StoryCorps at SHC: Jenny Kwak

It's taught me how to slow down...and to prioritize and value what truly is meaningful.

Jenny Kwak: My mom is 10 months older than my dad and my dad always said that he saw my mom from a window, I guess, he was tutoring, like, one of her relatives and he saw her. And he fell in love. And then they were away for a while because he was in the Korean War, and he had to serve a couple years. And then they came back and he- he was, this is all in Seoul, and then they got married and they had to emigrate. They survived in the US with, you know, actually, with limited English ability. My mom never spoke English well but they managed to get a grocery store, work together to get property, and to work very, very hard together. And they always cared about me and my sister. They've been together almost 51 years.

And when we went on a family trip together, I noticed she was forgetting quite a few things and I realized, I have to confront this issue and not be in denial about her Alzheimer's, because the memory loss was really obvious. During that time, she was kind of avoiding any doctor visits. And I had actually watched a video on the internet here at Stanford where Dr. Longo spoke and shared about the neurosciences. And he's a leader of research. He's an amazing doctor. I knew that I had to get my mom seen by him... So, I sat at my desk and I cried... and I contacted... his office and then convinced my parents to have her get seen...

I think that's actually, a turnaround for my parents, my sister and myself to really confront the diagnosis, the disease, getting her treatment. It became like a very big team effort, I think, in our family. It's amazing actually, that my dad, as her caregiver can do so much. It's, like, incredibly challenging and he doesn't want to give up. She's gotten to the place where she can't really do much for herself, and he has to bathe her and help, you know, cook, clean, feed, everything.

As a social worker, we're always telling people, kind of from a distance, how to navigate things, how to help your loved one. But when it becomes on the other foot and... I have to say, the last four or five years, knowing all of this and how it just keeps getting worse, I know that... I'm really, really lucky to have a family that helps and everybody works together. It feels sad, in some ways, that I can't be with her all the time, but I don't think that she would want me to just sit there kind of... stagnant. It's taught me how to slow down, sometimes. You know, not to always race around and to kind of prioritize and value what- what truly is meaningful.

Sometimes you're, when you're not prioritizing yourself, and you're so worried about your loved one, it's like your own health can get really out of whack, so now I actually, in my work in the oncology department, I do caregiver support groups. I do a lot of work on mindfulness stress reduction and speaking on that topic for different community events. And that, actually, is a passion now.

Sound Editor: Gabriel Maisonnave

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