Free Like a Bird // Oct 2022

Feeling the presence of my Momma welcoming me into this new chapter of my life // Jun 2022

When every moment is
A choice you’re making
Just let it guide you
Down whatever road you’re chasing

Naama – Sultan & Shepard

It hit me like a granite wall when the words “divorce” left my mouth 6 months ago. We had just celebrated 5 years of marriage in January. We had secured a home to be built to house the kids we planned to have next year.

Boom. Wall. Tunnel vision. I feel like throwing up. What’s my family going to say? What will my friends think? How are strangers going to perceive me as a divorced woman?

Deep breaths. You’ve been through hard times. Take care of yourself. You’ve done your best. You both tried for 7 years. You knew your differences. You’ll always have love for one another. It was a true love match and it was special. But this will be hard….and you will get through this. “We” to “I” will become easier to say out loud.

Maybe I am learning how to love me more

Just a little bit (love me more)
Just a little bit (love me more)
Oh, I’m gonna try to (love me more)
With a little bit of love (love me more)

Love Me More – Sam Smith
Monterey, CA // June 2022

After moving into my little SF studio in May with my dog Wonton, I went on plenty of solo adventures, surrounded myself with my friends and family, and re-discovered myself.

It was liberating, exhilarating, moving, exhausting but in the best way. It was also a weird adjustment, seeing as I now spent time alone in my space without the partner I’ve been attached to for 7 years of my life. When times would get tough, I’d sent light and love to him, wishing him the best. I sang a lot, I biked a lot, hiked a lot, breathed fresh air a lot…doing all of my favorite things as much as I could. I listened to books, read books, still have books unfinished…went on long walks in the morning sun with the birds. I caught up with friends and family. I also made a lot of new friends. I challenged myself and put myself out there. I released the negative energy and welcomed all the positive the universe would give me.

I planned trips and activities every month until the end of the year. May was San Diego for a friend’s gorgeous wedding. June was LA, San Diego, Big Sur & Monterey. July was exploring Marin, climbing up Half Dome in Yosemite then to Seattle & the Gorge in WA, & a train to Chicago. August was Palm Springs for a bachelorette party then Cebu, Palawan, & Manila in the Philippines with family. September was Colorado with one best friend & Lake Chelan in WA for another’s beautiful wedding. October was Austin with more of my most cherished friends, and at the end of this month I’ll be seeing Amsterdam from a local’s eyes. In November I’ll be spending Thanksgiving in Arizona with family. In December I’ll be in Europe again, then spending the start of 2023 in the Grand Canyon. And when I was home, I continued to teach 5 Pilates classes on Saturday mornings.

What a time to be aliiiiiiiive! I’m in awe of the beauty I see, the grace I experience, and the support I continue to receive.

You are exactly where you need to be

You are exactly where you are meant to be

You are enough

My daily affirmations
The start of my new chapter // May 2022
Fresh, salty air + morning sun // Jun 2022
An epic approach to Half Dome // Jul 2022
Reconnecting to my roots // Aug 2022
Exploring the moon // Sep 2022
Feeling freeeeeeeee // Oct 2022

Though I’ve gotten tired of spending time on an airplane, I’ve spent every second of every moment of the last 6 months of my life as present as ever, getting to know this version of me. The best version of me yet. And I am so grateful to each and every single person who has touched my heart and soul during this complex time in my life. Thank you for listening to me, checking in on me, making sure I’m okay, that I’m happy. Thank you for loving me in the way I need to be loved. Thank you for being you and for giving me your time and space.

Home with my girl // Oct 2022

Everything feels good, it feels healthy, and I feel whole. Onwards and upwards. Sending light and love to my wasband. Sending light and love to all my loves. Thank you all for sticking by my side and following me on my journey.

I’m experiencing the magic of love every day. I’m feeling free. & I continue to live my best life to honor the life my Momma has given me. She continues to send me presents here on earth and my most recent gift has been the best one yet…Keep ‘Em coming Momma!

I hope you know

The love you bring, the song you sing
I overflow, I hope you know
I hope you know

My current mood
Is gratitude

Gratitude – Above & Beyond
Magic on the lake with my gift from above

I will be blessed – Ben Howard // Sep 2022

Honor, Serenity, and Joy // Dec 2019


“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”

The Serenity Prayer



Hello people of the world, those who have followed my journey from the beginning and have been tuning in on Wednesdays from around the globe to see if I have had any recent posts. I won’t apologize for my absence because these past 6-8 months of self-reflection and self-discovery have helped me immensely in figuring out how to honor my mother, discover serenity amidst the chaos, and find joy in the things I do. Today I post this on a Tuesday because it’s a special day and I know my mom would appreciate me taking the day off to unwind, reflect, breathe, and focus on myself after all my life’s crazy and consuming moments. She always worried that I worked too hard, too much, was always on the move and needed to slow down. So Momma, this one, as are many things I do, is for you.

Today marks two years since her death. I’ve had to learn how to calm the constant stream of questions that plagued my brain and led to my anxiety. Questions like: How do you heal a broken soul? How do you put an emotionally broken family together? How do you heal those wounds? How do learn to let go of the things you cannot change? How do you find joy in tragedy? How do you let someone in again?

I am having a hard time writing this because life has truly been great to me these past 6-8 months. I’ve felt more like my silly self. I’ve been able to move more freely. I’ve been able to concentrate on career, family, and friends. I’ve been able to let go of self-pity and accept my new reality. So when I think about the bad and ugly that has happened this year, I can’t help but shake in anger and feel emotional. I shake my head as I write this because in my anger, my mom’s spirit has told me to find serenity. I find her prayer, the prayer that she read when she had doubts and fears. A prayer she wrote down on her phone’s notes that I found after she passed…a series of intimate reflections as she coped with the cards God gave her.

If there is a silver lining I find from her passing at the age of 50, its that she has challenged us to find a life that is purposeful, graceful, kind and joyful. This requires self-awareness, empathy, respect, and courage–all qualities my mom, my dad, and my mentors have taught me as I’ve grown up and qualities I find in my close circle of friends that I consider my family. Goodness gracious do I feel blessed to be surrounded by these humans.


Honor: regard with great respect

It’s a word we don’t use often but hold so much weight. This year, I’ve found so many ways to honor my Momma.

It’s in the interactions I have with others. How do I show this person in front of me that I respect them as a human being? How do I become a better listener? How do I become a better ally?

It’s in the things I do with my body. How do I nourish my body? How do I take care of myself? Am I giving myself enough rest? Am I releasing tension effectively so I can move more freely more often?

It’s through these actions I feel her the most. When I am learning how to be a better partner and friend, I feel her the most. When I am treating a stranger with kindness, I feel her the most. When I empathize with someone as they share their stories, I feel her the most. When I am rested, awake, and active, I feel her the most. I try to honor her every second of every day.


Serenity: the state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled

This is probably the hardest one I’ve had to learn. For most of 2018, I did not find serenity. I found the opposite: chaos, anger, sadness, anxiety, bad energy. They say time heals all wounds and I am a believer but it’s not just time that’s going to heal those wounds. You, yourself, need to help yourself heal your wounds. Only you can control how to react and accept. Only you can teach your mind to cope with triggers. Maybe you’ll have guidance along the the way, like my therapist that I was helped me through the roughest period of my life. But in the end, I had the power to change and grow.

Finding serenity has been so relieving for me. I had to learn how to accept the things I could not change. I had to muster up the courage to change the things I could change. I needed to develop the wisdom to know the difference between what I could and could not change. Through talking to someone, through meditation, through movement, through music, I have found serenity. I have found the one connection I could rely on to find my mom when I am lost.

I remember one of the first times I meditated after her loss. I lashed out in anger at my husband (don’t remember what caused it, classic angry Raelene) and needed to take a timeout. So I went into our apartment’s gym, turned on some loud music, cried while on the bike, got off the bike, then closed my eyes and meditated in silence. I thought of the last time I talked to my mom, the last time I held her warm hand. I had a huge breakthrough that night. In that room, while my eyes were closed, I imagined my mom and her hand and slowly my hand started to close and I felt warmth. I felt her spirit and I cried on the floor. What I would do to hold her hand again.

I’ve had a few more moments like these sprinkled throughout my past two years of grief, acceptance, and recovery. Those are the moments that I hold onto. When situations have gotten out of hand, I’ve reminded myself of serenity and how to find that again. You can only find it when you let go of the bad juju. I know that in time, the day will come where people will let go of their anger, learn to cope with their grief in a healthy way, and eventually feel the serenity my mother’s spirit has taught me.

I have shared these moments where I find her and through sharing those stories, I am also keeping her memory alive. I’ve also been able to help people recover from their grief too. She’s always with us. Maybe in your times of serenity, you have found her, too.

When I am serene, I feel her the most.


Joy: a feeling of great pleasure and happiness

When I finally felt emotionally balanced enough to watch Inside Out, that was when I remembered joy and how little I felt it, or was at least aware that I was feeling it, after she passed. It sounds silly, but grief is no joke. I didn’t even really have time to grieve for my grandpa’s death because a week after, my mom was in the hospital and for this, the process, I knew, would take some time. It took me almost a year after her death to muster up the courage to visit her final resting place. It took me more than a year to not feel triggered when others would talk about their mom and just be happy that they had a great relationship with their mom. It took me more than a year to open up and welcome my future stepmom into my life.

Life is all about adjusting and adapting to our environment so here are some moments that have brought me joy the past two years:

I know I felt joy at my wedding but I wasn’t really aware of it.

I felt joy again when I traveled to Amsterdam, Greece, and Rome with friends.

I felt joy again when I cooked an amazing Christmas dinner for my family at our home.

I felt joy again when I was able to let go of my anger and sadness and give my husband my unconditional love and affection

I felt joy again when I got my offer letter from Amazon and took the photo for my blue badge, knowing all the summers spent working, free time spent learning a new skill, and focus spent on professional development led me here.

I felt joy walking around Ireland with my best friends and adventuring by myself in France.

I felt joy again when I mowed my lawn after the spring and sat in the sunshine with my husband on our deck while we watched our two dogs run around.

I felt joy again when I danced my heart out with friends at the Gorge.

I felt joy again this past week when I was messing with my little brother and sang Christmas music in my kitchen while my husband watched in embarrassment and our now three dogs feared for their safety.

I continue to feel joy and for that, I am so grateful to be human. Those dark moments needed to happen so I can give it the attention it deserved and get to where I am now: a more balanced human being who knows when enough is enough and when to lean in if needed. A more balanced human being that knows how to cope with anger and sadness and feels free in moments of joy. I also give partial credit to Marie Kondo for this one. Do things that spark joy! Keep things in your life that spark joy! Doesn’t mean you should throw away the bad because that’s part of your journey as a human, too. Life isn’t about living through rose tinted glasses. It’s about living in the present. About seeing things as they are. About feels emotions the way they should be felt.

When I feel joy, I feel her most.


In loving memory of Librada “Levy” Balagtas Olivares

01.18.67 – 12.03.17

Happy Wellness Wednesday (Tuesday)!

I plan to release snippets of my reflections and thoughts every other Wednesday so as to recharge my mind and prepare for the rest of the week to come. As I sift through my memories and share the good, the bad, and the ugly, my intention is to promote self-care and self-discovery as we walk, crawl, skip, and run through life.

