Exactly one year ago, my mother underwent total mastectomy of her right breast.
Ten days prior that, we found out that she has stage IIA invasive ductal carcinoma. And ever since that day, a lot has happened. It made me realize that life is surely like a roller coaster ride.
October 20, 2015
I was in the office about to attend a meeting. I was texting Diko (my second oldest brother) to give me updates about their latest situation in the hospital. Around 11:30 AM, I received a heartbreaking text from him. I was holding back my tears as I attended the meeting. After the brief meeting, I went straight to my desk, thanked one of my teammates for attending the other meeting I was set to attend, but had a conflicting schedule with the one I made an appearance to. I also told them that I requested for a half-day leave because I have to go to the hospital. The concerned look they gave me instantly made me burst into tears. My self was screaming inside that I can’t fake it anymore. I at least have to let it out.
My teammates accompanied me on the way to the hospital. How blessed I am since day 1 on this fight for having a strong support system. They helped me to calm down before I meet my folks. I was trying to be brave, and was fighting so hard to stop crying because that was the last thing my mom needed to witness during that moment.
Before entering the clinic where my folks were patiently waiting, I was practicing my smile while reciting a mantra that there is no struggle tougher than we are for our faith is strong and our family is united.
As I entered the room, my mom was surprised because she knew that I was in the office. Staging the most pretentious smile I could flash, I said I requested for a half-day leave for her.
I talked to my brother about the findings. Still not believing what I was hearing, I requested for the copy of the result so I could see and read it myself, even if I don’t completely understand medical terms. Then it hit me. I should wake up, and accept the fact that this is reality, and there’s no point entering the denial stage. We need a clear mind to act fast on our mom’s current condition.
October 30, 2015
After meeting with her breast doctor, undergoing several tests, gaining clearance from her other doctors, my mom was set to be operated. Our relatives, who never fail to support us in all ways possible, visited us early to show that we are not alone in this battle.
A nurse came inside the room, and said Mommy has to undergo the axillary lymph node dissection (this test is to check if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes). My brothers and I went with them. After the test, the nurse said they have to bring Mommy inside the operating room. We were just following them, and before we know it, the doors were closing in front of our faces because we were already off limits in the area. My brothers and I just looked at each other and smiled. Totally faking a smile for each other, and fighting the urge to cry our hearts out.
After several hours, the operation was a success. Thank God for guiding everyone who attended to my mom in the operating room.
November 7, 2015
My mom was scheduled to have her check-up, and to know the next steps based on the biopsy result. We were praying so hard that hopefully she will not need further procedures, because her breast surgeon previously said that there’s a possibility that after the surgery, my mom may not need chemotherapy, radiation or whatnot.
However, during the consultation, the doctor said my mom has to undergo chemotherapy because her biopsy result reads that the cancer is HER2-positive, meaning the cancer cells have the tendency to grow faster, and are more likely to spread and come back.
It was another gloomy day for us, but we remained strong and positive.
December 7, 2015 – February 2016
December 7, 2015 marks the first chemotherapy session of Mommy. I could say that Mommy did very well on her first session. She felt nauseous and did vomit a few times, sure. But it was just for a day or two. She recovered very quickly.
Her next three sessions (with the minimum interval of three weeks apart) were relatively smooth as well. Of course, Mommy still felt the usual side effects like fatigue, nausea, vomiting, mouth sores, low white blood cell count, blackening of the nails, hair fall, etc., but she was still strong enough to recover just in time for her next session.
March 19, 2016
This one I can’t forget, and still brings me into tears whenever I traverse this side of my memory lane. Mommy was still feeling so weak even though it has been already a week or so after her fifth session. She didn’t had appetite the whole week. It came to the point that I have to text my aunts to tell Mommy to eat because she won’t listen to us, even to Daddy.
It was one hot Saturday when my oldest brother and I were forcing her to go to the hospital because her condition was not getting any better. Mommy was blatantly refusing because she was thinking that it was already tough for us financially. But we insisted, and said that she doesn’t have to worry about it. We will find a way, and she doesn’t have to burden herself with it. After some convincing and crying moments, finally she agreed to be brought to the hospital.
In the emergency room, the nurse checked on her vital signs. Not believing the blood pressure result, the nurse tried both the digital and analog sphygmomanometer thrice. All returned an 80/50 blood pressure reading. Mommy also had a fever that time. The nurse immediately put Mommy in one of the beds in the ER to administer first level of treatment, while we process her admission.
Mom’s left arm was already bruised because all her chemo drugs, which were administered through IV, passed through her left arm only. Her oncologist strongly advised not to use her right arm, because her operation was on the right side. This was a precautionary measure to avoid swelling and complication. So in this confinement, we have no choice but to insert the dextrose on her left arm again. On any normal day, it is hard to insert dextrose to Mommy because she has very thin veins. Guess what, her bruised arm made it 10x harder, and this is not an exaggeration.
There were a lot of times (if my recollection serves me right, there were at least three times) when Mom’s dextrose had to be re-inserted in another part of her left arm (not counting the times it had been inserted in her feet) because the dextrose line went out of place, making her arm swell and the IV fluid to not pass through properly. And each time this has to be done, there were at least 7-10 attempts before hitting the right vein. Even a sharp-shooter nurse, med-tech or doctor had a very hard time locating her veins, even with the aid of a nerve locator.
After four days in the hospital, Mommy was finally discharged. She was given home medications, and was advised to rest very well, because we need to prepare for her last session.
Everyone was excited to win this battle. One last session left, we keep on saying to ourselves.
We are very grateful because with God’s grace, the last session was a total opposite of the fifth. The side effects were very minimal, and Mommy’s recovery was speedy.
This was really a time to celebrate because aside from Mommy’s birthday, she was also declared cancer-free. Our hearts are just full of happiness and gratitude!
So, what’s my point in writing this long narrative? I just want to give hope to anyone who is currently undergoing the same fate, be the patient and/or his/her loved ones, that we can win this traitorous disease. And that the whole process is not always going to be bad. Despite this shattering event, we chose to see the bright side of things. The whole journey taught us so many lessons about life. And I’m just full of gratitude that we made it through with stronger faith and closer ties. Also, I just want to put it out there. I have not talked about this as lengthy as this post to anyone, maybe because I was scared to breakdown, and not be able to go back and live up to the strong facade I tried so hard to put up during this trying times. Don’t get me wrong, there are still a bit of pain and teary-eyed moments whenever I recall what happened, but I’m more comfortable talking about it now, because I’m just glad that the dark days are over, and my Mommy is getting stronger and better.
I believe this post is timely because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As part of celebrating this, let us not only show our sympathy, and extend our help to the survivors and to those who are currently fighting and winning their own battle, but also be aware of the ways we can prevent cancer.
Currently, I have this simple way of helping those who are fighting their battle against cancer. I downloaded a free app called Charity Miles, a running, walking and biking tracker which allows the user to earn a certain amount for each mile he/she will be able to travel while the app is on. There are several charities one could select as beneficiary, and each charity has a corresponding sponsor. One of the listed beneficiaries is Stand Up to Cancer, which is what I am supporting. It aims to raise funds and speed up researches about the therapies that could quickly save cancer patients, it helps in inducing awareness through educating people on how to prevent cancer, and it also helps cancer patients to become survivors.
We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival. – Winston Churchill