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Welcome to my personal thoughts and opinions…travels and personal encounters…momentary acquaintances and lifetime connections as I view life through the pink-tinted spectacles of breast cancer.

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March 19, 2008

AGONY AND ECSTACY

I was in the hospital lobby today, minding my own business as I waited for my turn at the CT scan room. I was waiting to have another check to see if the malignant tumor that was removed from my brain a month ago did not leave any unwanted trail marks. To be honest, I was trying to ward off discouragement and fear while I also struggled with the constant pain in my left ear. I guess, after so many lab tests, I still had not mastered the anxiety that thinking about the lab results normally bring.

I was hungry, impatient and worried, very close to a tamtrum. My husband and my son were trying to amuse me in vain.

Agony would have been too simple a word to describe my disposition.

As I wallowed in self-imposed misery, I looked up to see my cousin walk in. She sat beside me and proceeded to tell me that she had just found a lump on her breast and was there for a mammogram. Pray for her, a voice prompted me. How could I, was all I could think of. I nudged Bong and whispered to him to pray for her but he was talking to someone so she and I ended up talking about forgettable things. After a few moments of chit-chat, she stood up and proceeded to the mammography room. She came out a few minutes later to tell me that the doctors were on Holy Week break and so she had to wait five more days to have the necessary tests done. By then I could almost tangibly feel the fear that she must have felt upon having to wait longer, the same one I felt the first moment that cancer became a possibility in my life two years ago.

I put my arm around her and started praying for her, that God’s peace and supernatural joy would come upon her during the waiting time. I prayed for His healing touch for her body. I proceeded to share with her about God’s promises of healing and about His grace and great love for His children.

Having done all these, a supernatural joy came upon me in an instant. My faith suddenly rose up for my own healing. As God performed His work on the two of us, we both broke down in tears as well as hope.

This incident reminded me of a statement I once read, that when we are fighting a battle, if we will give out of our need, God will cause our answer to come to us quicker.

What ecstasy we have in knowing and receiving the wonderful grace of God as we give in our time of need. His word promises,

Pray for one another, that you may be healed.
James 5:16

March 9, 2008

ROUND THREE

The unofficial biopsy result is out that the mass removed from my brain a few weeks ago was malignant. The good news is that it was well-defined and removed totally by my neurosurgeon. The challenge now is to keep our toes up and make sure that the growth of more tumors will stop.

The difference between my two operations is that on the first one, I was fighting the battle on intellect, logic and reason. This time, I am on full faith mode, that God has already orchestrated my total healing.

The first few days out of brain surgery, I could not think clearly. There were even times when I thought that I was seeing a garden of flowers in heaven right on the ceiling of my hospital room. Once, I had to write down my name and my kids' names and birthdays on a notebook for fear I will always forget them. Gradually, my memory started to come back and I realized that the handsome man sleeping on the couch by my bed is actually my husband (right, Sis. Beth?). I had been alternating between hope and depression for most of the time and ironically became focused and determined again once I found out that the tumor was malignant.

Many prayers have been said and many prophecies have been given. For sure, this experience has only brought me even closer to an understanding of God’s grace and an openness of His purposes in my life that are yet to be fulfilled.

One encouraging text message I received just now, which I feel really speaks to me in this new chapter of my life: Often the most trying times are the most beneficial to our Christian growth. Consider Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Remember Moses and the trials he faced. If you read the Scriptures, you will hardly find anything about the easy times. All the glories came out of the hard times. If you are really to be reconstructed, it will be in a hard time...at a time when you think all things are dried up.

Do stand with us in faith that this is the last frontier on the road to conquest for God's glory.




I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your love toward me,
You have delivered me from the depths of the grave.

Psalm 86:12-13

February 17, 2008

BRAIN SURGERY

I will be undergoing brain surgery tomorrow to remove the suspicious lump that they just found accidentally, no, providentially on the right side of my brain. That in itself is already a great story.

