Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My History of Cancer

A week ago I just had my annual physical exam required by our company. CONVERGYS  Philippines  has very strict policies when it comes to their employees' physical exam and inability to comply or complete will result to insubordination and a memo coming from HR. When it was my turn to have my pap smear the obstetrician gynecologist asked the usual questions that I have grown accustomed answering.

"Is there a history in your family that we should know of like cancer , diabetes, hypertension and the like? "

I told her that there is history of diabetes on my mom's side of the family and hypertension on both sides.

"What about cancer ?"

And without battling an eyelash I told her that I come from a cancer stricken family on both sides.

I needed no further prodding as I knew she would ask who among my relatives died of cancer so I enumerated. I told her about the grand aunt who succumbed to breast cancer even after both breasts had been removed. I told her about my dad whose lung cancer left an invisible scar in my life until now, my aunt who lost her life to colon cancer, about my cousins almost yearly deaths without the knowledge of having signs detected and lately my uncle's wife who was like a fairy godmother, one I never saw since my baptism and who crossed over last August because of liver cancer. I tried to make the conversation as light as possible, even telling her that perhaps I might be one of the most boring persons on earth as I do not smoke nor drink, am not a fan of junk food, fast food chains and carbonated drinks. I also added  that my medical history was not something to be proud of.

If I could only be given a choice not to tell about my family's health history I would. There was a time that talking things over with a friend, classmate or a relative was hard especially those first few months after my father died. Writing about it for the first time was like looking back at that very painful part of my life that always brought tears to my eyes.

My dad had been orphaned at a very young age and grew up without a father. Coming from a very poor family he did all sorts of odd jobs just to survive and finish his studies. Perhaps as a daughter I could understand why he learned to smoke early. I recall he would ask me buy him cigarettes and how we got freebies like towels and bags given by his favorite brand. As a musician and an artist he did not have a regular income so there were days spent taking care of us. When the gigs became fewer in between he stayed home  more often until he decided to become a full time house husband.

When I entered high school I noticed something odd about my dad. I had gotten used seeing him light a cigarette but there were days that I saw him with an unlit match stick instead which made us both laugh. It was then that he told me he was teaching himself how to quit which he successfully did. However it was when he stopped smoking that we had noticed something different and strange. He started to sleep less in the evenings due to his constant coughing and had difficulty breathing. As days went on he started to have emphysema making it hard for him to enjoy a simple meal and could barely talk while catching his breath . 

When I went to the city to pursue college my dad's health changed drastically and because I only visited my family once a month due to money reasons I had learned that my dad started to loose his voice. He also cannot be left alone unlike before where he took care of every chore in the house while my mom taught. When I asked him if there was a slight chance that his voice would come back he said he was not sure. This was in the early 80's, when the Philippines was not yet aware of the early signs of cancer. It was only after many visits and tests that it was found out. It was hard but as a family we learned how to cope. We were unprepared financially and emotionally but still we were thankful that dad had siblings in the US who were both kind enough to support us all the way. That was when my dad started living in the best hospitals in the city and when I get to visit him after school. He did not agree to chemotherapy because his thin body could not bear the effects after each session so he chose cobalt therapy instead. I still recall when he showed me that article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer where his doctor was featured while showing the apparatus used for patients undergoing cobalt therapy. He felt so proud and safe that he was being handled by the best people in the country.

It was summer of 1987 when all of my dad's siblings got together after many years. My aunt Afric and uncle Pinong from CA visited my dad upon my aunt Naty's request stating  they might not be lucky to see him the next summer after that. My dad who often stayed in bed would ask us to accompany him to see his siblings next door so he could be with them. It seemed that being with them again and seeing his family was complete made him forget his illness even for a short time. Sadly by the end of summer his siblings had to say goodbye, including me and my sister who will be entering college, spending most of her adult life in the city just like me.

