In Memory of Catherine Yang

Note: A portion of this piece was read at the service.

In some ways I barely knew Catherine -- I had hoped to know her much better -- but I nonetheless have a very strong sense of her. She was the wonderful and somewhat shy freshman in my large Shakespeare class for upper-division English majors last spring, and she consistently wrote better papers than anyone else in the class. She was the very sweet and very brave child who told me she had cancer one day while we were walking across campus not because she wanted to ask for any special treatment for herself but because she wanted to explain why she had dropped chemistry ("because it was upsetting me to learn the chemical properties of the chemicals they were using for my chemo," she said, matter-of-factly). She was the beautiful and happy girl I met one evening when my husband and I were going to the movies in downtown Berkeley, walking along the street and laughing with a group of her friends, managing to be an ordinary adolescent having fun.

 I was thrilled when Catherine enrolled in my course in classical English literature (Chaucer, Spenser, Milton) this fall. She looked so radiant, and was clearly settling into life at Berkeley. The class had about 100 students, and my shy Catherine had transformed herself into a self-confident speaker, willing and able to interrupt my lectures with wonderfully probing and sensitive questions and comments. (I know that the teaching assistant for her section, Jenn Shoffeit, also loved her participation in class. And her first paper in the course was startlingly good, so good that Jenn assumed it must have come from a published source. "No," I said; "That's just Catherine.") Catherine turned in her second paper for the course on October 10, and too soon afterward I received her pained email, telling me that she was withdrawing for the semester for medical reasons.
 
Let me tell you a little about that last paper. It was on the mysterious figure of the Old Man in Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale. It was beautifully conceived and written, but that is not what is most important about it. Catherine had chosen to write about the Old Man because he wants to die and cannot. She was drawn to write about the Old Man because, as in the Pardoner himself, she saw in him "his deep despair at ever understanding the spiritual context for his life." Let me give you some of Catherine's words: "the Old Man seeks redemptive grace from the physicality of the earth instead of from the spirituality of heaven.... He sees himself in terms that are wholly physical, as 'flesh, and blood, and skin'. He therefore seeks death not as access into an eternal afterlife in heaven, but as a merely physical rest.... If the Old Man cannot physically die, how can he go on to an afterlife?... It is through the character of the Old Man that the Pardoner admits, however indirectly, to his religious despair.... Yet simply being created of this world is not reason enough for the Old Man --or the Pardoner -- to despair of being able to reach God." In this paper, I think that Catherine was not only writing another of her brilliant papers; I think that she was using her beloved literature to confront the hardest questions she was facing. And I think that she was discovering that she wasn't the Old Man, that she could reach beyond her material body toward the spirit.

 Catherine was a brilliant student, and an adorably sweet girl. But beyond that, she was a spirit of light. It was a privilege to have known her, and I will always remember her with love.

Janet Adelman
UC Berkeley English professor

I learned just today that Catherine passed away last month. It saddened me deeply, not because we were particularly close, but because she made quite an impact on me during the short time we knew each other. I was one of Catherine's editors at The Daily Californian last year. Catherine brought kindness and warmth to the fast-paced, tense newsroom environment. It is often hard for us editors, what with packed schedules and constant deadlines, to take the time to recognize many of our writers who often float in and out of the office without making much of a mark.

Catherine was no such writer. She wrote smoothly and beautifully, and she was a joy to edit with, always eager to learn and open to criticism. I worked with her for about a semester before she told me she had to leave for medical reasons. I didn't pry, but she spoke of her illness openly and bravely, and it amazed me how composed Catherine, then a mere college freshman, remained while faced with her own mortality. I remember this conversation well - we were sitting in the hallway just outside the office, and she told me she was concerned because her relapse worried her mother.
I remember how shocked I was to learn she had dealt with cancer for two years. I never would have guessed - she carried herself with admirable dignity and a beautiful smile, and was always upbeat and positive. But what struck me most about that conversation was the selfless way she spoke about her mother, and how she was more concerned about her mother's well-being than her own.

Sadly, I lost touch with Catherine the following semester, and was very shocked to hear of her passing. I had naively assumed at the time that no matter what she would face in the future, she would pull through. In fact, I fully expected to see her back in the office the following semester.

I am honored to have been a part of Catherine's life. I can only hope she enjoyed her time at the Daily Cal, and that I was able to teach her even a fraction of what she taught me. She will truly be missed.