The discovery was actually a miracle, because I did not have any symptoms to indicate that it was there. Please pray for my doctors tomorrow, that their hand will be guided during the operation and that recovery will be smooth and swift. Pray also for all other favorable results.

God’s word for me today is clear:

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter,
You will restore my life again;
From the depths of the earth you will bring me up.
You will increase my honor and comfort me once again.

Psalm 71:19-21

February 9, 2008

HOSPITAL BOUND

Well, my bag is packed and in a few hours I will be hospital bound again. The brain scan results had just come in and there is certainly a 2 cm tumor there. I will be first treated for the edema in the brain that is causing my facial paralysis, partial deafness and immobility.

After that, we will worry about the tumor. Please continue to believe with us for God's miracle.

WAITING TIME

Had my brain scan yesterday, which took more or less three hours. I was trying to fight the fear that being kept in an enclosure for a long period of time can induce, so I forced myself to sleep through the process. There was a brace over my forhead so at least there was no likelihood of any movement that would disrupt the scan.


Now the waiting time begins. I was told I will get the results in three to five days. I am forcing myself to tink positively and cling on to the promises of God in His word.


February 7, 2008

FACING A NEW MOUNTAIN

Yesterday, was quite a heavy day for me. My old high school classmates had just started arriving from all over the world in time for our class reunion this weekend. Added to that, our school was in a frenzy over the althletic meet that we are currently competing in. When Bong told me that my surgeon, Doc Emil, was inviting us for lunch I was hesitant to add another entry into my full-packed day. But go to lunch we did.

During the course of the meal, Tutti, Emil's wife and an opthalmologist, pointed out to me that I needed to see a neurologist as soon as possible because she noticed that the blinking on my left eye was delayed. Actually, I did notice the discomfort on the eye, along with the sudden hypersensitivity of my left ear and frequent loss of balance during the last couple of weeks. I just falsely presumed that it was a side effect of my chemotherapy.

In hindsight, I think it was providential that we had that lunch date yesterday.

After swallowing all the food that I could from my plate, we proceeded to try to get an appointment with the neurologist at the soonest possible time. The two-hour wait for the appointment seemed endless.

Finally, at half past four, I settled into the doctor's clinic. As it turns out, I have some sort of paralysis on the left side of my face and all fingers seem to be pointing to a spread of the cancer to my brain. When the doctor made this pronouncement, my morale seemed to crash down to my feet as quickly as the blood rushed to my head all over again, for the millionth time this past year. He proceeded to tell me about probabilities and the risk factors but I was only half listening as my mind was shuffling around for something solid to hold on to.

After the doctor's visit, I had to make arrangements for a brain scan. Having only one hospital where I can have it done here, I learned that I now have to wait a couple of days more for the hospital to accomodate me for the procedure. Having nowhere else to go, we decided to go to the prayer meeting in church. There, everyone gathered over me to pray for me and cry with us as we face yet another challenge in this long and arduous road that we are taking.

Today, I choose to face this new mountain with continued faith that God is in full control of my life and that He has great plans for me. As I wait for the scheduled scan and the doctor's appointments that are sure to follow, I am overwhelmed with peace that all things will work out for my good, whatever that may be.

Please remain in prayer with us, for faith to move this mountain and for God's deliverance yet again.

I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.
Mark 11:22-24

January 19, 2008

GIVING BACK

I just came back from visiting two sisters today. One of them, the older one has just finished her chemotherapy and is getting ready to begin her month-long radiation treatment for stage 3 breast cancer. The younger one, has just been recently diagnosed with breast cancer in situ. Their cousin, a friend of mine, had asked me to pay them a visit and give them a little hope.


For over an hour, we chatted about hair loss, diet and life with cancer. This time, I was the one on the listening side as I just allowed them to talk about their struggles and little triumphs. Of course, I gave them little tips and anecdotes that hopefully will encourage them to keep on fighting.


Giving back is a very empowering experience.




January 14, 2008

TRIPLE CELEBRATION


This week we will be celebrating three important milestones:

  • on the 15th, will mark my first year as a cancer survivor
  • on the 17th, I will celebrate my 41st birthday
  • on the 18th, Angela will have her 14th birthday.

