Saturday, February 13, 2021

To All the People Who Are Making a Difference with My Cancer Battle; Thank You!

“Love and kindness are never wasted. They always make a difference.”

To put into words the pain and suffering that one goes through while fighting cancer would be a futile attempt of defining an inner affliction beyond explanation. Since my diagnosis, my husband would always tell me, “I don’t understand why this happened to you. You don’t deserve this.” But, who does?

My faltering faith was not without basis. Ten days after my first surgery, I had to be rushed by the ambulance to the hospital for an emergency surgery because of ruptured blood vessels. I also found out that the cancer cells were present in two tumors and lymph nodes. On top of that, I am HER2- positive which means I need a more aggressive and long-term treatment. The overall survival rate for this aggressive form of breast cancer is poorer than others.

I wouldn’t lie. I was so down and in extreme pain after my second surgery that I started withdrawing from everyone. When I refused to eat and couldn’t say anything without crying, David, with tears in his eyes told me, “We’re going to make it together. I will be with you but I need you to be strong and fight.”

I know that the road to healing is still long and arduous. The battle has no promise to be won and yet I couldn’t be more grateful to hundreds of people who reached out, sent love and prayers, and cheered me up with flowers, chocolates, and other special gifts.

“Kindness is loaning someone your strength instead of reminding them of their weakness.”

To my husband...
Six years ago, we were newly wed with no inclination of the horrible thing that was looming to come. You held my hands, took care of me in every possible way, and did everything to make things bearable. You constantly reminded me that you would gladly take away my pain if you could.

To my family especially my sisters…
Distance proved to be nothing when it comes to showing love and care. After all, “Being a family means you will love and be loved for the rest of your life.” For the calls, for the reminders that you’re all with me in this battle, for cheering me up when I was so down, thank you. I have sisters so I’m blessed with best friends for life. Shayne and Charlie, Gelay, Trish, M.A., Sissy and Joan, thanks for always sending messages.

To David’s family…
The love and care you have shown me is beyond explanation. Thank you for reminding me that, “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”

When we got home after the surgery, I was just telling my husband about getting eight injections for the sentinel biopsy around my left breast. Some of them were extremely painful because I felt them pierced through my cysts. Then there was a surprised flower delivery from Samantha, David’s daughter. I cried because when you were in so much pain, the good times seemed almost effervescent and dreamlike until you were reminded that you’re not alone in the battle.

Thank you for the cards, the thoughtful gifts, the love and prayers, and the beautiful messages. Alex, thank you for the visit and sending me messages to remind me that you love me and you’re praying for me. Renee and Amber, I couldn’t be more blessed to have sisters-in-law like the both of you. You accepted me without questions and loved me without reservations.

To Heather and Randy…
“There is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others.”

Genuine friends are hard to find and David and I couldn’t be more blessed to have the two of you. Thank you for driving all the way to our house just to bring us food. Thank you for the flowers and the very thoughtful gifts. We can’t wait to celebrate complete healing for the three of us!

To Jess and KC…
I am with my husband because you two made it happen. And even after everything you have done for us, you're still there making us feel your love and care. Thank you so much!

To My Friends and Former Co-Teachers in Jakarta…
David and I got married in Jakarta so the place will always be special. But, the place is also memorable because of the people who became parts of our lives. To my Batangas friends, ESIS friends, Dr. Chitra Soetoyo (the owner of the school where I first taught in Jakarta), who sends me messages full of positivities and prayers, thank you so much! Sir JB, thank you for always being there. Mare Myrna, Pare Chris and Aurelle, Cher Marina, Cher Kat, Boss Jun, Beb Weng, Cher Tess, Mitos and Perry, Ms. Rain and family, Ms. Dina, Ms. Mary, Ms. Kate, Cher Ana and Sir Kiko, and others thank you for checking on me always! To everyone who sent us messages, thank you so much! Our faith is stronger because of the prayers of people like you.

To Our Neighbors…
Thank you for the amazing food, for the special gifts, for the cards, and for plowing our yard. We are sincerely grateful for all your kindness.