Catherine Ho
The Daily Cal City Editor

Catherine was one of these most selfless people I ever knew. One of the many memorable days we had together was when we studied for our general chemistry final. When I entered the library to study she had saved a seat for me and offered me a variety of snacks. She ended up giving these snacks to me to take home claiming that she did not need them. Later we had dinner together. She told me that with the extra points on her meal plan she had treated some homeless people in Berkeley rather than saving it for herself. We talked about what we had been up to and she spoke of her interest in English as well as Peace and Conflict studies. While studying chemistry, she never minded answering any of my questions and rarely had any questions for me to answer. If she was not at the library, she would call me if she had discovered the answers to one of my questions. The most amazing part was that she did all of this with a smile on her face. After all the time I spent with Catherine, I can unquestionably say that she was a multitalented person who only cared about others and spread happiness through her cheerful and warm character.

Steven Seyedin
Friend

Note: This piece was read at the service.

The summer before sixth grade, I walked into my summer school’s Sherlock Holmes Mystery class. In the corner, surrounded by friends, was a quiet, shy, long-haired girl that got every question right. Yup, you guessed it; it was Catherine. I liked her because she giggled constantly, and gave me her little waves, and her dreamy “hello”s. We became friends, and I immenseley enjoyed our lunchtime conversations. I couldn’t understand a word she said, what with her lightning-quick speech, soft voice, and big 3-syllable words, but I loved the energy and enthusiasm that she had when she spoke. With swooping gestures, she spoke of epic romances, sappy love songs, and idealistic dreams. Our friendship continued, and it took me five years until I could fully understand everything she said. When I did, however, a whole world opened to me. Catherine was a passionate, unstoppable person who spun words into poetry. Her prose held so much power to motivate others and effect changes. In high school, I really grew close to Catherine through the Interact club she forced me to join. We put our hearts and souls into Interact and… it was tough. Grades were slipping, Interact increasingly consumed our lives, and when it became too much for me to handle, she was always there for me to lean on. She would listen to me rant for hours, and would encourage me to continue, reminding me of the greater good that we were accomplishing. Throughout tree planting, helping the Wheelchair Foundation, Unicef, Relay for Life, and the fight against Polio, Catherine acted as my muse; my inspiration to keep going. She gave her heart to serve the community, and I raced to keep up with her. With the Wheelchair Foundation, I wanted to quit after raising money for 5 wheelchairs, but she kept pushing me to raise more, saying “we can do it, we can do it! We can help them!” She pushed me so much farther than I thought I could have gone.

Melanie So
Friend

My Sweet Dear Friend

Over and Over, I am filled with emotions
I was the Health Worker, a yearlong devotion
You came to me for help in everything
I remember you would ask me about the benzene rings

I loved O Chem and I was showing her the beauty of it
She had the loveliest personality, I have to admit
Made me a better person knowing her
Always smiling, a smile that would light up my heart every time I see her
I cared for her so much because she had cancer
She passed away two months ago, three days before Christmas
God left me with more questions than answers

I wrote about her in my application essay to go abroad today
To her life, that was my grand applaud
Thinking about it now, I want to do something more
Discover a cure. Then no more sorrow would come to our doors
No more cancer, no more crying, lamentation is history like war
Just the smile, like your smile, like my smile, like our smile
Remember that? Long before…

You are someone I'll remember forever
I have not written in my personal diary since June 16th of 2005
My dear friend, you will be the first entry into my journal this year
Old Journal, the keeper of my hopes and fears, Revive

She was lovely, you have to see
So much zest for life, for a new day, every day
Passion, that's what she had, passion too deep to portray
Pure Passion and Caring Compassion
Worthy Sympathy and Unfathomable Empathy
Strong Integrity and a Warrior’s Spirit
Steadfast Loyalty to Loving LIFE

8am classes, walking up the hill with a twisted ankle
Pimentel, how far away is that from Unit Three?
Remember who got you those crutches? I did, smiles
How many times did you thank me, a million billion gazillion times
I remember already, right after the first one, hugs

I miss it when she made fun of me for loving O Chem so much
“Jason, you’re so nerdy. Who on earth loves O Chem? Except you!”
I feel like I am going to cry
I want to talk to God and ask him why?

3:30AM in the morning, 3 hours 17 minutes before sunrise
Perfect timing,
I am sure most others people are asleep by now
God has already heard their prayer
Now I hope he listens to mine

Nothing is fair and I am filled with gloom
My feelings are flying around in a cloud of sadness
Life’s not fair, that’s the rule I guess.
But Imagining your dazzling smile, LIFE can’t make me depress
It’s just to Its rules that I adamantly protest

I am going to Church this Sunday
I already know what I will ask God!

