Wednesday, March 31, 2010

No more hugs...

When I woke up this morning I wanted nothing more in the world than to give Alex a hug. I remember watching Joe hug him before I did, where I gently held his fragile body.

I remember the earlier hugs he gave me in the hospital bed, and having to negotiate between IV and chemo lines.

I remember the numerous hugs I gave him when he came to my not-so-surprising surprise birthday party which was his first time out after his latest round of chemo.

I remember hugging him when he came out to take pictures at an outdoor climbing trip when he was too weak to climb.

I remember hugging his tall, lean frame after a climbing trip and thinking how I could shape him into becoming a great climber.

I remember all these hugs... and that makes the pain of not being able to hug him all the worse. Somehow I managed to get out of bed. I had told my boss I’d be back in today - so I should get up and go. The world didn't stop just because Alex passed. The sun still rose, people all over continued on their hustling and bustling ways and work still piled up. At least it was a rainy day… somehow that made me feel a little better... possibly just better reflected my mood.

I trudged through my work day on auto-pilot. No lunch visits to Alex. No rush to wrap things up so I could head over to see him for dinner. Just work... and a friend’s party.

Yah, a friend is celebrating her birthday today, but how can I celebrate when I just had a memorial for another friend? But life does move on and I need to enjoy the time I have with these friends … and can do so while still honoring Alex. After all - he was a climbing friend of this person too.

Though I did enjoy the party, I was still too emotionally and physically drained to stay too long, so instead I went over to Janet’s place for a little quiet time. That seemed a little more appropriate for tonight.

Wrap Up

My plan is to gather the rest of the speeches from Sunday (one more to go) and post details about the service. I’ll also post a link to Alex’s pictures, put up any letters/articles he has that should be shared, and then his blog will no longer be updated. It is his blog after all, and if I do continue a blog it should be on my own. Alex’s mom and possibly other individuals also want to post their experiences over the last few weeks to provide a complete picture of our time with Alex (and time without him).

Offline I’ll be going through all the stuff of Alex’s that I’ve acquired and will purge my own closets… as well as my filing cabinet of old papers… as well as any chotchkies that are over a year old (or so)… I just want to do what I can to learn from Alex – or, rather, do what he didn’t do – and NOT save everything!

At least that’s the plan.

But for now I'll just take it one day at a time…

And miss a hug that I’ll never have again.

Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hope you liked it buddy...

Please forgive me for the delay in writing – yesterday completely drained me physically and emotionally... today I'm just absolutely fatigued.

As Alex and I became friends, I fully expected to attend a ceremony for him when he was in his 30s - and I did.
I expected tears to be shed, stories to be told, and favorite songs to be played - and there were.

But the tears were tears of sorrow, not joy.
The stories were of fond memories but no wishes for an even better future.
The music was a painful remembrance of favorite songs that will never be lip synced by Alex again.

The day though was beautiful. In an area known for cloudy and windy weather, it turned out to be an amazing day. There was a thin overcast that kept the sun at a comfortable brightness. The temperature was in the upper 60s and there was none of the usual high coastal wind. The day was perfect for a gathering of friends and family.

Honestly - the day was a blur. I remember a friend coming over to pick me up... of trying to read my speech through tear blurred eyes, trying to speak with a throat closed tight with sorrow. When we arrived in Half Moon Bay I shifted back into execution mode and began taking charge and setting up the house.

At around 10am on Sunday people started gathering on the ocean bluff in Half Moon Bay under the lightly cloudy skies. After a little flurry of sound system tests and getting the family in to comfortable chairs, the ceremony began.

Alex's undergrad adviser, Angel, officiated the day's events. He started things off and explained the lack of a body. Even in his death, Alex continued to give, and gave his body to science in hopes that the knowledge gained by studying his body will help in preventing someone else from suffering as he had. After that the speakers came up and talked about how they knew Alex and what he taught them.

The speakers:

Monica - Being a cousin she could tell of his early years

Janet - A friend since the 9th grade
Jeff & Tom - High school friends who played and sang some of Alex's favorite songs
Mike - Alex's freshman college roommate, who he continued to be great friends with
David - Alex's graduate research adviser
Dana - A friend of Alex's from Cosmos
Serena - A friend since grad school, but more importantly, his recent girlfriend
And then me.