This blog is meant to be an open space where I share my deepest thoughts, while remaining poised for the Internet and to strangers who may not know me but are reading my story.

This is an evolving blog, with the eventual goal to inspire those to share, to be present, to find balance, and to be fearless.

We all have a story and I am choosing to share mine with you all.


Thank you for your interest! Comment below or contact me if you want to chat 🙂


Just out here living life // Jan 2022


When we are apart
Still feels like
Feels like home

“Home” – Ben Bohmer

My little crew enjoying an afternoon walk in Stinson Beach, CA // 12.03.2021 (Mom’s 4th death anniversary)

“Grief comes in waves” – Them & Those-who-have-experienced-it

The last time I wrote in my little internet diary was about a year ago. Leave it to my mom to get me to document my life so I can look back and see how I progress through life–the 18th would’ve been her 55th birthday and just last month was her 4th death anniversary. John and I also celebrated (well…in quarantine because we both got covid) our 5th wedding anniversary on the 21st! For those who have followed my journey, how wild is that?! Time has just gone quickly and just as slow at the same time.

What has made it go s l o w l y:

  1. Being in a time-warped pandemic where we had to learn to sit still for two years. I don’t really have any photos to showcase this point because frankly, I was doing nothing productive or worth documenting and just passing time. Activities include: watching/crying/laughing from Schitt’s Creek, painting my garage white with 4 coats of paint, having video calls with friends and family complaining about being stuck at home, walking around during a gloomy Seattle winter, eating more junk food than I was supposed to, driving around the Seattle area aimlessly because there was nothing better to do, enjoying the PNW outdoors when the sun eventually came out, in which case I documented, but didn’t do in 2021 for more reasons I’ll share below, and staring at my computer screen while working long hours just to make the time pass by. Was that too depressing? Because it was. And I eventually went back to seeing a therapist, but more on that later!

2. Having times of doubt of what I’m supposed to be doing with my precious time. I’d always ask “WWLD” or “what would Levy do?” in those particular situations, which is a term my mom’s best friends shared with me and has also helped me when I miss her and would’ve historically called or texted her to get some motherly advice. Levy would usually say things like “Anak, you already know what you need to do, you just need to actually plan and execute it” or “Raelene, I raised you to do the right thing and always follow your heart. Do both.” or “You and John are are team so both of you need to decide together, I am just here to guide you”, all of which I would just roll my eyes and say “Okay mom, that doesn’t help me at all but I know you’re just pushing me to be independent and decide on my own.” So alas, here I am honestly living my best life, all things considered. However, getting to these points where I am deciding between multiple outcomes have also been incredibly hard. Sometimes I’ll cry because I wish she were here to help me or just listen to my list of pros and cons. Sometimes I’ll have a little angry outburst and take it out on John. Sometimes I’ll just clam up and not talk at all. But those ups and down have led to many successful big decisions in the past year: 1) Renovating our WA home and making $$$$$$ after selling it, 2) getting out of a job I wasn’t happy in and pursuing a similar career path in digital marketing/advertising, 3) moving cross-country to NYC which was a lifelong dream I’ve wanted to fulfill, 4) interviewing for jobs in the Bay Area after moving for John’s job and landing a sweet gig at one of the best employers in the world, and 5) investing in our first investment property while also allowing us to buy in the Bay Area (a true privilege we are so blessed to have). You can kind of see my general thought process here…even though life gives you lemons, you keep making that lemonade and just try to make the best with what you have. Sometimes the lemonade will be more tart or more sweet than intended or hoped for, but the goal is to get “just right” more often as we experience our lives.

Me having a moment with my Momma while laying in the sun during a brief work trip to LA // Oct 2021

3. Breaking up with my romanticized version of what living in NYC would be. For those who ever had a lifelong dream of living somewhere, only to get your dreams rained on, this one is for you. I was about 7 or 8 years old when I realized how iconic of a city New York was from watching snippets of Friends when I wasn’t supposed to. Then I loved it even more when I visited during my 8th grade East Coast field trip and looked up at all of the lights in Times Square. Then I made it a goal to live there when watching Betty Suarez from Ugly Betty go from “Betty in Queens” to “Betty in NYC”. I applied to colleges in NYC and wanted to make it work but financially, it didn’t make sense. So in college, I tried to see if getting into finance would be a good fit because that seemed like what people did to afford to life there (silly Raelene!). Of course, while my big plans to move to NYC were in the works my junior year, I met my now husband, John, and my life was forever changed. Thankfully, I married a supportive life partner who also was open to potentially moving to NYC and we did! We tried…and lasted 3 months.

Happy Rae resting at Battery Park after riding around Manhattan in 92 degree heat (hello Statue of Liberty!) // June 2021
View from the top of The Edge in Hudson Yards where we can see our apartment by Madison Square Garden // July 2021

After seeing how unhappy I was in Seattle, he initiated the move since we were working remotely and we could try it for about 6 months before we’d be forced to go back into the office. And then flipping positions when we moved to NYC, seeing how unhappy John was from the dirtiness, crime, and weather, I couldn’t force him to live in NYC for 3 years like we had originally agreed on. So we moved to the Bay Area for our careers. We at least gave it a shot and I’ll make NYC work for me somehow in the future. But dang, shot to the heart. My heart was broken. I was sad my dream didn’t work out. Saaaaaad! I went a little emo and listen to heartbreak songs for a little while…”Heartbreak Warfare” by John Mayer, “Roots Before Branches” by Glee, and “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra were played on repeat during this period. I’ve recovered now, though. Took me about 3 months of getting settled in the Bay Area to know with 100% certainty we made the right decision. Team work makes the dream work! And also a little bit of time to let the the depression clouds pass over.

Sad Rae from Southern window of our Chelsea apartment in NYC // Jul 2021
Sad Rae with the Northwestern view of Hudson Yards from our balcony in NYC // July 2021

4. Constantly comparing myself to “pre-pandemic Raelene” who was about 15 pounds lighter than I am now. It took me awhile to accept that I am the heaviest I have ever been and I was not happy about it for a long time, which would make it worse and I’d just not care and not take care of myself. I didn’t have an eating disorder, but I did have an unhealthy relationship with food, often eating when depressed, anxious, and angry. The weight gain start around Fall 2020 when I was in the thick of working crazy hours in a job I was unhappy in, then spent another gloomy winter in Seattle, then moved cross-country and ate out everyday for 3 months (this was more happy weight!), and then moved again to an area that brought up a lot of anxiety as I hadn’t been back in CA for an extended period of time since I was caregiving for my mom when she was sick.

Social media was also not putting me in a place to be successful in controlling my emotions because I would have feelings of missing out when I saw people hanging out and about, of being less than because there were people who didn’t seem like their body changed negatively during the pandemic and that made me jealous, and of fake people on the interwebs just posting for likes. Sure, I could’ve switched around the accounts I was following but it was near impossible to ignore the voice in my head that would compare myself and experiences to others, so I decided to just delete Instagram in August and take a break.

These anxious and depressive episodes continued steadily until about 3 months ago when I couldn’t even fit my loose clothes and had to size up to sizes I didn’t think I’d have to wear until I was pregnant. It was this and also realizing that my company was going to possibly go back in the office around October so I had to start caring about how I looked and how I wanted others to perceive me (yes, I know, I should be doing this for myself) as the fit and healthy Raelene I’ve been during the best moments of my life. So I am giving myself grace as I get back to the weight range I am much happier in and where I’d like to maintain.

I also started seeing an amazing therapist when we moved to the Bay Area because ya girl needed some help with dealing with her emotions. No more excuses, just patience, persistence, and dedication to being the best version of me I can be. I learned some really neat techniques through CBT and am more confident in my ability to deal with stubborn emotions like anger and sadness. The past few months have been so good to me where I’m in training to be a Pilates instructor (I’ve been wanting to do this for years), have been routinely doing yoga, and found an awesome strength and conditioning gym in Palo Alto that I love. If anyone feels like they need help related to body acceptance and anxiety reducing techniques, there are many resources out there for you, free or paid, so please take advantage! Health is wealth, and this includes your mental health. Create that sacred space of healing for yourself, sis and bro!

Me (bottom left) with YogaSix yogis in Mountain View after a Friday practice // Dec 2021

What has made it go quickly:

  1. Making the best out of being “stuck” in the US and working remotely by visiting friends across the country, moving cross-country twice in our SUV from Seattle to NYC and then from NYC to SF, going to a few music events, and going on random road trips because “why not”.
The Austin City Limits music festival flags // Oct 2021
Siamese Twins @ Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO // Oct 2021
Laying down in the 2nd row of the car & snuggled with the pups en route to NYC // May 2021
Me hanging upside-down from a zipline screaming “WOOOOOO!!!” in Colorado // Oct 2021
Hiking in Asheville, NC with my best friends // Nov 2021
Visiting a home we bought in Lancaster, PA on Thanksgiving Day (also locked myself out, oops) // Nov 2021

2. Starting my amazing job at Google and focusing on learning, growing, and having fun. When we were planning on leaving New York City, it was mainly driven by the weather and dirtiness that made it not worth what we were paying to live there. John calls NYC “an open-air, landfill sauna”. I was originally planning on staying at Amazon and considering switching out of Retail/Ads to AWS for continuity. During our road trip from NYC to SF, I was juggling 4 final interviews with other companies including AWS and at one point, did one of them in our hotel bathroom in Nashville, TN! I continued to have interviews when we were in Arizona and in Santa Barbara, and ultimately got my offer letters when we were moving into our apartment in Mountain View. When I got my Google offer, I was so excited at the potential of learning about what the tech space was like outside of Amazon and had heard great things about working at Google. Flash forward to now, 4 months later, I have never felt more confident in my career path and am so excited to continue growing on my team. I never imagined working in advertising sales but here I am, and I am loving it. Google has also been so refreshing from Amazon where I have work/life balance, am able to unplug completely when I am not working, and also am surrounded by people who love what they’re doing and feel valued by their team and employer. My 2.5 years at Amazon taught me a lot about grit and how to manage a business and for that, I am thankful. Cheers to the future ahead! LET’S GET IT DONE FOLKS!

Me on my first day of work as a Senior Account Manager at Google SF // Sep 2021
Meeting up with my team at our office in SF // Nov 2021

3. Being where ever “home” is and spending quality time with my husband and our two pups. Perhaps this has been my favorite parts of the last year especially as we’ve moved to 4 different places. Pre-pandemic, I was always on the move and on a flight somewhere at least every other month. Now, I have learned to enjoy stillness, find comfort in peaceful environments, and seek moments that require one to be fully present in the moment. In the past year, I’ve travelled many miles and spent lots of time with my little fam enjoying life. As I wrap up this entry, we are snuggled on the couch and getting ready to submit an offer on a home in SF! I am so incredibly grateful for this life I live and look forward to the next few years exploring the Bay Area, having little Johns and Raelenes running around, and making some amazing memories in our future home. I wish my mom was here to see how beautiful my life has come to be as an adult, but I know she’s guiding me and us every step of the way. I miss her everyday and know she’s here in spirit. My family is solid. My dad and brother are thriving. What more can I wish for in this life?!

