I know, it’s been awhile. The notifications on my blog’s Facebook page stares me down each time I log in like a nagging spouse…. “You have not posted anything in two months”. I was sidetracked. Work, home, kids, new hobbies (more on that in future posts)…just life happening, as usual. But the good news is, I’m back! And we’re gonna pick up right where we left off, just like old friends, me and my blog.
Today I am breaking my writing fast with a special feature. I am deeply honored to share with you an old friend’s journal, a tell-all, straight from the heart story of her journey as she battled the dreaded C. Before I do that though, let me just give you a brief background about our friendship.
We were best friends in high school, Dada and I. Both of us transferred from a different school in 8th grade, she the Math whiz kid and I the English prodigy (I wish!). We couldn’t be any more different and yet we found each other. One of the things I love about her is the strength and confidence that she exudes, even in her silence. I also remember with fondness how she loves Reader’s Digest, especially the Word Power section, so she could learn new and fancy words and improve her vocabulary (and surprise me with it). Since she was already great at math, she focused on her weakness and did something to become better at it. That is just the kind of person she is, super positive, never bogged down by challenges and always looking for ways to improve herself. I, on the other hand, was more preoccupied with reading “havoc” books and learning how to tease my hair. I did try to be better at math, with Dada’s help and inspiration. Still didn’t love it, did not become a “numbers” person, but I got by, enough to graduate with good grades 😊
We lost touch for a while and after several years, found each other again on Facebook. Both of us now married with kids, we try to keep up with each other’s latest happenings through occasional messages and looking at each other’s pictures on Facebook.
The first message that she sent in September 2017 about her battle with cancer really shook me. It came at a time when news of our HS batchmates, who, either died, or are seriously ill came more frequently than we desired. It came at a time when I was also just diagnosed with a lump on my right breast and was not exactly in the pink of health. It was a bitter pill to swallow, the thought that we were no longer young and invincible, and could, therefore, be more prone to illness and die. There are very few things that scare me, and that moment was one of those. Thank God the lump was benign, but the fear prior to finding out was enough to send me to a downward spiral. To this day, I am amazed at how Dada dealt with all that and more, and still keep her sense of humor. I would have been a wreck.
After 6 months, Dada finished her cycle of chemotherapy sessions and we’re all praying that there’s no need for radiation. Through it all, she managed to keep her sunny disposition and her strong faith in God. She doesn’t have a blog but she gave me permission to share her journal with you, in the hopes that it will inspire and uplift someone who is facing similar challenges. She remains steadfast in her faith, and also credits her wonderful team of doctors from The Cancer Institute at St. Luke’s Medical Center, Global City Philippines for helping her get through this hurdle: surgeons, Dr. Eric Arcilla and Dr. Maria Cecilia Pagdanganan, and oncologist, Dr. Charity Gorospe. She said it was Dr. Gorospe who encouraged her to write, and so write she did. This is Dada’s journey… and I hope this strengthens you, comforts you and inspires you as much as it did me. ♥
My Journey with God
“They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.” (Psalm 112:7).
Oftentimes we think of a life-threatening illness such as cancer as overwhelming. That’s true. But it’s also true that when we are weakest, God’s grace strengthens us and helps us overpower our fears, our sadness, and our pains.
Mammogram and Spiderman. Not wanting to model doubt to my kids who had been praying with me for good result of my mammogram, I agreed to watch Spiderman: Homecoming with them on the day the result was coming out. Imagine my sadness inside the cinema when I received the dreaded email which clearly said Birads 5 (highly suggestive of malignancy). Texting my friend Maru, I got a short reply “Let’s wait for the biopsy”, and that was all I needed to hear. “What’s the chance of a false positive result?” I thought to myself. I did not exactly know but somehow it gave me hope. After the movie, of course I went home not knowing what happened to Spiderman.
The Biopsy. Waiting for the biopsy result was like waiting for a judge to hand you a sentence. While pleading with our Good Judge for mercy, I came across this encouraging Bible verse…”They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them.” (Psalm 112:7 NLT). Around this time, our church Victory held its midyear prayer and fasting week, reminding us that “God is always faithful, no matter what test we face.” and that “God displays His great power and infinite ability in and through our challenges.” CCF also had their prayer and fasting week wherein we got to listen online to the testimony of a stage 3 cancer survivor. So by the time my breast surgeon had to break the news to me, my heart was somehow already prepared for it.
Hope, fears, and “bomba”. Meanwhile, I came to hear from my cousin Tess about mastectomy, reconstruction, and “bomba” (the way she funnily called the grenade-looking surgical drains). She had her own experience of these things many years ago. Her story is a proof of God’s faithfulness, a story of hope for me. She did not need chemotherapy or radiation after surgery, and I had hoped for the same thing. The thought of having drains though scared me terribly. It was terrifying enough just to look at them in the internet. But I thought, with the risks of surgery, one may not even survive to see them. So I contemplated…Bomba or no bomba? Bomba!