I'll post more detailed information about the service, including the speeches, at a later time.

As my turn approached, my stomach turned, my heart sank and the tears... which had taken a moments pause... began to flow again. I just couldn't believe that my buddy was gone. I JUST saw him... I was just talking with him. Last week this time we were just hanging out... but now he's gone. Anger and sorrow mixed with peace knowing he was no longer in pain as I walked up and took the mic.

Visibly shaking I stood up and tried to calm myself down enough to talk. I wanted them to know the Alex that I knew. I wanted them to be able to hear and understand my words, and try to find some hidden meaning amidst the sobbing that I felt coming. I took a breath. I looked up and I began to talk.

Despite having my speech written, and having had read it through multiple times now, I couldn't tell you what I said. I think it was close to what I had written... but for a time I was (thankfully) on autopilot and just spoke. The one time I did look down at my sheet, I started to tear up and had to pause before continuing. The next thing I can really recall was sitting back down, surrounded by fellow climbers and asking for a much needed group hug.

The remainder of the ceremony was others getting up to share their "Alex experience", followed by a social gather at my advisor’s house surrounded by remembrances of Alex - from his photo albums to a slideshow Serena put together of his life and quotes that people have sent in.

Several hours later the guests left, the remainder of the food was put away, and the house was cleaned. Alex's mom and sister sat in the house staring out at the ocean through large windows. It was as we started packing up Alex's memorabilia that his sister Julia could no longer hold back the tears - realizing the day was almost over, Alex's service was done, and she really did have to say goodbye to her little brother.

Alex's mom had slowly rocked herself into a peaceful sleep. There we let her stay for a couple hours before she aroused herself, realizing that this wasn't her house and that it was time to go. As she hugged me she quietly asked "Is he really gone?" The empty consolation that I gave to this mother that out lived her child, who instead of picking out a wedding dress had to pick out funeral attire, I held her tightly and said "No. He's a part of each and every one of us."

Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Day Three - The Calm Before the (Tear) Storm

Today was a day of checking items off the list. We’ve done so much these last couple days – it’s odd to be able to take a breath and relax for a moment. There’s still the occasional moment of trying to hold back tears, but for the most part we just feel… exhausted. Numb about the event we are about to hold, and exhausted for all of the work we’ve been doing.

Whiteboard – check!

More picture boards…

He had an incredible amount of photos… full of smiles, good memories and interesting hair styles.

Now I need to try to finish up my speech for tomorrow. I know what I want to say… but I don’t know if I’ll be able to utter a single word. It’s still just so unreal.

This just sucks. My heart is still broken; my emotional well is just empty… I’m tired of working, I’m tired of crying… but I don’t want it to end. A part of me feels that tomorrow will make it “real”. That it’s a ceremony to signify a finishing point….

Alex will always be with me. He helped me to be a better person and I will always cherish the time we spent together, and regret not being able to make more.

I can’t wait for tomorrow to be over… but I don’t want it to come.

Hope you like it Alex.


Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng

Updated Memorial Service Information

The service will be held on an ocean bluff about ½ mile south (looking at the ocean – it’s to the left) of the parking lot. Please wear warm casual clothing and shoes suitable for dirt trails. Bring blankets or low chairs to sit on. Parking is limited, so please carpool.

Directions from the Parking Lot to the Service

  • Park in the parking lot at 100 Popular St, Half Moon Bay, CA
  • Go to the paved path and, looking at the ocean, take a left and head towards a line of trees
  • Continue as the path bends to the left (away from the ocean) and then to the right, and you will cross over a wooden bridge in the line of trees
  • The path is now a dirt path and is heading back to the ocean
  • At this point you should see a group of people gathering at the ocean bluff

There should be people and signs to direct you to the correct location.

After the Service

Please join us at 217 Central Ave for light refreshments and to enjoy remembrances of Alex. There is limited street parking at the house, so please walk if possible (1/2 mile). Please remember to remove your shoes when you enter the house.

