MERI Center Blog

April 15, 2022
Personal Reflections

“Oh snap,” I muttered as I walked into the kitchen where my daughter and husband were conversing.

“What?” My daughter asked.

“You’re positive,” I said, staring down at her PCR results, rereading them to make sure I didn’t misread them.

“Will I be able to go to prom?” she asked anxiously, horror filling her eyes.

We had just returned from a week in Hawaii, a trip that was postponed from 2020 due to the pandemic – a trip that I wasn’t fully sure we should take given the BA.2 surge outside the US. But I knew of many families, including families of medical professionals, going on spring break, flying hours to various destinations including Hawaii. So we went, knowing we were taking a chance. The result: my teenage daughter contracted COVID just 5 days before her junior prom. Needless to say, she was distraught when we told her of her test results. As I hugged her and wiped her tears away, I simultaneously wondered what I could do to make this better and thought, “Oh my god! What did I do wrong?”

Externally, I went about taking the next steps: notify school, notify any close contacts (thankfully almost all in our household), notify close family and friends, schedule PCR tests for our household, etc. Internally, guilt and anxiety plagued me and I began overthinking everything.

“We shouldn’t have gone. It’s too soon.”

“What if we all get sick?”

“She says she’s a little short of breath after going upstairs. Should I take her to the ED...

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April 6, 2022

[I’ve been sharing monthly Communication Tips with my UCSF communities for more than two years now. But I’ve been a bit hesitant to share everything as I’ve tried to figure out my own work/life balance. The following is a personal reflection shared freely with my beloved UCSF work family. If you are interested, please accept this in the spirit in which it was written. But, for sure, this is not required reading!]

Dear Mount Zion Community,

It started 13 years ago with exercise-induced double vision and dizziness. I had a ton of alternate but easier to accept explanations (being out of shape, someone must have sat on my glasses). After 6 months, when my wild fear that I must have a brain tumor finally exceeded my reluctance to admit something was wrong, I went to my PCP, and got an MRI of my head.

When the results were back, I walked down the hall from my own clinic office to his. When it was time for him to break the bad news, he did a good job, following advice that would later appear in this very column… when delivering bad news, start with a warning shot. People need time to prepare.

“There was something on the scan.”

Multiple Sclerosis.

For a half-second, I was relieved it wasn’t cancer (how strong the stigma of cancer is!). Then, I was in disbelief. How is it possible for there to be something really wrong with me? And alone. How come I didn’t think to bring my wife Barb with me to this appointment?

In a daze, with my mind swirling, I finished the rest of that workday (and then all the days since then) with a secret illness myself as I went about caring for others as their doc.

I told Barb that night...

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March 29, 2021


What Has Been Brought to Light?

This is a photo of a painting on the back of the Rutter Center building at UCSF-- a place where many folks are receiving their COVID vaccines.  It does feel like we may be entering a slightly new phase of “light and life” in our world. However, as the COVID pandemic wanes, and businesses and people who have suffered in “unprecedented” (the word of 2020) ways begin the process of healing, one key thing that continues to cause serious suffering is the plague of racism in our world.

On March 24,  Dr. Tammy Quest, Palliative Care Director at Emory University, offered a zoom lecture entitled Racism in Palliative Care Practice: We Are Not Immune. After giving some examples in recent history (from 1980’s to present) of systemic racism and horrors, she asked the question—why are we only talking about this now?

She defined racism:

 Racism is the belief in the natural superiority of one race over another

 Prejudice refers to the beliefs, thoughts, feelings and attitudes someone holds about a group   

UCSF now has an anti-racism task force as well as a women’s council. The week of  March 22, UCSF leadership sent out an email which included the following:

While Anti-Asian racism has existed in this country for centuries, the past year has seen exceptional cruelty - a pain that in many ways has been overlooked en- masse until now. We have come together to write this...

