How Things Changed - And Stayed The Same - After A Mom Was Diagnosed With Brain Cancer

Fact-checked by Lorraine Bunag, R.N.

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Feb 20

    How Things Changed - And Stayed The Same - After A Mom Was Diagnosed With Brain Cancer

    For many people, receiving a brain tumor diagnosis brings about immediate devastation. Upon the news, emotions often run high with one concern rising after another with increasing intensity. But, for Dorothy Anne Bagabuyo, fondly called Dot by her family and friends, the experience was a bit different.

    Dot, 36, is as busy as mompreneurs can be. On top of being a Digital Designer Contractor for a marketing and technology firm based near San Francisco, Bay Area, she’s also running a business with her better half. However, she spends the greater chunk of her time loving and caring for her three beautiful daughters.

    Photo taken after Dot’s checkup with the neuro-oncologist.

    Life seems to be just passing by for her lovely family. The whole caboodle of their family life may be chaotic, but it’s the lovely kind of chaotic all moms cherish.

    However, things changed on July 26, 2022, a day before her 36th birthday. Dot and her family received the news that she has astrocytoma, a type of cancer occurring in the brain or spinal cord.

    Here’s the story of her on-going journey to freedom from cancer.

    Unexpectedly, I had no out of the ordinary reaction to the news of my diagnosis…

    Dot Alejandrino-Bagabuyo

    Others might break down on the spot, but when Dot and her family received the diagnosis, they showed no emotions – no tears, whatsoever.

    At least not right away.

    “My anguish and ugly cries came later on, privately,” she explained. Despite the news coming down on them like a ton of bricks, there was only their determination to battle astrocytoma head on. What was to be a day of celebration for her birthday turned out to be a time for game plans on how to fight cancer.

    Dot’s family has no known history of brain tumor. It was the month-long headache that clued her in.

    Unlike many cancer patients who have a known family history, Dot has no knowledge of any family member with a brain tumor. It was the incessant headache that made her weary.

    “I’ve had headaches since I was in grade school, they were far apart and very seldom occurring, probably just once to thrice a year. The attacks doubled in frequency when I started college and gradually became more frequent and longer at as much as 8 attacks in a month as I reached my mid 30s.”

    Dot is also deathly allergic to aspirin, ibuprofen and mefenamic acid. So, she pretty much “just soldiered through the pain all these years.”

    Even after the birth of her 3rd daughter in March of 2022, headaches were still a normal part of her life. But, in June 2022, the headaches became a little bit more intense and incessant – it lasted for a month. “No day when there wasn’t any pain and my usual medication was not helping.”

    MRI showed a 6.5cm tumor on the right frontal lobe

    Because of the headache, Dot’s cousin, who is a neurologist, scheduled her for an MRI. A 6.5 cm tumor on her right frontal lobe – this was the news she received a day before her birthday.

    From the staging process, doctors deemed her tumor to be Grade 2 astrocytoma. “They say grade 1 and 2 are the low grade and the aggressive types are 3 and 4,” Dot added.

    Dot’s cousin had already prepared a plan of action and surgery is the first line of defense…

    As with many cancers, the first treatment option is surgery to remove the tumor. “Luckily the location of the tumor was easy to reach and my neurosurgeon and his team breezed through it leaving me with no deficits.”

    She was released from Neuro-ICU a day after her brain surgery.

    Dot underwent brain surgery on August 9 2022, but the fight doesn’t end there. Weeks after, starting on September 26, 2022, she went through “a 6-week daily (except weekends) radiotherapy concurrent with oral chemotherapy.” It was a total of 27 sessions that ended on November 2.

    A little over a month later, she then started with the next phase of treatment for astrocytoma: 6 cycles of oral chemotherapy.

    “It’s a 28-day cycle wherein you drink the oral chemotherapy (Temozolomide) for 5 days straight and rest for 23 days until you start another cycle.” As of this interview, she’s on her third cycle.

    When asked what adjustments she had to make while taking care of herself, kids, and family…

    Dot explained that she had to stop breastfeeding her 3rd daughter while she’s undergoing chemotherapy. “I am an advocate for breastfeeding, my first 2 kids were breastfed until they started kindergarten, so naturally I wanted to give my 3rd the best of me and that included breastfeeding. I tried my best to prolong feeding her, even expressing breastmilk right after surgery.”

    Surprisingly, other than that, she says “Our lives are basically the same as before, work, business, household chores, minding 3 kids.”

    The silver lining, which she is truly grateful for, is that nowadays, they are “surrounded by family members who take turns staying at our place to make sure we have all the help and support we can get.”

    Dot expressed milk as soon as she was released from Neuro-ICU.

    For moms battling cancer, here’s Dot’s message:

    Pray and fight…

    “I’m still treading this unknown and sometimes ungracefully with a lot of ugly cries in private, but all I can say is fight with all you have if you are able to. Pray for grace and strength to accept that it is what it is and trust that God has planned this for you.”

    Ask for and accept help…

    “Accept help and ask for it. I used to be very independent, doing things on my own in all aspects of my life without asking for help, so it’s hard for me to accept help, but accept or ask help anyway. You will be surprised that those who love you would drop everything that’s going on in their lives to come to your aid. Whether it’s physical, emotional, spiritual and financial, accept the help being given to you willingly and pay it forward when you are able.”

    Just being surrounded by family and friends who willingly help will make all the difference. Knowing that family, friends and even strangers who pray for you gives you a sense of calmness, which I think is the only weapon in this unknown.

    Dot Alejandrino-Bagabuyo

    Live life one step at a time, trust the process

    “Worry less and live one day at a time. This is still a work in progress for me because I was and still am a worrier, I want to have plans and answers from the most mundane to the most important parts of our lives for the future, so this is still hard for me to do, but with the constant reminder of the people around me to take it a day at a time and trust the process, life gets easier albeit the highs and lows and you get to enjoy what you can in that day.”

    Allow yourself to feel and be kind to yourself

    Celebrate small wins and grieve losses. There will always be bad days, but good days trump those. Just keep on going, know that things will get better. Enjoy every moment you have with your children, family and friends. Know that it’s okay to fall apart, you are not a superwoman so always be gentle with yourself.

    At the end of the day, all Dot ever wants is to see her children grow up to be what they are destined to be, together with her husband. Of course, she’s also looking forward to being completely healed and free from astrocytoma.

    But, for now, because little things matter and taking it one step at a time is important, Dot says she’s okay looking forward to the day that she’ll be able to ride amusement and water park rides with her family.

    Learn more about cancer detection and management here.

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Fact-checked by

    Lorraine Bunag, R.N.

    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Feb 20