On the other hand, I am hopeful
How can I not be?
You wouldn’t want me to be sad
It is like an O Chem mechanism drawn badly
The arrows curve up and wind to the right
When they rather would be on the other side
The electrons jump around, it moves too quickly
I put on a frown when you pushed them mistakenly
You laughed and called me picky
But I saw it like one of Mozart’s songs
Too beautiful to keep alone
Rather it comes out to carry the story along

I hope you see the beauty
Of Water attacking Primary Alkyl Halides,
As if water was performing a civic duty
Then you saw, I was your O Chem ally
Oh how many times can I say this
Life is not fair, but if I can do anything
I will go this Sunday and pray prayers and wish wishes
That you are enjoying all the O Chem Mechanisms with your angle wings
That is like rain in the middle of a drought
Like the taste of sweet molasses kisses

I have no regrets
Whatever was said, whatever was done, has gotten me here
Things could be better, things could be worse
Regardless, I'm happy now
Optimistic about the future
Having that sense of contentment and confidence
Came from finding myself again
And finding myself came from the courage to let go
Of all the things holding me back
The support from Families and Friends
Some bridges need to be burned
So you don't go back and make the same mistakes
But mistakes aren't necessarily a bad thing
They teach you lessons that needed to be learned
Although this one was really hard
It will prepare me for life’s tougher cards
I'm grateful for all of life's lessons
And I am ready to take on new ones

No, I will not end with a period
God doesn’t use periods
I know in my heart there’s more
Than what our physical eyes bargain for

Jason K. Vuong
Health Worker & Friend

Note: This piece was read at the service.

As a child, she loved to read and write. I remember clearly Mrs. Calder, her first grade teacher from Foothill school, described her in the first parent-teacher conference “she is a typically literature oriented girl”. From then, Catherine was encouraged to read. She was found enjoying her own reading during class time without following teacher’s instruction. She loved to go libraries look for more books. I went to Foothill school during the morning recess one time, I found her in the playground doing nothing but reading a book. She was such a bookworm.

She also enjoyed playing violin. She started her violin private lesson at 5. “The butterfly lovers” was one of her favorite songs. She even had thought she could play this song at Senior Solo. But after so many treatments, the nerves in her hands were not sensitive anymore, so she could not play. She also enjoyed swimming. Whenever she was in the water, she felt so free, just like a fish.

In middle school, she loved political science and history. I remember she constantly would discuss world and community events with Darren’s mom. She was not only interested in the humanities, but also in the scientific field. She was in a program called “Science by Mail” where she worked with a group of friends doing a lot of science experiments. She was the one who wrote the final report to the scientist. In eighth grade, her group also won the grand prize for the “Synopsis” science fair.

In high school, she put a lot of energy in journalism. In journalism, she started out as a reporter, and in senior year, she became a news editor. The issue she worked the hardest on was on school budget cuts in Spring of 2003. In order to have an in-depth understanding and full analysis of the issue, she interviewed students, the principal, the school board members, the assistant superintendent, and many others. She also attended many of the budget-related meetings. Before she wrote the article she wanted to have all the information. She was a perfectionist.

She was also active in serving the community. She was a tutor at a low-income elementary school in Santa Clara. Her experience caused her to reflect on how fortunate she was. In an article in the Falcon, she wrote: “I’m only beginning to realize all that I’m thankful for—friends, family, a roof over my head and a violin to play. So this year, as corny as it sounds, my resolution is to help others less fortunate than I am.”

In college, she enthusiastically pursued her interests in writing and literature. She became a reporter of Daily Cal, a newspaper in UC Berkeley. She wanted to major in English, and I remember her telling me how much she enjoyed an upper-division course on Shakespeare.

Another area she became interested in was Peace and Conflict Studies where she was exposed to many of the conflicts in the world. After she took this class, her dream was that she could take the concepts of conflict resolution and peace to deal with her cancer. She thought that the chemotherapy that she was undergoing seemed like she was waging war on the cancer cells, and her hope was to live in peace with the cancer cells.

Catherine was diagnosed with spindle cell sarcoma in spring 2003. However, she dealt with it courageously. When she applied for the Young Cancer Survivor Scholarship Program, her social worker wrote in a recommendation letter:

“From our very first meeting, I was struck by the depth of Catherine’s intellect, balanced by the breadth of her emotional capacity. She is a young woman who has faced the challenge of her disease process and treatment with determination, earnestness, and courage.

I am relatively new to pediatric oncology, and I must say that Catherine has been a teacher to me. At times, she has explained the particulars of her cancer to me in the manner of a scientist. At other times, she has unabashedly presented existential questions of life and death with a grace that would challenge her elders. She has used the tools of literature and writing as ways of coping with her own illness. Her hunger for knowledge, combined with her beautiful spirit, has been folder for a growing wisdom.

I have observed Catherine gently approach new families in the waiting room of our clinic. With sensitivity, she has reached out to those who are rawly grieving a new diagnosis, and has offered her own story of survivorship.

