebellion and like, you know, centuries, belated reckonings is okay, I see there are a lot of, you know, my people, East Asians, Koreans, Korean Americans who are starting – you know, many of them, many people have been in this work, but many are new to it – and, you know, this idea of how do you exercise a multiracial analysis while centering Black experiences? [Jodi-Ann: Mmm] And centering – or you know, centering the, uh, dismantling of you know, white dominance in service of Black lives. Um, and it does mean that to some degree, we really have to confront our own experiences of racism, our orientation around racism in order to more appropriately deal with our own relationship to white dominance. And so – I promise in my brain this is linked – [Both laughing] oh, it’s like, like confronting our own experiences and pain [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] is ultimately a part of the work but I also think that there are moments where I feel like that’s really indulgent. I’m like, I really shouldn’t be doing that because like, this is the thing that we should be focusing on. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah.] So to your point around, like needing to be strategic, my burden is very different. And I think that it’s really important to acknowledge that, like the things that are emotionally triggered for me, when things like the murder of George Floyd happened are very different from the experiences that people who identify as Black experience. Um, but, I just – it’s so upsetting that, you know, people have to be so strategic about their choices. Um, but yeah, it’s something that I’m grappling with too, specifically as, like, an Asian American who wants to be a part of this work, you know?

Jodi-Ann: I hear that it’s just, it’s so interesting. I don’t even know if it’s a way I can even articulate right now. But I think a lot about my own cancer journey. And I think about this current like racial rebellion, racial reckoning, and there are a lot of ways that it is structurally aligned. Right? In terms of understanding pain. In terms [Yejin: Mmm] of -how do you push forward? How do you create space? And even about my own advocacy journey, right, like we have this racial reckoning right now that’s happening on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, where Black and Brown, low income folks are disproportionately getting sick and disproportionately dying. And so I feel a lot of alignment around advocacy, not just in the healthcare system, but broadly of my life, that hey, I am in pain. I need help. Take me seriously. something needs to change. Right? I see that in the streets. And I see that in the doctors’ offices. And I cannot tell you how enraged I was when I saw – I think it was in Washington, I don’t know if it happened in other places too – where a lot of folks in medical community and the public health community were protesting and demonstrating with, you know, white coats for Black lives. Oh, really? Where was your white coat from my Black life when I was trying to get diagnosed for three years? [Yejin:Mmhmm] Right? How many doctors have I gone to that misunderstood me? Mis-diagnosed me, Mis-assessed what my situation was and had no capacity to talk about race, racism and how I was impacting what was going on with me – not just in my own health – but in my relationship to the healthcare system and in my relationship to you in this office. Every time I have to note, you know, did you have cancer? Yes. Did your grandparent have cancer? Yes. Did you have any major surgeries? Yes. And just like this, re-remembering in medical forms of this trauma, and even how this trauma is linked into this current moment just becomes this whole mental process. Like, just to get my eyes checked, right? [Yejin: Yeah, that’s so deep – that’s so deep]. And so I’m curious – oh I know [Laughs] – and so I’m curious for you, like, even as you understand your relationship to your mother’s cancer journey and her passing, like how that even shows up in you…you know, how has that impacted your own engagement with the health care system?

Yejin: Yeah. What a thoughtful question. Um. Well, first of all, I don’t know if this is nice, but fuck  those doctors! [Laughs] I’m so sorry that that’s your experience. Yeah, I think the idea of not being believed [Jodi-Ann exhales] by people who are supposed to be literally caring for your body is just beyond me. Um. Yeah, I mean, I think that as I mentioned, I-I had a lot of surrounded by doctors in my family. And then, you know, our sort of ancillary family friend at work also had a bunch of doctors. So, what I – what I witnessed was um, even with all of that, there was a crazy amount of advocacy that had to happen. [Jodi-Ann: Oh, yeah]. Um, and so I learned by watching how to self advocate or to advocate for other people. How to even intimidate doctors into explaining something. And so I – you know, there were a couple of times where I went to see a doctor, there was a time where I was getting stressed hives um, from a work experience, and I went to see a dermatologist and asked a bunch of questions. They sort of wrote me off. And so I was like, “I have 10 follow questions. Here are my notes”. [Jodi-Ann: Yep] [Laughs]. And they were like, “Are you in medical school?” I was like, “I was not in medical school. But I was taught that I have to do this much research in order to get care.” [Jodi-Ann: Yes]. Um – despite having all of the privileges in the world related to the medical world, still, STILL needed to advocate and push for better care. Or even just like transparency and communication, like what the fuck is happening right now. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] So that’s influenced me. You know, I get pretty bummed out when I fill out the [Laughs] medical history form. Um, there was actually a period, ultimately I think it was good, but I was considering the – selling my eggs. Um this was like shortly [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] after college and I was like, Mmmm, I’m working for AmeriCorps VISTA and don’t get any money. So let me look this up. And I just had this whole breakdown because I was barred from entry and consideration because I had a parent who died from cancer and I was like, it like made me start thinking about who deserves to get born, first of all, and then I was like, okay, well, this is turning into this big thing that I’m not emotionally equipped to deal with. Um, but yeah, bums me out when I fill out the forms. But you know, more recently, I’ve been wondering whether I should take um, name is escaping me, but that test to see if I have the gene that [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] that predisposes me [Jodi-Ann: Yeah], um and thinking about what I would do with that information. Um, knowing that, you know, I would probably have to know what I would do with that information if I wanted that information. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah]. Um. And you know, there’s the looming possibility the questions around having children, but then also thinking about like, is this something that would be passed on? Is this is, is it worth experiencing? Blah, blah, blah. So it comes up for me in that way. Um. But yeah, in general with doctors, I think that they find me slightly unpleasant because that’s how I learned I have to be to get information.