To My Medical Health Team…
“You are the most positive person I’ve ever met.” That’s what my Physical Therapist told me in one of my visits. I am blessed to be given people who truly care. They gave me so much hope that I would be fine. When I’m confused on what to do, I have a nurse navigator whom I can call anytime. She takes care of my schedule with my two surgeons, Oncologist, and other health providers. My two surgeons are the best. They’ve been really kind, compassionate and professional.

To My Former Co-Workers/ Co-Teachers,
To all my former co-workers/ co-teachers at Naga Parochial School, Sto. Nino Formation and Science School, El Shaddai International School, Bina Bangsa School, and Creative Child Place, thank you all so much for the love and prayers. I have no words to express how grateful I am for all your kind and encouraging words.

To My Former Students…
My first purchase using my first salary was not a luxury gift for me. It’s for teaching materials/ visual aids. That was not the last time I used my own salary to buy teaching materials, rewards for my students, training materials, and even meals for the students during competitions. I have no regrets. Getting hundreds of messages from my former students who are already lawyers, nurses, pilots, accountants, business owners, engineers, doctors and others reminded me that all those sacrifices were not in vain. Teaching is not just a vocation but a blessing. Thank you all so much for remembering me many years after I became part of your lives.

To the Parents of My Former Students…
Thank you so much to the parents of my former students who remember me not just as their child’s teacher but also treat me as their friends. I am so humbled by your kindness and constant shower of support and prayers. Thank you for checking on me all the time.

To My Elementary, High School and College Batchmates and Teachers…
Thank you for reaching out, for sending love and prayers, and for showering me with positive messages.

To Port City Church…
Thank you for the prayers, the kind thoughts, and encouraging words. Jammie, I am still in awe with what you did for me. The day that you came to our house with those very thoughtful gifts was a very dark time for me. I was in a lot of pain but you reminded me that, “strength is shared hope from friends and strangers.” To the Cancer Group of Port City Church, thank you so much for following up on us and reminding us you’re there if we need anything. To the church leaders and members, thank you for reaching out through gifts, cards, prayers and warm messages.

To My Filipino-American Friends…
Thank you so much for calling me, bringing foods and gifts, sending positive messages, and for simply checking on me. Kat and family, Ate Evie and Kuya J, Ate Inday, thank you all so much! Faye, thank you for sending me regular messages just to check on me and for lifting my spirit whenever I feel down.

To the rest of Our Dear Friends and Family…
Thank you so much for the thoughtful gifts, the cards, the food, the calls, the prayers, and all the messages.

To everyone…
Thank you from the bottom of my heart. After my two surgeries, I’ve been in and out of different Health Care Facilities undergoing tests and procedures. I just had the third surgery yesterday (Feb 15) for my Lifeport Placement. It’s been hard. REALLY hard. On top of that, I will have one year of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. My Oncologist told me, “It will be a rough one year.” My treatment will be so intense that I am 100% sure to lose my hair. At times I feel downtrodden. But, I have an army of people all around the world praying for me. I have loving family and friends who constantly remind me why I have to fight. Thank you all so much. If I do emerge victorious, that’s all because of you. You shared your strength with me when I needed it the most.

To Beb, this might be the most painful and the worst battle of my life, but, I’m so blessed to fight it with you.

Thank You, everyone!

Thank you Sam for bringing our lunch on my first day of chemo on your day off
and ordering my first wigs! 

Thank you Sam, Zach and Olive!

Thank you Renee, Paul, Maddie and Liz!

Thank you Renee, Paul, Maddie and Liz!

Thank you Renee, Paul, Maddie and Liz!

Thank you Renee, Paul, Maddie and Liz!

Thank you Kat and family!

Thank you Heather and Randy!

Thank you Heather and Randy!

Thank you Heather and Randy!

Thank you Heather and Randy!

Thank you Aunt Sherry, Uncle Bill and family!

Thank you Aunt Sherry, Uncle Bill and family!

Thank you Kay and Karen!

Thank you Amber and Lyndon!

Thank you Amber and Lyndon!

