SQF: So, like I said, I delivered my, I gave birth in Feb 2020. So I stayed home most of the time, taking care of my baby, unless I had patients who I had to see in the clinic.
So late December of 2020, I began to have shortness of breath when going up the stairs. Really, I thought it was just because my baby was getting heavier already and maybe I was getting a little bit out of shape. And so I kind of dismissed it. But it would persist until about late January of this year, 2021.
So, since it was the new year and I was doing my annual medical check-up already, I decided to get some of my blood tests done already. So this was around February 2021.
So the CBC result alone was alarming already. It showed that my red blood cells, my white blood cells, and my platelet count were really, really low and that I needed transfusions already. I was scared, but I did have to have myself admitted already.
In my admission, a bone marrow biopsy was done to try to rule out what the possible causes of my condition was and I was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia on February 4, 2021.
Of course, this was the diagnosis that I didn’t want to hear. I was hoping it was something else, but nothing else would also lead to what was seen in my CBC. Of course, I didn’t want to hear it was cancer. But I was so scared that it really was it.
So, right before my admission, I asked for prayers. And during my admission, of course, when I found out what my diagnosis was, I immediately asked as much people as I could to help me pray.
Of course, I wanted to get better. I just had a new baby, who just turned one, and all that. So it was a very scary time for me. But I also knew that based on facts that it was something that I had to get treated at once.
Of course, being a doctor, I know the treatments will also have some side effects, so that was what I was scared of: what the side effects could be, if I will make it out alive.
In the hospital where I was admitted, I have ninongs and ninangs who are doctors who worked there also, they were giving me advice, they were really encouraging me to just keep on fighting, that the advances in science and healthcare, of course, make it possible for leukemia to already be treated.
Even if they keep saying this, in my head, this is cancer, it’s something really scary, right? And I know it would be the prayers that will help me most.
So I only went to rounds of chemotherapy after that diagnosis in March and in early April. And, thankfully, with the help of God, I was able to go into remission at once. My oncologist said that the treatment given to me was aggressive already. And I guess this is what led me to early remission also.
Being on remission, meaning I was cancer-free for that period, I could already go on with the stem-cell transplant. So, the stem-cell transplant increases my chances of survival. So this is the goal, right? Of treatment.
On April 24th 2021, with the blessing of God, I was able to go through the stem-cell transplant, with very little side-effects. And then, I’m on my 4th month of the transplant now. Just last month, we did a test to see how the donor cells are working and if my body has accepted it. And thankfully, I accepted it naman.
There was a period, though, when I was reacting to the donor cells. It manifested as allergies — I mean as rashes — so it was literally all over my body. It was itchy. I had sleepless nights because of it. And if you look it up online, it’s called Graft Versus Host Disease. And, there’s really no treatment for it. It depends on my body whether or not it will respond to the steroids given to me.
So when I was reading up on that, I said, “God, ikaw na bahala.” I just left everything with Him, surrendered everything to Him and continued praying. Of course I asked people I know to help me pray also because, yun nga, there’s no real treatment for it. I can only turn to God and ask Him to please heal me and to help my body respond to the treatments that were being given to me.
And thankfully within two weeks, my body responded to it.
So right now, I’m trying to taper off my steroids. I mean my doctor is trying to taper off the steroids that I’m taking every day. And I’m cancer-free, as of the moment.
KM: Okay, that’s good to know. I’m really happy to hear that.
SQF: Thank you.
KM: The kind of cancer that you had, can you say it again?
SQF: It’s acute lymphocytic leukemia.
KM: Acute lymphocytic leukemia. Was there a, was it caused by lifestyle factors? Or is it something that even if you knew you had a healthy … right? Because we have athletes like Lance Armstrong — healthy, cyclist, then he suddenly was diagnosed with cancer. So, I’m wondering was it lifestyle-related or … what would cause a cancer like that?
SQF: Actually, this is not lifestyle-related at all. It’s not even hereditary. It just spontaneously happens to anyone. I would say that maybe some chemicals could cause it. But I don’t live near any factories. I don’t work with chemicals, and no one knows how I got it even.
KM: Maybe God has a reason, right? Maybe God has a reason. But what have … have you done any lifestyle changes? Or what has your oncologist advise to change or to do so that now that you’re in remission, doing stem cell treatment magtuloy-tuloy na. ‘Di ba? Hopefully, ‘wag na siyang bumalik. Yung bisita mong dumalaw, dire-diretso na siya.
SQF: Actually, for blood cancers, they don’t advise us to change even our diet, unlike mga solid organ cancers like yung mga breast cancers, there are diets that they encourage.
For leukemia, wala, no changes. Except that, because I’m taking steroids and some medications that suppress my immune system, I’m just not allowed to go out as much. But because we are in a pandemic now and everyone’s wearing a mask, and being very careful, parang it’s the norm. Nothing extra naman for me.
KM: So, Doc. Aside from your amazing …