Sunset view from our apartment // Aug 2021
The bay bridge from my SF office // Dec 2021

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style

Maya Angelou

My wish is that all who know and love me, live a life fulfilled and to also thrive in their little worlds. My hope is that you find peace in stillness, live joyfully and with humor, and are comfortably living your best lives. May we make Levy proud and live the way she would’ve wanted: happy, surrounded by love, family, and friends.

In search of: // Jan 2021

Good Vibes, Reflections

“If I cease searching, then; woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it – keep going, keep going come what may.” – Vincent Van Gogh

Hanging out with these beautiful and majestic elephants in Thailand at Lanta Elephant Santuary, Jan 2020

Hello, people of the world! It’s been a little over a year since my last post and in some ways, Dec 2019 seems like just a few weeks ago and in most ways, it seems like years ago. What a year 2020 was, huh? Today I write not only because it would’ve been my Momma’s 54th birthday, but also because tomorrow I start on an exciting new journey exploring a new industry that I think will be the one for me.

One of my favorite memories was going backpacking in the Olympics with some close friends, August 2020

In search of: Stability

For the past few years, the one thing I’ve been in search of most is stability. I want it and sometimes I need it so I can keep on going, come what may. I needed it most in 2018 after my mom passed and I needed it in 2020, like most of us. As I reflect on 2020, as unstable as it was, it was the year of the most growth for me.

It was the best year yet for me and John. Being the social butterfly I’ve always been, I needed to learn how to be okay with not having a plan, find stillness in the chaos, and most important of all, be honest with myself and others on what I truly needed in the moment to feel like I had it together. I also learned the true meaning of what it means to be home. John has been my constant, one of the strongest roots of my growing tree, and I am very lucky that the universe gave me him as a partner and lover for life. We learned more about each other this past year and have some exciting plans to look forward to in the years ahead. Team work truly makes the dream work. ILY!

Enjoying the rare PNW sun on our balcony during a daily lunch break, June 2020

It was the best year yet for me developing a relationship with my mom’s spiritual presence. I feel her during more various situations, not just when I need her most, and that’s been such a treat. I credit this to meditation and learning to not have expectations. Just like today—I woke up and knew it was her birthday, but it wasn’t until now that I felt a mental nudge from her to write down my thoughts and share it with the world after more than a year of writer’s block. I talk about her more often and openly and am able to be emotional but not breakdown in anger and sadness. The emotions have also been more of a 70/30, happy/sad combination, which is progress for me. For example, I’ll experience something great and happy and I’ll say “Thanks Mom!” Or “Wish you were here!” And sometimes it’ll be followed with “Ugh, I miss you and wish you were here” with a few teary moments if the feelings were particularly strong. Either way, I am so grateful to have this stability of emotions following a very difficult period in my young adult life and I am so grateful to have known my mom so well that I can figure out how she’d guide me in situations where I feel stuck or lost. I am also so grateful for and proud of my family who has supported one another as we live our lives and honor her. Happy birthday my beautiful Momma! Thank you for continuing to love, support, and guide us.

Visiting my mom on her 3rd death anniversary, December 2020

With the pandemic affecting the micro and macro environments we interact with on a daily basis, it was only a matter of time until I would feel the domino effect of these influenced and sometimes forced changes in my job. Some of you know that I manage the outdoors category for one of the largest e-commerce retailers in the world. All of 2020, I was working 100 mph, not only because I was working towards a promotion, but also because of the intense demand my category saw through all the weeks in the year. It was in a way fulfilling for me because it meant that people were enjoying the great outdoors! But working for corporation that is customer obsessed, also means making sure you’re doing what ever you can to keep up with demand so you don’t miss out on any opportunities. Often times I would lose sight of my “why”. “Why am I doing this?” “Why am I putting this pressure on myself to get to this promotion if I am burnt out?” “Why do I keep pushing my limits?” “Why am I always seeking meaning in this job? Shouldn’t it come more easily? There has to be a better path out there for me.” This pressure and uncertainty took a toll on my mental and personal health and after a long drive with my best friend in the middle of summer to seek clarity, I decided that the retail industry wasn’t for me. I stuck to my personal promise where I work to live, not live to work. I decided to forego my promotion, let go of a little bit of my ego, and instead pursue a career that will fulfill me. After searching 4 months, I landed a great internal role in a parallel organization: advertising. I love working with brands and helping them grow their business. Best of all, I’ll be managing the brands in the sports and outdoors categories where I get to have continuity and work with categories that I have a personal interest in. Tomorrow is Day One again for me and I am so excited!

The inspiring Zion view I looked at when I felt my spark come back and knew I needed something to change, July 2020

With quarantine and working from home since March really affecting my mental health (I know I’m not alone here), combined with political instability, a depressing economy with so many people losing their jobs, and watching major cities struggle to figure out how to help small businesses and support those affected by COVID, it was incredibly difficult to find some sort of meaning to keep me going. I gained weight, was emotionally eating, didn’t feel like talking to people sometimes, and really wasn’t feeling like myself. Through meditation and daily check-ins with my mind and body (thanks Hatch), I discovered that part of it was because we lived in the suburbs where we were limited to what we can explore by foot and part of it was because our neighborhood was changing and made it difficult to continue calling our house a home. I felt like I was floating and couldn’t find a way back to the ground. Ultimately we decided to spontaneously move out of our suburb home and into a city high-rise apartment and live the life we were more familiar and were happy with, while we renovate our house and putting it on the market in the spring. Our end goal is to eventually move to a big city like NYC, so we’ll see where our life will take us and where we decide to settle and call a place our “forever home”. We know we like being in places with energy, innovation, and good food 🙂

On a morning walk on the Brooklyn Bridge where I felt so energized, alive and at home, November 2020

In search of: Joy and Fulfillment

As I think about my goals for this year, it’s really two things: to find more joy in the things I do and to find fulfillment in the career I am beginning. With these two goals, I am able to easily gauge my progress, make reasonable adjustments, and ultimately feel more stable and at home.

I challenge you to create attainable and simple goals as we continue to learn from this past year and grow as human beings. Let’s be more kind to one another, be more patient with ourselves, and have hope that we come out of this strange period of time as better friends, partners, and communities.

As my mom said it best: “a day without laughter is a day wasted”. Let’s laugh a little bit more and do things that will bring us more joy, even during a time of uncertainty and darkness. Much love, from me to you!

Be your own hero // Jan 2019



July 2015, Me after finishing the San Francisco Full Marathon: 26.2mi or 42km

When I signed up to do the San Francisco Full, I knew what I was getting myself into. The year prior, I did my first marathon the Seattle Rock and Roll, and was hooked. I wanted to try it again and beat my time since I now knew how incredibly exhausting yet indescribably exhilarating it was to train and complete an entire marathon. I enjoyed being called crazy. I loved the feeling of accomplishment. I love looking back and knowing I did that!

These last few months, as many of you know, have been the hardest, loneliest, most mentally challenging times of my young life. The death and absence of my mom hit me like a glacial wall. It hit me at different speeds, with each time increasing in velocity towards the reality of my situation. That was how September and October felt like for me. It was inescapable and the anxiety of the emotional outbursts seeping into my outside life was getting worse with every week I chose to deal with the scariness by myself.

I was afraid to open up to my husband for fear he wouldn’t know how to care for someone in crippling sadness and unpredictable outbursts from emotional triggers. I was afraid to open up to my inner circle for fear of dependency on them to hold me up. I was afraid to tell my dad for fear of interfering with his grieving journey.

Friends, now I know the power of sharing the burden. In November, I chose to start seeing a grief therapist and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I was finally able to talk about my journey to rock bottom to someone who didn’t know me. I had to share my story of my happy childhood, my frustration with my shortened teenage years due to my family’s struggles, and conflict with my early 20’s trying to be a carefree college student but also feeling the pressure to perform and succeed. I had these great internships and jobs and activities but it was hard to balance issues in LA while also building a personal and professional life in Seattle. I seemed to have it all, and I believe at a time I did, but as of late, I’ve felt like I’m losing ground again and it’s scary.

A few months ago, I was triggered by people who would talk about things they do with their mom. I knew I was in trouble when I was standing in line at Costco to pay for my food and these two girls behind me were talking about getting their nails done with their moms. I got in my head and was thinking, you’re lucky you can do that with your mom because mine is dead and I’ll never get a chance to do that again. Dark, harsh. I know.

I was also triggered by things I watched. For the longest time I avoided watching Crazy, Rich, Asians because that’s the last book my mom was reading before her brain tumor hospitalization and she said she wanted me to read it with her and see the movie when it comes out. We all know how this story went. I never got the chance to see it with her, but I did however, finally get the strength to watch the movie when it was available to rent. John watched it with me and I was bawling at the scene where Rachel was surprised by her mom at Peik Lin’s house. It reminded me of the most recent and last Mother’s Day card I sent to my mom. On the front said: “I will always need my mama”. And it broke me to once again realize that she’s not here. But in that sadness and tearful breaths I also remind myself that I will still, always, need my momma. It felt good to not be so angry at the situation. It was another milestone to tell me I was getting better.

It’s a unique situation to be in–to have matured so quickly, to have been so independent at a young age, to have been married at 22 and to have lost your mom at 23. It’s a lot and not many people my age have gone through a similar path. You’re in a constant cycle of re-discovery and re-invention and it seems like the point of comfort and stability is not within sight.

With the celebration of 2019, I promised myself to continue in the path of mental and emotional strength again. Truthfully, in the last few weeks, I’ve struggled to find the inspiration to stay on that consistent path.

I kept making excuses. It’s a new year but I still don’t know what direction I want. I’ll just sign up for the 16 classes in 30 days at my Pilates studio to keep me physically committed to something. That should be enough, right?

But oh, it’s my grandpa and mom’s birthdays in the first half of January, so I’ll reset completely after that. That’s when I’ll get back on track and eat well again and start reading and blogging again. But after their birthdays passed, I was still feeling very unmotivated and uninspired. There was a lot going on and I couldn’t seem to get my groove back on the right track.

Last month, one of my best friends recommended I read the book Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis. Since I have about a two-hour commute roundtrip to and from work, I listened to the audiobook. I wanted to avoid reading self-help books but heck, I needed something to keep myself mentally occupied and off the path of emotional instability.

This was the book’s hook:

Stop believing the lies about who you are so can become who you were meant to be.

I loved it.

My first impression of the audiobook was negative because I honestly got annoyed with Rachel’s LA voice (sorry, Rachel!). But I got over it after a few moments of meditation and self-talk to listen to the words and not pay attention to the voice.

Eventually, I started looking forward to my morning and afternoon commute so I can hear Rachel’s recollections and her ability to organize her memories and turn them into stories that inspire women to be find themselves and be their best selves.

It worked. So thank you, Rachel, for getting me out of this rut and for reminding me of my strength.

The last chapter was my favorite because it inspired me to blog again and share and get back on the right foot. It only took 30 days into 2019, but better late than never, right?

Throughout Rachel’s book, I found many ways of how I related to her: the death of her older brother, the struggle with personal appearance, the relationship issues she and her husband encountered and overcame, and her never-ending journey of self-discovery and knowing your self-worth.