Surgery and recovery. The good news was the uncomplicated and successful surgery. Praise God! At home my recovery went well and the drains were actually more manageable and less scary than I anticipated. My ever-caring husband Ruben carefully drained them for me every day. And thankfully, no accidental pulling, screaming, and fainting ever happened. God is good!
“…You reach out your hand,
and the power of your right hand saves me.
The Lord will work out his plans for my life—
for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever.” (Psalm 138:7-8)
Staging, “steak”, and hat. A week after, we got the heartbreaking news…STAGE 2B, INVASIVE TYPE! No, my breast surgeon did not show panic, she was as calm as one doctor can be when announcing something unpleasant. And unpleasant it was–she was recommending treatment– chemotherapy and radiation. But once again, she sounded reassuring telling me I was still young and very fit to undergo treatment. The last thing she discussed with me was the possible effect of radiation on my implant. With this concern in my mind, I went to see my plastic surgeon who was in his usual humorous mood. And in spite of my sadness, he managed to make me laugh at his “steak” and “gremlins” illustrations while he removed my second fluid drain. Yes, at least no more drains to think about! But still, no thanks to steak or gremlins and the 20% chance of reoperation.
When we got home, my daughter Nadine excitedly asked “Good results?” (“Good results!” was her usual farewell even when I wasn’t going to the hospital which often made us laugh). To answer her, I simply said “Stage 2, Nadine.” To my surprise, her reply was quick and satisfied, “Oh, at least it’s not stage 4.” That put a smile on my face, then we both said, “Yes, praise God!” That night she hugged and kissed me in my bed (as she usually does) saying, “We’ll make a nice hat for you, Mommy.”
Counting on God’s faithfulness…
“I am counting on the Lord;
yes, I am counting on him.
I have put my hope in his word.” (Psalm 130:5)
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)
First chemotherapy. To be honest, after my first chemo session while feeling weak and nauseous, I was sure I did not want another session. “Remind me again–why do I have to do chemo?” I childishly asked Ruben more than once. Not keen on alternative medicine, he patiently reminded me I needed it and that God had a plan for us. I conceded. After all, this difficult thing causes us to rely on God, I thought. And as Maru said early on, “This is God’s opportunity to shine.”
“Whom have I in heaven but you?
I desire you more than anything on earth.
My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak,
but God remains the strength of my heart;
he is mine forever.” (Psalms 73:25-26)
My Baldness. Second week into my first chemotherapy I started shedding my hair. Distressed by this, Ruben suggested I get my head shaved already. But I did not want to go to a barber shop and he didn’t have the heart to shave me either. It didn’t help that our normally happy girl kept crying inconsolably this time. After much wait, I sensed he’d never do it. So I started shaving my head telling my family not to feel sorry about it since it was no longer nice anyway so no need to hold on to it…time to let go. “I’m handsomer than you now” was all I could say after. But seriously, I was thankful to God for the grace to let go.
Pains and blessings. Though I didn’t escape pains and discomforts, I knew I was spared from worse troubles. And mercifully, for every pain or concern, there was always a blessing to comfort me—a gentle touch, an encouraging word, a prayer, a thoughtful gift, a friend beside my chemo bed, a good humor, a helpful advice and reassurance from my surgeon, godly wisdom and care from my oncologist, and emotional support from dear ones.
Surprisingly, days did swiftly pass by with me mostly rejoicing over my smallest victories and blessings. My family was able to cope with my condition quite quickly, often affording to laugh together. That’s one major blessing. Ruben was quite sure that another side effect of Doxorubicin (my chemo drug) on me was laughter. A double dose (of laughter) surely helped. There were a few times though that the mere mention of my next chemo session (when well-meaning friends asked) made me nauseous and teary-eyed. I preferred to enjoy my non-chemo days not thinking about my next session. And once, halfway through my 8 cycles, I felt frustrated for the first time, my chemo arm hurt so badly I cried for two days. From then on, my kind oncologist administered my IV premeds herself to spare me from avoidable pains. Thank God for her wisdom and compassion!
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4)
“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.” (Proverbs 17:22)
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” (Philippians 4:6)
“How do you keep your joyful disposition?” my friend Nicca asked me one time. I say, put your hope in God. Trust in Him because He is more powerful than any sickness and because He is faithful. Pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you with joy and peace as you trust in him. (Romans 15:13).
They say thankfulness boosts our capacity for joy. Every day I thanked God for each and every soul He sent to be His hands and feet to me in my journey. For each unexpected help and kindness, I believed that was God amazing me. But during the roughest parts when faithful souls stayed to care and to love—that was God holding me close to His heart.
“No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.” (1 John 4:12)
“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. Let love be your highest goal!” (1Corinthians 13:13, 14:1)