Thank you Tiffiany and Kids!

Thank you Tiffiany and Kids!

Thank you Hannah for the very special personalized gift!

Thank you Hannah for the very special personalized gift! 
(The quote was taken from my first blog entry about my cancer battle.)

Thank you Jenny and family for the very special personalized blanket!

Thank you Jenny and family!

Thank you Tiffiany and kids!

Thank you Jammie, Debbie M, Barbara H, and Sheila O!

Thank you Jammie, Debbie M, Barbara H, and Sheila O!

Thank you Jammie, Debbie M, Barbara H, and Sheila O!

Thank you Jammie, Debbie M, Barbara H, and Sheila O!

Thank you Mercy Health Muskegon!

Thank you Pat!

Thank you Ate Evie and Kuya J!

Thank you Ate Evie and Kuya J!

Thank you Tom and Pat!

Thank you Mercy Health Comprehensive Breast Center!

Friday, January 01, 2021

Five Lessons that 2020 have Taught Me

“Most people miss their whole lives, you know. Listen, life isn't when you are standing on top of a mountain looking at a sunset. Life isn't waiting at the altar or the moment your child is born or that time you were swimming in deep water and a dolphin came up alongside you. These are fragments. 10 or 12 grains of sand spread throughout your entire existence. These are not life. Life is brushing your teeth or making a sandwich or watching the news or waiting for the bus. Or walking. Every day, thousands of tiny events happen and if you're not watching, if you're not careful, if you don't capture them and make them COUNT, you could miss it. You could miss your whole life.”

When I was in the Philippines, we used to run around the house making a lot of loud noise as the clock signals New Year. This was to drive away all the bad luck and negative vibes from the previous year. I am certain that we had those many moments for the past months where we wished we could just simply muffled everything that 2020 has unloaded on us.

Well, it’s over. The year that was laden with news after news of tragedy, calamity, uncertainty, loss, and suffering could finally rest at the deepest recesses of our existence. However, the lessons of 2020 should not be forgotten lest we’d let the greatest tragedy to befall ourselves- that of lacking empathy, discernment, and accountability.

1. We are all interconnected.
“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”  Martin Luther King Jr.

The Covid-19 pandemic was a cataclysmic problem brought not just by irresponsibility of one but the disconnect of the rest of the world. By failing to acknowledge early on that we had a problem, we allowed the virus to overpower our strength as humans. The price was expensive- lives lost, worsened mental health issues, livelihoods affected, and the future in limbo.

2. Life is fragile.
“The truth is like a dried dandelion; how suddenly it can be whisked away, only to leave behind gleanings of uncertainty .”

Hundreds of thousands of lost lives. How do you mourn the loss of this extent? No other words except love more, care more, forgive more, and live a more meaningful life.

3. Suffrage is not just a right but a responsibility.
Some world leaders awed us, others were utterly repulsive, and whatever category your world leaders belong, remember that you were part of the reason why they’re sitting in power. Leadership is not just about power but compassion, perception and action. You put clowns in power, then the response at times of great calamity would be a joke.

4. Financial Responsibility.
When our state froze all work except essential workers, we were left wondering how our savings would last us to pay our monthly bills. Unemployment was a mess, stimulus checks were uncertain (because of me being an immigrant), and the length of restrictions were ambiguous. It’s the opportune moment to be reminded, “Do not save what is left; spend what is left after saving.”

5. Family matters.
Many months of swimming with ambiguousness. The mental and physical fatigue had been overwhelming but who you are with matters. Pre-pandemic, my husband and I would always go out every Friday for a date night. Mostly, it’s eating in the restaurants, watching movies in the theatre, or walking at the pier. When the chaos ensued around the world, we found different ways to spend our longer times together. We binge watched Game of Thrones, Cobra Kai, The Umbrella Academy, The Adventures of Merlin, Homeland, Schitts Creek, and many more. We also found time to do more outdoor activities.

There are no gentle words to recap what we all surpassed in 2020. Others were not as lucky to see another year. Some are continuously struggling.