Listening to her speak was like listening to my own self giving me advice.

The last chapter, Chapter 20, was titled: “The Lie: I Need a Hero”. That chapter, I was reminiscing on one of the proudest moments of my life. It was when I finished the San Francisco Full Marathon in July 2015, having only trained for 9 weeks. I had an ankle injury 3 weeks before race day that threw me off-schedule for the full. But I did the damn thing! But how? How did I do it then? Because I couldn’t imagine doing that now.

The days leading up to the marathon, I was mentally preparing myself for the half marathon. I’ve already completed a full so this half should be a piece of cake. I wanted to run a 9-minute mile average, two minutes faster than my first marathon’s average mile time. For context, I finished my first full in Seattle the previous year just over 4.5 hours. It was brutal. Katy Perry’s “Roar” and OneRepublic’s “I Lived” were my theme songs for that run because it motivated me to get to the finish line and get my first marathon finisher medal.

The night before race day, I was still a little bummed that I was only going to run the half.  My family drove from LA to see me finish the race. My best friend Rachel was in San Francisco with me and she was going to run the full. I wanted so badly to run that race with her! But my body was undertrained and I wasn’t mentally prepared.

I kid you not, that night, I had a dream that I finished the full marathon. I woke up on race day at 4:30am and started to mentally prepare myself at the possibility of fulfilling that dream. My family thought I was crazy. They said I would hurt myself and to only do the half.

“Ugh, fine. Okay you’re right. I’ll do the half,” I told them before Rachel and I left for the starting line.


As we waited to start the race, I was looking up the route for the half and see where the two races split off; half-marathon runners go the shorter way and full-marathon runners go the longer way. As we were approaching the starting line, I remember telling Rachel I was going to try to run the full. I was thinking about it, I dreamt about it and I think I can do it.

I was lighter than when I ran the full the year prior. Now, I knew my body, I knew my knees, I knew my mental resilience. I told her regardless, I’ll see her at the finish line and I’ll text her when/if I decide to do the full. I was running on adrenaline, endless positivity, and the want to get that full marathon finishers medal again. I wanted to earn my finishers t-shirt that said San Francisco Full Marathon on it, like I originally planned.


Here’s us at the start, where I told Rachel I’ll see her right here at the finish line. 🙂

As I started the first 4 miles of the marathon, I felt like I was on cloud nine. My curated playlist was giving me life and I had a smile on my face. At mile 6, I had my first energy gel. I was chewing it as I was running on the Golden Gate Bridge and I was feeling so inspired and motivated. At the end of the bridge, at the Golden Gate Bridge Vista Point where runners turned around to head back to San Francisco and continue running along the Presidio and through Golden Gate Park, volunteers were handing out packets of GU gel. It was a sign.

Not only were the GU gels my favorite flavor (Strawberry) but it came with 10 gels–enough to sustain me through a full marathon. I’ll need Advil I thought, but I knew the med tents would have that. As I ran back on the Bridge towards San Francisco I kept checking in with myself. How did my body feel? And most importantly, how did I mentally feel? Could I convince myself to finish the full and run for another 3 hours?

My phone was charged and I had battery to play my Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon playlist to keep me inspired and motivated once my Friso Marathon playlist ran out of juice. I now had the calories and nutrients needed to refuel. But I knew I also needed support, so first I texted Rachel saying I’ll see her at the finish line after I finish the full. Then I texted my family saying sorry and that I was going to finish the full so I’ll be done in three hours instead of one.


This is the photo I sent them, just as I was about to reach the fork where half and full marathoners split to continue on their routes.

I can’t describe the feeling of utter despair at mile 18, knowing I still had 8.2 miles to go until I could cross the dang finish line. I kissed my Grandpa Rey in Heaven and asked him to give me strength. Wiz Khalifa’s “See you again” was playing when I did this–what perfect timing. That song always reminded me of my Grandpa Rey.

I can’t describe the feeling of pride as I kept reminding myself that I could do this. I thought of my family greeting me at the finish line. I’d imagine it. The emotion and the happiness. I cannot wait!

Just one foot in front of the other. That’s all it takes. Just keeping on moving Raelene. I had so much freaking confidence in myself to get this done.

As I was approaching AT&T park, I started to see the finish line. THANK GOODNESS. Just a little under 3 miles now. Almost there. So close. I started to play my motivation anthems on my playlist:

  1. “Schoolin’ Life” – Beyonce
  2. “Super Bass” – Nicki Minaj (rapping this always did a good job of distracting me)
  3. “Power” – Big Gigantic & GRIZ
  4. “Divinity” – Porter Robinson
  5. “Avaritia” – deadmau5
  6. “Roar” – Katy Perry
  7. “I Lived” – OneRepublic

What a time to be alive to relive the moments as I pushed myself toward the finish line. My calves were cramping. My cheeks were slightly sunburnt. I was so hot from the constant sunshine and lack of hydration. But I kept telling myself, one foot in front of the other. You got this Raelene!!!

When I crossed the finish line, I could barely keep myself up. My legs were going to give out aaaaaany minute haha. I saw Rachel, then I saw my parents and I started crying.

What a tremendous accomplishment and what an incredible lesson to learn. I thank my village for mentally supporting me those 5 hours running on asphalt–on the infamous hills of San Francisco.


That entire race and those moments before and after the race are my “hero” moments. I was my own hero. And as I look back at that time in my life, I am so happy that I have that story to remind me of who I was, who I am and who I am meant to be. Because of that determination and resilience, I have proven that I can do anything as long as I have the will to do it. If 2015 Raelene can do that, 2019 Raelene is capable of that and more, so long as I tell myself I can and I will.

And I urge you to find a time when you were own hero when you feel doubtful of your direction. Be proud of where you came from–the journey it took to be here and be alive. Find your light, don’t lose sight of the dream, and believe you can. The rest is still unwritten 🙂

Happy New Year and until next time!

All my love,



Photo above taken during a butterfly release to celebrate my mom’s 52nd birthday on Jan 18th. I love her and I miss her everyday but her light shines within me, I can feel it 🙂

Happy Wellness Wednesday!

I plan to release snippets of my reflections and thoughts on Wednesdays as inspiration finds me so as to recharge my mind and prepare for the rest of the week to come. As I sift through my memories and share the good, the bad, and the ugly, my intention is to promote self-care and self-discovery as we walk, crawl, skip, and run through life.

This blog is meant to be an open space where I share my deepest thoughts, while remaining poised for the Internet and to strangers who may not know me but are reading my story.

This is an evolving blog, with the eventual goal to inspire those to share, to be present, to find balance, and to be fearless.

We all have a story and I am choosing to share mine with you all.


Thank you for your interest! Comment below or contact me if you want to chat 🙂

Beginning the Rest of My Life // Dec 2018

Good Vibes, Reflections





you haven’t felt yet.

give them time.

they are almost here.

— fresh


from nayyirah waheed


As I’ve been reflecting of what this post would become, knowing that my mother passed away a year ago on December 3rd, I’ve struggled to find a way to eloquently relay the feelings and thoughts I’ve had in the last year of adjusting to her being gone.

Thankfully I have my journal, my notes, books, audio books, and friends to help me organize the craziness of thoughts bouncing around my head as I accepted, lived, remembered, grieved, remembered more, mourned, grieved, and continued to live my life. I didn’t follow the typical stages of grieving but I felt a few of those moments so strongly that I had forgotten who I was and where I came from and who I wanted to be. Never in my life had I been so consumed by sadness and happiness at the same time that I needed to give myself hours and days and weeks to breathe.

But this is what it’s like to adjust and move on from such tragedy in life. You live in it, float in it, jump in it, and be in it, without choice. You have no choice but to just feel and be and figure it out.


”Just Go With It” – Chromeo, Oliver

My mom took her last breath the early afternoon of Sunday, December 3rd, 2017. She was 50 years young. She was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer that had metastasized to many parts of her body that prohibited even the simplest of movements like getting up from bed. After she got diagnosed, she simultaneously received radiation and chemo to treat the aggressive nature of the cancer and she almost beat it. She almost beat it for 15 months.

She went through emergency brain surgery to remove a tumor that took her and everyone who supported her, by surprise. She survived brain surgery and tried to beat the continuously growing tumors in her body due to hospitalization and inability to receive treatment for 8 weeks. For 8 weeks she fought, she got better, but unfortunately wasn’t able to conquer what was killing her.

Levy Olivares fought her very best. I was there to see it. Many were there to see it. I believe that she didn’t choose to join the Kingdom of her God, but simply let the pain she felt from her organs shutting down and lifted them up so she can be relieved and free of pain. Her heart then stopped and that was it. Slow to breathe, gently beginning to settle into the new life of being with the angels above.


Two days after the “Best Last Day” I was on the phone with my dad to talk about my mom’s current state. After Thanksgiving weekend, her condition started to drastically deteriorate. She had an infection and was showing early signs of liver failure.

That night, I went to my friend’s house to share this news. I told her that I had a feeling this was going to be it. I just had a feeling. Her liver was failing. What major organ was next? I had two days until I was back in LA again. I purchased a series of plane tickets as a gift to my mom so I’m with her. Thank goodness I did that.

As I packed my small 19” carry-on bag, I thought long and hard about what I should pack. Should I just pack for another weekend trip or pack for the end? I did both.

I packed for the weekend: two pairs of pants, three pairs of shirts, a pair of boots, and running shoes. I also packed for the end: an elegant black, boatneck Jones NY midi dress that I bought with my mom from Ross when I was working in wealth management and tan leather wedges and black and gold earrings from Tory Burch she bought for me on our last shopping trip just a few weeks before her brain tumor scare. I wanted to look put together and I also wanted to be prepared (hence the wedges for grass at the cemetery and dress with pockets for my phone and car keys). I also packed a pair of black Aritzia pants just in case I needed it for a night service (the vigil) and black Cole Haan kitten heels to match. How I planned for this at the time, I don’t know. I’m in awe that I even did this.

I arrived in LA Friday night, just 5 days after I saw her last. It was bad. She was fearful. She was tired. She was intubated and had a refrigerated blanket to keep her temp down. It was not good. I felt so helpless. I couldn’t do anything to “fix” her. I could only comfort her and be there with her, holding her hand. I could only give my dad hugs and give my brother kisses.


That Sunday, when I received the text from my dad stating that my mom experienced a heart attack, I already knew what I needed to do and how I needed to be but it’s truly in these last few months that I have slowly figured out how to be without her physically here.

Thank you to my Tita for being in the car with me while I swallowed the news, called my friends, and picked up my brother from a conference. Your presence with me as I received that text and gathered my thoughts and drafted my plan of action was so crucial to my handling of things thereafter.

Thank you to the family and friends who were already there, thinking that it was going to be just a normal hospital visit in the ICU. Thank you to my Tito for being there for my dad as he received the news that his wife’s heart has stopped beating.

Thank you to my Ninang, Ninong, and Tita for your countless car rides to and from the hospital—for being our sounding board when we had to make difficult decisions and for making sure she was never alone. It’s sad our roles ended that day but from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being the best example of sibling love I have ever seen. Your dedication and love is inspiring and I’m proud to call you part of our village.

