Thursday, February 25, 2021

My First Chemo: Finding Blessing amidst Suffering

(Day 83 of the unknown, Day 3 of not being able to talk so I am writing instead.)

What is pain?

From a poetic standpoint, pain is the absence of bliss. From my seven-year-old self, it was scraping my knee on the rock.

As of now, pain is a battered cancer-stricken body, faltering faith, old and fresh scars, and deteriorating strength. It is not the absence of hope but just a tired fighting soul. It is listening to my husband sobbing uncontrollably while hugging me tightly telling me that he loves me and my inability to say back, “I love you, too.” because I could not even open my mouth.  
My first chemo was not totally what I expected. It hit me. And it hit me hard. The warnings were given but there’s always these assurances that I might not experience them all. Unfortunately, the side effects came one by one. There’s the nausea, wild rash on my back, nose bleeding at the middle of the night, blisters, bruises, mouth sores (that totally debilitated my ability to eat, to speak, and even to drink), and the worst bone pain I have ever had.

I take pride for having the ability to manage my mental and emotional state no matter how dire the situation is. This time, I broke down. I realized that when your body is down physically, the ability to fight also leaves you. But then, I think of the people who care about me. The hundreds of messages I keep on getting from different parts of the world, the food, the flowers, and thoughtful gifts from the neighbors, friends and family. 

A day after my chemo, the bone pain started and I have no words to describe it. My best friend, Chelle, who currently lives in Italy had flowers delivered in our house. Things like this reminds me that’s God’s one way of telling me I have reasons to fight. I don’t want to see my husband crying and hearing him question God, why does it need to be me or why is the process so painful?
My best friend, Chelle, had this flowers and bear delivered in our house a day after my chemo. Thank you so much, Chelle!

It is easy to question God’s reasons for putting me in suffering like this. But, how could I question Him when I am blessed in so many other ways? I have a husband who loves me beyond words. We only live once and I am one of those few people who know real love and know how it feels to be taken cared of selflessly. I am blessed with family and friends who give me strength. My body might be weakened and my faith for a moment but I know I would stand up, stronger than ever. The road is dark but I have people fighting WITH me and keeping the light.

Sometimes, I still can't believe I got so blessed having David's family in my life. They have shown me nothing but love and support. David's niece, Liz, drove all the way to our house to bring all these stuff for me.

When pain consumes me, I remind myself with this quote I grew up with, “There are many things in life, many things we don’t understand, God doesn’t always tells us what are His plans, but in His time and in His will, He clearly lets us know, He only wants the best for us because He loves us so.”

To Port City Church, thank you all so much for reaching out to us and making us feel that we are not alone in this battle.

Silent Scourge (Poem on Cancer)

My heart aches with proverbial twinge, 
Indescribable pain engulfed thy spirit 
Debilitating soreness transformed me into wilted point 
Dismal abyss overwhelmed unspoken woe. 

Moan of anguish welled out from my soul 
Adversity crippled the future 
Fallen hopes and must-haves faded with the coil 
Entangled thoughts flooded my essence. 

Hope is such a distant refuge 
Safe haven uttered of deep prayer 
Evil cancer- an unspoken foe 
Silently metastasis and tissues torn in ragged pieces. 

Life is in pain 
Healing is such a distant word 
Agony nagged thy fragility 
Chemo wrenched whatever optimism is left. 

Nay, body won’t succumb to trepidation 
Lest I’ll be beaten by the silent cursed 
Illness that plagued won’t consume me 
In misery thy frail body won’t acquiesce. 

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.


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