It was the fourth of October 1987, just two days after my nineteenth birthday that dad finally succumbed to cancer. He was at the hospital not recognizing any one of us when we arrived from Manila to see him fight for the last time. There was a tube in his nose where he got his food intake and an IV on his leg . WE were all crying silently, still not accepting the fact that the man who made us all laugh, sing and taught us to be independent was the same person lying helpless yet hearing nothing because the illness took everything including his voice. The pain was so much to bear that we have to let him go. I saw how he took his last breath and how I stubbornly held his hand still even after he stopped breathing. It was only when the medical staff covered his whole body with a sheet that I told myself that it was over. It was a memory that had been imbedded not just in my mind but in my heart as long as I live.

Since that dreadful day I told myself that I will grow old without knowing the taste of cigarette smoke and alcohol. I vowed that if I learned one of my kids smoked or drank either moderately, worst heavily especially behind my back either due to peer pressure or as a sign of rebellion and independence, I will tell them to stop school and to move out of my house. I also made it a point  to seldom go to parties or bars and if I do I make sure there will be a no smoking area. I also do not stay long at an event when the smell of smoke is no longer bearable for me to take. I really did not care if my rules were very strict  especially to my own kids but I would rather have a smoke and alcohol free home than let them experience the same hell that I went through when my dad was diagnosed with cancer. If there was one thing that this dreaded disease had taught me, it is the choice to live a healthy life.It maybe difficult at times but we try our best to be mindful of the consequences once we can feel the signs of an impending illness. We try to prevent it, know its cause, deal and learn with it. 

Many years after my dad died this illness still had not stopped taking members of my family. Sometimes I wonder if it was a curse handed down by the Heavens. I have to admit that it sometimes crossed my mind of my chances of getting the same fate. But then a lot of things have changed. People have become more aware and proactive how to detect early signs of it. Foundations all over the world were built on research to discover the cure, not accepting the idea that there was none. The media continue to educate everybody, spreading the information, making it viral so that all of us will know.

This year marks the 100th Anniversary of the American Cancer Society. I may not be an American , have not been educated nor worked in the US but an illness like cancer had created a worldwide stigma making everyone fully aware that once you get hit with it the world will not let you suffer alone. Guilt, remorse even anger will likely to come only to learn that acceptance is the only way to deal with it. Once that happens it will not just be your fight as the whole world will be behind your back. You become a powerful voice, not just a statistic, empowering millions that whether cancer is here to stay or not we will continue to fight and will never stop until we find the cure.

We have got a lot of work to do .

                                               (Video credits to lung cancer alliance)

For more information visit

Friday, April 12, 2013

My Inspirations To Blog

I have been looking forward for April to come . I have waited long for this month because first, my eldest daughter Sam finally graduates with a degree in BS Mathematics from Pamantasan ng Lunsod ng Maynila (PLM). Second I got to join the Good Housekeeping Fun Run and ran my first 5k with a record of  40 minutes and 46 seconds. Not bad from somebody who just came from work, had no sleep and whose preparation was just brisk walking and joining the aerobics at the park before the fun run. And finally I will get to attend two writing workshops for the first time in my life - The WAHM  workshop by Manila Workshops and the Blog Inspired one by Dainty Mom. I was so exited and plan on writing all said events sadly the Heavens have other plans for me.

A week before the school year ended, my son was infected with chicken pox from his classmate. Though  he easily recovered in less than two weeks the place where we stay was not really that big to prevent the virus from spreading. All kids were okay when they went to Pampanga to spend Holy Week with my mom thing was come Easter Sunday my mom told me they all need to go back because it seemed the symptoms of the virus started showing. Since I have all their HMO cards with me, I did not have much choice. Other than that my brother's kids were also spending their vacation and had not have chicken pox yet. So the money that was supposed to be used for the WAHM's registration went to the kids medication instead and it almost made me broke. But then money can be earned so I just look forward on the coming payday and the commissions I will get from direct selling.