Thank God for the wonderful miracle of life!


To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!


Jude 1:24-25

January 13, 2008

SERENDIPITY AND WABI-SABI

As I celebrate my first year anniversary as a breast cancer survivor in a few days, it is quite fitting that I serendipitously stumbled upon the concept of wabi-sabi.

Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.

Nothing exemplifies the Japanese culture more than tea. Tea, in its current form, was born out of a medieval society rife with terrible warfare, yet the samurai were willing to set aside their rank-and their swords-to become equals within the tearoom.

In learning tea, we're constantly reminded that every meeting is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion to enjoy good company, beautiful art, and a cup of tea. We never know what might happen tomorrow, or even later today. Stopping whatever it is that's so important (dishes, bill paying, work deadlines) to share conversation and a cup of tea with someone is an easy opportunity to promote peace. It is from this place of peace, harmony, and fellowship that the true wabi-sabi spirit emerges.

A year ago, I would not have believed that I could come to a level of acceptance for the things that I have had to deal with: appreciating beauty through the ravages of a mastectomy that confronts me in the mirror everyday; being optimistic about a future that is marred by worry and fears that only cancer can bring; finding life through the physical discomforts and fatigue that accompanies a lengthy treatment.

Carrying the burden of things with grace and dignity: wabi-sabi. Finding God’s love in the midst of pain and adversity: wabi-sabi. Viewing life with joy and vibrancy amidst illness: wabi-sabi. Standing still in peace and faith as the storm blows outside: wabi-sabi.

Wabi-sabi. What an amazing way to describe the sense of balance that I find myself in today.










The voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.
Marcel Proust


Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn,
whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.
Helen Keller

December 28, 2007

MY 2007 IN REVIEW

Where have the 365 days gone?


They seem to have flown past me in a flurry of events, emotional highs, physical pain, heartwarming milestones, and great memories in between.

Anyone watching on the sidelines would think we had a terrible year. This time last year, we were about to bury my mother who had died after 100 days in a coma, due to a hospital error. Immediately after burying her, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Invasive Lobular Carcinoma that had spread to my lymphatic system. It was the deadly triple (estrogen, progesterone and her2neu) negative type, the one that according to doctors does not respond very well to treatment. I was sentenced to a probable survival rate of fifteen percent in the next five years.

Just as I was about to start with my chemotherapy treatment, my dear friend and well-loved mentor, Emy Porter passed away due to cancer. We had watched her fight valiantly and bravely and so her demise was a particularly devastating as well as scary thing.

In Feburary, I began with my chemotherapy treatment. As we fumbled our way through six aggressive cycles, I struggled with the rages of physical discomfort as well as depression. Other than that, I tried to decently mourn the tragic and seemingly unjust death of mother, whom I had taken care of all these years.

In July, we proceeded to Cebu for six weeks of radiation treatment. As soon as we arrived there, my husband's dad and bestfriend, my father-in-law also passed away.



I trudged along the thirty days of treatment in Cebu, mostly alone as my husband had to stay in Iloilo to take care of the kids.

Thinking that at least our days would be easier as soon as my treatment in August was over, we received another blow when we found another growth that forced me to resume with six more cycles of chemotherapy in October.



Difficult work problems also crept up on us and left us shaken and unsure. Added to that were several more challenges that had compounded because of our situation.

Yup, looking back it did seem like a pretty bad one. But looking inwards to what happened in our hearts, it has been a liberating year. For one, I have proven that the bonds that tie our family together are very, very strong. If at all possible, I have come to love them even more deeply. Secondly, we have learned to filter the unnecessary concerns from our lives in order to focus on the more important ones. Third, I would like to think that my heart has become more compassionate, forgiving and generous towards the people around me. Last and most importantly, I have come to a profound understanding of God’s unconditional and total love for me as His child.