Catherine is a young woman who has much to offer the world.”

Surgery after surgery, chemo after chemo, the tumor gradually took over her left lung during this summer. She insisted to go back to campus for her sophomore year until this October when she was too weak to go to school. In these two months, she suffered a great deal of pain and fatigue, and she was admitted into the hospital on December 14. In her last moments, Catherine was visited by friends and family all wanting to show their support for someone who had touched their lives deeply. On December 22, 2005, she peacefully left this world at Stanford Children’s Hospital.

Sophia Yang
Mother

Note: This piece was read at the service.

During my sophomore year, at an Interact event, a group of us prepared a Teacher’s Appreciation Day luncheon at Melanie’s house.  Not only was this the first time I met Catherine, but also the first time I saw Cat’s other side:  the compulsive master of the kitchen.  She brought from home her own meat, sugar, pots, pans, measuring cups, measuring spoons, and- finally officially pushing Mel’s buttons- her own soy sauce, to which Melanie exclaimed “Cat!  Please!  I have my own soy sauce!  I am somewhat Asian too!”  And to which Cat replied “Yeahhh… but I like my own anyway…”  After a few hours of fun experimentation- voila- we had created, quite unexpectedly, a fusion of Asian meat Mexican tacos.  Luckily, we would be serving the foreign language department, so I guess it was somewhat appropriate. 

When I think about it actually, many memories that I shared with Catherine have been somewhat linked by food.  Little did I know, this first experience would only be the beginning to 7 hour long Interact “officer meetings”-  an excuse for potlucks of inefficiency, where we shared juicy gossip, embarrassing stories, and- of course- discussed important agenda.  Through our laughs and rants, I will always remember her witty sarcasm, bubbly romanticism, deep insight, and the keen ways she somehow found hidden innuendo to almost everything we said.  Even when she was in college, and home for the holidays, she took the time to catch up with me:  whether during a dinner of Pho to meticulously correct my horrible college essays; or the random nights when she’d surprise me with cake, an open ear, and good advice as I dealt with high school insecurities.  Over the years, Catherine truly served as a mentor to me- approachable in her sincerity and dependability.  Even during spring semester, when she had her own battles to fight, I remember she once devoted an entire day just to show me around the Cal campus, where, of course, we shared a frozen yogurt from the shop across her dorm. 

Sitting at the hospital during these recent days, meeting new people, reacquainting with old ones, I was overwhelmed by how many diverse people Catherine touched and in an amazing way, as Jessica put it, how connected we all are through a common love for her.  What I admired most about Catherine was her sensitivity:  how she’d always notice and appreciate the little things anyone ever did or said.  And you’ve all probably noticed how she’d constantly, even in her hardest times, take the opportunity to thank us, even for favors we might have thought little of.  I am ever so grateful of Cat’s awareness and compassion, because it brings me great comfort knowing that, even until the very end, she knew she was loved and appreciated by all of us.

Emily Yao
Friend

Note: This piece was read at the service.

I think many of us are familiar with Cathy’s skill as a writer—it’s at least as evinced by the flood of e-mails she received back when we were working on college applications. But truly, she was a great writer. I don’t know if it was the way she captured humor, or the way she portrayed the sad and real (or the irony of both), but I know I loved reading her writing. And whenever I talked to Cathy, it was the same thing: there’s no doubt she had an incredible intellect. I’m sure my classmates from Ms. Head’s 4th period Lit class remember how insightful she Cathy was—and how lucky we were to have her formidable memory at hand when the final came around. But she wasn’t just talented. First year in college, with way she spoke about Shakespeare and PACS, I could tell she was getting more out of her new surroundings than I and most people I knew dared try--she was excited and literature and about everything she was learning.

Cathy found me the Lear quote I loved but couldn’t remember, gave me an old edition of The Winter’s Tale to read, explained Kerouac and exulted Li-Young Lee. Cathy was keenly intelligent, but this was thoughtful, unassuming intelligence full of unnecessary “I’m sorry’s”. As I knew her, Cathy really disliked it whenever she gushed something sentimental, and was always retracting herself. Nevertheless, it felt like there was a sweetness and truth to the things she said. She called it cheesiness and she was always bashing herself for it, but if it was, well then I guess she unintentionally convinced me that there’s accuracy to cheesiness sometimes.

Ada Yee
Friend

Memories
Note: Sophia Yang's (Catherine's mother) piece below contains an expanded biography.

* Denotes piece read at the service.

Links

"Friends and Family Remember Studentís Unwavering Courage"
The Daily Californian

Community mourns death of 2004 graduate
Saratoga Falcon