More than 110 people gathered at Irvine Yamaha Music Center on June 11, 2019, to hear long-time journalist Kazuyoshi Kitaoka speak about living with stage IV liver cancer. The Japanese-language event, co-hosted by Orange County Japanese American Association, Orange County Rinri Hojinkai, and Japanese Friendship Network, and sponsored by Keiro, shed light on Kazuyoshi’s unique view on death and his insight into what it means to live with cancer, as well as his experiences as a journalist throughout the years. Participants also had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Yuichi Edwin Yanami about benefits and opportunities in Keiro’s unique Iyashi Care program.
Cancer is Mysterious
Kazuyoshi began his presentation by comparing cancer to people, sharing that the disease still remains very mysterious. “Just as people have different faces, personalities, likes and dislikes, cancer is just the same. It isn’t a straightforward answer where if you do this or that, it will be cured.”
After beginning a clinical trial at Kindai University in Osaka, Kazuyoshi eventually made the decision to stop taking his medication for some period of time because of the side effects. His doctor warned him about the risks of doing so, but to everyone’s surprise, his cancer markers gradually decreased. While his case yielded an unsuspecting yet favorable outcome, the same may not apply to others in a similar situation. He noted that he is the only one of the 11 people still participating in this clinical trial from its beginning. Some have passed away, while others left the trial for other treatment options.
Well aware of the stigma and stereotypes typically associated with cancer patients, Kazuyoshi decided that he wanted to defy these preconceived notions. After being told by his doctor in February 2017 that he had three to six months left to live with stage IV cancer – a diagnosis that many might assume leads inevitably to death – he continues to live on happily.
Life and Death is Interconnected
His view on death is more unusual than most. He posed a question to the audience, “Don’t you think death is wonderful?” He sees life and death as interconnected. “Living is not all of life. Because there is death, there is life. Because there is life, there is death.”
Kazuyoshi also alluded to Steve Jobs’ view on death, positing, “no one wants to die, but there are many people who want to go to heaven. If that’s the case, why won’t people jump quickly to death? People don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. Death is very likely the single best invention of life.” In his view, death is seen as a necessity for the cycle of life that brings in a new generation of growth.
While his current condition is stable, there is no telling if or when it will worsen. He ended his presentation by telling the audience some stories from his days as a journalist, recounting wars and the truly great terror humans can be capable of. He likened these conflicts to his approach to cancer, saying, “Peace means to not fight. It is the same with cancer – I won’t fight with the nuclei. In my opinion, that is the only way to live life peacefully.”