Rosemary Gong was named 2011 Woman of the Year by the San Francisco Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society after raising $50,379 for the Man and Woman of the Year campaign. The California native was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia three years ago while on vacation. After various procedures, Gong is in remission and credits her doctors and Chinese culture for keeping her alive.
What was it like being named Woman of the Year?
It’s one of those kind of announcements that was a total surprise. It was at a grand finale at the Fairmont Hotel. All the candidates worked really hard and diligently for 10 weeks. But we were all having really great time. This year, I think all the candidates bonded really well. We were all very much united in terms of our mission. When they were making their announcement, it was [2010 Woman of the Year] Carolyn Balling, she said, “and the Woman of the Year … at $50,379 …” yadda-yadda. And I thought, “Ah, shoot. I just missed it.” ’Cause I knew I was going in with $3,000 or $4,000 less than that. And then my name was announced. It was just elation.
What does this award mean to you?
I’m a former acute myeloid leukemia patient, which is really one of the more aggressive and severe forms of leukemia that sneak up on you fairly quickly. Right at that week [of the announcement], it was my third anniversary of my diagnosis. Like I said, it was elation, but it really felt very heartwarming. I knew how fortunate I was to be standing there as a leukemia survivor.
How were you nominated?
I was nominated through Lisa Dunn; she’s a bone marrow transplant coordinator at UCSF. She was a candidate last year. Lisa had coordinated my stem cell transplant a couple of years ago and she knew about my success story and she nominated me.
You are an author. What do you wish to accomplish through your writings?
What I do hope to accomplish, beyond the cancer, is to provide a glimmer of hope and positive expression, and to be a bridge to the Asian community. I understand the stigmas and the fears and the shellshocked-ness of a diagnosis. I want to provide them with some tools and remind them that we are equipped to deal with a life-threatening illness.
Who or what is your greatest motivation in your battle with cancer?
There were two people. Those were my oncologists [Tibor Moskovits at New York University, where I was diagnosed, and C. Babis Andreadi at UCSF]. I can’t say more about finding the right oncologist, someone who understands you as a patient and collaborates with you on how you want to approach your medical journey. I wanted to become Woman of the Year to honor my doctors.
How did your cultural upbringing help you in dealing with your diagnosis?
When I was dealing with my illness … I don’t think anyone is ever prepared for that kind of diagnosis … you just can’t be. In some ways, I think some of my Asian practices kind of made me more equipped. Asians, by practice, are always doing things to invite good fortune. And we are somewhat of a superstitious lot. We have all these sorts of stories that can cause the heebie-jeebies. So when these things happen … I want to provide a positive message in sharing that a cancer diagnosis is not an immediate death sentence.