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February 24, 2021

We are pleased to announce that one of our poetic medicine poets, Susan Cohen, has recently published her 3rd book of poetry, Life Spring.  Sue has been attending our Food For Thought Poetry Cafes since day one, April 3, 2020, joining us all the way from Stockholm, Sweden. Sue has joined both Food for Thought and Loss, Losing, and Loosening consistently during the pandemic and has not only shared her incredible poetry with us, she has been incredibly supportive community member.  While the pandemic has been incredibly difficult, meeting Sue and the other poetic medicine regulars has been a blessing.  

You can purchase Sue's book of poetry here or read an exerpt here. I can't wait to read my copy!  I asked her to tell us a little about Life Spring and how our poetic medicine workshops helped her complete this book. 

What inspired you to put the book together?

I had previously written 2 poetry books. I knew it was time to put together Life Spring, the third book when the theme for the book finally became apparent. This theme and many of the poems have arisen during the space and mindfulness of 5 Rhythms dance classes that I participate in here in Stockholm.

What writing it has meant to you?


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February 18, 2021


Yesterday morning, Dr. Mike Rabow read “Cargo” by Greg Kimura.  His name sounded familiar so I googled him and realized that he wrote about the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of Bruyeres by the 442nd Regimental Battalion, made up of Nisei (2nd generation) Japanese American men and my grandfather was one of those men.  Mr. Kimura died in 2017 from cancer and on his Forever Missed page, I found this quote:

Resist the world's numbness,
and your passion revive,
so when death comes to find you,
let him find you alive.

- Greg Kimura

To me, this quote is palliative care in a nutshell.  Let us help you resist the numbness, the pain, the suffering, so you can do what you love, be with those you love, and make the most of the time you have. 

I didn’t know Greg Kimura, but I am so grateful to find him in both my personal and professional life, particularly this week as February 19th is the annual Day of Remembrance of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II.  So many threads weave intricate patterns in our lives and sometimes we don’t always see them until we look closer.  Thank Mr. Kimura for sharing your gifts with us, the world, my world, most certainly needed them.  You have left an inspiring legacy.


by Greg Kimura

You enter life a ship laden with meaning, purpose and gifts
sent to be delivered to a hungry world.
And as much as the world needs your cargo,
you need to give it away.

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January 20, 2021

I watched part of the Inauguration today and, for the first time in over 4 years, I felt a sense of hope for the future.  While Biden’s words of unity were reassuring, Amanda Gorman’s poem blew me away.  She and young folks like her give me hope for the future.  After the last four years, after the insurrection two weeks ago, Amanda and her peers are wonderous stars, shining their brilliant light, showing us the way to the end of the tunnel. 

Not to say that everything is peachy keen now.  These last 4 years were not an anomaly but a terrifying reminder that our work is not done; there is still so much to strive for, systems to rebuild. We must continue to fight for equality and justice.

But today, I am hopeful, knowing that there are fierce, articulate, & passionate young people who will continue this struggle after I am gone.  

For the first time in a long time, I see HOPE.



November 25, 2020

As I ponder Thanksgiving this year, I am torn between the myth of Thanksgiving and the real history of Thanksgiving in the United States.  To choose to reappropriate Thanksgiving as a time of gratitude and reflection without acknowledging the violence and pain this day represents for Native Americans would be sweeping their history under the rug, ignoring it because it makes us feel uncomfortable.  And in this year, a year that has brought so many challenges, it seems particularly important to call out the pain and suffering the colonists inflicted upon the Native Americans throughout history. To learn more has a great list of Thanksgiving myths.

I am grateful, though, for this opportunity to reflect on this past year and to remember there are things I am thankful for.

  1. Anti-Racism and diversity are once again at the forefront of our minds

As a child of Asian American activists, discussions on racism were normal in our house and while I am disappointed that we have not more strides yest, I am heartened to see widespread discussions and efforts to fight racism and inequity. I am particularly grateful to co-chair our division’s Anti-racism task force.

