Just Say No (Sometimes)

In 2012, I was sequestered for months shooting MasterChef season 3. Even before I was revealed as the winner on national television, my story as a blind cook and contestant on Gordon Ramsay’s competitive cooking show had already begun to make press and media headlines. Since then, I’d attended scores of events as a speaker, culinary instructor, chef d’cuisine, or simply a (and it’s still weird for me to use the word as an identifier) celebrity. I’d written a best-selling cookbook, promoted that cookbook, appeared on MasterChef Vietnam, and became a co-host of a cooking show called Four Senses in Canada. And I still managed to complete my MFA in Creative Writing.

Erin often asks me how I find any time in between the traveling and the to-dos. Jenna tells me she’s proud of me, but am I taking care of myself? My friends and family are happy for me but wonder how I manage to do it all.

The truth is, I don’t. I don’t do it all. Something I’ve had to learn over the past couple of years is how to say no. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) easy for me to say no. Maybe it’s the Asian or the woman in me—I hate disappointing people. In the beginning, I said yes to everything. Yes, I’ll attend and speak at your _____. Yes, I’ll donate a signed _____. Yes, I’ll teach a cooking class. Yes, I’ll answer your cooking questions over email. Yes, I’ll do this interview. Yes, I’ll write that article or essay.

But then I noticed how the number of yeses I said was inversely related to my happiness. I stopped sleeping. I felt like I was Indiana Jones stuck between two enclosing walls. If I say yes, I get exhausted, but if I say no, I disappoint someone.

In the end, I realized that sometimes, I just need to put ME first, especially as someone who (and many people forget this) still lives with Neuromyelitis Optica/NMO. I learned I shouldn’t do something unless I can do it willingly and joyfully; otherwise, I’m just cheating myself and others in the process.

Many people who know me personally and even those who have watched me on TV say they can tell what I’m thinking or feeling just by looking at my face. I never knew I was so easy to read, but if this is the case, I would feel worse if people saw how begrudgingly I did something that was supposed to be a favor. Plus, I tell myself, if I’m not in a place where I feel physically, mentally, and emotionally well, then what’s the point? You have to take care of yourself first before you can take care of others.

So there’s the truth for you: I really don’t do it all. I turn 35 Friday, and after having lived with NMO for over a decade and maturing into my mid-thirties, I’ve learned to be in tune with my body and mind. I’ve learned to be a little selfish at times. I know when I feel neuropathic pain in my ribs, numbness in my toes, or when I get body chills and aches, that it’s time to set everything aside and catch up on sleep or rest. The world can wait.

So this is me telling you it’s okay to not do it all sometimes. We don’t always have to be Superwoman, Supermom, Superwife, Superfriend, or Supercolleague. Sometimes, it’s okay just to be an imperfect, tired version of yourself. Sometimes, it’s okay to just say no.

Christine’s take on NMO Patient Day 2013

Wow. Looking back, I have not had a chance to write a blog post in over a year. But because after NMO Patient Day a couple of weeks ago, and Erin, Jenna, and I finally had a reunion without the men, we talked about our defunct blog and how we should try to resurrect it, as many had originally sought information and empathy here.

NMO Patient Day is a conference of sorts, sponsored by the Guthy Jackson Charitable Foundation, and held for one day once a year. It’s a chance for NMO patients from all over the world to gather in one place (always L.A. As that’s where GJCF is located) and meet each other and have access to physicians and clinicians and others working towards not only a higher quality of life for those living with Neuromyelitis Optica/NMO, but a cure.

Erin, Jenna, and I’d met at 2010’s Patient Day, and because we live in Denver, Toronto, and Houston respectively, and because we all live very busy lives, it’s hard for us to catch up, let alone update this blog regularly. But after speaking at this year’s Patient Day about my journey on “MasterChef” and what it means for the bigger picture to me and my fellow NMO-ers, I thought I would drop by here and say hello…

…so, hello!

It’s funny because a year ago, I was terrified of public speaking. A large percentage of the public polled say they fear public speaking more than death. Well, I don’t know about that. But I do know that I’m the kind of person that likes to challenge myself. And that means, whatever it is that causes me discomfort or fear, I tend to put myself in the situation, face it head-on, and try my best to conquer it. That goes for skydiving, snowboarding, going on national (and now international television) to compete. And now, it means speaking before large crowds.

