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Dr. Shara Que-Felix: The Doctor as Cancer Survivor

Dr. Shara Que-Felix: The Doctor as Cancer Survivor

We’re so used to doctors taking care of us that we sometimes forget they are human and can be patients, too. This interview is with a Hello Health Hero who is part of our Medical Panel and has survived acute lymphocytic leukemia. Her battle with cancer is not yet over, but she has slowly gotten back to her practice as a pediatrician, thanks to the support of her family and her unwavering faith in God.

Friends, meet Dr. Shara Que-Felix.

Katherine Magsanoc: Hey, everyone! Good afternoon! My name is Kai Magsanoc, Editor-in-Chief of Hello Doctor Philippines.

Today, we have a very special interview. Because, usually, when we feature doctors, we feature them in our “Ask the Expert” series, right? But for today, it’s quite different because we have a doctor with us and she’s actually a Hello Health Hero, because she’s here to share with us her journey in facing and overcoming one of the most dreaded conditions.

We know this because, according to our data, our readers go on our website and read about cancer, many different types of cancers. But today, let’s let Dr. Shara Que-Felix share with us her story for Hello Health Heroes. Hi, Doc Shara!

Dr. Shara Que-Felix: Hi, good afternoon!

KM: We’re so grateful na … I’m sure we’ll have another interview for “Ask the Expert,” where we … we’re going to talk about, you know, health issues of kids in the time of COVID, right?

Today, it’s all about you sharing your story with us, and … Thank you, because the point of this … Hello Doctor is here to hopefully give people hope, and medically-verified information, of course. Hope that they can overcome, that they can take care of themselves or their loved ones who may be suffering from something.

So how are you today, Doc? How are things?

Dr. Shara Que-Felix: I’m good. Back to normal. I try to go to the clinic at least once a week. Yeah, I try to restart my…

So you are a pediatrician, doktora? You are the person behind Baby Wise.

SQF: Yes.

KM: For the benefit of our viewers, please tell us more about Baby Wise.

SQF: So, Baby Wise Pediatric Clinic is a clinic we opened last February 2020, but within that month, I also gave birth, and it was the start of the pandemic already. So we had to close down the clinic for a while, for my safety, my baby’s safety, and everyone else’s, our staff.

And then, in May 2020, when the Pediatric Society said that we still had to continue immunizing our kids, our patients, we decided to open up the … to reopen the clinic, but to only cater to the well babies. So these are the newborns or any children needing immunizations.

So from then on, up until the present, we’re only catering to well babies. So for those patients who get sick, we only offer sick consultation. So this is to ensure the safety of both the doctor and of course the other patients who visited the clinic as well.

KM: Okay. I think Delta is also affecting kids. Have you had cases where the parents are reaching out to hopefully make sure that their kids are not affected by COVID?

SQF: Yeah. Actually, it’s true, what you hear on the news, that more kids are getting sick, and we’ve been getting more consults online for children who’s had fever, cough, and colds.

What we do is we try to help monitor them. We give them a COVID Care … uh, what do you call this? A COVID Care Handbook. And then, we see, we also ask them to be tested and so far, none of our patients have tested positive for COVID even if they’ve been having some symptoms of COVID.

KM: That’s good to know, I guess, right? Because it’s also the season of flu.

SQF: Yes, that’s why.

KM: So I guess, for the parents, if you have any suspicion, first thing you do is to reach out …

SQF: Yeah. Very important.

KM: So, Doc SharQ, Doc Shara. We are having this conversation today because for Hello Health Heroes, we feature patients or, sometimes, it could also be their carers, who want to share with us their story. It’s not really for us, it’s for everyone else, for the 200,00 people who come on to the Hello Doctor website, who want to read stories.

So your story as a cancer survivor will definitely give hope to others. Because based on what has been shared to me by Kristel, our senior editor who actually connected us, you were diagnosed last year, also in February.

SQF: No, just this year. February 2021.

KM: So, February this year? Okay, so … But still, the business, last year February … opening a clinic, having a baby … I hope you are enjoying motherhood …

SQF: I was.

KM: I will let you share your story with us, so please share with us, Doc SharQ, your journey.

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 …

SQF: Recovery.

KM: At saka yung ano e … I was actually thinking of that the other day: what are the other facets of health and wellness that are not exactly medical but can affect a person’s state of well-being?

I was talking about it with my editors, financial health, right, that affects mental health. Maybe we need to talk about financial health experts and we can have the mental health experts on board. And I was also thinking about spiritual health.

