When Daisy was born in China with physical and mental defects, the doctor warned her parents that they would always need to take care of her. With hard work and the support of her family, Daisy has proven them wrong. In midlife, she published her memoir and challenged herself to speak about her experience.
Tell us a little about your background…
I was born in Beijing, China in the early ‘70s, during the very chaotic time of the Cultural Revolution. When I was not born after 24 hours of labor, the doctor realized there was something wrong; I was breech and he decided to pull me out. It was not safe for me to stay inside my mother’s womb any longer and a C-section was not allowed in China at the time.
It was about 3 AM, there was only one night shift doctor and one nurse on duty at our small local hospital, so both of them pulled one of my legs and yanked me out of my mom’s womb in order to save my life. However, because of the way they pulled me out, they disconnected my right hip socket. Within a week, my mom and dad discovered that my right hip area was swollen and purple.
They immediately took me back to our local hospital, but sent us to a larger hospital because they were not able to help. Long story short, the doctor at the bigger hospital decided I needed surgery; I would end up having six surgeries in the first five years of my life. Not only did these surgeries not solve my hip problem, they actually caused permanent damage. I received an overdose of anesthesia, which damaged my brain cells. I was also left without a hip socket; they used several large nails to connect my right leg to my hip.
The doctor told my parents that I would never be able to do much for myself or to learn a lot at school or to hold down a job. He said my parents should plan to take care of me for the rest of my life. My parents were faced with some difficult choices. My mom, especially, felt that life was dark and depressing. But instead of giving in, she committed herself to my care and to making me better, through the use of Chinese herbs and her own Mama Mu’s cuisine. My mom taught me strength, determination, and to never give up.
When I was young, I remember how painful it was just to walk from our small apartment to the outhouse about 300 yards away. Squatting down was a huge challenge because of how weak my hip was. One time, I almost fell l into the big hole; one of my legs was in I had to get myself out because no one was around to help. Still, with my mom’s encouragement, I was able to start exercising on my own when I was a teen and have not stopped for 30 years. As a result of my hard work and determination, I can now walk well, with little visible limping.
Years later, my mom got her biggest miracle; I turned out to be just as smart as other kids. I credit my accidental discovery of English when I was nine with helping me learn to focus and train my memory. My dad took on extra work, writing articles for Physics magazines (he is a Physicist), in order to afford an English tutor for me. I loved studying the language.
In 1990, with limited options for a college education in China at the time, I joined my parents in the US (my dad was working there already) and attended the University of Montana. I graduated with honors, with a bachelor’s degree in computer science.
After college, I worked in Information Technology for 19 years, for TSC and Oracle, then formed my own consulting company. We worked with large corporations to help them convert their system to the Oracle database, which usually took from one to six years.
I am also happily married to another angel in my life Dave. We met through work and live in Plano, Texas, along with my parents.
When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?
In the spring of 2010, at the age of 39, soon after a vacation to Spain with my parents, I discovered I had a huge moving lump in my left breast. I felt panicky and did some research online. I thought maybe it was just a cyst, but a week later, the growth had gotten bigger. I didn’t want to worry my mom but I finally told her and she pushed me to see a specialist.
It turned out that I had one of the rarest breast tumors in the world, a Phyllodes tumor, and it was growing very aggressively. Surgery revealed that the tumor was indeed cancer and required a second surgery to remove 1 cm of the muscle surrounding the original tumor in order to excise all of the malignant cells.
Luckily, I have been cancer free for four and half years without the need for further treatment. This unexpected illness made me realize I could have died without doing something I’m passionate about.
My career in Information Technology has been good to our family—we’ve been able to live a good life— but it is not something I’m really passionate about or really love to do.
What is your next act?
I am the author of A Girl that was to Sell Soy Sauce, an inspirational memoir I self-published at 43, where I share my story of overcoming great obstacles. I chose that title because I loved soy sauce when I was young and did not show interest in much. One time, Mom got so mad at me she said, “What do you want to do when you grow up, sell soy sauce?” That’s the Chinese way of saying, “Do you want to flip burgers when you grow up?” Because of my disabilities, I was supposed to amount to nothing in China. That’s what the title reflects. In my writing, I document the major events in my life that have led me to where I am today. My readers tell me they find the book both funny and inspirational. Many have emailed me to tell me it changed their lives.
