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K-pop helps fan battle cancer

“Hallyu” continues to grow worldwide as Korean artists become more active internationally than they do at home.

Also known as the Korean Wave, referring to the popularity of Korean pop culture, most hallyu fandom starts at a young age, as do the K-pop artists and teen idol groups.

However, this wasn’t the case for Katherine Kokenes, a mother of three college graduates.

Kokenes has been in love with K-pop since 2007 and became a huge fan of the K-pop duo TVXQ. She has been actively supporting them ever since.

TVXQ, or Tong Vfang Xien Qi, which roughly translates to “Rising Gods of the East,” consists of U-Know Yunho and Max Changmin and has over 2 million fans worldwide.

But Kokenes’ passion for TVXQ is definitely not what you would call typical.

So how big of a fan is she?

She has attended over 35 TVXQ concerts, has a small room at home filled with over 1,000 pieces of TVXQ merchandise, her customized license plate reads “TVXQFAN” and most importantly, she is president of the ‘We Are T’ TVXQ International Fan Club. 

Katherine Kokenes, a big fan of TVXQ, has battled breast cancer by devoting her positive energy into herself, family and K-pop. (K-Herald)
Katherine Kokenes, a big fan of TVXQ, has battled breast cancer by devoting her positive energy into herself, family and K-pop. (K-Herald)

“Their harmonization and powerful dancing are just amazing! I grew up in Hawaii, and dancing is a huge part of my culture, so when I first saw them dancing, I was just so hypnotized. Even if I don’t understand what they are singing about, I absolutely love it and can’t get over it,” she said.

Some people may call Kokenes over-obsessed. However, most people do not know that her obsession and strong passion for K-pop is what actually helped to save her life.

In late 2011, Kokenes was diagnosed with stage IV inflammatory breast cancer, which is a rare and very aggressive form of breast cancer.

After the diagnosis, she went through an extensive treatment of chemotherapy and radiation throughout all of 2012 and underwent surgery in 2013.

“It was a complex surgery. My doctor just told me to rest and prepare myself. I told him, ‘No. I have three kids who were still in school and I need to provide for them,’” she said.

After her surgery, Kokenes decided that instead of being sad or scared, she wanted to live her life to the fullest by doing whatever she could that made her happy.

It turned out to be one of the best decisions Kokenes made ― after pouring all of her positive energy and passion for her family, K-pop and for herself ― she seemed to miraculously heal.

Doctors couldn’t explain it and are still baffled by how she was able to survive without additional treatment.

These days Kokenes still continues to do what she loves, such as flying to Japan to attend five concerts as part of TVXQ’s “With” tour.

Now, not only does she support TVXQ, but she also embraces many other K-pop bands and has attended over 50 K-pop concerts in total so far.

Her love for K-pop is even stronger as she is able to share most of her memorable K-pop moments with her two daughters.

“Other fans have their own story. I have mine. I think K-pop is a huge influence on people and their music can really save lives. I really hope these artists know that,” she said.

Kokones said every penny and the energy spent purchasing plane tickets, concert tickets and merchandise was well worth it because every moment that has made her happy is her own personal medicine.

By Yuna Hwang

This article originally appeared in the March 13 edition of K-Herald, a supplement of the Los Angeles Times. ― Ed.
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