October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but we all should know that we must spread awareness about breast cancer even beyond October, especially since the disease is becoming more and more common among Filipino women.
In fact, according to a 2013 GMA News report, the Philippines “has the highest incidence of breast cancer” in Asia, with an “estimated 3 out of 100 Filipino women” contracting the disease before age 75. In 2012, the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology also reported that “1 out of every 100” Filipinas will die of breast cancer before they turn 75.
This just goes to show why we need to help educating ourselves – and others – about the disease, its prevention and treatment. We must also do what we can to help those who are battling breast cancer – and one of the things we can do is to encourage them by sharing inspiring stories of women who have fought against the disease and won.
“My eldest was 10 years old while my youngest was just 6,” she recalls. “The excision biopsy was done on June 17, and the results of the biopsy were relayed to us by our pathologist friend after five days.
“I knew the results were not good because when I arrived home after my clinic hours, my husband was already crying,” Joy continues. “We had just recently lost my mother-in-law to pancreatic cancer, and now we were fighting cancer again.
“I was so angry, I was crying and shrieking for almost an hour. I immediately thought of my children. Hindi ako pwedeng mamatay! I would gladly undergo anything and everything for them.”
Joy says that the hardest part was telling her mother. “I had to tell her over the phone because they are based in Los Baños. I'm the eldest child, and my sisters were quick to rally behind me. My other relatives also called and sent me messages of prayers.”
The road to remission Two days after Joy learned of the results, she had a modified radical mastectomy or MRM on her left breast at UP-PGH. “My surgeon was Dr. Rodney Dofitas, our ‘brod’ in MU Sigma Phi, and my anesthesiologist was my sorority ‘sis’ Dr. Joan Ocubillo,” she shares. “On the day of my operation, my extended family travelled to Manila to be with me. Our barkada brought our children to visit on my first post-op day.
“After the MRM, I had 6 cycles of chemotherapy, followed by 25 sessions of radiotherapy. Due to my young age, we were aggressive with our treatment options. I had Stage 1A cancer and was declared cancer-free after a year. I have been in remission since 2011. So far, so good!”
Allies along the way Joy says she could not have survived her fight against breast cancer without the love and support of those around her.
“My husband, who is also a doctor, is my rock,” she declares. “I never doubted that he would find my ‘one boobed-ness’ sexy; I knew that he would not leave me alone in this fight. He changed my dressings, and gave me my first post-op bath.”
Joy’s mom also helped her a lot. “Mama accompanied me to my radiotherapy sessions. She travelled all the way from Los Baños to Manila and happily waited for me at the hospital,” she shares.
The kindness of other people in Joy’s life also gave her strength. “My friends drove me to my chemo sessions whenever my husband couldn’t. My sisters were always with me in thoughts and prayers,” she says.
Joy’s children also became a source of comfort during those trying times. “The night before my operation, I was quietly praying and crying when my daughter laid down beside me and just hugged me.”
"My husband is my rock. I never doubted that he would find my ‘one boobed-ness’ sexy; I knew that he would not leave me alone in this fight."
Life is short; trust in the Lord Because of her experience, Joy wants to encourage others who might be going through the same thing – and even those who aren’t.
“Life is short. We have to embrace every day, be thankful every day, savor every moment,” she emphasizes. “Family is the most important thing. My love for my children and my family motivates me to overcome all hardships.”
For those who are battling cancer right now, Joy has this special message:
“You are not defined by your cancer. It is not your destiny nor your fate to be a victim of cancer. You can fight it; we can overcome it. Place your trust in the Lord for in Him everything will fall into place. The Lord will never fail. We may not entirely understand the reasons why we have or had breast cancer but we will always understand the reasons why we have to overcome it.”