Ode: A first-generation American chases her dream

May 9, 2018

Credit Ally Karsyn

“You’re positive,” the doctor said.

I thought she meant I’m a positive person, to which I replied, “Oh yes, I am!”

But then she continued, “Jetske, your results came in, and you’ve tested positive for tuberculosis.”

 

“Wait, what?”

 

“TB,” she said. “It’s a communicable disease, spread through coughing, sneezing, or breathing. It can be fatal if left untreated. We’re going to have to isolate you. We have a room ready for you where you’ll be quarantined for the next few weeks, until we get rid of the virus. Then, you’ll be released, and stay at home for the next couple months until the county allows you to go back to work, back to school…”

The doctor went on but my attention faded away.

 

I started connecting the dots. So, this was why I had been coughing like a smoker and spitting out chunks of blood that I could’ve sworn were pieces of my liver. This was the cause of hot flashes and night sweats.

I figured there was only one way I could’ve contracted this disease.

A few months earlier, I’d gone to Indonesia for the first time in December 2008. My dad was at Bethesda Hospital in Minahasa. His room... looked like a health hazard. Stained walls, cracked ceilings; and he had a roommate who wouldn’t stop coughing.

But as soon as I saw my dad, everything else fell away. I hugged him so hard. I couldn’t let go.

I hadn’t seen him in a year. He’d moved back to Indonesia, sort of an overseas retirement. He had family there who could take care of him in his hometown. My parents decided that was the best way for him to get better.

His health had always been a problem. I remember spending days in the hospital, after he had a stroke, then an aneurysm a few years later. That left him in rehab for more than a month, while I was in high school. This time, doctors said my dad had heart problems.

So, I went to see him in the hospital and apparently picked up TB. Ever since then, breathing has always been a privilege.

But getting sick set me back in school. I was 20 years old and working towards an associate’s degree. I was going to be the first one in my family to graduate from college. But I had to drop out halfway through the spring semester to recover. For about four months, I was confined to my aunt’s house in Montclair, California, where my mom and I had been renting a room to save money.

In the spring of 2010, I put on my black cap and gown, and I walked with the rest of the class in the Chaffey College graduation ceremony in Rancho Cucamonga, California. That was a great feeling. A two-year degree done in four years. But hey, I did it. And I was proud.

My mom and my older brother were there to celebrate this huge milestone.

 

Later that year, on December 15, I got a call from my uncle, who had been my dad’s caregiver.

“Nona, papa so meninggal,” he said. My niece, your dad has passed away.

I sat at the end of the bed in disbelief. My mom was at work. I was home alone. I just, I didn’t know… I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t even cry. There’s no way he could be gone. But he was. Then guilt ensued. Why? Why I wasn’t I there when he took his last breath?

A couple weeks passed, and I went back to work as an event planner for the City of Montclair.

I felt like I was the one who died. If anything, my dad was free. Weeks turned into months, and I doubted if I would ever make anything of myself.

But then I heard a voice coming from deep within, reminding me, breathing is a privilege, and this life is hella short. Don’t just chase your dream. Seize it. See it, feel it, breathe it, embody it and burst into its liveliness with every cell of your being.

I went back to school to pursue a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis on broadcast journalism—even though there weren’t many people who looked like me on TV.

 

Going back to school was another shock to my system. I didn’t realize how much work it would take: the projects, studying, pop quizzes and finals. One year at university… and bam! I was hit with depression. Hard. Harder than I hugged my dad the last time I saw him. This depression, swallowed me up into its dark abyss. How could I find a way out and be free? Free, like my dad…

On November 29, 2012, I ran for freedom—right into an intersection on campus, hoping to get hit by a car. One of my classmates grabbed me pulling me back to safety. But I was not safe. My thoughts threatened me. I begged her, “Please, please wake me up from this nightmare.”

 

There was nothing she could do. School officials ordered me to seek psychological assistance immediately. I refused, thinking it was all a dream. I would wake up and everything would be back to normal.

Well, I did wake up that night… at the Aurora Charter Oak Mental Health Hospital. I was admitted for major depressive disorder. By this point in my life, everything was out of order. For five days, I stayed at this facility, surrounded by people who were dealing with drug addiction, anxiety and whole host of other mental health issues.

I slept in the same room with Anastasia, a 17-year-old girl who was admitted for repeatedly cutting herself. She had a scar on her throat to prove it.

 

Through it all, something deep inside myself kept whispering, “Don’t give up. Look how far you’ve come. Just keep going.”

These words soothed my mind, and about year later, they inspired my senior project: a documentary called “Depression: A Hidden Struggle.” I followed the lives of two students who had faced mental challenges like me but also overcame them.

Today, I am living my dream, telling stories about all walks of life..I’ve interviewed prisoners and presidential candidates to transients and CEOs. But being a journalist on TV doesn’t come without ups and downs.


During the low tides, I look at this photo of me holding a microphone when I was 4 years old. I remember this little girl’s dream and I tell her, “We’re going to get it. We have it, love. It’s right here, right now, in our hands.”

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Jetske Wauran flew here with a one-way ticket from LA to pursue her dream in becoming a news reporter nearly four years ago, and in spite of the ever-changing seasons here, the Siouxland winters haven't scared her away, just yet.

Ode is a storytelling series where community members tell true stories on stage to promote positive impact through empathy.

Our next show is Friday, June 1 at The Marquee, 1225 Fourth St., in downtown Sioux City. The theme is “Belonging.”

The show starts at 7 p.m. with live music. There will also be a community art project on display inspired by stories of standing out, fitting in and finding your way.

Tickets are $10 in advance; $15 day of show.