A few days ago, my daughter who grew up with my mom sent me a message that her grandmother will be confine in the hospital. She added it was so hot in our place that my mom started to loose appetite. My mom is diabetic and appetite loss was not a good sign. It may cause her blood sugar to shoot up, making her blood pressure fluctuate which might lead to a stroke. She was able to survive multiple strokes before even when my brother was still alive. That happened a few years ago and what made this one more crucial and a bit frightening. It was also one of the things that made me loose sleep affecting my focus at work and sadly even my blogging activities.

There was one quotation that I have posted twice on my facebook wall and will now post a third time. Reading it often and saying it out loud has helped me to hold on. It also inspired me to write and share about it hoping that anybody who reads may get even a little bit of strength and wisdom from it all .

There had been days that I felt I have nothing good to write, to blog about. As much as possible when I write or read my post, I would like  to see myself smiling at the end. There are some posts that get even better every time I read them and it would be great if a lot of readers get to feel that, including mine. Thus it takes a lot of effort, a lot of reading, planning and thinking on what to write about next. Personally it takes a lot of discipline especially I also work during evenings and have to maintain a scorecard in order to preform. Thus when sickness and heath issues trigger my life I sometimes veer from my center, loose focus to the point of being emotional and helpless. And I don't like that. With less than two years of blogging I have discovered a piece of sky that I thought I never had. It took me to places where I met creative people and who continuously inspire me everyday. They may not leave comments on my posts but once they do that heady feeling stays with me not just the whole day that I cannot help  but return the favor by visiting their blogs or by making an effort to write better posts each time. And the cycle goes on and on.

A friend once told me that one will never find what he is looking for until he search for it whether it be happiness, acceptance, peace, inspiration. One of my living principles is to find inspiration in everything that I do. There may be trying days but there are also instances when inspiration just overflow even from the mundane things. Be it parenting, friendships, kid stuff, autism , health issues or a favorite sport, I learned the hard way that there will always be an inspiration to blog about. I just need to continually search for it in everything that I do, everyday.

Priceless moments with my Mom and kids last Mother's Day 2012

The Graduate
My three kids with  special needs - Kookie, Sidney and Red

Mommy Moments with Red 

My First Fun Run

My PBA nephew Alex with San Miguel Coffee Mixers coach Tim Cone


( PBA facebook image credits to Paul Ryan Tan )

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Gracing The Ultimate Blog Party 2013

I was visiting an online friend's blog when I chanced upon The Ultimate Blog Party 2013 sponsored by 5 Minutes For Mom. Personally I am not much into parties. I can even be called anti social. I really do not like dressing up and preparing for the big night looking forward to meet friends, mingle and socialize. I would rather stay home, read a book or watch TV. I could count the times I attended parties and most of them where Christmas parties from work. Even my kids grew up without having to experience their own birthday parties because I cannot afford to plan, budget , prepare and invite people to come over. My life is already busy as it is with seven kids. Sharing a simple meal, eating at a fast food chain or watching a favorite movie was how we celebrate our special days.

Janice and Susan are twin bloggers behind 5 Minutes For Mom, an online community for moms who support, encourage , inspire and empower moms all over the world. I have visited their site a few times when I was just starting but since I was knew with blogging and all its technicalities I shied away from blog parties including theirs.I felt that I did not have much to share at that time. After a year of blogging I gained confidence, spontaneity and skill.I can now write short quality posts, promote events, write reviews and finally attend blog parties.

So if I were you, head on to this The Ultimate Blog Party 2013. You will not only get to connect with other bloggers but get the chance to win awesome prizes from their  giveaways.

Hurry before it is too late !

Monday, April 8, 2013

Remembering One's Roots

There was once a famous novel written by Alex Haley made for television. This series titled "Roots" was also featured in Readers Digest and garnered numerous Emmy Awards. Despite the controversies about the author's plagiarism, copying some chapters to be precise from the book  "The African, " his personal journey on how he was able to finally find his roots was one story that I will always remember as long as I live.

