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Hello Health Heroes' Atty Ria Berbano-Ablan on Overcoming Ovarian Cancer

Medically reviewed by John Paul Abrina, MD · Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital


Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Jul 13, 2022

Hello Health Heroes' Atty Ria Berbano-Ablan on Overcoming Ovarian Cancer

This World Cancer Day, HelloDoctor is sharing the inspiring stories of our HelloHealthHeroes, cancer survivors such as Attorney Ria Berbano-Ablan,  a court attorney in the Supreme Court of the Philippines and mother to a beautiful 11-year old daughter. In the video below, she shares her journey of overcoming one of the most common kinds of cancer women in their 40s and older experience, ovarian cancer, and details her ovarian cancer treatment.

You may also read the highlights of the interview here.

Kai Magsanoc (Hello Doctor): Hi, everyone. Welcome to HelloDoctor PH. My name is Kai Magsanoc of HelloDoctor Philippines. And with me today, to share with us her story of overcoming ovarian cancer for Hello Health Heroes. Please welcome Ms. Ria — Attorney Ria — Berbano-Ablan. Good morning, Ria!

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Good morning, Kai. It’s just Ria, no more mga label-label na ‘yan. 

Kai Magsanoc: Okay, sige. Ria, thank you. So, Ria is a court attorney in the Supreme Court of the Philippines. She is married with one beautiful daughter who is 11 years old, and she has been cancer-free since 2016. I am excited about hearing you

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Actually, cancer-free now. I’ve [initially] had cancer in 2016. 

Kai Magsanoc: Okay.

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: There. Well, actually, technically, from there, oo. Yeah, we can say that, oo. I’m sorry. 

Kai Magsanoc: That was the end [start] of your remission period?

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Yes. 

Kai Magsanoc: Okay. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: No. This, parang –  how do I say this. Sabi ko nga sa’yo parang – so wait, I had cancer ng 2016, had treatments ng 2017. So, 2017 to now — well until now — so, iyon yung remission ko so eto actually, etong point na to mula nitong January-February I can say na cancer-free. Parang ganun. 

Kai Magsanoc: Okay. Thank you. Thank you for clarifying. So, at least we understand it better. So, how are you Ria — now that you are officially cancer-free — how are you?

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Okay naman. It’s like – yon nga eh parang nothing happened. Parang ganun iyong dating talaga. It’s like really nothing happened and like, when I look back at the picture, parang sobrang tagal ago – parang antagal-tagal na ganun. 

Kai Magsanoc: Sige. If you don’t mind Ria, kwento mo naman sa amin iyong story mo of beating ovarian cancer. Siguro, doon tayo sa saan siya nagumpisa, diba. Ano iyong symptoms that you observe?

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Yeah. So, like ano rin ako noon eh parang sobrang medyo – well, I don’t wanna use the term OC, loosely. But, ganun ako sa buhay kasi like iyong laging gustong laging nagpapacheck-up maski hindi naman required. Iyong mga ganun. 

Kai Magsanoc: Yeah. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Tapos, diba ngayon ang breast check-up ‘pag 40 ka na ganyan, pero ako noon, “bakit hindi ako pwede magpamammogram ngayon na?” Parang ganun. Gusto ko na lahat. Gawin niyo na lahat. Parang ganyan. Religious ako nagpapacheck-up and nothing –  clean bill of health naman, except iyong usual —  cholesterol —  all the unhealthy things ganyan. But then, noong 2016, I just had really really high fever. Sobrang high fever na unexplainable kasi parang I was toiling in the garden the whole morning and by noon, I had fever. And then, my stomach started aching like heck talaga. Parang sobrang sakit niya, so I thought baka acid ko kasi typical kasi acidic ako, iyong ganun buhay talagang stressed. So, I thought acidic lang so popped in some tablets acidic [antacid] tablets ganyan-ganyan. But, I didn’t take iyong usual na parang mga paracetamol – maski na parang automatic iyon eh, but I didn’t take because I can’t explain my fever. Sabi ko, I need to know where is this – well, kasi diba ang fever is a manifestation that something is wrong in your body. It’s fighting something. 

Kai Magsanoc: Correct. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: So, I didn’t take that paracetamol and still nagpersist iyong stomach pain. So, sobrang dahil – wala hindi ko maexplain. I mean wala, hindi ako inuubo, wala akong sipon, hindi for throat ‘to. Walang anything na usually would give you that feeling. So, I decided at around mga 4 or 5 — mga few hours lang ah — E.R. Ganun ka ok-ok, diba. Bakit nagpa-E.R. ka sa lagnat? Diba, bakit? Pero dahil nga, ayon, sige na, E.R. na nga lang kasi parang sakit na ng tiyan sobra na parang as we went towards the hospital, every hump nararamdaman ko iyong sakit ng tiyan ko.

