Our Battle with Cancer, Chapter 4

I realize it’s been awhile since I’ve written about dad.

It’s been close to two months since he was diagnosed with Stage 3 Lung Cancer and Emphysema.

After several days and weeks of frantic paranoia, frenetic activity and manic emotional roller coaster rides, the hubbub has finally died down a bit.  We are little by little, settling in. In simple terms, if there’s anything close to resembling the stage of acceptance and normalcy in this kind of situation, I guess this is where we are at right now.

His treatment began around 5 weeks ago, and is now a normal part of his daily routine. The treatment is composed of a tonic formulated to massively boost his immune system. His eating habits have long since changed – he’s now dairy products-free, and red meat-free. No synthetic chemicals are allowed. Everything is organic and natural.

I don’t know for sure if his treatment is doing any good. What’s certain is that since he began his treatment, he spends a couple of hours every night with prolonged coughing fits where he expels a lot of phlegm. According to our Scientist-Doctor, this is a sign that his body has begun purging itself of toxins in the lungs and elsewhere. Hopefully, this means the toxin is doing its job in helping dad.

He is in constant pain, however… especially when  he coughs. He’s also starting to experience constant difficulty in briefing on account of his emphysema.

On the night ‘Tyhoon Basyang’ ravaged Metro Manila and a lengthened blackout hit, dad had a major panic attack. As soon as the airconditioning went out, he immediately ran downstairs to the living room, frantically opened the doors and windows to let in some air. He was eventually able to sleep that night, except he had to get wet from the rain pounding inside the house.

The following day, electricity in their home had not returned. The problem is, an airconditioning unit was an absolute necessity for dad to be able to rest properly. Thankfully, hubby and I were able to find and book a hotel where he and mom could stay in for the night. The following morning, the power was finally restored, so they were able to go home.

Apart from this night, it’s remarkable how things have seemingly returned to normal. On the surface at least.

We (my siblings and I) have returned to normal programming. Back to work full-time, back to our same old normal activities that define our respective family lives. Of course apart from me making a conscious effort to visit dad and mom at least once a week (this is a lot. In the past, seeing them once a month was already a big deal!), I would also call them every now and then to check up on them.

Doesn’t sound like much.

What I’ve come to realize though in the past week while restoring some normalcy in my own home, is that once something like this happens, things will never ever go back to how they used to be. Not anymore.

I read in a blog written by a father whose son passed away as a little boy that when tragedy strikes a family, you start defining events in your life relative only to when the tragedy occurred. Everything – all events, all get-togethers, all chats, all milestones — either happened before “it” happened, or after “it” happened. That’s it.

Dad is still alive. Tragedy hasn’t really struck yet, and hopefully he has many years yet to live and be with us.

But already, subtle changes here and there have come to be, and have become the new “normal”.

A phone call or text message from mom and dad is no longer just something I can choose to respond to at a later time when I’m free. When my phone rings and it’s one of them, I pick up right away, even if I’m in the middle of something important.

Every peso saved is no longer a peso I can set aside to buy a new outfit, a new book or a new DVD. Nowdays, every peso saved stays saved, for the possibility and likelihood that we will need it for dad’s treatments and medical bills at some point in time.

When a typhoon, earthquake or some other natural phenomenon strikes, it’s no longer about the repercussions on me or my hubby. It’s now – are my parents okay?

When mom spends hours chatting me up on the phone and telling me about all her woes, her problems, her disappointments with everything in general, I can’t shut her out anymore cause I know she needs this time to vent and rant — otherwise she’d go crazy and/or sick (she IS the one with dad and all his mood swings and general depression, 24/7).

When bills come in every month and mom and dad run short on paying the bills, it’s no longer an option of “I have no money this month, sorry”. There has to be a way to get that money and make sure all bills are paid. Even if it means their electricity bill is triple what it used to be.

They’re small things. Nothing earth-shattering. But they’re changes nonetheless.

Thing is, I believe that everything – even bad things that happen to people you love – happen for a reason. For everyone it affects. While this may just be the beginning of an epic journey for us as a family, I think this ordeal is forcing me to become a better daughter and sister.

Beneath all the small, almost imperceptible changes that we’re going through, I think this is teaching me to be more patient and loving. To be more understanding and accepting of my parents and all their frailties. To sacrifice lovingly and willingly, without expecting anything in return. To grow up, and give back for the best-laid plans they always had for me.

Dad turns 60 years old in two days. It used to be just another date in the calendar. Now, it’s a celebration of another day he’s alive.

Six Months After Haiti

I saw a special feature at CNN over the weekend about the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake and what has happened since. It’s been six months.

It’s astounding. Countries who had pledged financial aid (with the exception of Australia, Brazil, Estonia and Norway) have yet to hand them over. Less than 2% of the committed funds had been delivered to this calamity and poverty-stricken country.

Meanwhile, hospitals are closing down because there’s simply no money left to keep the place running.

Medicine has run out. Volunteers have upped, left and abandoned the place, so operating rooms of the hospitals have become a ghost town. As a result, victims of the earthquake are no longer receiving the medical attention they need to completely recover. Many children (like the one above) don’t even get the required minimum daily nutrition to at least equip their bodies with the vitamins and nutrients it needs to become healthy again.

Most of the rubble from fallen structures have yet to be cleared. In one of the stories shared by CNN, there was one boy who was found hiding beneath an iron table, buried under tons of rubble — a whole month after the earthquake. He was alive, but emaciated and severely traumatized. It was a miracle he was even alive. Five months later, the boy is back on his feet and healthy, but uncommunicative. Only heaven knows how long his emotional wounds would take to heal, if at all.

