“Measure your life in love.” (Rent)
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“Measure your life in love.” (Rent)
At different points in my life where I was made to choose between my family and another person, I always chose my family. I always thought that any person who would ask you to make that choice does not love you unconditionally.
In 2015, my mom Anita told our family that she had been diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer, HER2 positive.
According to Mayo Clinic¹, “HER2-positive breast cancer is a breast cancer that tests positive for a protein called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). This protein promotes the growth of cancer cells. In about 1 of every 5 breast cancers, the cancer cells have extra copies of the gene that makes the HER2 protein. HER2-positive breast cancers tend to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer.”
My understanding was that this type of cancer was harder to treat and quicker to metastasize. The treatment — aside from chemotherapy — required the use of Herceptin², a drug that would target HER2 in the body.
In 2015, after my mom told us she had this form of cancer, I also had the chance to go to Ireland and start a new life there. It had always been my dream to retire there — it still is. But I chose to stay with my family and fight cancer alongside my mom.
I’m glad I did, because I learned these lessons that have stayed with me since:
The estimated cost of the 18-cycle treatment (post-mastectomy) was greater than any of us had prepared for. No one really thinks that cancer would get to you until it does. We decided as a family to do what each of us could to seek help, from the government, friends, and family.
I was blessed to have Kim Patria in my life. He and I had worked together in Yahoo! In 2015, Kim was working in the office of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago. Through Kim’s help, Sen. Defensor-Santiago gave an endorsement to the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) to accommodate our request for help.
We were able to secure vials of Herceptin that were used in my mom’s cancer treatment. While PCSO did not provide the total quantity we needed, the aid they provided made a huge difference in the total cost of the treatment.
Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help. Maybe it’s pride, maybe it’s shame, maybe it’s ego. So you have to zone in on why you are asking for help. It was for our mom, and it felt like a matter of life and death, so you fight. And there’s nothing wrong with asking for help in a fight. As the Avengers said in “Endgame,” you do “whatever it takes.”
Before the diagnosis, my mom was a smoker. She had gotten better at managing how many sticks she smoked in a day, but she was still smoking. And being Capampangan, mom loved her food. The tastier, the better.
The diagnosis helped my mom get over her smoking habit. She also became more mindful of the food she ate, from quantity to quality.
Even after she was declared in remission in 2018, my mom’s transformation continued. She is now more easygoing and free-flowing. She no longer dwells on negativity and bounces back faster. She is aware of how fragile life is, so she doesn’t waste time on feeling anything bad or sad.
I learned that we shouldn’t have to wait for a diagnosis to treat ourselves better. I learned that self-care isn’t selfish, and choosing things, people, and situations that contribute to a better quality of life is not wrong. Don’t wait for a wake-up call.
At the start of 18 cycles of Herceptin and chemotherapy, it was hard to see the finish line. So we took it one cycle at a time. And even while it gave her a hard time (made her nauseous, affected her sense of taste), Mom was still friendly with the nurses and even other cancer patients who were also undergoing chemotherapy.
When she started losing her hair, we got different kinds of turbans that she would match with her clothes. When it was time to shop for brassieres that were made for post-mastectomy patients, my mom went about it without faltering. I don’t know how she did it. I don’t know what I would do if it was me.
I still remember the call I got from my mom the moment her oncologist, Dr. Pauline So-Kaw declared her in remission in 2018. I was in a meeting and was unable to stop myself from crying tears of joy.
Finally, Mom was cancer-free. We finally got to the finish line.
When we are in the midst of a perfect storm, it’s hard to see the other side. I have gone through one-too-many challenges myself, but what got me through it was knowing I would emerge from it alive and changed for good. Like Mom, whose hair has regrown to her childhood curls; even her nails indicate how much healthier she is now.
I always say my dad was a hero, because he was born on June 19 (Jose Rizal’s birthday) and passed away on August 21 (Ninoy Aquino’s death anniversary). But my mom is a hero, too, because she showed me the depths that love can go and the heights that strength and faith can reach. This saves me every single day.
Happy Mother’s Day, Ma. Basti, Randy, and I love you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.