Runway for Recovery’s growth to the west coast began out of Ricky Hsin’s desire to honor his sister, Rachael. In nearly all ways, Ricky and his sister grew up opposites and being the children of immigrant parents meant the two had to forge their path in America for themselves. Despite their differences, the two almost always found themselves converging on the same course, even attending the same high school and college. After Ricky married his wife, Melissa, and had their daughter, Lily, his sister remained an integral part of their lives- now expanding her role to being a super aunt.
It’s why, when Rachael’s then ex-husband, approached Ricky and Melissa to tell them Rachael had discovered a lump over a year prior, but had yet to see a doctor, Ricky knew he may be the only one able to convince her to seek medical attention. When she finally went in for testing, the news was grim. Rachel had stage four, metastatic breast cancer: “it has taken us a long time to be ok with the fact that she knew for that long. We don’t know if it was denial or ‘ignore it and it will go away’ type thing, but that part was hard.”
The family quickly rallied around Rachael, but the first months were fraught with back and forth discussions about her treatment. Rachael had a strong belief in eastern medicine and it’s ability to cure and though she believed in western medicine to a point, Rachael decided to forgo chemotherapy and rely on infusions, diet changes, other trials and her faith. Her treatment decision, especially for Ricky’s wife Melissa, who is a healthcare provider, meant “we were constantly at odds with her.” In the end, Ricky notes that the entire family had “to put aside what we wanted and felt was right to honor what she wanted.” After this decision, Ricky expresses surprising positivity in the time they had left with her: “once we stopped questioning and just accepted her decision, that’s when time became our greatest gift. Those moments together in her last 1.5 years became an appreciation of time, rather than a focus on her being sick.”
In all, the family got 2 years with Rachael after diagnosis before she passed. During that time, Rachael remained quiet about her battle, only matter-of-factly sharing with close friends her stage four prognosis. Her transactional tone often meant friends did not understand the severity of what she was facing, but Ricky notes that Rachael’s faith held steadfast in her journey: “she never looked back and regretted. She just saw the road ahead of her and what she was meant to do. I don’t know if she let herself believe there was an end until the actual very very end.” He takes comfort in the peace she felt about the coming afterlife and that her faith exempted her from the normal fears and anxiety this diagnosis typically brings.
When reflecting on Rachael’s life, Ricky is certain why he wants Runway for Recovery to expand out west: “my sister never felt she had a space. She had been dealing with cancer for a while, in her mid thirties, stage 4 metastatic and at that point, she had elected to not do chemo. She never felt comfortable in support groups and overall she just felt she was in a weird space with no community to relate to.” It’s why it remains important to Ricky and Melissa that Runway continues to grow. After listening to a Runway board member speak last year, Ricky noted, “Runway is a tangible support for people who have lost someone and it’s that community that needs to be supported and loved and cherished. Rachael never felt she had a space to talk about her reality. Even further, this gives my daughter Lily a connection to Rachael and that she is still loved and cared for. It gives her a continuation of access to her aunt in some ways.”
After rocking the runway in New England this past fall, Ricky, Melissa and Lily were even more confident that the west coast needed a night like that: “it’s our ability to give back and hope that someone else won’t have to worry about finances, bills and more during treatment. We were able to take that off Rachael’s plate, but we want to make sure others have that same opportunity to support their loved ones.”