Somehow, this was also the year when our family became closer, the children more mature. I became the grateful recipient of God’s overflowing provision which sustained my family through the piling medical bills. I became more attuned with people’s kindness and sincerity. I found many long-lost friends who got in touch with me as soon as they found out what we were going through. I made many new and rich friendships too along the way.


We leave 2007, then, not as battle-weary soldiers but as true conquerors. We have seen the amazing resiliency of spirits that are strengthened by God’s grace and by the love of our dear friends and family who solidly stood by us through our ordeal.


Thank you very much for all your prayers and encouragement. Here's to a prosperous and triumphant 2008 for all of us!



Launch slideshow of my 2007 review here.

December 24, 2007

SURVIVOR CHRISTMAS

Today I am celebrating my first Christmas as a cancer survivor. Beyond the hustle and busy schedule, I can actually see some little but meaningful changes in me.

For one, I have a better appreciation for family gatherings. Preparing for dinners and parties are no longer an obligation in order to make everyone happy. I must say that now I can actually enjoy these get-togethers for what they are meant to be: time to catch up on each other’s lives and to bond.

Secondly, It’s easier to buy gifts now without fretting over the price tag. Saving up for a rainy day is no longer my number one mantra. Although I must say that I have spent quite a fortune this year on my treatment, the fear of lack is no longer controlling me.

Third, I think I really am a much more generous person now. Truth be told, I used to give gifts as payback for services received or as plain tradition. Now, I just enjoy giving, period.

What was once a stressful series of family and community events have become for me a wonderful time to share, give and love.

Merry Christmas to me!

December 14, 2007

A CHRISTMAS FAREWELL

So long, my friend.

I know that throughout all of my life, I have shared many Christmas memories with you. But this time, I must say, I have to let go of you. I’m sorry to say that cancer has forced me to make this painful decision, but we both know it’s for the best.

I can’t begin to imagine enjoying Christmas dinner without you on my plate but I have to be satisfied with fruits and vegetables this time.

I will miss your crispy skin and tender ribs, not to mention your liver sauce.



I do hope that somewhere down the road, I can celebrate Christmas with you again.

November 20, 2007

FUN AGAIN

Most of today was spent watching my daughter play volleyball with the high school varsity. As I watched her move agilely across the court, two things struck me:

First, I realized that 25 years ago, I was at the very same stadium, in the very same competition, playing the very same game with my high school team.

The combination of nostalgia and pride was great food for my soul.

Second, she seems to be more carefree these days. She no longer looks over her shoulder every few minutes just to check if I'm okay.

She is having fun again.

I don't exactly know why but these two thoughts really made me happy. My relationship with her has never been better because of what we have just gone through as a family.


ANOTHER DOCTOR'S VISIT

I had another visit with my oncologist today. Before going up to her office, I saw one of my co-survivors waiting in her jeep because she could not go up the flight of stairs. She was waiting for the doctor to just check her right there in the parking lot. I found out later that her cancer had already spread to her bones and the metastasis was causing her spinal column to be compacted. She could not yet afford the medication for metastasis that I am also taking, so they are trying to buy time.

I waited for my turn in the lobby, saddened that she could not afford the treatment but thankful that I could. I must really say that I am really blessed to be able to afford all the medications I have had to take, without any insurance at that. This got me to thinking that someday I hope to be in a position to help other cancer patients who have no money to pay for their treatments.

A few minutes after my oncologist finally arrived in her clinic, I was called in. She did the routine check on my collarbone and breast area for possible new growths. We also discussed the need for me to have the mastectomy of my remaining breast and the hysterectomy in February, at the latest. She checked my blood tests and other laboratory results. So far, I'm clear til the next visit.

Well, that is that.


November 14, 2007

TWO ROUNDS WITH XELODA

Tomorrow, I will complete my second cycle of Xeloda. The instructions from my oncologist say that I must take two tablets of it, an hour after eating breakfast and another two after dinner.

I'm getting the hang of planning my meals around it, and around the other medications I have to take.

After being more vigilant about my physical condition this past year, I can pick up the side effects that are already silently creeping in.