Suggested Charities

In lieu of flowers/gifts, please make a donation in honor of Alex to one of the charities below, or to any charity that reminds you of him. Also, please check if your company has a gift matching program.

Beat Sarcoma:

  • Goal: Targets unfunded high priority and high impact sarcoma-specific research
  • Donating from the JustGive link reduces the overhead cost
  • Contact information for personal messages -
  • Tax ID: 26-0852086

Cosmos Education:

Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng

Friday, March 26, 2010

Day Two - Too Busy to Mourn

It’s incredible how much stuff needs to be done in order to take time to say goodbye…

Calling and checking out sites to pick a location. This included “breaking in” to one (done), someone to officiate the service (done), figuring out how to set up a donation site (almost done), figuring out what we need for the service (basically done), and getting all the needed equipment (done), ordering food (oops), shredding receipts – some so old that the ink had long since given up the account information it held (still going), remembering that we need to eat too, cleaning (still going…), getting flowers, pulling together quotes (still going), and responding to emails – thank you so much for all the words of encouragement; I cannot express how much it has helped throughout this terrible time – selecting music (kinda done), getting friends to help (done), picking up friends at the airport (many more to go), etc, etc, etc…

There is just so much to do… which… in a way has been therapeutic.

At least I feel like I’m helping him… even if he is already gone.

We’ve been laughing plenty over stupid things as our exhaustion sets in… or after finding random / interesting things… and, of course, the tears continue to flow as we read emails from friends, find something that reminds us of a special time with him, or just because we miss him.

The outpouring of love, amazing stories, comments of support and sadness has just been phenomenal. Speaking on behalf of all of us planning the service, we thank you from the depths of our heart. It’s been amazing to see how much impact one person can have. From messages that were sent by college & grad school friends here at Stanford, to letters of love from Africa – Alex, in his all too short of a life, still had a global impact.

So again, Thank you.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now for some pics….

How we’ve been spending the last couple days….

No idea how they did it before computers.

Our whiteboard – trying to organize our thoughts.

Checking out a place… No fence can keep Janet out

Receipts so old the ink had completely worn away!

**Notice the handlebars…

Speaking of handlebars… they do work!

Ok… a brief note on the handlebars…

On Wednesday I had a goatee and a major presentation. My plan for the day was to go in to work, have lunch with Alex, go back to work and give the presentation, shave the goatee and show up on Alex’s door with handlebars. The reason: to make Alex smile.

Actually… for the last while… that has been my goal.

When Alex was diagnosed, I took a page from my mom’s book of how to help those you love… when you really can’t… and made it my goal to make Alex smile each time I visited him.

Often I’d come in with a story of stupidity (which may or may not have really happened)… sometimes I’d come in various costumes or pics of events… and of late – modifying my looks.

He didn’t care for the beard.

Really didn’t like the goatee. (“You missed a spot” he said.)

And I knew he wouldn’t like the handlebars… and not like them to a point of at least smiling. (I could see him just slowly shaking his head while saying “Geeeesh…”).

But then Wednesday came… and I never gave the presentation, never shaved, never got to show Alex the handlebars. I still decided to shave it down, feeling that somehow he’s now looking down on me … slowly shaking his head while saying “Geeeesh…”

Miss you buddy.

But don’t worry Buddy – I’ll shave it off for Sunday.

Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Memorial Information for Alex Tung

A low-key memorial service will be held for Alex Tung in Half Moon Bay on Sunday March 28th at 11 am.

All are welcome to attend the event.


  • Please park in the lot at 100 Poplar St, Half Moon Bay. There is also street parking.
  • Parking is limited so please carpool
  • After parking look for signs indicating where to go
  • Casual attire. Dress how Alex knew you: jeans, sweatshirts, sneakers, and climbing shoes encouraged.
  • Location is chilly and may require a slight hike
Service Information
  • There will be time for individuals to say something if desired
  • Bring blankets or low chairs if you'd like
  • After the service, meet at 217 Central St, Half Moon Bay for light food and drink
  • The house is a 15 minute walk away
  • No shoes/sneakers in the house please
In lieu of flowers we will be asking for donations to a charity(ies) to be determined soon (we are looking for one focused on rhabdomyosarcoma research), Cosmos Education or you may donate to a charity of your choice in memory of Alex.

Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng

Day One

Last night, while trying to provide words of support and comfort, a friend told me “Tomorrow will be a new day.”

My response: “Yes. Tomorrow will be the first day without Alex”.

To catch you up…

After the nurse came to put in the morphine pump, Alex remained awake and fitful. He was strong enough to make enough of a fuss about having a condom catheter put on that they just went with the diapers. With pump button in hand we tried to let him rest.

For the next few hours Julia stayed with him as he continued to move around in bed. Occasionally closing his eyes and looking like he was about to drift off into a peaceful sleep, he’d then open his eyes wide and start reaching and pulling for the side bed rails. This was interspersed with weak fits of coughing.


Now he’s trying to get himself out of bed.

Julia is able to stop him and get him to bed, now with the condom catheter on, but we need to keep him in bed. Doing a little ad-hoc engineering we put a large couch cushion next to the bed and wedge it in with a heavy nightstand.

He continued to be fitful.

A call to the nurse on call proved unhelpful.

Finally at 3am, with a major presentation looming on me… I had to go and get some sleep. I wished my buddy a good night sleep. Kissing him gently on the forehead. Not realizing it would be the last time I’d see him alive, but being so thankful for having such a great day.

Day Zero

Yesterday morning, while I was sitting in a meeting with the Web IT Director, Julia called. Hoping against hope that it was just about the packing we planned on doing that day, or a lunch request order, I answered and asked what was up.

She informed me that Alex had just passed.

The Web IT Director, also a friend, was just asking about Alex and how he was doing. After hearing Julia’s words I was able to get out an “It’s over” and did what I could to hold the tears at bay as I went down to my office. Those were the last words I was able to say for the next ½ hr. In my office my officemate wanted to know what was going on with the status of things. Opening my email account I wrote a simple letter to her and other key coworkers who were followers of Alex’s blog, and knew we were good friends, that Alex’s suffering was finally over.

With tears streaming down my face, and my co-worker’s comments of “Dear God, I am so sorry” as she put her hands on my shoulders I packed up my belongings to head out.

Now… looking back on it… driving while crying and so emotionally upset is an extremely stupid thing to do. To make it worse, I received a text from my brother, an attorney who helped out with answering some questions about the will the day before, and I actually wrote him back that it was over.… while driving… while crying… Thank God I didn’t get into an accident.

Score one for stupidity.

At the house, Alex’s door was closed while the nurse was in there preparing his body. I cannot express in words the palpable sorrow that filled the house.

Not enough tears could ever be shed.

Not enough sobs could ever be heard.

Not enough hugs could ever be given to relieve the pain felt at such a loss.

The rest of the day was a blur of notifying people, and forgetting to notify so many others, people visiting – thank you Alan for bringing food.

He did look so peaceful...

He had this little smirk on his face as if he knew a joke… Like a massive stash of years and years of outdated receipts waiting for us, or more empty film canisters… hidden like Easter eggs throughout his place.

Alex’s mom did though want a “family photo” . Which.. umm.. was a little interesting and added a little levity to a horrible, horrible situation.

Guess you could just say that Alex blinked…

The two things I remember most are the wails of his mother and the sights and sounds of his body being wheeled out.

“He’s still warm. He’s still warm….” She wailed.

Clinging to his body she didn’t want her son, her baby boy, to go.

When the last person paid their respects, and they took his body, the clanging of the gurney as it was rolled out was mixed in with the deep resounding sounds of the large wind chimes that hung nearby.

For the rest of the day we organized the medical equipment, collected more and more bottles of pills and medical supplies, trying to find a place to properly dispose of everything and a place for his memorial.

Serena, Janet, Gloria, Alan and I went out to check out a few spots to have his memorial. After a few calls, an attempt to burn out the clutch and several site visits – we finally found a place thanks to my research advisor. Long and emotional day… and feeling weak and weary from tears and heartache, we gathered together and went out to eat and then went to our respective homes to try and get some sleep.