As we embark upon healing and moving forth, may be reminded of the things that matter the most- love, faith, hope, compassion, accountability and neighborly.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

My Breast Cancer Journey

“Not every journey is a place. Sometimes, it’s a circumstance.”

(LATEST UPDATE: Day 47 of the unknown)

Invasive malignant neoplasm of left breast, ER/PR/Her2 Positive. I could lay the blame on 2020 but this year had too much weight already on its shoulders and it’s futile to add the burden of my breast cancer.

My decision to write about my diagnosis was inspired by John Donne’s, “No man is an island.” Perhaps by sharing, I wouldn’t need to isolate myself inside the condescending, “Why Me?” question. Or maybe, I wouldn’t end up bottling unwanted emotions inside me. A huge part of myself is hoping that whatever happens during the course of this journey, I would be able to be a source of inspiration to all the people who are going through the same situation.

This journey is in progress. Please bear with me.

Day 0
(Nov. 30, 2020)

"Pain is a feeling. Your feelings are a part of you."

I couldn’t help but to think that all the events this year made us a little bit desensitized with other things. That was probably the reason why I failed to notice some changes on my body. As I lay on the bed that night, I felt a sharp pain in the middle part of my left breast and it was completely swollen.

Day 1
(Dec. 1, 2020)

"Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding."

My husband’s persuasive skill convinced the doctor that I was one of those cases they had to see urgently. Covid cases have been surging uncontrollably in our area and getting an appointment was not that easy. Our doctor scheduled a mammogram and ultrasound immediately.

Day 3
(Dec. 3, 2020)

Pain is transitory. The tests and the procedures (biopsy and draining cyst fluid) were extremely painful but nothing beats the feeling of being thrown to the pendulum of uncertainty when they had to take a biopsy. While I was burning with fever the same day, I couldn’t help but to ask, “Could this year be any worse?” 

My day started at 8:00 with mammogram, ultrasound, cyst fluid draining, biopsy, mammogram again, going back to the house after the procedure, suffering with body chills and fever the whole afternoon, being rushed to the ER at 6:00, getting x-ray, Covid test, leaving the hospital at 10:30 p.m., waiting at the pharmacy for medicines, and arriving home almost 11:30. All throughout, my husband made me feel in every way possible that he’s there for me. He was in the parking lot waiting for hours and hours since companion was not allowed in the hospital. Love is the strongest power there is.

And did I say yet I have a wonderful sister-in-law? She was talking to my husband, constantly following up, and even offering to sit at the parking lot and wait for me so my husband could go home and take some rest.

Day 4
(Dec. 4, 2020)

“But here, just at this point: this is limbo.”

It’s the 5th of December in the Philippines and it’s my mother’s birthday. Coincidently, the stomach churning news from the hospital confirmed that this year just really messed us all up in one way or another. The biopsy confirmed that I was positive with cancer.

Day 5
(Dec. 5, 2020)

“Breast cancer has invaded my body, but it need not invade my spirit.”

Once you receive the cancer diagnosis, there’s really nothing much to say. There are many unspoken uncertainties and being supportive by the people you love is what matters the most. That night, Samantha and Alex (David's daughters) brought dinner and we spent the night discussing our options.

Day 7
(Dec. 7, 2020)

“In complete darkness, it is only knowledge and wisdom that separates us.”

Inherited genetic mutations play a major role in about 5 to 10 percent of all cancers. Researchers have associated mutations in specific genes with more than 50 hereditary cancer syndromes. The United States has the technology to do a genetic mutation test which would help in decision making and how aggressive the response should be.

Dr. K spent almost an hour explaining the genetic mutation test. I couldn't be more grateful for having medical experts and a compassionate health team.

Day 8
(Dec. 8, 2020)

"Numbing the pain for a while will make it worse when you finally feel it."

The pain of being diagnosed with cancer didn’t really sink in on the day that I got the news. Actually, the thought process took me several days. When it finally hit me, I didn’t want to get up and start my day. I didn’t want to think of anything else but the uncertainties. It was overwhelming and I was so glad my husband continued to send me messages despite being busy at work.