  1. Being home with my children has deepened our relationship and not having to rush from one meeting to another has helped me feel less overwhelmed, less rushed, leaving with me more patience.  With less extracurricular activities, my kids have more time to work on the homework and spend time with family.  My daughter and I watch Korean dramas most nights, 1 episode a night, which has...
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November 2, 2020

Among all the intense news of the world and the anxiety of our upcoming elections,  October brought with it the light and soft air of Autumn, two Full Moons, (including the Blue Moon which happened on the morning of Halloween) and the book launch of the writings of Merijane Block, in a new book entitled  “Everything Takes Longer Than You Think It Should or Thought it Would, Except for Life.”

 Merijane Block is the namesake of the MERI Center—Making Education Relevant and Integrated. On Thursday, Oct 29, the MERI Center hosted a Zoom book launch featuring  readings of Merijane’s eloquent and often difficult writings, by many of her close friends. Christopher DeLorenzo and Elizabeth Levitt, along with others, compassionately read through all of Merijane’s notebooks after her death in 2017 and put together an exquisite edition of her writings.  The book includes stories of her youth and freedom as a creative, artistic and curious woman of the 1960’s and 70’s, growing up on the East Coast  through her early life in San Francisco, walking everywhere on her strong “Legs” ( title of a piece in her book), exploring love and life in what came to be “her city,”  and continues through her introduction to her unexpected journey with metastatic breast cancer for 26 years. 

Meri tells us clearly in her poems, “Admonitions for the Uninitiated II” that she did NOT want to be seen as a “warrior,” a “fighter,” a woman embattled in her own bodily survival. She did not want to be called a “survivor.” She always insisted that she be seen as her...

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October 1, 2020

While 2020 continues to pile catastrophes and crises upon us, I am buoyed by the connections I am seeing, hearing, and feeling.  As another fire ravages the North Bay, one of our poetry group members offered his home to someone who may need to evacuate.  Another member, from Sweden, expressed concern for the safety of those living in the area and are being affected by the fires and smoke.  Separated by miles, by continents, by the pandemic, we still form connections, we still care about each other, and we still reach out to support each other. 
I am immensely grateful for these connections, knowing that these tendrils of support can snake through and around all of these obstacles placed before us and provide comfort and care. These connections come in so many forms: poems, text, emails, songs, art, even in our dreams.  They can twine together with others forming stronger supports, reminding us we are not alone even when we are by ourselves. 
We are pleased to announce a special event for in honor and memory of a dear friend, Merijane Block.  I met Merijane many years ago when she started seeing Dr. Rabow in the UCSF Symptom Management Service, an outpatient palliative care clinic for cancer patients.  We had many delightful conversations as she waited for her visit and soon she became more than one of our patients, she became a friend.  Merijane demanded that all of her providers treat her as a person and not as a disease or problem to solve, to form a connection, a deep, meaningful connection, with her and all of their patients.  When the MERI Center was...

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September 30, 2020
SMS Meeting Poems


This week's Symptom Management Service poem was "If You Knew" by Ellen Bass.  It was the perfect choice for my mood the past few days as I was writing our monthly newsletter, which focuses on connection.  In this time of social (physical) distancing, it feels like we are so far apart from each other at times and yet, we can find ways to make even small, seemingly ephemeral connections that have meaning.  I get to sit in two poetry workshop each week, "lurking" in the background, listening to poems created in under 5 minutes, soaking in the imagery and emotion they evoke, thinking about how those words resonate in me. I have not met most of them in person and yet, I feel connected to each of them.  I feel blessed by each of them through their words. 

Listening today to "If You Knew" by Ellen Bass just highlighted that even the briefest interactions can have a huge impact and we should strive to remember that the smallest ounce of compassion can make a difference. 

If You Knew

by Ellen Bass

What if you knew you’d be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line’s crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn’t signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won’t say Thank you, I don’t remember
they’re going to die....

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