Day 1

We are now back at Alex's old place making final arrangements for his memorial service.

Please stay posted as we finalize the information.

At a high level it will be held this Sunday, at 11am in Half Moon Bay, CA.

Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Hey Alex-fans!

So my name is Blase and I’ll be updating Alex’s blog on his behalf with the help of others. Please bear with me as this is my first time blogging.

I’m a friend of Alex’s and have truly enjoyed our growing friendship over the years. He’s an amazing fellow – friendly, caring, smart… could work on his climbing footwork… but otherwise an all-around great guy. I met Alex when I taught the Strength & Conditioning rock climbing classes at Stanford University and we continued to be friends afterwards. Working for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital (and having an understanding boss) has afforded me the ability to be near him throughout all of his treatments. My previous experiences of having a grandmother who passed due to cancer and a sister who just won her 4th battle with it, has helped me to have an understanding of what to expect next… not that it made it any easier.

So… now for the hard part.

On Monday March 15th the doctors decided it was best to stop the chemo and Alex was given weeks to live.

He’s done a valiant job fighting off the cancer over the last – almost 3 years now (6/2007) – and has come through some rough surgeries and hard times. But now it’s time to just make him comfortable and prepare for his departure from this world.

At a high level…

Since then I’ve seen him slip away – watched as he went from being able to move and feed himself on his own to requiring help with everything he does. Mentally he’s gone from making wisecracks to having a hard time processing simple questions. Some of this is may be the drugs, some his condition.

… I’m losing my buddy… and it really sucks.

Despite this – over the past week we have had some excellent visits and we’ve made excellent progress on preparing for end.

The week in review…

Alex Tung, PhD.

Serena has been doing an amazing job working on pulling together his thesis. His committee has agreed to review it and will be awarding him a PhD shortly! Thanks also to Serene and Ray for running around and getting signatures.

On Sunday, Serena made delicious tonkatsu:

Alan then labored away in the kitchen to bake us some yummy sugar cookies. We did a comparison of square versus round cookie dough, which does actually yield slightly different results.

On Tuesday, Mary and Brooke came over for lunch and brought a feast of home cooked food.

For lunch on Thursday, Mary, Linus, and I came by with Thai food.

Channeling our inner Clint Eastwood.

Friday was L&L Hawaiian BBQ with John and Serena

Saturday we were able to get out and go for a walk at Crystal Springs Reservoir with Serena and Yves.

After all this exercise, Alex was pretty much out of it by Sunday. Janet, Serena and I did get out for a brief walk him in his wheelchair and portable oxygen tank, but that was it.

Since Alex mostly slept the day away, Julia and I worked on going through his office stuff. We quickly learned what a packrat he was. Receipts from 2002? Empty packages? Several outdated versions of software? Toilet paper!??!

We categorized the materials as: junk, items needed to complete his thesis, “hold for 3 months and if we don’t open – trash”, and keep (photo albums, important mementos, etc).

At first it was slow going, but eventually we picked up the pace.

We hated throwing anything out (other than the receipts and empty boxes), but realized that we couldn’t keep it all. We can still keep Alex, but we don’t need to keep all of his stuff.

But yah – it was tough.

It was like saying goodbye to him one item at a time.

Monday was worse… but mostly because of all the dust.

His desk…

Even after having done a bunch of cleanup…

Alex’s former residence – where he still had just way too much crap – hasn’t properly been cleaned since the house was first built! There were cobwebs on the ceiling, a thick layer of dust on his stuff, and even a vine growing into the bathroom. It was an allergy hell… and emotionally much worse than going through his office stuff.

Janet, Julia and I had to take a hard look at things. Just so many pieces of chotchkies, which we were sure meant a lot to him, but their meaning was often times lost on us.

Besides the same boxes we used for the office stuff, we also added a box for Serena to review and a “donate in 3 months” box.

God there’s just so much stuff…

Besides going through all of his hardcopies of stuff, we also began going through his computers (3) and external hard drives (3 that we know of so far). The plan is to convert the computer hard drives into external drives for now and go through them later on.