So they thought appendicitis. So E.R. thought appendicitis. Ang tagal i-rule out – appendicitis, lahat-lahat na until sinabi nila, baka ano ka reproductive problem, parang ganyan. So they called my O.B. And then, andami-daming tinest ganyan-ganyan and then, they thought na parang there’s —  what do you call this —  baka mayroong pus or something doon sa may ovary area. So, I was set for surgery. And then —  to drain it, kung ano man iyong andoon — kasi in-ultrasound and everything, iyon lang nakikita nila eh. So, during my – when they — nag-lap sa akin, macroscopic naman eh diba — checked, that’s when they saw my whole left ovary was already encapsuled like something. In effect, like, the whole ovary was cancer already. So labas iyong doctors. They said na, lap can’t do it. We need to remove that ovary. So she needs to wake up to get her consent. But before being wheeled-in, I told my husband, sabi ko, okay, they saw something kung may i-ddrain diyan sa left ovary ko, if they need to remove, let them.

Iyon iyong last words ko sa husband ko. And, dahil ganun iyong sinabi sa kanya ng mga doctor, sinabi ng husband ko, but she will. She allows you to remove it. So, that was my consent so tulog ako lahat noong nangyayari ito, diba. And then, iyon, so iyong pagremove nila, frozen section sent to that lab for biopsy. Paggising ko, parang lahat ano na – ang seryoso lahat ng tao. Tapos biglang after — still ah, nilalagnat pa rin ako sa hospital noon — tapos narealize ko na lang the following day, bakit lahat ng kamag-anak ko nandito. Parang ganyan. Next thing you know, sinabi sa akin ng O.B. ko, “Ria, it’s cancer.”

Iyon, so ‘yun. That was the start of it. So ako parang, “ano ‘yon?” diba? Parang lagnat lang eh, tapos magigising ka, cancer na. Ano iyon? Parang ganyan. So that was the start of everything. And then, ‘yun. Sabi ko nga e, ano ‘yung blessing na na-meet ko ‘yung oncologist ko while I was at that table. I mean, who has a regular oncologist, diba?

Kai Magsanoc: Yeah. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Parang ‘yung ganun. So tulog ako, na-meet niya na ‘yung laman loob ko, parang ganyan, and then when I woke up, parang I have another doctor, sino iyon? Ganyan ganyan. And then ‘yun pala, oncologist na siya. ‘Yun.

Kai Magsanoc: So who are these doctors, Ria? I’m curious. And then which hospital were you in? 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: So I was rushed at Makati Med, my OB was Dr. Bravo, and oncologist is Dr. Sicam. So, sobrang mga batang doctor pa nga. Actually, Dr. Sicam pa nga is, parang graduate ng college, parang ganon ‘yung itsura niya. She’s tiny, petite, and sobrang, huh? Parang ang bata. 

Kai Magsanoc: Ah. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: But you know, full trust talaga sa kanya, ganun na lang. 

Kai Magsanoc: So syempre ang unang gusto kong malaman after that point that was life-changing news for you, right? 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Yes.

Kai Magsanoc: So what went through your mind? Alam mo ‘yon? What went through your mind, then how did you feel?

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Well, coming from a family of may history ng cancer, parang somehow, at the back of my mind, I always felt na this is bound to happen. Kasi parang sabi ko baka it’s there. Kasi my dad had colon cancer, he passed from it. And then my aunt, ‘yung kapatid niya, who is a nun, so sister niya talaga, had lung cancer. And ‘yun. So parang medyo direct masyado eh, diba? So ‘yun nga, at the back of my mind, it might happen but syempre diba, parang pinupush back mo na lang ‘yung fear na ‘yun. But my first thought was, “why now? Why so early?” ‘Cause I think I was just 37 then, parang ganun. So parang iniisip ko, I think when my dad got sick, well counting backwards from his first cancer, parang medyo nandun na nga sa edad na pala ‘yun. Kaya siguro ganun din ako ka-praning in the past to always have myself checked, was because of the family history, medical history. So ‘yun, ‘yun na ‘yung thoughts ko na parang “why now? Ang bata pa ng anak ko.” ‘Yung mga typical how people react din. But ‘yun nga, parang looking back now, I mean looking forward, parang medyo na-gets ko why din, ganun. 

Kai Magsanoc: That’s good. So what was the, what treatment protocol did you have to embark on? How many cycles? How long did it take? What did your doctors prepare you for? 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Ah, alright. So since, iyon nga, from fever, I guess ‘yun iyong pinaka  – ‘yun pa lang nag-attack iyong cancer sa body ko. So when they — iyong biopsy noon —  stage 1 pa lang siya. So, sabi nga nila, “For an ovarian cancer patient, you are very lucky.” Because usually ang ovarian cancer hindi nagmamanifest ‘yan until malalang stage so usually daw ang nadedetect nila nasa stage 3 na, iyong ganun. So kaya nagulat sila, stage 1 ka pero well, we went through different —  second opinion ganyan  — kasi hindi madetermine which –  anong cell. Diba you have to know anong iyong cell na iyon so you would know ano iyong treatment diba. So from MakatiMed, pinadala iyong slides ko sa National Kidney Institute in Quezon City. So, iyon. The labs there checked and finally determined which cancer cell, ganyan. So from that, my onco said to have 6 cycles of chemo, and — actually gusto nga nila total hysterectomy na — kasi diba there’s a chance na andoon din siya sa kabila eh. 