I also give motivational speeches where I talk about living, happy and healthy, the Chinese way. I give unique and fun health tips based on my own experience. I speak to all types of groups: Children, Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs, Chambers of Commerce, Toastmasters Clubs, Women’s Clubs, Human Resources groups, and such. One of the things I always do is have my audience stand up and take part in three exercises that help our spines and ease lower back pain and headaches.
I initially thought I would only give inspirational speeches based on my experience, however, after six months of speaking for free at various places, I was receiving so many email request from my readers asking about my mom’s health tips and how to become healthier, the Chinese way, that I decided to add that focus as well.
I love to see the difference I can make through my words. I believe words are powerful and I help my audiences see their lives a bit differently. I bring them hope.
Why did you choose this next act?
After surviving cancer, I decided I wanted to tell my story. My mother had been telling me for the last 20 years that my story could help many others dare to dream big and never give up, no matter their circumstances. She wanted me to write about my journey, but I also chose to speak about it to help publicize the book and for those who respond better to speech than books.
What challenges did you encounter?
I had never done much writing, so writing a book was very scary. Opening an old wound to tell my story felt raw, but I knew I needed to be real in my writing so readers could connect to my journey. I was lucky to have my husband’s editing help. He’s amazing.
After I exhausted my family and friends with talk about my book, I thought, how can I let others know about my book? That’s how the idea of doing some public speaking about my journey came about. But I had never given a speech in my life, so how was I to learn?
I Googled public speaking and found Toastmasters. I joined in January of 2014 and it has been amazing journey. Toastmasters International is a 90-year old nonprofit organization with clubs worldwide. They help members improve their communication, public speaking, and leadership skills. Through Toastmasters, I have overcome my fear of speaking in front of large groups of people and I’ve learned how to organize an effective speech, use humor in speaking, and optimize my delivery through my voice and gestures. I have made so many new friends and grown so much as a person.
I remember my first public speaking engagement, outside of Toastmasters. It was June of 2015 at the Plano Rotary Club. I was terrified when I learned I would have to speak for 20 minutes. Once I was there, I felt like running away, but when I started speaking, I felt better. After that speech, I asked for a candid review from a professional in the audience and he told me to relax and practice more. But he also said he was impressed and felt I’d go far. It’s always hard to do something for the first time but once we allow ourselves to step out of our comfort zone, we improve and discover talents we never knew we had.
How supportive were your family and friends?
My dad did not think I was “thinking right” when I told him about my career change, that I was going to write a book and become a speaker. He thought I must be going crazy. Why would I give up a great career in IT to start something new when I was a middle-aged woman?
That hurt but it also gave me the strength that I needed to prove him wrong. Now that he’s seen what I’ve accomplished, he is not as negative about my career change! My husband and mom were very supportive. My husband is my editor and coach.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
I often say life takes you on a detour for a greater purpose and it is never too early or too late to realize your dream. We should always DARE to dream BIG (I always sign my book with this statement), because I truly believe that we each have something unique to offer and that no one is really less talented than the next person. The key is to dare to dream, dare to challenge yourself, dare to fail and get up again, and NEVER GIVE UP. It is not easy, but anything worth fighting for isn’t easy, right?
If you want it badly enough, and are willing to work hard, be persistent, and never give up, a miracle is just around the corner. Just take one step at a time. You will find your way. As chairman Deng Xiaoping once said: “Cross the river by feeling the stones.”
What advice do you have for those interested in public speaking? What resources do you recommend?
You need to be 3Ps (Prepared, Persistent, and Patient), ready to take on challenges, and ready to hear NO hundreds of times and be OK with it.
It is a long way to success, but remember if you keep trying, keep working on your speaking ability and speak a lot, the opportunity will come.
I highly recommend Toastmasters International. They have a lot of local clubs, membership is not expensive, and they taught me so much about speaking effectively.
I also subscribe to well-known speakers’ YouTube channels:
I recommend the following books:
I discovered Dale Carnegie books in my teen years (I read the Chinese translations) and they changed my life:
What’s next for you? Do you think you have another next act in your future?
I plan to continue to use my voice to make an impact. I’d like to partner with corporations to speak to their employees about finding a health and happiness in life.
I would also like to fulfill my dream of traveling around the world and take pictures as photography is one of my hobbies as well and I am not half bad…
Contact Daisy Yu at email@example.com or 469-236-3850