Friday, September 23, 2011

5x7 Folded Card

Cherry Branches Thank You Card
Elegant thank you cards and notes by Shutterfly.
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Thursday, September 15, 2011

You All Loved Me Through It

New found friend Linda, taken during chemo when I first met her which happens to be her birthday.
I met Linda in one of my chemo sessions.  She was very friendly.  Though she looked skinny, she is such a strong woman to me. She has been going through chemo for 8 years now and  I admire her resilience.  I only had 5 months of chemo and I almost quit.  I can't imagine going through it for years.  She has ovarian cancer which is tougher to detect and treat than breast cancer.  

One thing that is common to both of us is we are both BRCA positive cancer patients.  The Breast Cancer (BRCA) gene mutation increases the risk of breast cancer by 85% and increases the risk of ovarian cancer by 45%.

We talked a lot on our first meeting.  From where she could get a good iPad cover to more serious matters like cancer.  She became like a big sister to me, with tips on how to manage chemo's side-effects because she has been through it I guess for so many times.  I admire how she is still standing strong fighting and continuously believing that after all these years, chemo will help cure her ovarian cancer.  Aside from home remedies to alleviate the side-effects, she also mentioned a support group that she goes to regularly.

She invited me to join F.O.R.C.E., which stands for Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered.  It's an organization of  those who have hereditary genes BRCA 1 and 2 or have a family history of cancer. Having the BRCA gene like I do, we are at a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer at any point in our lives. 

I was so caught up with my chemo that I didn't contact them for a long time. I was afraid that I cannot commit fully in attending the meetings once I start because I might not feel too well all the time.  I was also too shy or afraid to be in a big group to share my story. 

But all my fears subsided once I felt the warm reception from those with whom I've shared my story. The meeting was attended by about 30 women. We broke into two groups and started giving our introductions.  

Every woman's story was different. Every woman's reason for joining was unique.  I thought I would feel alienated being young with cancer but I was proved wrong.  In our smaller group, 4 of us were relatively young and 10 were older.  One woman had almost exactly the same experience like I had.  Being the newest in the group, I thought I would not have anything to contribute because I was pretty sure they all have gone through what I went through. But as I was introducing myself and my experience, everyone started crying. I couldn't help but cry too. I exceeded the one-minute limit of introduction but the moderator did not care. It was a moment that they all made me feel I was not alone in this journey. 

After hearing everyone's story, the group opened ourselves to questions and answers based on our own experiences.  I was surprised to find out that the one male in the group was a resource person. Dr. Richard Frieder, Medical Director of Genetic Testing/ Cancer Risk Assessment & Prevention, assisted us in understanding the medical side of our experiences.  We all have questions of "where do we go from here?" . 

Knowing we have the BRCA gene, we are all faced with the challenge of whether we will take steps to face our circumstance head-on or do we just acknowledge our risk?  What are the choices we have to make? What do we see in our future?

I have been anxious about this surgery ever since I was told that I need to get my ovaries removed before I turn 40.  But after hearing the stories of three women who have proactively had oophorectomy (surgical removal of the ovary), I felt relieved. They are doing well, living well and have taken the dark cloud over their heads out because of the surgery.

My share of experiences also helped some women who were contemplating on what to expect with double mastectomy, reconstruction, chemotherapy and radiation.  Some of these women have not gone through any of these yet and I was so happy to be of help.  

In the end, we were all invited to a "show and tell" where we can show our surgeries and reconstructions so that those who are trying to decide what kind they will have can have an informed decision. At first I was shy to show my breasts and abdominal scars but seeing how it will help other women, I became open to sharing mine. 

Despite our unique experiences, one thing I found out is common among us : all of us had our families and friends to lean on at this time of difficulty.  We could not have been strong enough without the love and support that we get from everyone around us.  Physically, mentally and emotionally we have all been challenged by cancer.  It didn't matter whether one is young or older.  It affects our lives all just the same.  

This group and our own little circles of life have been our stronghold.  The ropes that held us.  

I am so thankful that I decided to join the group.  From here on, I will become a source of strength for other cancer warriors like myself at the same time gain courage from them. It is something I look forward to.  Just like I look forward to seeing my family every day that I wake up and hearing from friends all over the world.

The odds are 1 out of 3 people worldwide know of someone who has cancer.  A little note, a pat on the back, a simple hello will make a difference in that person's life dealing with the big C.  Thank you, you all held my hand through it all with your love.