Kai Magsanoc: Yeah.

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: We don’t know ganyan. But, syempre parang iyong iniisip ko – iyong parang, at that time, I thought, inisip ko, I’m done with having a child talaga kasi nga hello, antagl na rin of age ganyan-ganyan. But then, doon ka mapapaisip bigla na parang ha, “Do I freeze my eggs? Do I still want another child?”

Kai Magsanoc: Yeah.

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: I-hold ba muna ang lahat ng ito ganya-ganyan, but I guess wala, parang iyong onco ko was insisting na we have to do this kasi we don’t know where else siya nagspread, diba. Although, PET scan says medyo okay naman eh, parang diba, clear naman. But iyon nga, we don’t know. So I went through 6 cycles of chemo, but I did na my chemo in kidney, ‘cause my onco holds office both in MMC and then in the kidney. And then, after that, parang less than 6 months after that, I did the total hysterectomy na. 

Kai Magsanoc: What made you decide to finally go for it?

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: She was saying, “If wala naman kang intention na magkaanak and everything, and just to be really super safe, let’s go for it, diba?” ‘Yun lang. Syempre ‘yung mga cons non na you’re early menopause na, ‘yung mga ganon. All the things that go with it, syempre ‘yun ‘yung mga kinonsider din, na syempre your health would deteriorate kasi syempre without ‘yung mga hormones, your bones will be brittle. ‘Yung mga ganon ganon. All the ano — but ‘yun. So I went through the hysterectomy, and so far, after that, okay naman. 

Kai Magsanoc: Yeah. Look at your skin, you’re glowing. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Oo, ‘yun na iyon. Pero the whole time, the whole 6 — sabi ko nga, 6 cycles lang, sobrang lucky talaga, diba? I mean, 6 cycles lang ‘yun. 

Kai Magsanoc: That took how many months?

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Every 3 weeks lang ‘yun e. So, kailan ba kami nagsimula nun? So kailan ba kami nagsimula nun? June ako — August, September, October, November. Basta, by October of that year, I was done e, parang ganyan. So 6 cycles of chemo — but ano ‘yun, the works ‘yun ha. Ang tapang ng chemo na ‘yun. As in, sabi nila, diba you’d lose hair, blah blah blah. So I was expecting that on the second or third cycle but on the first cycle pa lang, parang gumanyan lang ako, parang “Oh my God.” Sobrang, ang dami e. Tapos, and then makikita mo talaga, patch patch, wala. Sobrang, grabe ‘yun na parang, “Ano ba ‘yun? Ba’t nawawala?” Ta’s talagang ‘yun ‘yung, invest on a vacuum talaga kasi parang every step of the way, talagang, “Bakit ako naglalagas nang ganito?” Until, ‘yun. Parang friends who had cancer also told me, “It’s just hair, that’s just hair.” So nung sobra na siyang, in my second chemo, sobra na siyang patch patch, sabi ko, ‘yun. Pina-shave ko na siya nang todo.

Tapos, ‘yun nga, parang inunahan ko lang, kasi parang everytime I take a bath, parang napupuno ko ‘yung buong drain ng hair. So what’s the point of waiting for all of them to drop? Kaya pina-shave na rin nang ganon. Kasi it was more depressing to see ‘yung falling hair everywhere. Na parang, umaching ka lang, may nahulog na agad, ‘no? Parang, ano ba ‘yun? Aching lang ‘yun. So it was more depressing to see those trails of hair, kaya ‘yun. When I shaved it, okay na rin. Parang, malamig pala. And then eventually, lahat ha, lahat — kilay, pilikmata, lahat talaga nawala, na parang dun mo lang narealize, ‘yun pala ‘yung purpose ng pilikmata, ‘no? ‘Pag naliligo ka, talagang nasasala niya ‘yung tubig. Kasi kung wala siya lahat, ang sakit palang maligo. Parang ganon. 

Kai Magsanoc: Okay. You describe it now, Ria, smiling, diba? Laughing about it but you used the word “depressing.” I can’t imagine. Ako, alam mo ‘yun, it would be unfair for me to say na “I empathize.” I can only imagine, no, but I can’t, really because I don’t know what it’s like. What took you through, ‘yung mentally or, mental and emotional strength, I think? Kasi as a woman, and then these changes happen to your body. After the 6 cycles, you decided to bid goodbye to your uterus, diba? ‘Yung everything, the system, so that’s ano eh, these are the things that, you know, growing up tayo, learning about our bodies, diba? Na, they make us part of who we were, diba? It may not be part of who you are now, but then that doesn’t make you less. But, I want to understand that. ‘Yung that strength that pulled you through when you could have fallen into a dark place. No one could have blamed you, because grabeng test of spirit talaga ‘yung experience of having cancer and overcoming. How did you do it, though? When you were alone, and hearing only your voice, parang, what were you telling yourself? 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Actually, totoo ‘yun. Parang, I don’t know na-overcome ba ‘yun or something, but yeah, I did fall in that dark place talaga. Kasi parang, ‘yun nga, why now, tapos parang napapause — I guess ‘yun ‘yung pinaka-ano doon, ‘yung parang medyo napapause ‘yung life. Because it’s not like everyday may strength ako, parang ganun. Parang, I will do the chemo for that week — sobrang lata. Deads, talaga, parang ganyan. 