Jodi-Ann: That’s how you survive [Laughs]. Thank you I have to be slightly unpleasant to survive. [Yejin: Mmhmm] Um, that’s real. You know, you know, as we wrap up, I want to think about like, [Exhales] and I think about your story, I think about your mom. You know, what do you think people don’t understand about the experience of losing a parent to cancer?

Yejin: Yeah, I think that, you know, I am really resistant to universalizing things. I think that um, there’s something inherently exclusive. Like if I universalize this thing about what It means to lose a parent, it might mean that someone who experienced something different might feel, you know, excluded from that thing. But I do think…that there was this one time I wrote a message to a dear friend of mine who had lost someone in their life, um, also to cancer. And I just the email was like, “This is not a manual. I’m not telling you what to feel or how to feel.” Um, because like, who am I to do that? Um, and I also am someone who has experienced platitudes that make things worse. [Jodi-Ann: Oh my God, yes], I hate that. I hate it so much, [Jodi-Ann laughs] because it’s like working in service of reifying what other people believe I’m like, this is not for me. You’re not saying [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] this for me.

[Jodi-Ann laughs]

Jodi-Ann: The platitudes are too much.

Yejin: Oh, yes, too much. But…., you know, I was like, “These are all the things I did. I did healthy things. I did unhealthy things. I leaned into semantic tendencies. I had some depressive moments, I was a mess, and like I needed to do all of that.” And so, I think the only thing I would share is just, you know, we deal with things based on the tools that we have. And I think that I used to have this voice. I mean, she’s still there. I call her “Mean Meta Yejin”. So not – in addition to like, feeling the things – Mean Meta Yejin is like judging Yejin’s feelings and judging how she’s moving through the world. But you know, Mean Meta Yejin, I mean, she was mean. And I think that, you know, rather than judge ourselves, you know, you were talking about this earlier, judging ourselves for how we moved through particular moments of grief, whether we were running into it or running away from it, acknowledging that it helped us in a moment, and being able to acknowledge that, you know, maybe it’s not helpful now. But um, so there’s that piece and then also, you know, one of the platitudes I heard was like “time heals all wounds” [Jodi-Ann releases sound of exasperation]. Um, and I would say like, make room for the possibility that it won’t. Not in a way that’s meant to be pessimistic or upsetting or you know nihilistic, but um, for me, I’m really only confronting the depths of my grief, years and years and years later. [Jodi-Ann: Mmm] Um, so it’s, you know, a whole lot of time has passed, and also I ignored shit for a really long time. So [Laughs] It’s not really that time will heal, but, you know, the work of healing will heal.

Jodi-Ann: Yeah, that’s so real. You know, over the years, one thing that I’ve watched you consistently do, or at least it-it feels consistent to me, um, even as you’re going through your ups and downs, and you know, the nuances of your own experience…I’ve seen you – and correct me if I’m wrong – generally, like memorialize and honor your mother on social media, on special days like Mother’s Day or her birthday [Yejin: Mmhmm] or a different anniversaries. And I’m curious, you know, your thoughts on honoring her in that way and, you know, whether and how that’s an important part of your memory process?

Yejin: I really appreciate this question, in part because it makes me think about in general, like, our relationship to social media and like, its relationship to the need for some kind of affirmation. Um, but I think that, you know, there was something about people not knowing who she is. Um, there’s only one friend, active friend, that I have now, who has met my mom. [Jodi-Ann: Wow] And so I think there’s a part of me that wants more people to benefit from the lessons that she had shared with me. Um, and there’s a piece of me that, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of aphantasia?

Jodi-Ann: Hmm-mm. I haven’t.