I am so thankful that when that December day came, our entire system was there to say our goodbyes. Her family was there to pray for her and be with her. Her friends were there to say their goodbyes. My friends were there to say how much her love for them impacted their lives. It’s amazing to think that when my mom joined the angels, she was never alone. She was loved and supported and cared for until the very end. She seemed to be at peace and that’s all we could wish for. Rest In Peace, my dear Momma. I’ll try to be a good cook for you and promise I’ll reach the heights you always wanted me to achieve in life and love.




“O” – Coldplay

Recently, I had a conversation with a close friend about dealing with what comes after.

The worst day of my life was not when she passed but when I realized the reality that I now lived in was a reality where my mom is no longer and never will be. That was this past September. It took me 9 months to get to that point and 10 months for me to wrap my head around what happened and think about how to be after carrying the weight of this forced reality with me.

It was so painful–the sadness, the anger, the fear, the questioning, the uncertainty, the acceptance that the woman who gave you life is no longer here. But damn, I got through it.

I am still going through it–but now with a sense of peace as I find ways of doing things that remind me of her versus not doing anything at all and feeling things that I know she would want me to feel versus not feeling anything at all.


“breathin’” – Ariana Grande

It is really quite amazing to see how humans and life forms respond to tragedy. Flight or fight kicks in. Instinct.

“How did you get through it, Raelene?”

“I don’t know. I just did what I knew I needed to do or what I thought was best.”

When I look back at everything I experienced the last two years, I get exhausted but I am proud of myself in being resilient and trying to adapt to the change.

Here’s the last two years in a nutshell:

1. I left corporate finance at Boeing and switched industries to commercial real estate brokerage.

2. I went to LA to take care of my mom for a summer after she got diagnosed.

3. I got engaged and we got married (!!!) John, if you’re reading this, I love you.

4. I adjusted to having my mom back and treated her like my best friend again and not as my mom who is sick and is my patient.

5. I watched my mom reach new heights then deteriorate and almost make it out.

6. I saw my mom’s last breaths and said my final goodbye.

7. My family worked together to plan her funeral and her celebration of life.

8. We celebrated our first Christmas without my mom in Seattle. And my dad and brother got a sweet dog named Chester 🙂

9. John and I celebrated our first year of marriage. A few months later, we had our wedding celebration in LA where 170 family and friends gathered to celebrate us both. My mom was there in spirit, she was everywhere 🙂

10. Left commercial real estate and embarked on a new adventure back in corporate America at Starbucks. Thank you Digital Finance team for ignighting my fire and being my breath of fresh air!

11. I traveled to Europe with my best friends, had a trip of a lifetime, remembered and experienced the feeling of joy, and reconnected with my mom at the Vatican for the first time since her death. The Italian woman next to me in the chapel gave me her tissues and she shared that she recently lost her dad too. We both cried.

12. Came back to Seattle and John and I bought a house in the suburbs. Goodbye to the city life! I also bought a Prius! Woot!

13. I started a new role at Starbucks in Digital Marketing, entering a completely different industry from the finance worlds I was familiar with for 5 years.

And here I am now. Still growing and learning and feeling. And adjusting.


“My Life” – ZHU

I have learned that life is all about adapting to the constantly changing environment around you. The world will always turn and life around you goes on. And sometimes you fall and get back up. And sometimes you reach new peaks and grow. I will always want to grow, but now I have learned to slow down and find solace in the falls because it reminds me of where I came from and where I want to be. Grief demands it and it’s part of the journey of moving on.

As I approach a new year, I challenge myself to continue to give myself space to breathe and think, while also acknowledge that the pain and sorrow is of the past and this is a new chapter. This is the beginning of the rest of my life. I will forever carry her heart in mine. I’ll continue to be a daughter and friend to my dad. I’ll continue to be an Ate and friend to my brother.

I look forward to taking my experiences from 2018–my growth year—and applying them all to make a better, stronger me.


“Best of Us Go Down” – Aquilo


Lastly, as I move on and leave the pain behind, I want to thank every single person who has reached out with support and love. These last few years, I have drawn strength from many of you, who have reminded me of my age, my humanity, and my needs as such.

Thank you for the dozens of prayer groups that held my mom in their thoughts, for these friends and strangers also gave my mom strength to overcome and fight.

Thank you for the friends and family friends who have become permanently etched in my heart as family. You are all so amazing and it brings me tears to feel your kindness even as my mom has passed. You are her fighters, someone’s hero, someone’s brother and sister.

Thank you to my friends for holding me in times when I couldn’t keep myself up. Thank you for crying for me when I couldn’t feel sadness and just felt anger and confusion. Thank you for loving me when I didn’t know who I was and unsure of how to find myself. Thank you for responding and for following up. Thank you for showing up. I love you forever for that.

To my husband, thank you for your unconditional love—for fulfilling the idea and turning it into something tangible. Out of choice, you always chose me and chose us. You believed that I will recover and will return to the woman who was full of life. Because of your love and support, I believed in myself. So thank you for never giving up, always forgiving me in times when I projected anger towards you and always asking how you can help. Thank you for letting me be me and accepting me as I am and for showing me joy and laughter when it was hard for me to see other than dim and darkness. I love you infinitely, now and forever. Here’s to the rest of our lives together as we approach the celebration of our second year of marriage!

As I close this chapter and enter a new one, I hope you’ll follow my journey of discovering self and experiencing the new. It’s quite weird to feel like I’m turning back the clock because for years I felt like I was a 40 year old in a 20 year old body. Now I can figure out how to be a normal 20-something and see what’s out there!


“show me” – San Holo


In loving memory of Librada “Levy” Balagtas Olivares

01.18.67 – 12.03.17


The Best Last Day // Nov 2018



Photo taken Saturday, Nov 25, 2017. Me, my mom, and my husband John 🙂

This time last year, I was preparing for the end. After spending the Thanksgiving weekend at the hospital, I got back to Seattle with a light due to my mom’s drastic improvement and high spirits. After a phone call with my dad a few days later, that light dimmed. And part of me had a feeling. Part of me knew what might happen the next time I would be back in LA.

The Last Month

Just before the Thanksgiving weekend, the week of November 20th, my mom was making suuuuuch amazing progress. She was a warrior and fought through the pain so she could get into a rehab hospital and get better. She wanted to go home.

In the beginning of November, she was still in the ICU, having 24/7 care from nurses and doctors. Two weeks later, she was having miraculous progress (of course she was!) and regained motor functions like swallowing and chewing and started to have coherent conversations with those around her. It was sooo relieving for everyone that she was well on her way to recovery.

Here are a few photos of her progress mid-November:

Mom being funny and pretending to eat her “donut” that was used for her hand-strengthening exercises (isn’t she cute?! AND her brows…kilay (eyebrows) is life, amirite?!):


Mom sitting down in a chair after being in a hospital bed for 6 weeks:


Mom breathing fresh air for the first time since her hospitalization with aid from her older sister (my Ninang) and a nurse (not pictured):


By Thanksgiving week, she was approaching 8 weeks of being in the hospital and it was driving her crazy being confined in a place where she didn’t feel like it was her home. She just needed a few more days of being healthy and make continued progress and her doctors would sign off on her being transported to the rehab facility that would bring her one step closer to coming home. Hopefully on Thanksgiving Day, she would be at that facility where we’d have Thanksgiving dinner there with family and friends.

But like I mentioned earlier, just a few weeks before her miraculous recovery, when she was in worse shape than her week-of-Thanksgiving self and attached to machines that were keeping her alive, we received an update from her doctors on what her timeline looked like. Thankfully, I was in LA when I was told of her future.

Beginning of November – 5 weeks in the ICU

On Friday, November 3rd, my Dad picked me up from the airport, then we visited my mom (routine at this point) at the hospital. She was heavily sedated and was sleepy but I told her I was here and would visit the next day just in case she could hear me.

When my Dad and I got home, he told me how much time she had left. Three to six months they said.

Three to six months. I started doing the calculations in my head. It’s November. She’s been in the hospital since the beginning of October. She’ll likely make it through Christmas. Phew. 

Oh shit. The wedding celebration. It’s in March. That’s month six. I don’t know about that one. She needs to be there. She planned it, she wanted that for the both of us.

I took this news, swallowed it, digested it, and accepted it all within a few seconds then hugged my weeping father. We were sitting in my old bedroom, the bedroom that she and my dad took since it had a connected bathroom and lower bed to make it easier for her to maneuver. My dad had been sleeping alone in this bed for 6 weeks now.

While holding my dad, I didn’t feel any tears welling up. I felt nothing. I only knew that it was going to be a tough road ahead. We had to tell my little brother. The miracle baby. The baby who was my mom’s blessing because she thought she couldn’t have kids anymore after her first fight with Stage II Breast Cancer at age 29 when I was two years old.

I put on my “strong Raelene, you-have-your-shit-together” hat after not wearing it for a year since my mom was on her way to being seemingly cancer free after that 2016 summer when she was diagnosed and I cared for her.

Here we go again, I thought. But this time, I had a worse feeling because I was already thinking this might be it. There might be an even slimmer chance that she’ll get out of the ICU and be well enough to receive chemo for the cancer that had spread to her brain and was slowly killing her while left untreated. She’s so weak. She’s already been through so much. How much more can her fragile body take? How much more is she willing to fight?

I slept that night, knowing that when I wake up, my world will be once again turned upside-down into a deeper abyss and the way out would either take my mom staying alive or me moving on after her passing.

The next day was a new day. I woke up, had breakfast with my dad, went to pilates, and hung out with my brother. He still didn’t know. My dad and I agreed we’d tell him together, that night after we visit my mom as a family.

It’s now Saturday, Nov 4, 2017. I know this exact date because I have messages that show when I was ready to tell other people about the gravity of what I had learned. Three to six months.

When I spent the day with my brother, it was a happy time. For the first time, I had an opportunity to watch my brother dance live on the stage. When I walked into the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, I couldn’t help but imagine what walking into this place should’ve been like.

My mom was supposed to be holding my hand as we entered the theater. We would’ve looked at the merchandise my brother would want and pay for it together. We would’ve taken a copy of the pamphlet outlining the schedule of events–actually she’d take a few because “memories” right? haha. Then we would’ve proceeded to walk to our seats, me helping her up the steps as she slowly wobbled up to our designated row. We would’ve sat down, talked, and excitedly anticipated the moment when my brother would step on stage.

Instead, I did this all alone. Thinking about how screwed up this situation is. It’s so unfair. My brother loves my mom…how is he going to take this devastating news? She might not even make it to his high school graduation. When she first got diagnosed with Stage IV, they told us she’d live anywhere from 2 months to 2 years. In 2 years from 2016, she would see my brother graduate from high school. She was supposed to be alive and make it. But now, she’s not. Three to six months, I thought to myself again.

As I entered the performance center seats and saw the stage, the energy I felt from the families and friends there was overwhelming. Parents were happy and holding flowers. Grandparents were sitting with their blankets on their laps. Cousins and siblings ran around from seat to seat, arguing which has the best view. My grandpa just passed away and now my mom is going to be gone. What is my family going to look like? 

