I completed 28 days of radiotherapy in March 2005. It was a happy time for us. We had hoped to put breast cancer behind us. I attended Dana’s Kinder 2 culminating activity sans wig or bandana. She and her kuya had their birthdays in March and January, respectively, and both felt more mature after successfully waging the cancer battle with me. In her yearbook entry for Kinder 2, my daughter, Dana, said the magical power she wanted was “to heal all sickness so I can cure my mother of her cancer.”
More cancer treatments
Imagine our shock when, in July 2005, doctors found that my cancer had spread to six other parts of my body, including my hip and my left rib. The condition is called Stage 4 or metastatic breast cancer; patients only had a 16 percent chance of surviving to their fifth year. Gino was terribly disappointed. “Di ba Ma, magaling ka na? Di ba nagamot ka na”. Dana was more direct. “Mama, mamamatay ka na ba?” It was a new storm we had to weather and once again, I had to undergo another six cycles of chemotherapy. This lasted until November 2005.
Imagining the future
One time, during my second round of treatment, I was putting some pressed powder on my face when Dana asked if she could do the same. I told her the powder was for older ladies and that she would get to use it when she reached high school or even sixth grade. She blurted out, “E patay ka na nu.n.” It was like a knife was stabbed through my chest. When I probed, she started to cry saying she was just afraid I would die. Gino was furious at his little sister. He said she was worrying too much; Mama would not die yet. We were all learning our lessons, coping in our own ways.
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It was truly a trying time. In December 2006, a full year after my treatments, seven-year old Dana was reading a condensed version of The Northern Lights: The Soccer Trails by Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak. It is the story of a little girl, Kataujaq, growing up in the Arctic. Kataujaq (Inuit for rainbow) lost her mom, who died when the “big disease” swept their village. Kataujaq was very lonely and was reminiscing about the days she spent with her mom as a young girl. Dana asked me, “Paano na kaya kung ikaw na ang mamatay, Mama?” I told her that like Kataujaq, the memories of our time together will keep her company even after I’m gone.
A life well-lived
In January 2007, Gino wrote four sentences as the biography of his mother for his sixth grade English class as follows: “My mother is a generous loving mother. Her life is like a steep rocky mountain. Reaching her goals, finishing her studies, and trying to get a promotion are hard. She had breast cancer but survived it.” He made me realize that the cancer experience is but a tiny portion of the lives we are all trying to live well.
I have required no further medical treatment since 2005. Dana and Gino have progressed through school. With their dad, we continue our journey, surviving both cancer and life, in the loving and consoling company of one another.