I am becoming more easily fatigued.

Occasionally, I wake up to tingling and numbness on my fingertips. At least, I do not have the more severe symptoms: peeling, blisters, and swelling...yet.

Sometimes, when I stand up I am overcome by dizziness and a pounding heartbeat.

Will it get better, or will it get worse? I don't know.

November 11, 2007

FAREWELL, MY FRIEND

I received a text message today to inform me that one of my co-survivors in our support group has succumbed to breast cancer. I was just talking to her last week, when we were both waiting for our turn in our oncologist's clinic. She was telling me during our short time together that everytime she thinks of giving up, she changes her mind when she thinks of me.

This is the first time that someone I had walked with in the months of my treatment has passed away. It is a very sobering and saddening thought.

Farewell, Gemma, we will really miss your generous smile. You fought the good fight. Please intercede for us who remain here. See you, my friend.

November 9, 2007

DULCE'S LAST DANCE

Today's headlines was quite a shocker.

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, a dumptruck passed a red light in one of the intersections of Manila and rammed into a family van, killing one and injuring three others. The most prominent passenger of the family van was Senator Rene Saguisag, a controversial political figure in our country, lawyer of deposed Former President Joseph Estrada.

But, no, his presence in the accident was not what shook me. It was the fact that his wife, Dulce, also a prominent political figure, was the lone fatality. She was a ten-year breast cancer survivor.

How can one begin to find meaning in such a tragedy? Here was a woman who had fought hard to rise above the ravages of breast cancer for ten years, only to die in a tragic road mishap. It appears so senseless. Her son was supposed to get married next month.

I remember the night before I checked into the hospital for my biopsy last January, my 16-year old son had told me at the dinner table: You have to make it, Ma, because I need you to be with me on my wedding day.

The promise I gave my son that night has, on many days, kept me going. During the times when I need to find a vision to focus on, I think of being around when my children celebrate their important moments. That is why I am so sad that Mrs. Saguisag will miss that milestone in her son's life.

The mysteries of life indeed.

In the over-all scheme of life, and death, apparently we are all made equal. If anything, this incident only reiterates to me that the question we should ask should not be how long we live but how well we live each day that is given to us.

The manner of Dulce Saguisag’s death showed the lengths she would go to protect her husband, according to their eldest son, Rene “Rebo” Saguisag Jr.

“As you can see from what happened, she absorbed everything to save my father,” the 35-year-old lawyer told the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of INQUIRER.net. “By and large, that’s how their relationship was.”Partners even on the ballroom floor, Rene and Dulce Saguisag were married for more than 30 years.

“Rene will be lost without Dulce. That’s their relationship,” said Sen. Joker Arroyo, a longtime friend of the couple.


(Quoted from "She Saved the Last Dance for Him" by DJ Yap, Tarra Quismundo)

October 26, 2007

CHRISTA'S PHOTO

Today marks the end of my first cycle of oral chemotherapy for metastatic cancer. Although there are no signs of any recurrence, my oncologist has recommended that I undergo this regimen because of the high grade and stage of my breast cancer.

After completing the prescribed six cycles in a few months, my oncologist recommends that I have a complete mastectomy.

This issue about the mastectomy has been cropping up time and again because my doctors could not seem to agree on the option that I should take. Two conservative doctors say that I should wait a while. The aggressive ones say that I should have done it yesterday.

Truth be told, I was having issues about the mastectomy for a while but while surfing through the internet a few days ago, I found this amazing photo that really struck me. It speaks volumes on hope, self-worth and inner joy.

Christa Slotbloom is a breast cancer survivor who continues to chronicle her journey through eloquent and honest photographs.


Seeing her photos have changed my perspective entirely on a lot of things.

October 16, 2007

TOUCHING VIDEO

This amazing video commercial for the featured cancer foundation never fails to bring me to tears.

video

October 12, 2007

BREAST CANCER AROUND THE WORLD


According to this Time magazine feature, the Philippines Age-Standardized Rate per 100,000 is 46.6.