Honestly… out of all of the things we went through I’d love to hold on to a drive… as each of them are filled with photos and vids he’s taken over the years. It’s just a great way of seeing the world through his eyes.

Now – on to today…

Where yesterday he was completely out of it, today (Monday) at lunch he was clear and alert enough to make a few smart-alecky comments. I loved it.

Physically though he’s just skin and bones.

I fed him by hand and helped him with all of his transfers.

It really sucked to see how much he degraded… and has been hard to see.. . but yah – mentally he was there… at least at lunch.

In the evening I was back again, and again hand feeding him and having him drink some water from a sponge… but this time, at one time he looked me in the eyes and asked me what my name was.

That hurt.

It’s been a long day of visitors, including his care team, so maybe he was just exhausted.

But yah – having seeing a grandmother fade away due to cancer, and a grandfather due to failure of practically everything – I did expect this to happen… but it doesn’t make it any easier.

I just smiled, told him my name, that I was a friend and kept on feeding him.

I’ll just keep on loving on him.


So.. his care team did meet and determined he was mentally capable of signing his forms, etc and estimated that he has 2 days to 2 weeks left.

Alex didn’t want to know the timing.

Maybe he’s still hoping he’ll get better, but in a brief lucid moment he had last week he told his sister how surprised he was at his decline.

So it’s time to get things ready…


Alex wanted his body donated to science so I went to Stanford Med School and made the necessary arrangements for something that’ll happen all too soon.

We also were able to get him to sign his form (will, insurance, etc) … though his once very stylish signature now more resembled scribbles – I did see him sign it and Janet and I stand by as witnesses.

I also went to the Palo Alto Wastewater Treatment center in order to properly dispose of the expired medicines.

Ending the day strong…

Joe and Christina stopped by for a visit, and Alex insisted on getting out of his room (“I’ve been trapped in my room all day”) and eating at the dinner table.

It was great to see him up and about. Christina did a great job helping out and assisting him with eating.

The nurse did come back again late in the evening to attach the morphine pump to his port. Hopefully that’ll help with the pain and ease with the final transition.

It sucks to lose such a good guy, and to lose him so fast.

More updates tomorrow, but for now, time for sleep...

Written by: Blase B. Iuliano
Edited by: Janet Cheng

Sunday, March 07, 2010


(Written last week on Monday) (2/24/10)

Well sh*t. I saw my oncologist two days ago and she had bad news about the CT scan from Thursday. Basically there are new lesions (4-5) in the supposedly healthy portion of my liver (i.e. the part they didn't cut out). This section showed nothing last time we checked right before the surgery. So. . . I'm back in the hospital for more chemotherapy. This time it's high-dose ifosfamide, a drug I've had before but apparently works differently in high doses. It will be 7 days here, two weeks off, 7 days here, two weeks off, and then a CT scan to check.

How do I feel? FREAKED OUT. This is obviously not the news I wanted. Doc says if we were to sit and do nothing, it'd be 3-4 MONTHS. As usual, I have to take it day by day, but it's starting to feel like my options are running out.

A week later, a little bit calmer. . . and at home

They rushed to admit me to the hospital that day on the 24th but I didn't get that first dose until 2:30am anyway despite being checked in around 4pm. I guess it wasn't really a rush, just kind of urgent to get something going.

Still pretty frazzled right now. At the very least I'm at home and not having to be in the hospital. We weren't able to complete the ifos regimen becuase I was having all sorts of crazy side effects - hallucinations, extreme fatigue, twitchiness in my legs and fingers/arms, general loss of motor control in my fingers, and of course the usual nausea sans (thankfully) vomitting. Oh yeah, and I started having pretty high pulse rate but surprisingly normal blood pressure. Plus, the stuff they started giving me to reduce the side effects also started turning my pee and skin a little blue. That's always fun, eh? I think it's finally run through its' course, since my pee is returning to its normal hue.

I'm still feeling pretty wrecked, but we'll see what my doctor says about starting up again. We submitted paperwork last week to get another drug approved for compassionate care use (i.e. insurance company won't accept usage but company can)