It was year 1977 when my dad encouraged us to watch the series. Being young there were scenes that I found boring simply because there were topics I found hard to understand as it touched on historical topics like slavery and discrimination which was something very alien to my nine year old self. The author's story started way back in 1750 from Gambia, West Africa where his teen age ancestor Mandinka warrior Kunta Kinte was captured by black collaborators under the direction of white men,  while fetching wood outside his village to make a drum for his brother. Along with other Negroes Kunta boarded the ship to America so they can be sold as slaves to their masters. From there the famous "whipping" could be seen as discipline and punishment each time a slave struggled to escape and refused to follow or give in to what was required, ordered and told, including denouncing his African name. Thus all of the slaves original names where changed to American ones.

From then on these "colored people" painfully adjusted with  their lives, tilling the soils, doing household work, having their lives controlled, never having to experience justice nor freedom yet continued to struggle and keep their heritage and traditions  until Lincoln became President and declared the emancipation of their rights. Though it took many years for them to be fully recognized and accepted in an American society, there is no denying that discrimination still live until now.The ending story takes back the author from the same place where his ancestors came from, even finding a cousin before left.

Last  Good Friday marked another historical event in our family as my Californian nephew Alex finally visits his roots in Lubao, Pampanga. Together with his girlfriend Miakka, both got to meet the people who perhaps Alex only had heard from stories his grandpa and grandma had lovingly told. Sadly I was not there to join any of them since I have to work that day. So I just told my daughter Selena to take some pictures . Below were some them.

Alex with my kids, Selena, Kyle, Kookie and cousin Denzell Joshua

Miakka Lim with my kids, sister in law Janice Mallari and kids, LJ and Joshua

With my  brother Dean

With my eldest daughter Sam

Alex and Miakka 

When I shared my first post about Alex with his family in CA, her Auntie Marilyn sent me a long letter and admitted how she was not able to control her tears which only made her miss him more. She told how his parents would sing lullabys to their grandkids in Kapampangan (Pampango dialect) and how Alex as a kid would ask some of the dialect's English translations. Both my uncle and aunt (who was also my godmother) hail from Lubao. Some family members were not really that surprise when Alex decided to pursue his dream of playing basketball professionally in the Philippines. Even his dad told me that the only sad thing with Alex's decision was that he will not be able to watch any of his games live. He also thanked us for making him feel home just by watching and cheering every time my kids and I watch his games.

There were a lot of pictures taken on that day with our other relatives who perhaps Alex only knew from stories told to him. And staring at these pictures made me look back of that awarded mini series.There really must be something undefinable in tracing one's roots and making the stories heard and re told come alive. Perhaps it is not just acknowledging that our lives are connected but more of accepting the past and our future which is the best way for us to move on with our lives.

I may not have been there to see and talk to Alex again but I was sure glad and thankful he had time to visit his roots. It only proved that the man know how to look back where he came from and more enough reason for us to love him more.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Catering Dream in The Making

I come from a place where the people are known for cooking delicious food. Though I am one of the exemptions from that perception I have to admit that when it comes to fine dining the Kapampangans (people from Pampanga) had been known not just in the Philippines but in other parts of the world as well. Coincidentally some of my sisters in law were also born in Pampanga  as their dad hails originally from there and the plan to start a catering business had been a favorite conversation every time they get together.

During my rare visit to my in laws, we have talked on the challenges and the rewards of starting a catering business. From research, brain storming not to mention the money and time plus the sacrifice that will be invested in putting it up, they admitted that though practicality is a given when starting a business they all agreed that they will not compromise the quality and value for their service. Since they were open to suggestions, I have mentioned how a friend who now has her own catering business visited a website and how she was able to purchase some of the supplies needed when she was starting. They immediately went online and checked it out and they have to admit they found that everything that they need were all there. Other than the convenience of it being a one time stop and shop, they also learned that they will get their money's worth since they will be dealing with people who have been in the industry for years now. And with that knowledge I felt that somehow I have contributed to that catering dream in the making. I will surely be one of the proudest people on that day this will all come true.