Wednesday, April 19, 2023

The Greatest Lesson from our Trip to the Philippines

Seven years. It took me that long before I was able to see friends and family back in the Philippines again. It was a short trip but one that was filled with beautiful memories and nostalgic moments with people close to my heart. Coming from a cold, snowy Michigan to a tropical country, the temptation to talk about the place is compelling but I would like to share instead the greatest lesson I was reminded of by one of my former students.

The journey back home was the first time for David. Since I was working in Indonesia when we got married, he’s been there several times but never to the country where I was born and grew up. The trip however, proved to be more than meeting friends and family and showing him different places but also a reminder that the sweetest part of leaving home is knowing, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you’ll always carry it with you.

It was one of those poignant moments during the visit of my former student, Dr. Chryz,  telling me stories about surviving college, passing the board, having the desire to work in far flung places to provide medical care to those who could not afford the expenses of getting sick, and listening to the passion in his voice about his burning desire to help his family after all the support they have given with his studies, that reminded me of that beautiful culture of the Filipinos. I couldn’t be more proud that my husband was listening to my former student talk about helping others instead of being rich. 

One of the greatest joys of a teacher is realizing that her student turned out not just as a functioning part of a community but someone who makes a difference. While teaching is already buried in the deepest recesses of my heart, Chryz reminded me that being a former teacher is one of the best things that happened to me.

As profound as it may seem, life is really not just a journey, but the people, the experiences, and the lessons we gleaned along the way. 

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Friday, September 17, 2021

Life, Interrupted (Battling Cancer amidst Pandemic)

 To find meaning amidst pain and suffering has always been my goal ever since we heard about my cancer diagnosis.  Six months flew by so fast and I failed miserably to write another blog article.

At times, I blamed it on my lack of motivation but the truth is the macabre tapestry of the inexplicable side effects of chemotherapy and radiation hampered my desire to be the source of inspiration to the people who are going through the same situation.

Last year, I was determined to start my own business. Then, the pandemic happened and before the year ended, I was diagnosed with cancer. 

It was a whirlwind of events after that. When I first heard after my surgery that I needed to have chemotherapy, I cried. The tears were shed full of questions as to why. The lamentations were so strong that my faith crumbled. I would not sugar coat the suffering I had to romanticize finding meaning amidst suffering. 

When my hair started falling on my first chemo, I was too sick to care. My mouth was full of blisters that I could not even speak. I had to text my husband whatever I had to say. Then, I would wake up in the middle of the night with a bleeding nose. At times, it would happen while I was taking a shower and the water would turn red. The next week after the chemo infusion, I would start having stomach upset. Six to ten times a day going back and forth to the bathroom each of them feels like your whole inside is being expunged. Sometimes, it feels like you have an open wound and it’s being rubbed with something sharp. Then the pounding bone pain. Every bone in my body, big and small, was so much in pain that doing anything was a struggle. 

When I started swelling, I had people telling me that I looked good. The thing about going through chemo, you have a lot of steroids in your body. They infuse steroids before the chemo meds and anything I complain about like pain, I immediately get steroid medication.  So, gaining water weight was not surprising. What the others perceived as me looking healthy was actually something that could be a sign of heart failure so I had to undergo tests to find out. In reality, I was not looking good. 

While celebration was in order after I completed the six intense chemotherapy sessions, I mentally prepared myself for 30 Radiation treatment. I knew that my body would be going through a lot during the process. But, I didn’t expect that when I was on my last leg of completing the treatment and my skin was burnt and full of blisters, I would be dealing with an emotional trauma seeing my mother fighting with Covid. But, I finished all the 30 treatments and my mother survived Covid. 

In every story, we are always looking forward to reading the resolution because we want  a happy ending. While my story is still in the process of finding the resolution, I have survived the worst and the protagonists in my story are far too many to succumb to the pain and suffering. 

I still need another surgery and my chemo is until January next year. Having survived everything, I knew that my life might have been interrupted, but I am lucky to be alive and get a chance to fight. I am still working on my own business, the iPrint Sign Solutions and creating educational products, and while the road might be murky at times, I find solace knowing that I am fighting a good fight. 

I would always be grateful to David’s sister, Renee, for her patience, and for all her sacrifices to help us. She and her whole family had been there to make everything easier to bear.

To my husband, Beb, thank you for everything. This might be the hardest battle we’ve ever fought but I couldn’t ask for a better person to be with than you. Thank you for taking care of me and for making sure that I have everything I need. There is no suffering too great to bear if you’re with the right person.

“It is a privilege for us to look at circumstances and discern God’s involvement in them. To recognize them as more than mere happenstance but rather God’s own detailed design and plan. To see that He is allowing us to cooperate with Him in bringing life from death, growth from loss, testimony from tragedy.”

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Why Do I Have Cancer?

“The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love, and to be greater than our suffering.”

Why do I have cancer? My husband and I have asked the same question over and over again and never really found the logical answer to the suffering that I am going through.

Someone suggested that I probably got it because I never gave birth to a baby. While that’s something to contemplate about, my journey as a breast cancer patient has brought me to many stories including of a mom who was diagnosed with breast cancer when her baby was only one year old. Another story is of my Physical Therapist who is a mom of five children and yet she was not spared from this illness. When I got a gift from an organization that provides support for breast cancer patients, not a single story features someone who never gave birth.

My genetic mutation cancer test also yielded a negative result which means I do not carry any genes that are attributed to breast cancer. 
Someone said maybe because of stress. Well, I work for myself and David has been a blessing as a husband so I don't know what would be the cause of stress.

Then, there’s my diet. I try to eat healthy foods all the time including fish, vegetables and fruits. While my husband and I do indulge with restaurant-cooked meals, it doesn’t happen every day. I exercise, I don’t ever drink alcohol, never ever tried drugs, and never ever smoked in my whole life.

Physical, emotional, mental and spiritual pain has been an intrinsic part of being diagnosed with breast cancer. In my quest for enlightenment to help me process what I am going through, Romans 5:3-4 clearly explicated the answers I have been seeking. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

Pain transforms you. After three surgeries, countless procedures, facing side effects of my chemotherapy, and a year of uncertainties, I have no adjectives to describe the pain that I have been going through. I take comfort with the knowledge that everything is under God’s hands. He knows where he’s bringing me and the salvation that awaits for me in the future.

While this affliction is a hard pill to swallow every day, I count my blessings the moment I open my eyes. I have a husband who selflessly cares for me, I have his family who has been giving us amazing support during this difficult time, I have my family though thousand miles away had been sending me love, prayers and comfort, our church has so many people sending their prayers and offering support, and my former students and countless friends all over the world had been sending me messages of support.

I know I might never find the exact answer that would fully conciliate my heart to be enlightened why I need to go through so much pain. But, this I know, if God brings me to this then He will see me through this.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

-John 16:33

teacher wanderer

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. 


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