Yejin: So aphantasia, so “phantasia” is the, it’s called like it’s a, I think in Greek it means mind’s eye. So it accounts for the-the capability that people have to like visually imagine something. Um so, “aphantasia”, then, is the inability to do that. So I have aphantasia [Jodi-Ann: Wow] which means I, like I close my eyes. I’ve been with Nico for 13 years, I cannot imagine his face like I cannot visualize his face. Um, and so people with aphantasia actually have a hard time remembering. Um, so memory for me in general is hard. I think that you know, there was a very long period of, um, my childhood that I don’t really remember, probably because I was too busy and stressed and then this period, uh, with my mother when she was about to pass away – also don’t quite remember. I quickly maybe like, two or three years after, um, stopped remembering her voice. I couldn’t, you know, luckily, of course, I have pictures but you know, I couldn’t remember. And so there’s something about publicly memorializing that helps me, um, it’s like a permanent place for this visual memory to exist. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah]. And so I think there’s a piece there. And then I think there’s honestly a part of me that’s like, I want people to know that I’m sad. [Jodi-Ann: That’s true] You know? Like, I want people to know that I’m thinking about her. I want people to know that, especially in the context, you know, those are days where I would in my life like repress, repress, repress. I’ma be so productive high executive functions, um, and then I’d be a mess around those anniversaries. Um, and the work of therapy was like, Okay, let’s invite sadness in more gently and more frequently so that you don’t have these like, intense acute experiences. Back then, I think that in some-some when I started doing this part of it was a signal like, I might be very absent right now or I might be emotionally triggered very easily. I might get angry at you or have like, you know, this moment of detachment. Um, so I think part of it was-was, you know, signaling that, you know, I was going through it. Um, but ultimately I think I continue it because…I mean, I honestly, it’s not like – I don’t have that many followers. [Jodi-Ann Laughs] I’m not that interested. But I think I just, I have heard from people that when I talk about my mom, there’s something that people learn about her. And so, I think by memorializing her, it feels a little bit like an offering in some way. [Jodi-Ann: Yeah], of her to-to the world.

Jodi-Ann: I love that. I love that and I always get something out of it, too. I just, I spend a lot of time reading and looking at your pictures and just being in some way trying to be where you are, even though your experience is so different than mine [Yejin: Mmhmm], but try to find some way to be in community and, and learn from you and your mom, you know? And so I’m curious for folks listening who might actually share your experience in some way, you know, what would you want to share with them directly?

Yejin: Hmm. You know, there’s this sort of necessary tension between honoring when you’re ready, when you’re ready to start the work of healing, and then also pushing for yourself to be ready. I think that it’s a very nuanced place to be. But having some level of comfort in dealing with hard things and feeling like you have the tools to move through it is really important. And so there are many different modalities of healing, right, you know, you could choose a more traditional form of therapy. Um, you know, I know that there – I have, for a very long time been very resistant to like group things. Um, but actually, I’ve learned recently that I (in therapist voice) “should be looking into what I resist most because it’s probably an indicator that like, I have some shit about that stuff. “[Jodi-Ann: Yup] But you know, there are groups, there are so many different ways of-of healing. There’s like somatic coaching, there’s just so much that, um, so many kinds of tools out there. But I would really encourage folks to, even if they don’t feel ready to start thinking about what kind of tools they’ll need to start the healing work. Um, you know, ultimately also learning to be gentle with whatever people’s relationship is to grief. I think that whether you run away from it for a really long time until you feel ready, or you immediately delve into it, and it’s super intense, you know, these journeys are so subjective, and importantly, so but, um, having some trust in ourselves and our abilities to eventually move through it. Um, one of the things that maybe the last things that I’d like to say, a really dear friend of mine shared with me, um, after I had talked to her about also my-my PT experience, um, that her definition of strength is “the ability to eventually overcome something hard”. [Jodi-Ann: Oof]. And I love that because it’s [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] so generous in spirit. And it’s like, it’s not about timing. It’s not about immediately bouncing back. It’s not this like resilience. It’s just like you eventually learn how to move through something. And that is what strength is. And so I feel like, I’m still so far from being embodied Jodi-Ann, [Jodi-Ann: Laughs] like, so far, and I’m like, I am doing the work at a pace that feels okay for now. And I know I will eventually overcome this. And so it makes me feel strong, even if like in this moment, I’m not like, I’m embodied. I’ve practiced that I’m so mindful. I meditate all the time. I still hate meditation [Jodi-Ann: Yeah], and I’m doing it. Having a more generous understanding of what it means to be strong, I think can help.

Jodi-Ann: [Sigh] Thank you so much for this interview Yejin. I learned a lot from this, learned a lot from you, learned more about your story and your mom. And I just appreciate you so much for being here.