This thought was so painful, so painful that I started to feel tears in my eyes. Wow. Tears. Feelings. That’s nice. I haven’t felt that in awhile. But I withheld from expressing and found my seat and quietly stared at the stage while waiting for the show to start.

I watched my brother dance. He had so much passion on the stage. So many of these kids did. It was their outlet, just like singing and playing the piano and guitar, and doing sports was to me. I was so proud of the little man he was becoming. I now had a duty to be as best of an Ate (older sister) as I can be to him now that I knew my mom wasn’t going to make it much longer.

After his dance competition, we had dinner then drove to the hospital to meet our dad. When we got there, my dad had an update for us from the doctor. In ordered to make it easier for my mom to eat, they wanted to move her feeding tube from her nose and attach it directly to her stomach. She needed to have surgery so she could receive her nutrients and the risk for infection would decrease.

“Okay,” we all said. My mom wanted us to be by her side until she would go into surgery so we stayed together, the three of us until she was prepped and ready for surgery. As we told my mom “see you later” and promised that we would be back when she wakes up, I couldn’t help but think about how bittersweet this picture externally looked. A family together before sending their loved one into another surgery, promising to be there when they woke up. Please wake up and have this surgery be smooth and successful. Please no more complications.

The surgeon said that it could take a few hours until she’s awake and ready to be transported back to her normal Level 1 CCU for recovery. It was already around midnight when we were heading back to the car to wait for her surgery to be finished. My dad and I were planning on telling my brother once we were in the car. He still had no clue in the world how bad my mom’s current state was. Ugh.

While we were walking to the car, I needed to tell my friends what was going on. I knew things were only going to get harder and I needed the support. This is what I sent them:


Knowing they were there gave me the strength I needed to tell my brother.

And so I did. We did. My dad and I did. We told him, “Mom has 3-6 months left. We need to make the most out of it and make her proud. We need to do our best.” As we sat in the car parked in the hospital lot, we started to learn how to be a family of 3.

And so my brother cried. I held him through the heaves and the puffs and the gasps for breath as he took in the information. As I consoled him, I just remember staring at a bush, thinking “Why? My mom was a good person and she loved with honesty. She has so much life to live. Was that not enough for the god she believed in?”

And as we waited for the phone call from the hospital saying that my mom was out of surgery, I just had thoughts. So many thoughts of life, family, and death. I let my brother and my dad sleep while I kept an eye on the car, staying up until 2am until I realized that it had been over the time that the surgeon had quoted.

As much as my dad wanted us to stay there to wait for the phone call, I told him “Mom knows that we are here for her. She’s in good hands. If there was an emergency they would’ve called by now. We all need to sleep and we need to sleep in our beds. Tomorrow is a new day and we will come back after we rest.”

So we went home, I tucked my brother into bed, gave my dad a kiss and assured him that everything is going to be okay in the end, and went to sleep.

The End of November – 8 weeks in the hospital

Fast forward a few weeks and we are now at Thanksgiving week. The week of the best last day. I call it the best last day because the week after the best last day, was the worst last day. It was December 3, 2017 when she died and joined the angels. But that experience is for next week as I continue to reflect and extract memories to share with you and memories to let go of and store in back of my brain so I can move on.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, beginning of November was when we heard the news of her timeline, the middle of November was when her health turned around and started to improve, and a week leading to Thanksgiving weekend was when we were all hopeful she was going to get well enough to be transferred to a rehabilitation facility and be on her way closer to home.

When John and I arrived in LA for Thanksgiving dinner, we were excited at the opportunity of spending that dinner together with family and friends at the rehab center. But when we landed we were notified that my mom needed to go into surgery because there was a tear on her intestine from the feeding tube that was causing internal bleeding and pain.

I was so excited to see her because for the past two weeks, I was getting texts and pictures of her improvement and she even FaceTimed me telling me that she wanted to see me and wanted to see John. So I was visibly upset to find ourselves back at the hospital, in the waiting room, hoping again that there will be no complications and she’ll be fine. This place was getting too familiar and I was hating the situation.

But even though the situation sucked, it was still Thanksgiving and there was still food to be eaten and a great community to celebrate with. So for Levy, we dined and feasted and prayed and laughed at our house.

After a delicious dinner, we all took turns going to the hospital as my mom recovered from the surgery. She was sedated but I was sure she can hear us all.

The next two days were spent in and out of the hospital. I was trying to balance being normal and spending time with high school friends but as soon as my mom woke up from surgery, she begged me to stay by her side. So I did. We all did.

What a great time to know who mattered. I learned through these countless hospital visits what true friendship meant, what family meant and what love in all forms meant. We shared the ICU family waiting room with many other families who were also going through a roller coaster of emotions. But hugs were shared, tissues were shared, food was shared, and for that community, I am thankful we all gave our families that space and respect.

Since my mom’s room was shared with 3 other patients, we were only allowed 2-3 visitors max per patient. But since we had a good relationship with the nurses and since my mom was a good patient, they sometimes would allow visitors in groups of 5-6 as long as we kept quiet and kept it brief.

I have a handful of memories from those two days spent in the hospital: tickling my mom’s feet to make her laugh, holding her hand while she got a PICC line inserted on her chest, sharing laughs with my family in the waiting room, watching John show love for my mom through storytelling, seeing my dad’s constant dedication to my mom even though he was sleep-deprived…I saw it all and I am so damn thankful for all of those memories because those were my last happy memories with my mom.

I do have a few memories I’d like to share with you all, though 🙂

“I am going to be the cutest mother-of-the-bride at your wedding celebration”

In order to keep my mom forward-looking and positive as she fought through the pain of having a tube externally attached to her stomach and recovering from surgery on her intestines, while also healing from her brain surgery two months before, I asked her questions about what she looked forward to when she got out of the hospital.

She said she looked forward to our wedding celebration and wanted to be the cutest mother-of-the-bride there. She’s clever because she also mentioned that of course John’s mom would be the most beautiful mother-of-the-groom there 🙂 She was just that caring and considerate. Bless her.


Of course, in true mom-fashion, she also looked forward to being a grandmother. Although I knew it in my heart that she wouldn’t live that much longer, I gave her that image and moment to take with her. She would’ve been such a loving, fun, and amazing Lola. I know that when the time comes, I’ll make an effort to teach my kids about the amazing woman that she was and would’ve been.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven

During the time when my mom recovered from the worst of the breast cancer to her time in the ICU, she was reading. I gave her a book to read and downloaded it on her iPad but she never really started it.

On my last day in LA before leaving for Seattle after Thanksgiving, I wanted to also prepare my mom for what was to come without making her scared. So I started to read The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. I had an hour left before I needed to leave for the airport and that’s what I wanted to do, was to read this book to her.

I read the book just as she was getting sedated for her pain meds that were administered every 4 hours. She would drift from time to time but I would wake her and make sure she was understanding what the story was about. My dad was there too, listening in and taking in the scene in front of him.


I only made it to the first chapter, and until now I haven’t been able to pick up where I left off as the action of turning the page makes it seem more final that she’s gone and I am not completely ready for that yet.

But it was happy. And I hope that that story gave her peace during her last few days on the earth.

Phew. I know it was a lot, trying condense the main events of November 2017 into one post, but I figured it would be best to leave it all on here before I post next week after celebrated her one year death anniversary on December 3rd.

I hope that these stories of pain and happiness have given you some sort of idea of what it was like to be there with me and my family as we suffered with and showed our love for my mom.

As this weekend approaches and as the reality of what next Monday December 3rd will be like, all I would ask is for you to think of the great almost 51 years of life she lived and spread her kindness to those you meet.

For those who don’t know me, I hope you have learned through reading my story the importance of celebrating the good, seeing the glass half full in the hard times, and knowing that to be human is to recognize the balance of living–of finding the yin to the yang, of discovering and learning and teaching and growing. It’s amazing what we can accomplish through these actions.

No one is perfect, but we can always strive for the best. To be the best. To do your best. My mom always said that. “Just do you best, Anak.”

Until next week, cheers!

Happy Wellness Wednesday!

I plan to release snippets of my reflections and thoughts every Wednesday so as to recharge my mind and prepare for the rest of the week to come. As I sift through my memories and share the good, the bad, and the ugly, my intention is to promote self-care and self-discovery as we walk, crawl, skip, and run through life.

This blog is meant to be an open space where I share my deepest thoughts, while remaining poised for the Internet and to strangers who may not know me but are reading my story.

This is an evolving blog, with the eventual goal to inspire those to share, to be present, to find balance, and to be fearless.

We all have a story and I am choosing to share mine with you all.


Thank you for your interest! Comment below or contact me if you want to chat 🙂


Role Reversal // Nov 2018

Scans 2 (28 of 53)

Selfless (adj.) –

Concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own; unselfish.

‘an act of selfless devotion’
Levy Olivares was a devoted mother, wife, friend, sister and daughter. She was loyal and loving and she was fierce when it came to caring for those she kept close to her heart. It only seemed fitting that I grow as a adult holding these qualities while honoring her spirit.
I learned about what it meant to be selfless the summer I temporarily moved back to LA after graduating from college to care for my sick mother. I learned what devotion meant. I learned what love meant. I learned what the circle of life was. I learned this through the switch of roles we experienced with one another. I was now caring for her as she did for me for 22 years.
“To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors” – Tia Walker, author
I was at my Filipino Graduation dinner on the Tuesday of graduation weekend when I got the phone call from “Momma Olivares” at 6:50pm, 10 minutes before the dinner was supposed to start. It was to celebrate me and my graduating class from the Filipino club I’ve been a part of the past four years of college. My friends were with their families and my two best friends were coming to support me in the absence of mine.
My mom, dad, and brother were planning on flying to Seattle that Friday, staying until graduation until Sunday afternoon, which was also my dad’s birthday. Then we were going to fly back to LA together, have a quick grad dinner nearby with the rest of our family, and from there I would get dropped off at the International terminal at LAX to leave for my six-week Asia trip I had saved up for 6 months.
Only my dad and brother were able to make it that weekend.


When I got the phone call that Tuesday night, I was already nervous. I knew to expect a phone call from my mom because my parents had more news about her cancer diagnosis. Just the day before we were informed that she had Stage IV Breast Cancer.

What we knew so far in the past three weeks of doctor appointments:

  1. They found a mass on her breast. (3rd week of May 2016)
  2. The mass is cancerous. (4th week of May)
  3. She has cancer of the breast. (May 30th)
  4. It’s Stage IV Breast Cancer (May 31st)

We had follow-up questions:

  1. How bad was it?
  2. She’s in so much pain she can’t even sit up or stand. Has it spread? She was just walking last week.
  3. How aggressive was this cancer?
  4. How much time did she have?
  5. What can we do?

I answered the call. On the other line was my mom. She asked how Fil Grad was going. I said Rachel and John are coming. I was straight to the point. I asked her what they found out.

“It’s everywhere, Anak. I am so sorry.” – Momma

“What do you mean everywhere?” – Me

Sobbing, pain, moaning in the background. No response.

“What does this mean?” I asked differently.

Things started to get hazy for me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and sat down on the side of the Hall while the dinner was continuing on.

I think my dad was the one who told me and answered my questions.