P.S. I want to share this song by Martina Mcbride written for breast cancer warriors and survivors, their families and their friends.  I also want to share an article contributed by David Haas, one of our blog readers who has been researching about the importance of support groups as a coping mechanism among cancer patients.  

Help us in this fight against breast cancer. If you can , please help in raising funds for Krissy's Breast Cancer treatment:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Our Unsung Survivor

Best Mother In Law in the world
On February 8, I  was on speakerphone with Jim when the doctor was giving me the news that I have cancer.  I tried to compose myself at first, I said I will not cry.  I couldn't help it.  I cried for a good 20 minutes on the phone to my husband. 

After I gathered myself, I walked out of the hospital to the parking lot and stayed in my car for a few minutes.  I feel like I haven't let all the sadness and disbelief out of my system yet so the first person I called was Judy, my mother-in-law, Jim's mom who lives in Boston,MA. I would have also called my own mom but it was 2:00 am in the Philippines. 

I cried to her, sobbing, crying like a child.  She cried with me, as if she is putting my head on her shoulders and cradling me like a baby. She kept reassuring me its gonna be okay.  She also kept saying she wishes she was here next to me and give me comfort during this difficult moment. 

As soon as we hung up the phone, she started looking for flights to come out here in Los Angeles because she wants to be there when I start getting my treatments.  She wanted to take care of me, Jim and most specially baby James because I will have surgery in a few weeks. 

Two weeks before my scheduled surgery, she was going to fly in.  But the day before her flight, something surreal happened. Not everyone knew that she was rushed to the hospital because of blood in her urine and severe abdominal pains.  

Her husband, Roman, called us that night that she has to cancel her flight to L.A. because she is being confined to the hospital. She was diagnosed with stage 3 kidney cancer. It was so unreal.  How can a family have two cancer diagnosis in one month?  How can Jim have two of his important women in his life go through cancer at the same time.  I've been concerned, how he can handle this?

Grammie, as we call Judy, has been my source of strength ever since.  She went through all the tests with courage and strength that everything will be fine.  I know deep inside she is also scared of the unknown.  Until the mass in her kidney is removed and biopsied, no one knew how bad the cancer is. 

She kept telling us how she feels bad that she can't be with us to help out.  She is so selfless.  Even at her trying times, she was still thinking of how she should help. 

Her surgery went well.  The doctors removed her malignant kidney and the tissues surrounding it.  She was stayed in the hospital for a few days and recovered at home after.  She did not need any more treatments like chemotherapy and radiation.  God answered my prayers.  I've been praying that she be spared from suffering from other treatments. 

A few weeks later, she told us that she was coming to help us  a month after her surgery.  We were concerned that she might not be well enough to be travelling, let alone taking care of us.  She was insistent. 

She arrived with Roman, her husband a day before my sister left for Singapore.  When I saw her, she was as vibrant, happy and caring as she has always been.  You wouldn't know that she just had surgery.  She was cleaning, fixing our home, vacuuming, doing laundry, taking James to the park everyday and make him take a nap. She taught James a lot of new things like a teacher (which was her profession in the early days). She shaved my falling out hair when no one will.  In the morning as soon as we woke up, you will see her in the living room, all ready for the day's work. 

I miss Grammie.  She is the mom that calms you down and inspires you to be a better person inside out.  Im so proud to be part of her family.  She is the mother-in-law you wish you can have.  Selfless, inspiring, calm but tough. She battled cancer in her own brave way. She is a survivor. An unsung survivor who doesn't talk much about her journey but is an inspiration to me for always believing that there is goodness in every situation and there always is a way. Her positivity gave me courage to fight my battle too. 

It was a blessing in disguise that she was diagnosed before she left for Los Angeles and that the cancer was caught early.  It has been a surreal journey for both of us and Im proud that she beat cancer!  I would love to be called a survivor like her.  We love her much. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cancer Support Networks Promote Recovery Both Online and In Person

This blog post was contributed by one of our readers,  David Haas.

While there are a number of factors that tend to be present in those that survive cancer, one of the most significant and powerful contributors is the presence of a loving support network. The genuine care, concern and understanding of other people has a healing effect that is undeniable. The energy of such a network is crucial at all phases of the healing and recovery process.