After hours of emotional meltdown, I finally mustered enough strength to get up. I spent the day cleaning every nook and corner of the house, crazily wiping every surface, organizing documents, and putting every laundry in the washer. At least, I was taking control of the things that I have the power to change.

Day 10
(Dec. 10, 2020)

David was not allowed at the Emergency Room when I was burning with fever and at the Comprehensive Breast Center where I had the biopsy and other tests, I was grateful that he was permitted to be with me when I met with my surgeon.

My surgeon gave the facts straight but with compassion. We discussed my treatment options and before we left her office, we were leaning more on having a mastectomy.

Day 14
(Dec. 14, 2020)

Seeing the reconstructive surgeon today sort of cemented the cold hard fact that I’m really about to lose both my breasts. How do you live with something like that?

Day 15
(Dec. 15, 2020)

"There is no greater fear than the fear of uncertainty because the unknown is something that can't be looked in the face, challenged, overcome."

I chickened out. I couldn't do it. I told my husband that I didn't want to do the mastectomy. The healing process of mastectomy and reconstructive surgery were suddenly so frightening that I told David I didn't want to do it.

As for my husband, he wants to make sure the cancer would be totally removed and it would not plague me for years to come. I understand his persistence to choose the most aggressive treatment possible. I am totally on board but when it's your body, the thought of losing a part of you is disheartening and scary at the same time.

When I got the call that I tested negative with the genetic cancer cell mutation, the more that I thought I should just simply have the lumpectomy.

Day 23
(Dec. 23, 2020)

“Compassion is the basis for humanity.”

Since day one, I’ve been blessed with people who were complete strangers but showed me nothing but compassion. When I had my biopsy and other procedures, one of the nurses was holding my hand the whole time seeing that I was in a lot of pain.

Then they introduced me to the nurse who would be in contact with me regarding the results of my biopsy. They told me, “We want you to meet the person and not just know her name when you talk to her on the phone.”

Weeks after that, She called me so many times reminding me of my different appointments, test results, and other important information regarding my surgery. And she would remind me always, don’t hesitate to call if you need anything or you have any questions.

She was the one who called and informed me that my procedures would be on the 11th of January- NM INJ RA Tracer Sentinel Node, Bilateral Mastectomy, Reconstructive Surgery.

No, I am not scared at all but feeling a little bit down. It’s like being thrown in the pit of blackness.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love."

-Ephesians 3:16-17-

Day 47
Yesterday was horrible and scary. Ten days after my bilateral mastectomy, I had massive bleeding and within two hours, I lost more than 500 ml of blood and continued to lose more in the ambulance and while waiting for my surgery in the hospital. Blood also started gushing out of my stitches connecting my tube for drainage and my chest felt like it was about to explode with so much pressure from the accumulation of blood.

Today however is a different story. I am reminded that gratitude is the language of heart. I’m grateful to White Lake Ambulance Authority EMTs for their compassion and professionalism. Thank you so much to one of the EMTs who held my hand before leaving the hospital and whispered, “You’re going to be fine. Be strong.”

I’m grateful for my surgeon who coincidentally (or blessedly) was in the hospital and just finished another surgery. She and the team of medical staff trained with trauma patients quickly mobilized everything needed to do the emergency surgery. And to the rest of the Mercy Health medical team, thank you for the kindness and care.

I’m grateful for David’s family and my family especially our sisters, and dear friends who poured in messages of love and prayers. To our special friends who are going through the same situation but never failed to check on us, thank you both so much.

I’m grateful for my husband who deserves an award for staying at the parking lot AGAIN during my surgery. You officially won the Guinness Book of World record for waiting the longest in the hospital parking lot. I love you beb. The past two weeks had been so rough but you were with me holding my hand. You’re truly the best husband in the world and there are no words to describe your love for me. To Samantha and Alex, I love you both like my own.

What I had was a ruptured blood vessel. If I didn’t have the drainage that somehow provided the relief, things could’ve gotten worse.

