WHO I AM
I am blessedly, happily married. I have 3 grown-up children, all happy in their chosen fields. By profession I am a CPA, though I would say I am more a finance person. I had 29 years of work experience, starting as a Junior Auditor and retiring with a senior managerial position in one of the leading corporations in the country.
As a loving and supportive wife, mother and friend, I would make sure that our home was in order before I would leave for the office. I made sure that all the needs of the family were well attended to – especially school requirements like assignments, uniforms, projects, PTA meetings and school programs/activities. I was a typical Filipino housewife, attending to almost all the needs of the family at home while doing my best to build a career of my own.
To make myself physically fit, I regularly ran during my younger years. I finished 2 half-marathons (21 kilometers) and several 5k and 10k runs. I also love ballroom dancing to make my muscles more flexible. I also participated in other company-sponsored sports tournaments like bowling, tennis, basketball and long-distance running.
When I think about it, I tried my very best and worked hard to have a balanced life, may be a convenient one for me and my family.
I’m now 61 years old. I enjoy my perks—almost 32% discount at restaurants, free movies (or at least discounted on peak days), special lanes in business establishments for faster and comfortable document processing. It’s a super special feeling when you become a senior citizen.
Nine years ago, the feeling was different. I felt so much sadness, worry and fear.
NINE YEARS AGO
In 2007, a year after my early retirement, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage 2A. When I was still working, I had annual physical check-ups as part of company policy: my health was always good. But one day while I was showering, I noticed that there was hardening of the soft tissue in my right breast. After some weeks, I realized it was growing bigger.
I went to my OB-GYN for check-up and recommendation, the same doctor who delivered all three of my children. She told me that she did not like the characteristics of the lump and recommended I should go to a friend of hers, a surgeon, to have a biopsy. At first I did not believe her. I had just had mammogram check-up 2 years prior and the test came back negative… so I delayed it. After a month, my OB-GYN called me and advised I should take this seriously. She urged me again to take the biopsy recommended by her surgeon friend.
Because of that push—which I consider as God-sent advice— I went to the surgeon and had the biopsy, and there I discovered my cancer at an early stage.
My surgeon initially thought it was cancer stage 1, so my husband and I discussed with him whether I should have breast conservation or lumpectomy. The doctor said he would advise us during the frozen section procedure whether lumpectomy would be feasible or not. A few minutes into the procedure, my doctor went out of the operating room and informed my husband that he would do a lumpectomy.
After the surgery, the pathology test showed that I had stage 2A cancer with no lymph nodes affected. Further tests were done, and I was informed by my surgeon and oncologist that I was HER 2 positive. This meant that treatments would take longer, because HER 2+ cancer cells were more aggressive.
Shocked and overwhelmed by the numerous treatments lined up for me, I prayed hard again and asked God to heal me and guide the doctors. I knew then that these cancer cells were nothing compared to the power of God. My faith was firm that these treatments were God-sent too, to make me well.
My oncologist told me I would have 6 cycles of chemotherapy, 33 days of radiation, 10 cycles of Herceptin and weeks of oral treatments. I saw the extensive list and asked myself, “Ang dami naman. Kaya ko kaya?” (There are so many [tests]. Can I handle this?”) My oncologist encouraged me to take this one day at time. I made a checklist to keep track of my sessions, telling myself to give 5 stars on each finished treatment. I prayed hard for strength, and kept reminding myself “one day at a time.”
And so I began chemotherapy. Right after a session, I felt weighed down as if with heavy flu. I would remain in my room for three days after, feeling lightheaded. I prayed hard and played praise and worship songs; and, feeling as I was being embraced and rocked to sleep by God, I would finally drift off to sleep.
I had to show my family, especially my children, that we can pass this challenge. I had to show them how strong I was in battling this illness. A week after treatment, I was back to normal as if nothing happened. I got back to work and kept myself busy in our home office. After work, at night, I would go briskwalking— I wasn’t allowed to walk outside when the sun was still up because my oncologist said my skin would darken easily. With a wig on my head, friends told me that I did not look like I was having my chemo treatment at that time.
After the chemo, my oncologist brought up the idea of joining a clinical study. My tissue specimen was sent abroad for further evaluation. This was again is God-sent, since such treatment would not only free me from the cost of millions of pesos but would also help the medical field in finding the best cure for HER 2+ type of cancer cells.
I finished all the treatments in less than 2 years. When you think about it, the treatment was long and hard, but I was able to finish them one day at time. I will forever be grateful to God for the strength and courage He gave me, and to my family for the love and support they provided me. God prepared me for this great battle as He made me to be physically fit with all the sports I regularly did for many years. Project Pink was also a Godsend, because it was there that I saw my fellow sisters and how they faced being cancer conquerors. I felt that I was not alone. The support and encouragement that we gave each other helped a lot in maintaining positive outlook as a cancer survivor.
“KAYA LANG…” (“HOWEVER…”)
When you get cancer, you will still have that fear that it might recur: but with the Lord, He always gives me strength and bravery. After each check-up, I thank the Lord for good results. Then I take out my checklist and give myself 5 stars for passing the laboratory tests— the blood test, the 2D echoes, and mammograms.
During my check-up in 2013, my mammogram results showed multiple microcalcifications (or small hardened calcium deposits) in my right breast. I decided to have breast reconstruction then—but it was not successful because my body rejected the expander. The recovery process after that was very slow because of the radiation and caused infection for days … so I had it removed. I told myself, “Why do you need to still care about vanity? You’re almost a senior citizen.” I thank God there was no further treatment or chemotherapy recommended.
BLESSINGS IN DISGUISE
When I think about it, I received a lot of blessings from this experience as breast cancer conqueror. I became more courageous, grew closer to God and to my family, and met brave friends—fellow conquerors who enjoy their lives no matter what stage of cancer they are in. I also gathered a lot of information on breast cancer treatments and get to help and support my friends who need guidance.
I’m thankful to God for the people He sent to guide me: my doctors, nurses, and the courageous lady conquerors of Project Pink. I am also blessed to be an active volunteer now in the activities of Project Pink, now supporting other cancer conquerors in their journey.
I am very thankful to our God for my journey— from several medical treatments 9 years ago as a cancer patient, to special treatments today as a senior citizen.
And now I am 61. Last year I celebrated my 60th birthday with a surprise party my family threw. My husband and children secretly planned for the program. My relatives and friends were there, and my husband and I gave a special number: we did the Argentinian Tango. I thought I wouldn’t be able to complete the difficult steps but we did it with flying colors. I am a full-fledged senior citizen now, enjoying all the perks, benefits and special treatments of business and commercial establishments— even with driving violations. To keep me busy (but not too much!), alert and challenged, I am back to work in Finance, the job that I love doing. This time though, it’s for our family’s franchise and restaurant businesses: another blessing from our loving God.
I also returned to my regular exercise, which is now a combination of brisk walking and slow long distance running. I regularly run in a park full of trees, where the air is fresh and cool. As I run, I feel that God is running with me, whispering, “Do not be afraid.” He constantly provides me with assurance that He is more powerful than any type of cancer. And as I cool down, briskwalking in the park, I would recite Psalms 103:2-5 repeatedly. These are some of my favorite verses in the Bible, and I can hear God encouraging me all the way…
Bless the Lord oh my soul, let us not forget his kindness
He forgives all my sins and heals all my sickness
He redeems my life from destruction
And crowns me with love and compassion
And gives fulfillment to years
And renews my youth like the eagle’s.
I am forever grateful to God for His love, protection and healing!