Kai Magsanoc: Yeah. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Then the following week, ‘yun. Parang dun ka buhay ulit, so gagawin mo, parang i-cocompress mo lahat ng kailangan mangyari sa life sa week na medyo malakas ka. And in the third week, ‘yun na naman — series of tests na naman. Papasa ba ako, ganyan ganyan. So ‘yun, nagreready ka na naman for your next. So ‘yun ‘yung siguro, kaya ko sinabing I fell in a dark place. It’s more of coming from frustration, because, I mean, tayong mga nanay especially diba, we’re used to doing everything. And maski na pagod tayo, we’d still do it, diba? Parang, para sa anak, para sa bahay, para sa pamilya, ganyan ganyan, para sa opisina. But having no energy to do that, ‘yun ‘yung sobrang frustrating.

Tapos, so I asked my oncologist, “I know there’s so many breast cancer groups, ‘yung mga ganon, ‘no parang, for support ganyan.” Sabi niya, “you know, oo nga ‘no. Sa breast cancer, maraming support groups but ang ovarian cancer, parang silent group.” Kasi nga, hindi mo kasi physically makikita — parang walang physical manifestation of what happened, kasi nga internal siya, diba. Unlike daw sa breast kasi, ‘pag natanggal, ‘yung ganon. So there are after support, blah blah blah. Sa ovarian daw, parang you just go on, kasi nga ‘di mo nakita kung ano ‘yung nawala, nararamdaman mo lang, parang ganyan. So because of that, parang okay. Wala palang, walang groups, ganyan ganyan. But ‘yun, when I started losing hair and et cetera, syempre, obvious na obvious na may pinagdadaanan, ganon ganon. That’s when I met ‘yung mga fellow parents ko in the school of my child, who had cancer too, parang ganyan. So parang kami ‘yung naging support of one another.

Kai Magsanoc: Oh, that’s so nice. That’s so nice. My heart. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Sa sobrang — kaya nga sabi ko, everything fell in place din, kasi diba, tapos ‘yun. ‘Yung sa family council group of my, in the school of my daughter, may faith and spirituality committee doon, para talagang inadopt nila ako nang todo. Sobrang, grabe ‘yung grace of inviting me, or praying with me, and praying for me, ‘yung ganon. Tapos ang dami nilang activity that year, na talagang mahihiya ka na lang e, sa sarili mo, ‘pag hindi ka, alam mo ‘yun, ‘yung ganon. Nandun ‘yung, bakit nga ba? Actually naghalo ‘yung parang inis pero hiya, kasi you feel so, you feel the grace so much, na talagang madadala ka na rin, ganon. Tapos lahat ng mga, ‘yung, kasi it’s more of feeling na, the unknowns, and bakit ganito. But for the friends who reached out and shared their experience na, “Ay oo, sa ganitong mga araw after that, posibleng ganito ‘yung maramdaman mo.” ‘Yung mga ganon, ‘yung validation na ganon, that is a lot e. Dun mo mararamdaman na you’re not alone, ‘yung ganun. So that really, really, really helped. Sobra. Tapos ‘yun, ‘yung mga friends ko na ‘yun na nagsasabi na “It’s just hair” blah blah blah. For me, ‘yun na ‘yung naging mantra ko talaga — it’s just hair. So parang, on a deeper level na, it’s just cancer but life is still there. Parang ganon, parang that’s why I call it — it’s just hair, diba.    

Kai Magsanoc: Yeah. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: ‘Yun. Ta’s ‘yun, may mga nagpadala pa ng mga turbans, so parang ako, ‘yun. Kaya nga sobra silang happy na ang colorful ng ulo ko, kasi — yellow, bright prink, ‘yung mga ganyan.

Kai Magsanoc: Yeah. Yeah.

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan:  ‘Yun, so it became a happy experience experimenting, pero syempre hindi ko lang talaga kinayang mag-wig. Wala sa personalidad ko. 

Kai Magsanoc: Oo, oo. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: So ‘yun. ‘Yun, it became a happy experience, actually, na, I guess it was just full of grace.    

Kai Magsanoc: Right. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: That just describes it. It was just full of grace. ‘Yun lang ‘yung ano. Kaya, it’s not, kumabaga, walang wala. I mean, puno ng galit, pero nararamdaman mong may nag-eerase, ‘yung ganon. Diba ‘yung sinasabi ko, ‘yung week of frustration, ‘yung linggo ng frustration – ‘yun, inis, inis, inis, inis. Ta’s biglang, may magrereach-out na ganun, “Hey, mayroon tayong ganito.” So, diba parang na-eerase, na-eerase, so nagbalance, parang ganun.     

Kai Magsanoc: Nice. Ang galing ‘no, parang you almost become thankful for it. You know what I mean?  

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Yes.

Kai Magsanoc: ‘Cause it also showed you how strong you are, diba? And the people who really care, they, parang it really diba may expression na, “It takes a village to raise a child.” But I think, actually, it takes a village to support one another, alam mo ‘yun. ‘Yung concept ng ubuntu, natutunan ko kahapon, diba.       

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Oo, oo.

Kai Magsanoc: I am you, and you are me, parang ganon e. We feed off each other. Ang galing, ‘no? 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Oo. 

Kai Magsanoc: Pero natutunan ko sa story mo, Ria. Number one, early detection is key, so para po sa mga nanonood tapos sinasabihan kayo, “OA mo naman,” ganyan. ‘Wag po kayo makinig. You know your body. Kung kailangan ninyong magpa-blood chem twice a year, go ahead, diba hindi lang once a year, go ahead. You know your body best so you can make the decision — you’re empowered to make the decision on what’s good for you because we could take care of yourself, you are able to take care of your loved ones, that’s one, ‘no Ria? Number two is I think, listening to your doctor, working with your doctor.

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Very much. I think I didn’t emphasize that much kanina but, ewan ko, coming again from grace, sabi ko nga, hindi ko pinili ‘yung oncologist ko, diba? Dahil nagising akong siya na ‘yung kasama ko. But she was there for a reason, and I complete — parang sinabi ko nga, diba, typical for all of us, nandyan ang Google. So lahat ng sakit mo i-gogoogle mo, diba?      

Kai Magsanoc: Yeah. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: But for me, I chose not to be that. I chose to be a patient.   

Kai Magsanoc: Correct. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: And gave my trust to my doctor, because ‘yun ‘yung specialty niya, e. Bakit ko pangungunahan? Alam mo ‘yun? Bakit ko kokontrahin? Specialty niya ‘yun. Whereas kunyari, I mean in our line of work, kung specialty namin ang law, dun ka, diba? Parang, kaya nga may doktor, trust mo siya, tsaka maniwala ka rin, diba? ‘Yun iyong ginawa niyang pag-aaral. So, iyon ‘yung ginawa ko. I placed my trust in my doctor, and ‘yun. I really worked with her talaga. ‘Yun. Lahat ha, ni ultimong, “etong vitamins na ‘to, pwede ba?” Kasi, I’m sorry, just to add lang ha. If I may try.           

Kai Magsanoc: Sure, sure. Please, please, yeah.  

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Kasi, when people find out you’re sick also, marami diyang well-meaning. 

Kai Magsanoc: Yeah. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Hindi ka, alam mo ‘yun, ang hirap magalit, pero parang, “ano ba ‘tong pinapadalang mga dahon?” Diba? Parang kinakabahan ka, anong gagawin ko dito, diba? “Inumin mo ‘yan, ‘yan ‘yung nagpagaling kay tita mong ganyan,” ganyan ganyan. So syempre, alam mo ‘yun? ‘Yun, isa ‘yun siguro sa part ng frustration ko, that overwhelming feeling. Na I know, everyone meant well, really, really. And I’m really grateful. Ayoko ngang mag-sound na as if ungrateful pero still, that added pressure, na parang, ‘yun daw, ‘yung mga bote na ang dadark na whatever kailangan kong inumin.

Sabi ko, “Hala, ano kaya, iinumin ko ba ‘yan?” Diba, ‘yung, e pa’no kung magkontra, pa’no kung, ang daming pa’no pa’no, diba? So ‘yun. ‘Yung mga ganun, as in rinarun through ko with my onco, to say na parang, “Is this safe to drink? Eto, may pinupush sakin na mga vitamins, is this safe to drink?” Ganyan. So, she would go over the ingredients, ganyan, and then tell me. Parang, “Ah, baka mag-counter ‘yan sa ginagawa natin,” ‘yung ganon. So, kasi, if I may also, ‘yung chemo ko, sobrang reactive. Parang, hindi naman maarte ‘yung katawan ko non, pero ang dami kong naging allergies. Parang kaka-infuse pa lang ng first chemo, parang halos nahimatay na ako, kasi nag-react agad ‘yung katawan ko. ‘Yung, so diba, dahil ‘yun nga ‘yung takot ng onco ko, ma-react kasi ‘yung katawan mo, but if you take then, and then mag-rereact na naman, hindi natin alam paano gamitin ‘yan. So ‘yun. Part of the frustration and working with that frustration through my doctor iyong trust. Iyon ‘yung wineed-out na lang namin ano ‘yung, “okay, thank you na lang po” tsaka ‘yung “ay, oh sige po, salamat diyan. Gagamitin ko ‘yan.” ‘Yung mga ganon. So ‘yun, work with the doctor talaga. ‘Yun ‘yung, I can overemphasize that.                  

Kai Magsanoc: Yeah. That’s also what we want here sa Hello Doctor, kasi nga, lahat ng tao, well, first thing they do, they Google, they self-diagnose, worse — they self-medicate. Again, like what you said, ‘yung kultura ng Pinoy, “ano bang ininom mong gamot dito?” Parang, tapos ano.      

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Oo, parang pareho.

Kai Magsanoc: Tapos, ang malala pa minsan, and totoo po ito ha, we have to call it out. Na, kahit na prescription medicine po ‘yan, kung meron kayo, bibigyan niyo pa ‘yung kapitbahay ninyo na, diba? Napakabuti po ng puso ng Pinoy, gagawin natin lahat para tumulong pero minsan po, baka kung gusto po nating tumulong, e tulungan natin pong dalhin sa doktor, ‘no, ‘yung loved one natin, ‘yung kaibigan natin, ‘yung kapitbahay natin. Kaya lahat ng stories natin dito sa Hello Doctor, kung nabasa na po ninyo, lahat po medically verified. Sinuri na ‘yan ng mga spesyalista. And napakahirap pong part ng trabaho namin, pero ginagawa namin. Pero lagi naming sinasabi, Ria, hindi ito consultation, diba. Hindi ito diagnosis. You have to see your doctor. Pero this is the next best thing, because not everything you find on search has been medically verified, diba, or medically vetted, ‘yung ganyan, with a stamp of approval na “this is correct,” diba. So okay. So early detection, vigilance, ‘no and working with your doctor, that’s awesome. Not just with the treatment, but also with everything else.           

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Others.

Kai Magsanoc: Everything else. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Oo, the et cetera. 

Kai Magsanoc: The, et cetera, diba. And then number three, I think is what you’ve also exhibited, ‘yung gratefulness, that gratitude and accepting grace, diba? Recognizing and accepting grace, which is in the form of, you know the support that you receive from the fellow parents, from the school of your child, diba, parang yeah, I cannot imagine, e. And, yeah. The same way, you know, honestly, I’m part of a group on Facebook, Solo Moms PH, diba. I’m part of parenting groups also, pero ‘pag nakita mo ‘yung sa Solo Moms, parang binabasa mo ‘yung sarili mong iniisip.           

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Oo, oo.

Kai Magsanoc: May mga things na you can relate with because you went through, or are going through the same thing. So, that’s the importance of the support groups. And I guess, if wala pang, maybe we need to seek out, baka meron. Oh kung wala, simulan natin.        

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Oo nga e. Hindi lang namin alam, ‘no? And ganyan. 

Kai Magsanoc: Diba, kasi iba pa ‘yung, I know a cervical cancer support group, but you’re right. That’s also why I wanted to interview you ’no. Because ovarian cancer is not as common as breast, and lung, ‘no? When you, when we look at    

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Not spoken of. 

Kai Magsanoc: Not spoken of? Yeah.

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Oo. Kasi I would think it should be – maraming siguro maraming, I mean, I don’t have the stats for it but I’m sure kasi lahat tayo nagkaka-period, so somehow, I mean, lahat ng women ng women nagkaka-period, and iyon, nagsstem from that, diba?

Kai Magsanoc: Saka iyong ano eh lahat tayo — parang ikaw, my mother had cancer, two of her siblings had cancer, so I’m sure we’re not the only two women in the world with this kind of family history also.  

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Yes, yes.

Kai Magsanoc: Diba, so yeah. Ria, how has the experience changed you? How did you, you know – when you emerge from it now diba sabi mo nga looking back before we started our interview, felt like a different time and a different person, diba. How has it changed you?

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Actually, ano – kaya nga diba sabi ko sayo diba na parang, am I the right person to be interviewed for this, kasi sabi ko, I might not be inspiring enough, or I might not be inspiring at all for these things, ‘cause dalawang path eh. Parang I noticed with myself – siguro sa hormones na ‘to, dahil naging lola na, lola body. Dalawang path kasi so one is, that I am actually currently struggling with — I just want to be candid. I mean, it’s not all unicorns and butterflies.

Kai Magsanoc: Right.

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Everything because I survived it. There are kasi diba I told you I had friends who supported me ganyan-ganyan. And then, most of them passed on. Diba kasi iba-iba tayo ng cancer, iba-iba tayo ng prognoses natin, ina-iba iyong stages natin, and the closest who guided me passed on. So, for me parang may portion doon na may guilt. Na-share ko ito sa isa kong friend — and I think common friend natin siya — na parang may survivor’s guilt. Parang ganon. Tinulungan niya ako and everything tapos bakit siya hindi nagsurvive. Iyong ganon. Iyong portion na iyon. Until this day, I still get so emotional about it kasi nga iyon ‘yung parang why? Why? I mean, of course hindi ko journey iyon, so hindi ko matugis kung ano talaga iyon. One portion is that. There’s this portion na tagang grateful ka. I see my child growing, I know I can still provide for her, iyong gano’n andoon. Pero andoon din ako sa struggle na iyon. And then, syempre, people know that — iyon nga nagkakacancer ako — so iyong magseseek-out. “Oh what was your experience?”  ganyan-ganyan. So I am so happy to share and talk to them, to guide them kung paano ako “na-mentor”, parang ganyan, noong friend ko – mga friends ko. I also try to do that.

Parang initially nga, the moment na may nagreach-out sa akin na cancer tinatanong ko kung nagchechemo sila, are they losing hair, iyong mga ganun. I’m really always emphasizing na it’s just hair, ganyan-ganyan. So I send them care packages. Sabi ko, this helped me a lot. Iyong alcohol to be hygienic everything kasi ayaw mong mahawa sa iba eh, diba mababang immunity mo. Iyon ‘yung lagi ko pinupunto na mababa iyong immunity mo, so vitamins, be clean, hygienic, tapos and the turban parang ganyan. Sabi ko, parang nagccreate talaga ako ng care package na ganun the moment I know you’re doing chemo. I send iyong buong kit ko na ganun. Sabi ko just to share – eventually, masasanay ka ngang walang turban, okay yan. Iyong turban na ‘yan para sa initial na nawala lahat kasi malamig. It’s not to cover — it’s not to hide it — but it is because malamig iyong ganun ‘pag nawala lahat ‘yan. So ayun, you just put it on is you feel malamig. So iyon, but again, I feel hopeful again when things ganyan tapos biglang. Iyon, ‘yung mga convo na ganun tapos biglang – I think I lost two also, iyong laging nag-uusap kami tungkol sa journey nila tapos ganun. So, parang naa-aggravate noong sinabi ko sayo noong nawala ko na mentor ko tapos mayroong kang kinakausap tapos biglang malaman ko lang din na they didn’t make it. So parang iyong struggle na sabi ko sayo na survivor’s guilt, nandoon pa rin. So iyon. So,I’m still in that place. I mean, I have to be honest, i’m still in that place.

But, medically, I am okay. I’m really okay. Pero ito, iyong mga subsequent na nangyari –  sabi ko nga ito ba iyong parang kung nanganak ka, may postpartum. Eto ba ‘yun –  siguro ito iyong kailangan ko tanungin sa doctor, iyong post-survival, parang ganun ba. So, ayun iyong inii-struggle ko. I guess, it’s more of dealing with grief.But then kasi, ang laki ng nakaattach, parang we were together in the journey, and then, iyon. “Yun lang, siguro I mean,  beyond the sickness, beyond survival, there is also this thing, that maybe –  maybe hindi lang ako nakakaramdam nito. Depende. Depende rin pero siguro ako lang, maarte siguro. Ewan ko. Ewan ko. I mean — just to be candid about it — the whole journey also had – in my journey, I also have this. 

Kai Magsanoc: Right. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that with us. I think it’s, I’m more than, you know, well everytime my mom goes for a PET scan, she needs me there. It changes you forever, and the change, there’s always that part that’s good, and there’s always a part that’s bad. I think any traumatic experience, ‘no? Parang, some days, it’s easier to pick out the good, pero some days it’s not. It’s extra challenging but, can definitely tell you thank you for fighting with them when they were still fighting, diba. I’m sure they felt loved. Okay. So on that note, to close our interview, Ria, I have two questions. One, what is your message to the cancer patients watching us right now?            

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Message? Oh my gosh, credible ba? ‘Yun. I guess we pointed it out kanina, ‘no, na really be healthy. I mean ‘yun nga, ‘yung mabansagan ng “OA,” lalo na sa panahon ngayon, diba? ‘Yung parang, OA sa cleanliness, hygiene. Maging OA, okay lang maging OA. I think, during the start of what we’re experiencing now, is mahirap pumunta sa ospital. But I think the hospitals already did things to separate the services needed by other patients. So ‘yung mammogram, mga ganyan, naka-ibang building na sila. So go for it if you need, diba? Pwede, diba. So ‘yun, be vigilant with those, kung sinabing, like, after actually my cancer, we’re still monitoring my breasts now, kasi diba next progression, we always have to cut – be vigilant with that. So ‘yun. Maging OA kung kaya, diba? Kakayanin din naman. And two, trust your doctors talaga. I mean, you can shop for your doctor. Meaning, kung hindi mo siya pinapaniwalaan ganyan, kasi “Uy baka OA,” baka “grabe naman, gusto lang, gusto niya akong i-chemo agad e ‘di pa naman, sabi ng tita ko pwede naman gumamot gamot muna,” ganyan. Kung hindi ka comfortable doon, then seek another doctor and you know, find someone you’re comfortable with.                     

Kai Magsanoc: Right.