This is what I learned:

  1. The cancer has metastasized. It has spread to other parts of the body.
  2. Aside from her breast, it spread to these areas:
    1. Her ribs
    2. Her lungs
    3. Her pelvis
    4. Her hips
    5. Her T7-T9 spine
    6. Basically her entire thoracic cavity.

F**K. It’s no wonder she can’t walk and she’s in agonizing pain.

After speaking with my Tita who was a nurse and from that point forward our medical translator, I made the decision to hold off on my Asia Adventure, turn down my post-grad job offer and instead spend that time home in LA, taking care of my mom.

I made the phone calls to Hong Kong and the Philippines to let my relatives know why I can no longer come.

My mom’s wishes were to keep this private and to pray for her. So they did. Thank you for supporting our family and respecting our privacy during that time. You know who you are. 🙂

That summer 2016 was grueling. It was so traumatizing and de-moralizing that I can barely remember what I did and what my mom went through. All I know is that we did it, with my family’s help and with the supportive of our close-knit community. You know who you are. Thank you so much for being there for her and for us. 🙂

I took care of my mom. I fulfilled my duties as a daughter and it had come full circle. After two months of non-stop chemo and 10 rounds of radiation, my mom was still alive thanks to modern medicine and those who cared for her—Her “angels” as she would call them.

The memories I do have are both painful and beautiful.

Growing up, I would visit family friends who owned care homes and I had an idea of what this would be like but never imagined that I would be doing what the caregivers did at age 22. I imagined I’d be doing it at 60! But I made the choice to be there for my mom.

I wiped her butt. I cleaned up her messes. I gave her baths. I fed her. I administered her medication. I would clean up the messes she’d make in public bathrooms. I kept her distracted. I told her it’s okay. I told her it’s just a little mess and wipes will clean it up.

I drove her to doctor’s appointments. I memorized the perfect routine to the different medical destinations so that we can drive with the smoothest roads and the least amount of potholes and bumps. I learned to be patient and drive at 30 mph when the limit was 45 mph so there was less of a chance for painful, abrupt stops.

I helped her get up from bed even though she would be screaming from the pain with every degree she gained as her tumor-filled body lifted from the mattress. I learned to drown that sound so I could concentrate on carefully lifting her with minimal pain. I asked the radiation nurses on what their techniques were for patients like my mom and on what medical products we should buy to ease the pressure on her broken spine.

With the help of my Ninang, we prepared meals that were healthy and were advised for cancer patients. She needed food high in iron because she was anemic. She needed protein because she could barely keep her food in even though she was hungry. She missed tasty Filipino food but I told her no. She can’t have it, but she loved me for being a hard ass.

There were good times too, though. I made her laugh. I gave her kisses. I told her she could do this. I made her believe that she’s a warrior–that she had dignity and purpose. I told her stories. I held her hand. She had hope.

In her better times, she’d allow others to visit her so long as they promised not to cry,  not to wear perfume, and didn’t bring fragrant flowers. Eventually her best friends were notified of her condition and they even flew out to visit her. I learned what it meant to be best friends during those times I’d watch my mother spend time with her friends.

When she was able to get up from bed again, my brother and I took her for a short drive to a parking lot by the ocean. She wanted to smell fresh air but knew the beach was too far of a drive. As we sat in the car with the windows rolled down, we just sat there quietly as our mother closed her eyes and smelled the scenery around her.

My Ninang and I would switch shifts at night when I would sleep or she would sleep and someone would be near her door to answer when the bell rang so we knew she needed help so my dad can try to sleep. He always wanted to sleep next to my mom even though they could only hold hands and my mom was moaning in pain 70% of the time. My Ninang and I gave them that space. My dad would come home tired from work after being in the road for 12 hours and it gave my mom joy to be reunited with him after a hard day.

Almost everyday was a hard day.

Before bed, my mom would listen to a prayer series on her phone until she fell asleep. She looked to God for guidance and strength when she didn’t have any and it worked for her. People would come over and pray over her and she felt moved. So thank you to those who did that for her. You know who you are 🙂

When I woke up from my 6am alarm, I’d be lucky to have gotten 5-6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. My mom was in pain and she had so much fear for the future because of it. But damn that woman is strong and she got better, even for a little.

But honestly most of the time I was in LA, I was a freaking robot. It’s taken me two years to even begin remembering what transpired that summer. It was instinct and devotion that gave me the ability to care for my mom and stay sane.

There was one distinct beautiful memory I take with me whenever I think of my mom’s love and when I ask myself if I did enough after she died.

Around July 2016, after 10 rounds of back-to-back radiation and a few weeks of chemo, my mom was able to stand again and she was strong enough to hold herself up for a bath.

When I gave my mom a bath, a real bath in the shower and not with wet towels and wipes, she was so reinvigorated and happy. Her “ahhhhhs” and “ooohhhhs” made me laugh and she was in pure bliss. “I feel like I’m in a spa. Thank you, Anak!” She said.

As I helped her out of the shower and began to dry her fragile body, I was thinking “Wow, I can’t believe this is happening.”

I just gave my 50 year old mother a bath. 

I avoided eye contact with her while drying her so I wouldn’t show emotion during this pivotal moment in our relationship. But I eventually made eye contact with her, seeing her gratitude while gently wiping her face dry with a towel.

She said, “Thank you Anak for taking care of me. I used to give you baths and now you’re giving me a bath. I didn’t want this to happen so soon when you’re so young.”

I replied, “Of course Momma. I’m your daughter, it’s my job to take care of you because you took care of me.” That’s all I could say back before I knew I would start to show emotion behind my eyes–something I kept from her to be strong for her.

She recognized my pain and my sacrifice and I am forever thankful for that.

Because of that moment I have no regrets on how things transpired with my mom and it gave me the strength to continue on for another year and half until I saw her very last breath and knew I couldn’t do anything more for her.

But that story is for later. I wanted to end with this memory.

This beautiful memory of parent and child. Hug your kids and tell your parents you love them.

Thank you Momma, for giving me the honor of caring for you. It’s the least I can do in return for raising and caring for me. Miss you everyday!


Happy Wellness Wednesday!

I plan to release snippets of my reflections and thoughts every Wednesday so as to recharge my mind and prepare for the rest of the week to come. As I sift through my memories and share the good, the bad, and the ugly, my intention is to promote self-care and self-discovery as we walk, crawl, skip, and run through life.

This blog is meant to be an open space where I share my deepest thoughts, while remaining poised for the Internet and to strangers who may not know me but are reading my story.

This is an evolving blog, with the eventual goal to inspire those to share, to be present, to find balance, and to be fearless.

We all have a story and I am choosing to share mine with you all.


Thank you for your interest! Comment below or contact me if you want to chat 🙂



I am proud of you. // Oct 2018


Proud (adj.) – feeling or showing pride


About three years ago, I was helping out at a Gala for my school where I was overwhelmed from emotion at the gratitude I felt for those who got me to where I was.

I posted this photo and this excerpt to go along with it:

“In a few months, I’ll be the first person in my family to graduate from an American university. Without the courage of my family to make the big move to the United States from the Philippines, the scholarships I’ve received from gracious donors, and the drive to succeed from my incredibly hard-working parents, I wouldn’t be at the SeattleU Gala. Speaking to people that have made the opportunity to attend this private, Jesuit university was so humbling and made me so damn proud to be a Filipino-American woman who is gonna set the world on fiyaaaah!”

I’ve always been driven with a goal to succeed and create my path in this world. The values were instilled in me when I was young. I was 4 1/2 years old when my family decided to leave the Philippines and move to America with my Mom’s family for a chance of a better life and better education. I never forget my roots and the sacrifice it took to bring me to where I am.

One of the first things I remember when I moved to the U.S. was my Ninang telling me, “Raelene, you live in America now. You need to speak English so kids don’t make fun of you and you don’t have trouble in school.” So I learned to speak English, watched PBS in the mornings, met a lot of cool kids at school, and read a lot of books.

In primary school, my Grandpa Lu would walk me to school as I rode my pink bicycle with streamers and he’d always say goodbye with the phrase “Study hard, Raelene. Do well in school.” before walking my bike back to our three-bedroom house in Hawthorne, CA that sheltered 9 of my family members. So I studied hard, did well in school, participated in extracurricular activities my family could afford, and did everything I could to make sure I was a competitive candidate for colleges.

Eventually, after many years of hard freaking work and perseverance, all of my family members achieved their own version of the American Dream.

Boy, am I beaming right now as I type this. 🙂

Now, it’s my turn to live my life and make it known their hard work didn’t go unnoticed.

For the longest time, I knew what my purpose was and that was to make my family and my parents proud of me. For my little brother, it took him a little bit longer and little more pushing for him to get to the point where he recognized what the word “proud” meant and how powerful it is for a parent to say “I am proud of you.”

We are 6 1/2 years apart. I remember being in the gold Mazda minivan when my parents told me my prayers came true and that I was going to be a big sister to a baby brother. I remember being woken up in the middle of the night when my parents told me they were going to the hospital and the next time I would see them was when I was going to meet my little brother. I remember being in my 2nd grad classroom when my dad picked up from school and took me to meet my baby brother.

After all of the hardships my family has faced and worked tirelessly to overcome, I almost felt as if I raised this little guy. I call him my Little Man. In fact, his name is “Little Man” in my address book 🙂

He was always a shy kid, the kid that would cry when being held by people he didn’t know, and the kid that would rather hug his family member’s leg than play with other kids at parties. When he got to his sophomore year of high school, he started to blossom and become his own person.

He discovered dance and made friends from various dance teams. His personality started to shine and he started to feel a sense of belonging and purpose. As his senior year approached though, he still didn’t really know if he wanted to go to college and didn’t know what he wanted to study if he did go.

Coming from an immigrant family, this could be frustrating as you feel this pressure to know what you want to do and always play by the book. You seek a better life in America. You go to school. You do well in school. You go to college. You get a good job. Boom. Easy. Right?

Not so much.

When my Mom was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer, I heard the news the week I was supposed to graduate from college. It was also the year before my brother’s junior year when students are supposed to start thinking about where they will be applying for college and start studying for the ACT or SAT. My mom gave me the task of guiding him towards the direction of pursuing a college degree at a four-year university.

At first my brother was doubtful of his abilities and lack of motivation. He didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t until his senior year when the pressure of applying for schools was right in front of him, did he start to seriously consider his future.

After three weeks of discovering the brain tumor that invaded my mom’s head, she started to show signs of improvement and was continuing her fight to live. Eventually she woke up from her coma, was able to breathe on her own, and start to talk but she was still in the ICU, being closely monitored by the nurses and doctors at Harbor-UCLA.

It was a miracle, really. She was in really bad shape but she made it another step forward. The first few weeks after brain surgery was frustrating for her. Her speech muscles weren’t firing when she wanted and it was difficult for her to form words. She’d furrow her brows and turn her head in frustration when she felt misunderstood and helpless–a look that I had become familiar with and have etched in my memory of the painful times my mother endured.

Around the beginning of November 2017, I was visiting LA for the weekend to check on my mom and see her progress. I also wanted to spend some time with my brother and see if he had made any decisions on schools or if he wanted to attend community college until he figures out his path.