Because I am blind, and because I still cannot read Braille as quickly as I used to read print, I don’t take any notes up to the stage with me when I speak. Instead, I have to memorize bullet points in my head and hope that I hit upon all my key points and in a cohesive order. I never like to rehearse my talks because I feel it takes away from the casualness of it all—and I prefer to keep it casual, not just because that’s my style, but because formality scares me even more. (There’s something about formality that breeds an expectation of perfection.)

But here we were, a couple of weeks ago at Patient Day, and it was probably my twentieth speaking engagement since last year. I still get nervous: my body temperature still drops, my mouth still gets dry—but at least I don’t want to puke anymore. It’s all about the little progresses, right?

Thank you to all who made NMO Patient Day happen, either by coordinating or attending it. I’m glad I met more of you, and I’ll try to put a voice to the name for next time.

And if you didn’t get a chance to attend this year’s Patient Day, stay tuned to the GJCF website—the video should be posted soon.

Patient Day 2013

Patient Day 2013 was a little bit of awesome. Ok, it was a whole lot of awesome. When I compare my first Patient Day in 2010 to this year (I missed last year having a newborn) I was able to absorb so much more information.

In 2010 I was newly diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica (NMO) and I swear I thought I was the only one, especially in Canada! We were also newly married so as if that doesn’t come with its own challenges, my husband and I had no idea what life with NMO would really be like. I stumbled on the Guthy Jackson website and without much thought I knew I had to meet other patients. When I think about it now I can’t believe I was scared to speak to other patients, especially those I perceived as having it worse. I’m embarrassed to say it now but back then I thought by speaking to those in wheelchairs or with walkers or with visual impairments I would somehow get sicker, even though I’d experienced all that and more. In short, I wasn’t ready to admit I was one of us.

This year another patient and her husband sat at my table – it was their first time. I wondered why they were so quiet until in the evening at the bar they admitted how overwhelming it all was and I instantly recalled my first year. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t focus more on them ’cause after all, we should be there for each other. So other patient (who I won’t name here): take comfort that next year you’ll know us and although I wish we could have met for another reason, you are both part of this amazing network with nothing but endless love and support.

I love my NMO sisters Erin and Christine. They took me under their wings in 2010. For that I am grateful. I am also grateful that my best friend, Andrea, joined me this year. She has been one of my constant supporters and I love that she met the girls, the other amazing patients and we finally had our best friend trip.

Me with super mom, Nancy Reimer, who organized the very first NMO walk/run, and her son Riley.


Erin Miller is obsessed with Sprinkles, the cupcake shop in Beverly Hills, so every Patient Day we make time to trek out for our bedtime snack.











Look everyone!  It’s another workaholic NMO patient! (Me with Sandra Adda.)










With Courtney Engel, me, Christine Ha and Erin Miller.








With my best friend Andrea in front of the famous Chinese Theatre.











Thoughts on winning MasterChef USA 2012

Care to know how Christine is feeling after her big win? Check out her new blog post at:


Watch me on “MasterChef” June 4 & 5, 9/8 CDT, on FOX

The cat’s finally out of the bag. While Erin is busy taking care of baby and Jenna busy growing baby, I was off in L.A. pursuing my own coveted baby: the MasterChef white apron. “MasterChef” is the hit summer show where amateur cooks from all over the U.S. cook their butts off for the title of MasterChef. Renowned chef Gordon Ramsay, acclaimed chef Graham Elliot, and successful restauranteur Joe Bastianich are the three dynamic judges of the competitive cooking show. The FOX show is about to start its third season in two weeks. Will my NMO and vision impairment get in the way of that apron? Only one way to find out…
The season premiere will air on June 4 and 5 at 9/8 CDT on FOX. Tune and support a NMO sister.
Last but not least, here are two promo commercials that have been running on FOX. (And yes, that’s me for two seconds in the first one.) Enjoy!

Our TV Star

Most of you probably don’t know yet but we’re really excited to announce that our very own Christine Ha will be making her TV debut on Season 3 of MasterChef this year!  Unfortunately she can’t tell us much more than that (like if she’s a finalist, how far she got in the competition, etc) but we’re grateful and super appreciative that she was given the opportunity.  A real foodie, Christine has her personal blog, The Blind Cook and also writes for the Houston paper.  Just having her on TV gets a little more attention to Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO).

For a preview of this season of MasterChef, go here (unfortunately this clip doesn’t work outside of the US):



We’re super proud of you Christine!