Millions still live in makeshift tents, as they wait with bated breath for their homes to be rebuilt, or even the rubble in their former homes be cleared so they can begin rebuilding the lives they’ve lost.

How quickly we forget. I suppose it’s but human nature. After all, it’s not like we don’t have have our own share of problems and calamities in the Philippines. That’s the way it is sometimes. Google up “How I can help Haiti Philippines”, and most sites I’ve found have entries dated all the way back in January. It took some effort to find ways to help that are recent.

Busy as I’ve been tending to my life and my own concerns, I can’t turn a blind eye anymore though. Whatever help I can give is tiny, miniscule and almost completely negligible… but I cannot in good conscience, not do anything either. I suppose for lack of a better explanation, it’s basic human decency to reach out to our fellow human beings who need to literally survive. If my help can help feed one more child for another week, then what the heck, right?

If you feel the same way and want to help in your own little way, here are some ways you can help:

1. Philippine Red Cross: click here to donate (although the PNRC site has been down today…)

2. Global Charity Association: click here to find out how you can help

3. Be a Facebook fan of “Let’s Help Haiti”

The Lovely Bones

Here’s a movie that will get you thinking about many things.

First, the eternal, persistent question of whether heaven, hell and purgatory truly exist… and if they do, what do they look like and what would it feel like to be there.

Here, they say that in heaven, you have no memory. But there’s nothing but lasting peace. And here, everything that ties you to this Earth is finally severed and you’re just free to be.

In some way, it brings comfort when thinking about the frightening prospect of mortality and death.

And then, it also gets you to think about the ever-elusive thing called justice.

For most of my life, I’ve been taught that when we’ve been wronged, we leave it to God or the Universe to mete out whatever punishment or consequences one rightfully deserves. So all my life, I’ve taught myself to just calmly accept the wrongs done to me by others and just move on, in the belief that the universe has a way of putting things to right. Never seek vindication yourself because ultimately, it’s not for you to decide what another human being deserves.

I’ve rallied this moral issue for a long time. In serious discussions with my husband, and on separate occasions with my mom, I’ve always said that people get what they deserve. And they’ll get it when the Universe wants it, and how the Universe wants it.

This belief has always brought comfort to me, and has helped me bring comfort to others. It has always helped to think that for as long as I live a good, decent and honest life and do no wrong to others, everything will ultimately be okay. And conversely, those who choose to take the path away from goodness will also get what they ultimately deserve.

And so does this question now linger in my head a day after watching “The Lovely Bones“. He (the “bad guy”), eventually suffers a gruesome death.

I found myself questioning though whether this kind of justice or vindication was even close to being enough. Perhaps it was too much to expect that while heaven is beautifully painted in the movie, that maybe they’d give a glimpse of hell too… just so we could see if truly, bad people do get what they deserve in this lifetime and beyond.

And finally, the thing about moving on from grief. To many, it’s a reality today and everyday. Suffering the death of a loved one; continuing to live with the pain brought about by abuse and maltreatment; coping with catastrophic mistakes that have an almost permanent effect on people you love…. everywhere we turn, there will be someone grieving for something.

In its painfully real depiction of how people deal with grief and the long journey towards finding a middle ground, I do love how this story paints the picture that at the end of seemingly never-ending battles with pain, there always comes an ending and a silver lining. Nothing in life is permanent… not even pain. And perhaps for as long as we never give in to despair, there will be better days.

From the standpoint of a movie, as usual, Peter Jackson and his crew have created a beautifully done movie. The CG is awesome and awe-inspiring. Although it did border on being a bit too cheesy and emo at some point, bravo nonetheless for the quality of storytelling and cinematography. Casting was, as always, impeccable. Screenplay and script… well, could’ve been better at some point. But not bad, on the overall.

The best stories I’ve seen, heard or saw were always the stories that left me wanting for more. The kind that made me feel it wasn’t enough, it wasn’t over, and that I still wanted to find out what happens next. These kinds of stories, cheesy as this may sound, that somehow change a little bit of me or how I see life, the world and everything around me.

I still can’t decide if I really liked the movie or not. Some things about it, I liked a whole lot. Some, I didn’t. But yes, 24 hours later and I’m still thinking about it. And I will definitely buy the book.

A movie that does this to you and more… ain’t such a bad thing.

If you’ve seen the movie or read the book, drop me a note and tell me what you think. If you haven’t, hop over to your local video or book store, borrow or buy a copy, then share with me what you think.

On P-Noy and wangwangs

I don’t know how most Pinoys feel about PNoy’s decision to not use his right as President of the Philippines to use wangwangs when he goes places. While the principles behind him wanting to equalize himself along with the rest of the nation’s population is certainly an admirable thing, I wonder at how practical it actually is.

It’s been just a week since he was inaugurated as the President of the Republic, and already he arrives at meetings and functions late. Whether his tardiness is attributed to a bummed stomach, or unforeseen traffic – somehow I can’t help but feel that tardiness is a graver sin than not using his wangwangs to get to where he has to go just to prove a point.

It’s not just the tardiness per se. I’d be one to criticize tardiness when I’m hardly the most punctual person in the world.

But he’s the President of the country. His focus should be on making the country a better place rather than on strictly imposing limitations on himself that don’t really do anything to help solve the country’s problems. Somehow I can’t abide his insistence on not using his wangwangs to maneuver through Metro Manila traffic if there were something as important as peace talks, or foreign diplomatic meetings where time is always of the essence.

For the sake of the millions of Filipinos who are now counting on him for change, I hope pressing problems don’t take a backseat to his insistence on protecting his image.