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: And then trust. Trust completely. Parang ganyan. I’m just lucky na comfortable ako agad at naging you know, nag-trust – I trusted her. Another point though, yes maraming gastos. Totoo ‘yan, I mean reality maraming gastos. Again, part of the grace that I received. Sabi ko nga sayo, nasugod ako kasi Makati Med. Medyo steep ‘yung bill after the surgery and everything, but ‘yung part ng grace ko doon was, my onco was also practicing at a government hospital.        

Kai Magsanoc: Right. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: NKTI. So ‘yung chemo ko, I did my chemo in the government hospital. And it really helped with my PhilHealth din, and I was very very surprised and sobrang nabilib, na ang ganda ng facilities nila. I mean you would expect na, parang sasabihin ng mga tao kasi “government hospital ‘yan” ganyan, but ang ganda ng facilities nila, tapos ang gagaling ng mga nurses. Sobrang hirap sa vein ko but nakukuha nila. Grabe ang ninipis niyan, kaya nila. So ‘yun. There are – explore also other options. ‘Yung ganon, ‘yung parang, hindi end ‘yung cancer e.

We can look for options, ‘yung ganyan. Kaya nga ‘pag may nagtatanong sa akin, tinatanong ko, “Oh, baka affiliated ‘yan sa kidney, o kaya affiliated sa, ‘yung sa ibang, diba, sa may PGH,”  ta’s “They are magnificent doctors there,” diba? “So ‘pag affiliated doon, then maybe some of the treatments can be done there. Of course, with difficulty din, kasi syempre mahaba ang pila, ganyan, naranasan ko rin’yung pumila. Pero kung hirap, mayroong mga ganong options naman na, try a government hospital ‘yung doctor mo, kung affiliated doon or what.” Tapos ‘yun, may mga inaadvice din na, “‘Wag lang basta kung saan-saan kukuha ng gamot, kausapin mo ‘yung doctor mo kasi siya rin pwede mag-prescribe, or you can get it from this pharmacy, para direct na,” diba.

You source it out, and then direct mong bibilhin na doon. Kilala niya naman, makikilala mo rin, then dun mo i-source. Parang hindi ko na inaasa lahat sa ospital, so that mas makakayanan ko, mas maaabot kaya ko. And at the same time, alam ko ring safe, kasi galing sa doctor ko, recommended ng doctor ko but at the same time, hindi napapasok sa mga procurement, so mas magiging abot kaya ko. ‘Yun ‘yung hahanapan, hanapan, hanapan ng paraan para, kasi hindi lang katawan mo ‘yung, I know hindi lang katawan natin ang may issue, kundi syempre, sakit din ‘yan sa finances. And we have to face that reality na, that is a problem e, finances talaga, kaya nga maraming hindi nagpapagamot, ganyan.                                    

Kai Magsanoc: Exactly. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: But explore options also, diba, na ganon. Na medically ha, I mean ‘wag naman basta-basta na lang ‘wag magpagamot. But there are other options and dun tayo kumuha ng hope, na meron. May ganong services and facilities. So ‘yun. I guess I cannot emphasize that enough because, ‘yun. I mean, I don’t wanna compare pero ‘yun kasi ‘yung sinasabi ng mga iba kong kaibigan na, “ang mahal mahal mahal.” But ‘yun ang naging isa sa mga grace ko, na ‘yung path towards government services, na-avail ko. And it really helped kasi, one, a little less worry would help a lot in the recovery.             

Kai Magsanoc: Right.

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: And for the further recover, talagang kailangan bawasan ‘yung mga ganong stress.    

Kai Magsanoc: Okay. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Kasi diba, sabi nga ng onco ko, “Cancer feeds on stress.” So you know, if you can lessen the stressful stuff in your life, then ‘yun. Part of you being holistically saved and ano, healed, diba. ‘Yun, those points.  

Kai Magsanoc: Okay, thank you so much, Ria. Thank you for everything you shared with us. Ang dami ko ding natutunan. Oh my gosh.  

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Sana. Kaya nga diba sabi ko sayo, credible ba? Nako nahihiya ang lola mo kaya, ‘yan.    

Kai Magsanoc: Thank you, thank you.

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Sana may napulot kahit paano.

Kai Magsanoc: Oo. So sa mga nanood po ng interview natin with Ria, thank you so much po for joining us today and if you have any questions, feel free po to message us on our Facebook page, HelloDoctor PH, and we will make sure to respond to you agad. We do have our panel of doctors also. If you want to speak with them, just let us know. And until the next interview! Thank you again, Ria. Until the next Hello Health Heroes.      

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Thank you for having me.

Kai Magsanoc: Syempre, thank you. Until the next HelloHealthHeroes feature. This has been Kai Magsanoc, thank you and stay well. 

Atty. Ria Berbano-Ablan: Thank you.

Disclaimer

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

Medically reviewed by

John Paul Abrina, MD

Oncology · Davao Doctors Hospital


Written by Fiel Tugade · Updated Jul 13, 2022

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