For example, in my case, I cannot start my day without listening to Mass. Because when you are troubled with something, and you can hear the Gospel and the Homily, it’s like, parang alam ni Lord ano yung nasa isip mo and He answers you directly, right? Even if there’s hundreds of people listening to the same Homily, the same Gospel, for some reason, for what you are going through, or what is troubling you, the answer is there.

SQF: Yes.

KM: But let’s go back, Doc Shar, to the time when you got the diagnosis. I went back to “New Amsterdam,” have you seen that series?

SQF: Yes, I started it but it was too sad for me.

KM: Actually, ano siya eh, maganda naman ang ending nung seasons. Pero when you’re a doctor and you understand these things more than the average patient, how do you manage your tears?

SQF: It’s so much more … It’s so much more troubling. Like when I was thinking about my Graft Versus Host Disease earlier, like I would read up on it and parang dead end na, if you don’t respond to this, there’s no other way you could get treated.

What do you have left, right? Death and all that. And I don’t want to believe that God allowed me to go through my transplant only to end up succumbing to Graft Versus Host Disease.

And so, wala it’s really just faith. I mean you have to really believe in what you are praying for and believe in what you are fighting for, as well. I would pray a lot, I would also cry a lot because I’d be scared. But I would say, “I surrender everything to you, God. I know you know what I want to happen. And if it’s in Your will, I hope you can let me live, you know, a little longer.”

And I think He put me in remission and made me respond to my medications, because He had other plans for me.

I’m trying not to cry.

KM: I know! Sorry.

Doc Shara, it’s okay because I have so much respect for you and your strength. And I was thinking while you were answering, could it have been … what role did your family play, in giving you the fight, ‘di ba? To me, you’re already a strong fighting spirit. Your kid, your husband.

Always when I speak with doctors, when we talk about a particular disease or condition, I always ask what is the role of the carers? What is the role of the people around the patient? Because for me, that is a big factor. The recovery of the patient, if the patient gets well.

Because I’ve been in a situation where I have to go on a particular … when I was diagnosed with stenosis … I had to follow the Pinggang Pinoy. I had to fix my diet. And of course when you eat with the family, there are those who don’t share it with you. And then my son decided to follow the Pinggang Pinoy with me.

So how was your child and your husband through the journey?

SQF: Well, my baby is only a year old so he doesn’t really know a lot of what’s been happening but when I got home from the hospital after leaving him alone with my parents, he just stayed by me. Like every single time I’m out of his sight, he starts looking for his mom, saying “Mama, Mama.”

And of course, he’s the main reason why I want to fight this disease, why I want to fight. Whenever I’d feel like this, I’m scared, or whenever I start to worry, my husband would remind me always that we prayed for it and God wouldn’t have put me in this place where I’m healed if He didn’t have other plans for me.

Basically my husband and the rest of the family are also very strong for me. I know they’d get worried, but they dont show it to me. They always just remind me to pray and that they are praying with me and since God started answering all my prayers like getting better allowing me to get my transplant and the transplant working … so they just tell me na God already answered you so believe that He will continue to take care of you.

That’s what my parents always tell me, that’s what my husband also tells me. They are my biggest support system. And then you’re also always ready to listen to me, whenever I get scared, when I get worried over my rash, over my symptoms, they’re always there to remind me to be done with that.

Just live in the present. Live day by day. And if you get worried, you can talk to us or you can pray. They try to give me time to pray every day para they take care of my son for me, so that I have my own time also, my alone time if I want to pray and have a silent moment.

KM: So that’s what your family would tell you. But ikaw Doc Shara what’s your takeaway from this experience so far? It’s still ongoing …

SQF: It’s still ongoing because I’m on maintenance medication and I will be for the next two to three years. I think my takeaway from it is to continue to have faith.

I’ve always been prayerful. I mean, I believe in the miracles that happened when Jesus was on Earth. And whenever I pray, you know, “Lord, sana ‘wag po traffic. Sana I get parking space in the hospital.” Little things like that. I know na, “Oops, I got parking,” because I prayed.

I mean, I never think that it’s just coincidence, but like going through what I’ve been through for the past 6 months, everything happened so quickly, and then I got healed.

In fact, I was just telling my husband, I didn’t think I’d make it to the -ber months after I was diagnosed, so I was so thankful.

So I really think that, I guess my biggest takeaway from this whole experience is that God is really there. He really listens to us. Faith played a very important factor in my healing.

Because even afterwards, I would have weekly check-ups and in my head I’m still sick, and there’s always that anxiety na what if they find something again and all that. But when I started praying a little bit more and then when I surrendered, I mean in the beginning I told Him, “Lord, ikaw na po bahala.” But of course I was still scared.

But after my transplant and, you know, I was still having my weekly check-ups, I would still get worried. One day I said, “I leave everything up to You na talaga. I don’t want to look up anything anymore. I don’t want to be over-prepared with all the diagnoses. I will just believe that You’re there for me and Ikaw na po bahala.”

