“IS YOUR husband with you?” the doctor asked after he did the breast examination. Looking at the doctor in the eye, I asked him, “Do I have breast cancer?” The doctor looked away, went to his desk and said, “I’d like to talk to you about this matter in the presence of your husband because this is something serious.” Right then, I knew my life would never be the same again.
I used to live a busy life traveling and dealing with different kinds of people and organizations as a consultant. I was a recipient of international and national awards among which are Fulbright doctoral dissertation scholarship in the US, International Leaders in Education Program in the US, Asia’s Amazing Minds in Vietnam, SLATES in Australia, Study Tour in Japan and Outstanding Teacher of the Philippines.
My primary focus was on integration of current and emerging technology tools and applications into high school and university instructions to enhance teaching. I used to be a prolific speaker and presenter with a clientele that includes global, government agencies in the Philippines, and private-sector firms on topics about leadership in the 21st century, improving office productivity, educational leadership, teacher training, classroom management, technology in education, interpersonal communications, project management and speech and public speaking. My personal circumstances explained how preoccupied I was.
Everything came to a stop when my mammogram result showed the Breast Imaging-Reporting and Data System (BI-RADS) 5 malignancy, which meant it is a highly suspicious type of cancer and it needed an immediate action that is, in my case, mastectomy.
I went to see another breast doctor for a second opinion to gather more information about the diagnosis and the treatment. The doctor gave me a clear and thorough explanation of the diagnosis and the possible procedures and treatment. I was hoping against hope that the results were not true. The doctor must have read my mind so he suggested that I go for Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy (FNAB) so that before the surgery, we would already know if the tumor was cancerous. I held on to the hope that the FNAB would yield a negative result but it showed I was positive of having ductal carcinoma. I have breast cancer!!!
My nervousness and apprehension grew when the doctor told me the cost of the surgery. That was in March and for those of us in the Philippines, this is the month when we are in a financial crunch because of graduation ceremonies and final examinations of the children in school.
In my case, my younger son was graduating and my older son was having his final exams. Added to the school expenses, most of my money went to the refurbishing of my consultancy firm and my boutique. The doctor scheduled me for surgery for the following week, however, my mind was spinning on how to come up with the enormous amount of P145,000 for the surgery!
I discussed the matter with the doctor by myself because I knew the impact it would have on my husband. When I left the doctor’s clinic, my husband asked what the diagnosis was. I managed not to make a big deal out of what the doctor and I discussed.
I told my husband, my parents and my older son about my cancer in a casual manner. I knew their worlds caved in when they heard about cancer but I bravely reassured them that I will be cured from the disease. I never cried when I learned about my cancer but my heart was crushed when my father uttered, “Lumaban ka” (Fight!). I have fiercely hung on to my father’s words and to this day, they have become my mantra in this battle against breast cancer.
From then on, I put up a good fight with God’s power fuelling my will. I had my surgery on my husband’s birthday, March 26, 2015 and my first cycle of chemotherapy last April 29, 2015. The histopathology result characterized my cancer as independent, aggressive and metastatic. The treatment for early-stage metastatic breast cancer that is Human Epidermal growth factor Receptor 2 positive (HER2+) and has spread into the lymph nodes requires the drug Herceptin (Trastuzumab). The cost is astronomical.
My oncologists told me of my chemotherapy protocol AC-TH consisting of eight cycles, radiotherapy, and a one-year infusion of herceptin for my kind of cancer tumor. What they told me rocked my whole being! How could I ever afford the whole treatment? I absolutely want to be cured but how could I possibly afford a treatment that would cost 2.4 million pesos as quoted?
Quite frankly, when I heard the quoted amount for my treatment, I felt I was handed a death sentence. I was thinking of how I could raise the funds.
At home I was brooding over what the doctor said and what could happen to me if I don’t get the treatment. I was drained so I just closed my eyes and prayed to God to make things possible. When I woke up, I felt refreshed and began to think of the course of actions to take to get the treatment. I created an online crowd funding, I asked help from my friends and went to government agencies for help.
The toughest times have been before and after each cycle. Before each cycle, I worry about coming up with the needed amount. Gathering P122,000 every 21 days is really tough – the toughest financial challenge I ever had. I only depend on assistance from my friends, former students and relatives. I sought help from the government and politicians here and there but you can’t imagine how it is in our country!
Everything was beyond me so I pray hard to God for help, surrendering everything to Him and making Him in control of things. He has been answering my prayers.
My former students, my friends and relatives have been sustaining me all along. In God’s grace, I was already able to undergo seven cycles since April! Everything was beyond me and yet I am so blessed that in every cycle, I got financial assistance from my friends, relatives and former students from all over the world. They all are God’s instruments to keep me going.
After each cycle, the physical and emotional toll set in. The chemo drugs battered me mercilessly, took my hair, burned my skin, weakened my body, gave me palpitations, upset my tummy, kept me from doing any activity, altered my system and most of all tormented my soul. After every chemo, I am wrapped in a dark cloud of doubt and apprehension on what effect the drug will have on my body and my system. All these made my fight very challenging.
I am only human and my faith gets shaken from time to time. I get depressed at times when I look in the mirror and think how this cancer has left me in a reduced state of mind and body. At times like these God’s grace and guiding light remind me of how blessed I am. Then I come to appreciate what I have in the moment. I count my blessings and I stay present in the gratitude of what IS rather than what was or what could be.
Having reached this far in my treatment given my circumstances is a testament that God loves me and answers my prayers. It tells me God is so powerful and amazing are His ways in sending people to come to my aid!
Certainly, this journey is so grueling; but I consider the whole process as a way of releasing the dross from my old self so that I can embrace a renewed horizon filled with grace. It’s my way of coping. It’s my way of seeing things. It’s my way of praying.
I still have a long way to go in this treatment. I am due for the 8th cycle on the 13th of October, radiation follows the chemotherapy and one year infusion of herceptin but God’s reassuring love tells me that He has taken me this far and He will deliver me from this! I am not alone in this fight; I have my family, my friends, my former students and my relatives .God is always there to send people to help me out.
By now, I understand more fully How God loves me, I understand more fully who I am, I choose what coping mechanism works best for me and I offer to God my whole being. The fight is still on and I will never run scared of this cancer because I know God loves me and is in control of everything!
Lalaban ako hanggang sa dulo ng mundo!
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