I know my journey to healing has just started. The future is unknown and we keep on getting hit with a setback before we could even move forward. But, God is a merciful God. With faith, there’s strength. With love there’s God. And when there’s God, there’s hope.

To anyone going through the same thing and having the same pain, you’re not alone. Remember, ‘the wound is the place where the light enters you’.
Inspirational Articles/ Daily Blog

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Sunday, April 05, 2020

In Search of Lessons: A Deep Introspection

In my previous article, I explicated how this pandemic would bring out the best and worst of people. Although my point purported to focus on the objectivity of it, I knew that the classification was probably more on the perspective of subjectivity rather than objectivity.

This Sunday, I am gifting myself with deep retrospection in search of lessons amidst chaos, suffering, and desensitized hearts.

Politics divide. The very nature is explicitly defined as, “the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power.”

One of the most significant time in shaping my political principle started in college when I was chosen as a member of the Debate Team. It was an honor and also a huge responsibility. In hindsight, that was a defining moment learning how to build a strong proposition using substance of truth and evidence as the foundation of argument. The process was very structured and we were taught sensibly on how to use authoritative sources versus general understanding. Then I was elected as President of the Debate Society which further shaped my belief. Writing the Articles of Organization and By Laws often reminded me how we were bound by rules of law or else we would be transported back to the primitive world where the sword decided the law.

What cemented my principles on politics happened during my days as a student of Doctor of Jurisprudence. It could be summed up as upholding what’s true, just and fair based on the fundamentals of the laws of the land.

Politics is not always true, just and fair but its existence is governed by laws, no matter how ill-timed sometimes. Look at the division it caused to friends and families around the world. Social media is toxic because it was not designed for politics but for personal connection. Nobody acts as interlocutor and helps people lay argument which is based on logical consistency and factual accuracy. Everything is an opinion which makes it a perfect breeding ground for expression of ‘general understanding’ based on fake news, propaganda, and malicious intent. The result? Character attack when the other side could not engage in an intellectual discourse.

I came from a family with 11 children. When we were all studying, life was hard. My father was clear about it, “I have nothing to leave you as a legacy except education.” The words were deeply embedded that I made sure to toil day and night to finish my studies. My Master’s Degree in Education is not a chip in my shoulder that I carry but an honor that I treasure. It is the fruit of hard work and personal sacrifices of my parents and older siblings.

One of the slums in Metro Manila depicting helplessness amidst poverty. 

In one of the documentaries I watched, poverty is convenient for politics. I am not going to delve on this further (you may watch the videos here), except to say that where I came from, quality education is a privilege not a right. The effect is seen with the abundance of propagation of ignorance and chaos.

“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Politics gives you power. The sad thing about this, politics is based on a very old system. If you like watching the Game of Thrones, it is a mirror that reflects the true nature of politics and power. Idealists comes in with high hopes and promises only to be corrupted later on. Those who come out with unscathed principles are rare.

Yesterday, I was attacked personally and cursed for engaging on a post which I thought was a logical discourse. The comment embellished with hatred capitalized on the fact that; I commented in English, and I live in United States. I guess, if you are a Filipino and you speak in English AND you live in United States, you should be ashamed of it? The logic is incomprehensible. I was asked, “Who the ‘f (obscene word) are you?’ and, “You are dumb.” I could have opted to tell him that I have almost 300 awards on my name, educated kids around the world and taught them critical thinking skills and comprehension, and enumerate my educational qualifications. But, I chose not to reply.

My silence is not a sign of lack of knowledge but of wisdom to know when to speak. It was a humble time to remind myself that spreading positivity is a choice. My reply might be full of logical truth and substance of facts but by feeding his hatred, I would be forgetting the most essential thing in life and that is to spread positivity. The world is chaotic enough and the spirit of positivity is the best choice that I could embrace. It is a good thing to remember that, “Silence at the proper season is wisdom, and better than any speech.”

Politics divide. Power corrupts. Poverty is (usually) convenient for politics. However, it is imperative to remember, there’s power in positivity amidst the poverty of sound spirit and mind. Kindness is free. Compassion is a choice. 


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