You know I started to feel a little bit better, and then I could do the things I used to do without being scared na tomorrow I’m going to die na. Parang ganun.

So my faith in God played a very important role in my healing and all of this.

KM: You know FIlipinos, Doc Shara, we’re very matiisin eh, ‘di ba? When the cancer was discovered, do you think the timing also played a role so that you will go into remission as quickly as you did? What could have been the consequences if it was discovered or diagnosed much later, ‘di ba?

And my question is, what is your advice to your patients or maybe people who are feeling symptoms, for example. When should they see their doctor already? ‘Wag na magtiis bago pa siya lumala, baka dumating sa point na ‘di na siya ma-treat? ‘Yun kasi ang iniiwasan natin. What is your advice

SQF: Basically, the moment you feel something, try to monitor it and see if it persists. And then try to observe also when it happens. Like with me, I had shortness of breath going up the stairs. Otherwise, I was okay naman. And then I observed. But then it persisted.

So I decided, you know, might as well get my blood tests done already and see if there’s something wrong somewhere. Because I’m a doctor, I could monitor myself.

But for patients, give it a week or two. If you’re really feeling something and you see a pattern, might as well contact your doctor already.

And when you hear what your diagnosis is, yes it could be very scary, but 1) trust in God and 2) trust in your doctor also. It’s very important that you trust your doctor because he’s the one who diagnosed it and he is the one who will treat you.

And it’s better kasi if you stay with your doctor because he knows your history. He knows what was given to you and why it was given to you. It’s very hard, like for my condition, if I change doctors pa in the middle of my treatment.

It’s better na one doctor na lang tuloy-tuloy na. At least he knows what I react to and what was given to me prior.

KM: How about your message, Doc Shara, to the family or the carers of the patient?

SQF: It’s very important for them to understand the patient also. Just because the patient appears like she’s already accepted the disease, it doesn’t mean that inside she has.

I know everyone is trying to understand the patient, ‘di ba? I mean, if she’s moody or if he or she doesn’t want to talk about it. Just give her some time also. But always be on the lookout for signs of depression na ‘di na siya kumakain pala, and things like that. What she might be showing outwardly is not what she’s feeling. So just be very sensitive to that also.

And of course be her strongest support system, especially the carers. Just keep reminding the patient of God’s mercy, of God’s goodness, most especially.

KM: And on that point, you are being healed by human healers and by the Divine Healer, as well. But being the healer yourself, how has this experience affected you as a doctor, as a healer?

SQF: Well it’s easy to think na, “Oh I got to help this patient because of this medicine.” And then sometimes you forget that you’re able to heal because of God. He’s guiding you all the way.

I think I’m more mindful of it now that every time I issue a prescription, every time I talk to a patient, I remember to thank God immediately na, “Thank you for helping me out with this case. Thank you for making this possible for me and my patient,” you know, things like that.

Because back then tuloy-tuloy, when I see a patient one after the other, you give the medicines and they tell you they’re better na. And it’s easy to think, “Oh I did that.” But it’s not just me, talaga. It’s really because God is there guiding me in everything that I do. That is the biggest impact. Always remember that I’m not doing it alone.

KM: There’s someone working through you, ano? I agree with that. So we can end this interview now, but before we go, please tell our viewers where they can reach out, maybe to say a prayer for you. Or if they have kids, now that you’re back at work, where can they go or call so they can have their kids checked by the Baby Wise team?

SQF: We are on Facebook, as the Baby Wise Clinic. They can leave us a message there. Our secretary will be the one who will answer any of their concerns.

KM: Okay, Doc Shara, thank you so much.

SQF: Thank you also.

KM: Thank you for sharing your story with us. It’s a success story that we’ll definitely watch over and over again. And maybe in another 6 months, we can do another follow-up kamustahan? To follow-up. Yung long-hair ka na ulit.

So there you go. Doc Shara Que-Felix shared her story over cancer. It’s an ongoing journey, so let’s keep praying for her. And not just for her, but her doctors who are helping her get better and for the other patients of the same type of cancer.

Cancer, for those who do not have strong faith, might seem like a death sentence. But it doesn’t have to. Pray, observe, and don’t believe everything you find and search on the Internet. Go on Hello Doctor and read medically-verified information and then call your doctor.

Pretty soon, you’re going to see Doc Shara on our Expert Panel, so we’re very excited about that. Until our next interview for Hello Health Heroes, this has been Kai Magsanoc of Hello Doctor PH. Stay well.

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

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Written by Kai Magsanoc Updated 3 weeks ago
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel