5-5-12: Spring Update on Stanford Taiko!

Dear Friends,

It has been way too long since I’ve blogged. I hope and pray you are enjoying a healthy May and you are feeling optimistic about life as the sun shines brighter. Now that I’m working during the week and training for the US Transplant Games, each minute is precious and planned. So here I am on a bright sunny Saturday morning, three weeks after my last trip, writing.

I am happy to write about a blog that has nothing to do with CF or transplant. This has to do with the gift of getting older, and the chance encounters we have that end up creating lasting community and sense of self. Last night, I practiced with Stanford Taiko for their 20th Anniversary Reunion Concert happening tonight. I hadn’t played taiko in 18 years. I hadn’t been in a group of that many Asian-Americans since college! And the goofiness, spirited laughter, energy, perfectionism, determination and focus permeated this room of high-achievers. We were given the Stanford Taiko signature song, Tatsumaki, and Youtube video all digitally, which reminded me of how long I’ve been out of college. You know I’m old when I have absolutely NO recollection of playing this song, ever—in my entire taiko career (1991-1994). My peers remembered it. So I must have blacked it out, or erased it from my memory, or I can just say that I lost too many brain cells from being hypoxic for 15 years and from too much anesthesia.

So I took a few precious hours out of my weekends to study and practice, even though I could’ve been practicing pipes, cleaning the house, writing this blog or doing a million other things. So last night, I joined the rehearsal as prepared as I could be. I am normally shy, but as I entered a large room filled with 60+ Stanford Taiko alums, I felt immediately comfortable and connected. I met the “Charter” group— those who founded the taiko group in 1991 with Ann Ishimaru who made taiko drums for a research project. Some of the alums came from Hawaii and all over the U.S. I just drove down 10 minutes back to campus but it felt like I re-entered an era of my life that had long been put to sleep.

When the players first hit the drum, I had a visceral reaction. I felt like my heart exploded, my blood flowed faster, my eyes grew wider, my teeth grit and grin deepened. This was high impact, high energy, powerful performance. Wow. Now I remember why I loved taiko so much at Stanford. Back then I’d play, cough in the corner, do therapy beforehand, hit the drum as I could feel myself getting more and more hypoxic… and each performance would end with more coughing.

Last night, the sound vibrated the room and I’ll be honest… we kicked ass. The choreography, planned by Hiroshi “Rosh” Tanaka, captured the artistic mastery of taiko— both drummer and drum became one body in smooth regular motions. I am so proud to be part of this group.

More importantly, I was 20 years older. So was everyone- slightly gray, a little heavier, a bit more tired in the face. Many brought their kids and spouses. Wow, we were all adults! And we were together- Susan, Felix, Rosh, Ann, Zack, Haruka, Barton, Wise, Dardy… and me. I knew back in 1994 when I last played taiko that the chances of me being here at the 20th reunion were almost nil. And at the 10th Anniversary Reunion, I was on oxygen, still recovering from a major hospitalization from hemoptysis, and just too embarrassed to show up in front of these strong, intense, healthy young people. I just had to wonder if they all knew how lucky they were to show up, 20 years later, still able-bodied and able to play taiko. And we cannot forget our fellow taiko player Luis whom we lost to suicide in the mid-1990’s… those of us there last night silently acknowledged his presence.

I played. I played! I hit hard and breathed heavily. Sweat poured from my skin. But I played! I didn’t cough or anything. I took deep breaths and it felt perfect. Of course jumping up and down from a squatting position tested my knees, my strength and my balance. And my hands shook from Prograf. And I got bruised up from Imuran. And I worried about germs. But hey, I did it. I am so, so, so grateful to my donor Xavier Cervantes today. Without him, and without many other heroes in my life, I could not enjoy this amazing night. This was the first time Xavier ever played taiko:). And tonight, Xavier and I together will be in the performance, just for a few minutes, but I’ll be with all the other late 30 and early 40-year olds who built Stanford Taiko from scratch.

I am so thankful to be alive.

I write this on the eve of the anniversary of my dear friend Lara Borowski’s death, one year ago. I think about Lara every single day. Her absence has left a major, major hole in my life and I know the life in her family and those who loved her. I can’t imagine Lara’s family’s pain, but I do know she never wanted to cause them sadness. Throughout the year, I’ve tried to talk to her, to remember her, to watch photos and videos we have of her, and to feel her today and know she’s still alive in some way. What has helped is being together with Lara’s friends and talking about her, and loving her still. We had a Lara Hike last weekend with friends, and hiked amidst blankets of Forget-Me-Nots in the Coastal Mountains. We will not forget you, Lara. But we miss you deeply.

I believe I left off on my trip to Bozeman, Montana. Ana has been traveling like crazy.
I will write more about my mid-April trip to Seattle soon. I am behind, but hey, I think I have a good excuse. By the way, I am loving my job. Life is very blessed.

More later! Thank you for your interest and care in this blog.
With love,


Written by

3 Comments to “5-5-12: Spring Update on Stanford Taiko!”

  1. Heather says:

    Ana and Isa,

    It’s been some time since I followed your blog but after learning about a young man with CF on the lung transplant list I wanted to tell him about both of you and your inspirational lives. I had written to you about two years ago when you were in the DC area and were going to speak at Fairfax Hospital to my daughter’s CF care center and their patients.

    My 11-year-old daughter, Grace, has CF and spoke this week at a CF Foundation event in DC called Chefs in the City. It was an uplifting speech and touched me deeply (especially since I hadn’t heard the speech until the event). She has such a positive attitude which I hope we have helped engrain. I wanted to share the You Tube link with you as you were such an inspiration to me during the early years of her diagnosis:

    I also want to catch up on your blog and begin following it again. For some reason, I can’t find a place to do that.

    I also want to congratulate you on the film version of your book. I will most definitely see it and will spread the word about it as well.


  2. Johana Moore says:

    Hi Isa and Ana,
    I met you both at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival last October. My son David is the co-founder with Jacques Paisner. I have misplaced your card, so
    here I am in your website to contact you about a health science beakthrough that has been having amazing results with illnesses of all types as well as CF. Please contact me so I can share this with you. I don’t think it’s appropriate to post it on your blog. I will continue to look for your card, in case you don’t get back to me. Your film and who you are in life are a tremendous inspiration that I admire greatly.
    Blessings to and your beautiful family,

  3. Mitchell Fukumoto says:

    Hi Isa,

    I came upon your blog only minutes ago after google-ing “Stanford Taiko”. You may not know me, but I am a current member of Stanford Taiko and actually shared the stage with you on that night. This blog post was extremely touching and I am so proud to be in a group with alumni as strong and powerful as you.

    To this day, we still honor the memory of our past alumni including Luis Lujan. You should have received a purple t-shirt from that spring concert. On the bottom left of the back side of the shirt, there is text reading “ShastaYama” with a taiko player dividing the word in half. If you look closely, this player’s happi is mirrored (right flap of the happi over the left flap) from every other players’ happi. In Japanese culture, loved ones who have passed on were typically dressed in happi in this fashion whereas regular happi were worn with the left flap over the right. We designed the shirt this way in honor of Luis Lujan, symbolizing that he is still with us to this day. I just wanted to let you know that although our alumni may be gone from the group, we are still very thankful for all you’ve done to help the group grow to what it’s become today. We couldn’t have done it without you.

    Take care,

Leave a Reply