To cheer him up over our new situation of coming home to a house without my mother’s presence while she’s in the hospital, I got Chickenjoy and spaghetti from Jollibee and had lunch with him at home. I asked him if he had given any thought to college applications and to my surprise, he said “Yes Ate, I think I know what I want to do.”

I was shocked but wanted him to continue opening up about his thoughts on his future. I asked, “So, what do you think you want to do?”

He replied, “I think I want to be a nurse.”

My heart was so happy at this news. I had my doubts as I knew how difficult the road would be to get there but I believed in him so long as he wanted this. I felt so honored to be the first person to know about my brother’s plans. It was our little secret as I patiently guided him towards possible schools and letting him know the journey ahead from experience of friends who had gone through it.

That November night, my brother and I visited my mom at the hospital. I shared with my mom that John and I just celebrated a year since our engagement and went to Victoria, BC to celebrate. I showed her our photos and she smiled and said “Ah-pee” and I replied, “Yes Momma, we are very happy.”

I appreciated that even though it pained her to speak, she mustered enough energy to recognize the photos and respond back. I remember looking into her eyes as she fought to keep her head turned to me despite the bulge of medical wrap around her head that protected her delicately healing skull and brain. Oh boy, it pained me to see her struggle like that. But I brushed that pain away and tucked it in so I can focus on the good and keep her mentally strong.

After sharing that moment, I looked to my brother, then I looked at my mom. I asked my mom, “Hey Momma, want to know a secret?” She nodded her head up and down. Then I took her right hand, motioned to my brother to hold her hand and said “Lanz shared something with me earlier that I think you’d like to know.”

So my brother and I switched places, and my brother told our mom “Mom, I think I know what I want to do with my life now. I want to be a nurse.”

For the first time in a long time, I saw tears from my mom’s eyes. She was crying. Up until now doctors weren’t sure if she can show emotion like this. She was fighting to speak but her mouth and tongue just weren’t clicking and she turned away in frustration, trying to gather her thoughts. I can see she was thinking how to tell my brother what she wanted to say. Then a few seconds later, she turned her head towards my crying brother.

He continued, “I want to be a nurse so I can take care of you and help you get better. I also want to help people like you Mom.” It broke my heart to hear that, knowing that we weren’t sure how long my mom would make it. But I let them continue having their moment, fighting back the tears welling up in my eyes.

For a few more moments, my brother continued to cry onto our mom’s fragile hand, bruised from all of the needles inserted below her skin.

Then, our crying mother started mouthing “Owww” and I can see her lips coming together to say “Powwww” then I helped her out, knowing what she wanted to say.

I asked, “Are you trying to say ‘proud’?” And she nodded her head yes. She then tried to whisper towards my brother, seeing that it was easier on her healing throat after spending weeks on a ventilator.

She said “Prow of you” to my brother and he continued to cry.

When my brother and I said our goodnight to our mom, we got back to the car and I told my brother that I was proud of him for getting to this point. He opened up saying he’s been feeling so lost and had no direction and that wanting be a nurse finally gave him a sense of purpose and belonging in the world. He was overwhelmed from emotion.

He had never really heard my mom say that she was proud of him like that. He felt relieved and supported and so, so loved.

Now, my brother is at a Cal State school, beginning his freshman year of school with plans to apply to the College of Nursing after completing pre-requisites. That experience as the three of us in that hospital room will forever be cemented in my memory. It was a passing of a torch from my mother to me and a stamp of a approval from our mother to her baby boy.

Whenever there are time I am uncertain with my life decisions in the past year, I asked, would my mom be supportive of this? Would she be proud of me?

I think most of us children, no matter how old, ask ourselves this question. Whether it’d be in my twenties or in my sixties, I am sure I will look up to the clouds and the stars in the sky and ask my mom what she thought of my decision.

Momma, I love you. I also want you to know that I am so proud of you, too. For fighting, for believing, for being such a great mother, and for being such a light that many of us look to in times of doubt. I am so proud of you.


Happy Wellness Wednesday!

I plan to release snippets of my reflections and thoughts every Wednesday so as to recharge my mind and prepare for the rest of the week to come. As I sift through my memories and share the good, the bad, and the ugly, my intention is to promote self-care and self-discovery as we walk, crawl, skip, and run through life.

This blog is meant to be an open space where I share my deepest thoughts, while remaining poised for the Internet and to strangers who may not know me but are reading my story.

This is an evolving blog, with the eventual goal to inspire those to share, to be present, to find balance, and to be fearless.

We all have a story and I am choosing to share mine with you all.


Thank you for your interest! Comment below or contact me if you want to chat 🙂

Ten months // Oct 2018


My first try at sharing my thoughts with the world wide web.

“The Unknown” — ford.


It’s taken me ten months to finally open up about the struggle of adjusting to a life where the woman who gave me life is no longer here.

A year ago today, on Monday, October 9th, 2017, I was in the ICU at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Carson, CA, trying to find a way to communicate with my mom through sound and touch. She was in a medically-induced coma following an emergency surgery the day before to remove a tumor the size of your palm from the left hemisphere of her brain.

Look at your hand. Isolate your palm. That’s the size of the tumor attached to the dura (lining that protects the brain) in my mom’s head. This small detail that it’s attached to the dura and not the brain, gave my family hope. Hope that she might be able to recover with minimal damage to the brain and live the life she wanted to live. Just a few weeks ago she had a thoracic x-ray done that showed only tiny tumors left from her metastatic breast cancer diagnosis from June 2016. We all had hope she was going to be the miracle case that doctors would talk about when telling their patients about survival rates after being diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. She wanted to beat it so badly.

But at this point in time, we’ve been holding on to this word for almost a year and a half. This word hope. We’ve been attached to this word hope, thinking that it would make things better and help us deal with the tragedy in front of us. My mom was dying and the word hope didn’t give me comfort–instead it made my angry. It made me feel like I was living in a false reality where every good person lives to tell the tale of how they survived cancer. But I am a realist. I knew the chances, the risks, the hard future ahead no matter the outcome. After October 9,  2017, I didn’t use that word anymore to describe how I envisioned the future state of my mother and my family.

It got really dark after I left that ICU a year ago today.

I was scheduled to return Seattle on Wednesday, October 10th after taking an emergency flight to LA after hearing about my mom’s life-threatening condition.

Just two days before, on Sunday, October 8th, 2017, I was on a beautiful hike in the North Cascades with on my good friend from high school and her girlfriend. The day before the hike, on October 7th, I was told of the nasty tumor that invaded my mom’s head. Her condition was quickly deteriorating…we didn’t know how much time she had before the tumor in her head would kill her so she was scheduled for surgery on that Tuesday.

It was supposed to be on Tuesday, October 10th that she’d have the surgery to remove the nasty tumor. Instead, it was on Tuesday that I left the room that housed my mother and 5-6 other ICU patients fighting for their lives.

The scene I left behind was my dad trying to talk to my mom, telling her how strong she is, how she’s going to get through this, and how much my dad needs her to fight. It was her second time with cancer and the second time they were going through this together…they can get through anything. They’ve been together since they were 18. My mom just celebrated her 50th birthday that January 2017.

My mom was intubated, eyes swollen shut, head wrapped in inches of cotton and cloth to reduce the swelling of her brain. I took a photo if this heartbreaking scene and as much as I want to share this powerful image with you, I will keep it private so as to respect the intimacy between my mom and dad.

Around 8pm, just an hour before I left the ICU for the night (they were closed to visitors at 9pm), my mom communicated with me. I was with my Tita (aunt and godmother), my mom’s sister-in-law, when she communicated with me. I was talking to her telling her “Mom, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand or wiggle your toes for me.” I repeated this many times, waiting for the moment where her sedatives and pain medication would wear off just enough for her to regain consciousness and hear my voice.

For over 24 hours after the surgery she lay motionless, but on this night, she was moving so we knew she was aware and her brain was still functioning.

I repeated the task I gave her. “Mom, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand or wiggle your toes for me.”

For a year and a half, my immediate and extended family sacrificed everything to take of my mom. I sacrificed the summer I graduated from college to be her caregiver when I was supposed to travel through Asia for 6 weeks as a graduation present for myself and from my parents.

When I left to go back to Seattle, my Ninang (godmother), her older sister, stayed in LA to take care of her.

My Ninong (godfather), her older brother, would drive my mom to her countless appointments and chauffeur my little 17-year old brother to his extracurricular activities to relieve my Ninang.

My Tita would come over to give her shots before blood tests so she can be healthy enough for another infusion. My mom had infusions every three weeks since she was diagnosed up until the discovery of the brain tumor.

My dad was the sole provider, working 12 hour days, almost 7 days a week to provide for my mom and brother and keep a roof over their heads.

This was a night we gathered around her to make sure that she knows she is not alone. That we are there for her, no matter what. We were all a team, rooting for Levy.

My mom was fierce, but when she was weak, she would turn to me for strength and support. I was her best friend and though it took me awhile to accept this, she was mine. I had always been a daddy’s girl but my mom needed me and I needed her to be here for me to guide me through life.

Everyday, we’d say good morning and we’d say goodnight. She’d talk to me about her pain. I would tell her to keep moving and take her meds. She’d talk to me about her sadness. I would tell her that she has lots to look forward to like me getting married and my brother graduating from high school. She’d talk to me about her dreams. I would tell her to keep on fighting because she’s freaking superwoman and the world needs people like her. She’d talk to be about her fears. I would tell her that at the end, I’ll be there to make sure everything will be okay. She made me promise. I always promised and I intend to keep them. For her.

“Mom, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand or wiggle your toes for me.”

She moved her toes. My GOODNESS! Yes! She moved her toes! She can hear me! She knows that I am here! She’s conscious and she can understand my command!

“Do it again,” I told her. She did. Gosh, I was so proud of her. DAS MY MOMMA!

I started to tear up from the overwhelming relief. Then I stopped myself from forming actual tears, knowing that showing weakness in front of her was something she didn’t want to see from me. I needed to be strong for her. For my dad. For my brother. I need to keep it together.

Knowing that she could hear me, I knew that I could leave for Seattle and come back and she would be fine. At least for another week, maybe two. She’s alive and conscious and as long as she continues her recovery, she will be okay.

I wasn’t ready yet for her to be gone. She wasn’t ready yet to leave. Not today you aren’t, Momma!! You keep fighting.

I arrived back in my family home and prepared for my early 6am flight the next day. I booked my flight to come back to LA to visit her in two weeks. Then, I finally went to sleep. I woke up at 4am on Wednesday, October 11th, flew back to Seattle and continued on my seemingly great and normal 23-year old life.

Happy Wellness Wednesday!

I plan to release snippets of my reflections and thoughts every Wednesday so as to recharge my mind and prepare for the rest of the week to come. As I sift through my memories and share the good, the bad, and the ugly, my intention is to promote self-care and self-discovery as we walk, crawl, skip, and run through life.

This blog is meant to be an open space where I share my deepest thoughts, while remaining poised for the Internet and to strangers who may not know me but are reading my story.

This is an evolving blog, with the eventual goal to inspire those to share, to be present, to find balance, and to be fearless.

We all have a story and I am choosing to share mine with you all.

Thank you for your interest! Comment below or contact me if you want to chat 🙂