Yejin: I also would like to express deep gratitude for being a part of your orbit. And for you know, we haven’t hung out in a really long time, but like I feel this very active kinship, and relationship and appreciation. And I just think that’s really special. So thank you for having this project for centering people who really ought to be centered right now [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] and forever. Um, and for generally doing this work. It’s such an honor to be a part of this.

Jodi-Ann: Thank you. And one thing I want to do before we close, I want to leave our listeners with some of your recommendations. And so we’re going to go through someone people should know, something people should read, and something people should listen to. 

Yejin: I would like to uplift this, uh, incredible racial community justice facilitator and consultant. She’s also an interdisciplinary artist and formal civil rights attorney. I’ve been working with her doing some racial justice and equity work. Her name is Rebecca Kelly G. She dope. So check her out. [Jodi-Ann Laughs] In terms of something to read, I read this beautiful book last year called Sing Unburied, Sing – a novel. And it’s by this author, Jesmyn Ward. It’s this incredible, beautiful, haunting, uh, ghost story actually, following a Black family, um, along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, um, their fight for survival, but ultimately, it’s also a confrontation with a very ugly and difficult truths of what it means to be a part of this country. Um, so that’s beautiful – Jesmyn Ward, Sing Unburied, Sing. [Jodi-Ann: Mmhmm]. And then something to listen to one of my favorite podcast series is called The Hidden Brain [Jodi-Ann: I love that]. Um, it is so good, it talks about – [Jodi-Ann: It is] uses science and combines it with storytelling to talk about, you know, unconscious patterns of behavior and choices that we make as people. There are so many episodes and I was sharing with you earlier, Jodi-Ann, that one of the things that I love about the host is his ability to non-judgmentally explore with this deep curiosity, things that are really high stakes. And the only reason that I’m okay with this openness rather than like judgmental facilitation is because I trust his analysis and where he’s coming from. So, um, Hidden Brain is quite excellent.

Jodi-Ann: Yeah, Hidden Brain by Shankar Vedantam. He’s – just listening to his voice and just how he explains things and how he speaks with people is, I love it. Um, awesome. And so what can, how can our listeners find out about you and what you’re up to?

Yejin: Well, they could visit my website which is Yejinlee.co. I work as a Equity-Informed Career Coach and also have started doing consulting work around how to operationalize racial equity and justice within nonprofit organizations. Um, that’s where people can find me.

Jodi-Ann: Awesome.

Yejin: And then people can connect with me through-through my website. Thank you.

Jodi-Ann: Thank you.

[Music starts]

Jodi-Ann (as host): Black Cancer was created, produced and edited by me Jodi-Ann Burey. Thank you so much, Yejin Lee for sharing your story with us today. To make sure that this and other Black Cancer stories become center to how we talk about cancer, you can like, subscribe, rate and leave a review wherever you find your podcast.

Follow us online at https://blackcancer.co/ and on Instagram @_black_cancer

Trauma comes with endless wisdom for ourselves and for those around us. Tell someone you know about Black Cancer.

[Music fades to snaps and drum beats] 

Post-show Special:

Jodi-Ann: I do want to call one thing in. [Yejin: Yeah] Um, we can add this if we want, or we can just leave it as a post conversation or just something that’s between us but – you never said your mother’s name.

Yejin: Oh, holy shit. Ahh.

Jodi-Ann: What do you think that’s about?

Yejin: That’s really interesting. You know, I think actually a part of it is that most, um, people in the Korean language – you don’t call people, like everyone has their own title – so I’ve never…I would usually just say, Omma, [Jodi-Ann: Yeah] to describe who she is. So I think that’s a part of it. I think it’s also holy shit.


I also can’t remember the last time I spoke her name.

Jodi-Ann: Oh my gosh. I mean, definitely hold that but I just – I found that that was something interesting. [Yejin: Whoa!] and I was like, I don’t think she’s-she’s noticing what she’s doing [Yejin: I’m not, I did not notice], but as I’m looking at you and as you’re describing her, she is here and fully present. You know, [Yejin: Yeah] and this like ability to be embodied, you know, as we’ve been talking with someone and not even recognizing or needing to say their names. 

Yejin: Huh. Wow, I am going to sit with that. That is really interesting. What a basic thing.

Jodi-Ann: [Laughs] But it’s not [Yejin: I guess it’s not] it’s not basic, you know?

Yejin: I mean, it seems like, foundational. 

Jodi-Ann: Yeah. I don’t know. 

Yejin: Whooaa. Okay.

Jodi-Ann: But you keep that. You don’t have to – I’m not asking you to. I just wanted to call that in.  

Yejin: No, I-I appreciate that a lot. I Think that I have like a million thoughts swirling in my head. 

Jodi-Ann: [Laughs] I see it on your face.

Yejin: Yeah

[Both laugh]

[End of recording]

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