One powerful and beneficial way for cancer patients to receive support is through cancer survivor networks and programs both online and in person. A recent article on the Mayo Clinic website stated, "A support group can help you cope better and feel less isolated as you make connections with others facing similar challenges."

Cancer survivor networks and programs can take many forms. Often it is a weekly or bi-weekly meeting in a public location such as a church or hospital, but meetings can also take place more informally in peoples' homes. At these meetings, participants usually sit in a circle and share details about their illness, treatment and steps to recovery. Meetings can feature a guest speaker or participants might watch an inspiring movie. They share what is working for them and what isn't. They celebrate their successes and milestones as well as receive support when there are setbacks.  Often times cancer support groups are even open to friends and family of participants as well.

One of the most well-known and longstanding support networks is Gilda's Club, inspired by the late Gilda Radner. Based on her experiences with breast cancer, Gilda adopted the mindset, "no one should face cancer alone." Gilda's husband Gene Wilder and friends Joel Siegel and Mandy Patinkin teamed up with the West Coast Wellness Community to help start what would eventually become a worldwide network of cancer support groups. To this day, Gilda's Club remains true to Gilda's ideal that no one should have to face cancer alone.

Gilda's Club has been the inspiration for many other formal and informal cancer support groups. From cancers with high survival rates such as skin cancer and breast cancer to the more rare cancers like mesothelioma.  These terminal illnesses are where cancer support groups can really be helpful, because of the low mesothelioma life expectancy it is hard to cope with the deadliness of this disease. These groups make it easier. The Internet can also be a valuable resource, allowing cancer patients to connect with others between meetings via forums and message boards to share resources and support. Online or in person, cancer support networks are invaluable in every phase of the recovery process.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

I Graduated from Chemo, On To Radiation

My loving nurses (L-R) Maria, Nancy, Sudra & Flora)
Two lumps, 6 six affected lymph nodes, 21 removed lymph nodes, two mastectomies, three surgeries, 4 successful embryo preservation, 6 chemotherapies later, I have graduated from Chemo and I am on my way to finish 35 radiation therapies.

So many things have happened since I first found out the small lump that progressed to two lumps and then proliferated my lymph nodes from 1 to 6 in a matter of 5 months.

Even though my cancer stage is 3, I am still lucky to be alive.  Had it not been excised from my body that soon, I am not sure if I would still be around writing a blog right now.

The cancer was aggressive.  From one lump in October, it became 2 in December.  From one lymph node affected and detected in February, it became 6 in March.  I'm pretty sure the cancer would not have stalled any longer attacking the rest of my body if it wasn't removed right away.  I am glad I decided to have the surgery first and did not think twice. Sure, the recovery was rough and hard for me and my family but it was necessary.

I almost thought twice about having chemotherapy because of the horror stories I have read.  True enough, the experience was not one to forget.  It was a roller-coaster of emotional and physical pains. The anticipation of getting sick every other week was tough to deal with but I made it through.  I have attempted to quit so many times, cried to husband begging him to let me quit.  But his persistence and support held the ropes for me.  The loving and kind words from all my friends and families gave me strength to fight every three weeks of infusion.   It felt like being poisoned slowly, ironically, it is something that should heal me.

The loving and caring hands of all my chemo nurses Nancy, Flora, Maria and Sudra was a blessing.  They made sure that I am comfortable during chemo, with warm blankets, snacks, medicines infused to relieve side-effects and hydration.  They took me at an hour's notice when I feel too sick and needed to be rushed to the hospital for hydration.  When we get there, they are all ready waiting for me.  They are the souls that nurtured patients at our hardest points of treatments.

On my last day of chemo, I made 24 pink cake pops (i wish I took a picture of) and gave it to them as a token of gratitude for their care.

Even though chemo is over, I will still have side-effects for as long as six months after, because the chemicals are still circulating in my body.  My nurses have told me I am always welcome to come back and get hydration or infusion of medicines to alleviate the side-effects.  And of course to drop by just to say hi and that if I am feeling better. These people are the embodiment of the true sense of the word "nurse".

Now that chemo is over, I am on to another challenge.  35 rounds of DAILY radiation.  I am confident that I can do this as long as I have the love and support of people who care about me. On to the next phase of this fight....

Help us in this fight against breast cancer. If you can , please help in raising funds for Krissy's Breast Cancer treatment: