Our Battle with Cancer. Chapter 7.

Here’s a brief lowdown of what’s been happening since my last post.

It doesn’t look good. Dad’s cancer is advancing too rapidly. The doctors showed me his x-ray results on the day he was confined (2 weeks ago), and the x-ray results from yesterday. The difference is staggering. As of yesterday, only a third of his left lung remained visible. The rest is filled with a growing tumor, and fluid that’s been accumulating as a combined result of his emphysema and his tumor.

Doctor told us yesterday that it’s unlikely that dad can go home anymore. He needs to be under constant medical supervision now.

So it’s really only a matter of time. The doctor’s guestimate — 3 months left.

A friend told me that there are stages, and there are signs when it’s time to prepare yourself for the worst.

The first is the doctor’s prognosis. And the same doctor discussing with us the need for one of us to sign a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) form soon.

The second is dad asking mom yesterday to “let him go” because he’s already having such a difficult time. And mom breaking down throughout the day in front of us, for the first time since this all began.

The third… well, I guess if you choose not to ignore the facts and confront the possibility.. then a part of you also knows when it’s time to start letting go, and giving him permission to let go if he’s ready for it already.

The fact that I can write this post without feeling a lump in my throat is something I’m grateful for.

There’s nothing on earth that can prepare anyone for news like this. It’s nothing short of a massive emotional roller coaster ride.

In the midst of all of this, I am supremely grateful for the brief moments in time when I actually feel a sense of normalness.

Spending time with people who are not part of the family crisis to talk about more bite-sized problems are a blessing.

Immersing in a specific goal-oriented task which has an end in mind reminds me that life goes on, and that when everything blows over, there’s something to fall back on that resembles more of the life I used to know.

I suppose I’ve taken the term “walking in a daze” for granted too many times in the past. For now, I seem to find myself doing just that more often than ever. I often feel like a machine that’s just programmed to keep doing things, one after another. It’s like being in auto-pilot. And guess what — walking in a daze as if on auto-pilot is a blessed relief and a wonderful reprieve from the emotional onslaught that comes with going back to reality.

My blog has become my best friend, for in here, I can rant and write anything I want, say what I want to say without fearing anyone being too taken aback; or feeling awkward for lack of something comforting to say. There’s no guilt for causing someone else to have a miserable day. No need to edit and filter the real emotions that courses through my body.

Although I have never really been close to my dad, he’s still my dad. In spite of all the problems we had growing up; and all the problems we had to face as adults because of my dad — at the end of it all, he’s still my dad. I will always love him, and will always want him to be a part of my life in whatever way.

I suppose now that the inevitable is closer than it’s been — unwanted thoughts creep into my mind every now and then.

I was holding a lighter in my hands the other day that reminded me of dad’s persistence in lighting a cigarette even while he was already in the hospital – and it brought a lump to my throat.

All our family get togethers on birthdays and special occasions… well, a day will come when we’ll be one family member less. In the family, dad has always been the grumpy one. Whenever we’d all yap away for hours talking about everything and nothing, he would be the only one sitting on the table with us without really listening and participating. We’d always tease him about it… but I guess we never really minded that he was the way he was. I knew that even if he wasn’t really being very cooperative, he would nonetheless sometimes spend time just gazing at his family all together for that one moment, and feeling that everything is right in the world.

I was writing out a check last night to pay for some bills… and even that hideous check book that was the cause of many fights we’ve had… now brings a tug in my heart.

I can imagine life without dad. But it would admittedly be a life that doesn’t quite feel right anymore.

If it’s already breaking my heart, I can’t imagine how torn and crushed my mom’s heart with all of this. I’ve never known a couple who were and are as close as they are. For the 40 or so years they’ve been married, they’ve always been together. Done everything together. Gone everywhere together. Slept together night after night.

They fought like cats and dogs every single day. And yet their lives are only ever complete when they’re together.

Times like these, “think positive” is just not possible. Thinking positive gives you nothing but false hopes… which helps no one. More than anything, our role now as his family is to make sure that when he goes, he is ready, he has no baggage left that will keep him tied to this life, and that he has peace in his heart.

I believe in everlasting life. And so I will do whatever I can to make sure he gets there.

It hurts letting him go, but it hurts even more seeing him suffer so.

If there’s anything else I’m grateful for… it’s that God is giving us this time to reconcile, to put things to rest as a family, and to just be together at this one time where we all need to stand strong for dad.

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Hostage Crisis in Manila

August 23, 2010. Former Chief Superintendent Rolando Mendoza takes a tourist bus full of Hong Kong Nationals hostage as they were in transit en route to Manila Ocean Park. It began at 10 in the morning, and eventually ended in a bloodbath that tragically claimed the lives of 9 victims.

There’s a lot of buzz going around that things could have been and should have been done differently so they wouldn’t have had to end the way they did.

I completely agree.

But am I one of the very few who actually feel sympathetic to our local Police force and the field agents who were handling on-ground negotiations?

In a hostage crisis, expert negotiators have said that the greatest weapon of field agents trying to resolve a hostage situation is patience. Allow the situation to unfold on its own, and the hostage taker to to dictate his pace as he slowly comes to believe that his demands are being met.

The fact of the matter is, the hostage negotiations were going smoothly, until the hostage taker’s family members were apprehended by the police force. Many have raged against this move. But the fact of the matter was, the hostage taker’s brother relinquished his right to be treated with compassion the minute he started goading his brother into not giving in to the hostage negotiators until he (the brother, not the hostage taker) had been given back his gun.

In what universe should a scenario like this be tolerated, and the individual not be held accountable for his actions? Loved ones of hostage takers brought to the scene are meant to help diffuse the situation, not aggravate it further.

We can also blame the police SWAT team all we want. But to give them credit, these people put their lives on the line by attempting to assault the hostaged bus. They did the best they could given the circumstances. I challenge any critics to try to figure out how to properly and successfully assault the scene that had only one tiny door, and confront a madman who used the hostage victims as human shields.

While watching the drama unfold on national television, one of the things I immediately thought of even before the situation rapidly changed for the worst — was the media’s role in all of this. It’s one thing to give transparency to the nation, but another to put a mission as critical at risk just to get a story out. I couldn’t quite imagine why on earth everything was being shown on National TV, including their assault strategy, the apprehension of Mendoza’s family that ultimately pushed him over the edge. Talk about discretion in planning for and executing a successful rescue operation. And as we already know, it didn’t quite turn out the way we’d all hoped.

My heart goes out to all the victims of this tragedy, and my prayers and condolences go with them.

If we are to have learned something from this entire debacle, then I hope that:

  1. Our media would learn to exercise better discernment in their quest for professional and more importantly, responsible journalism.
  2. Our field agents (whether military, police, marines, etc.) be given proper training, equipment and all the tools and skills they need to enable them to do their jobs better.
  3. Filipinos in general would exercise better judgment and exercise some modicum of self-control and self-sacrifice on times that call for it. I will forever wonder what the hostage taker’s brother had in mind when he started exacerbating the situation and further fueling his brother’s anger. What on earth was that supposed to accomplish??

Oh, and one last thing.

I read in one blog that says that the assault team should have done something as early as mid afternoon because clearly, the hostage taker was insane and deranged, therefore the situation would have come to the same end either way.

I have this to say about that. Every hostage taker is insane and deranged. Have you ever known of a hostage taker who was in his right mind when the act was committed?

Our Battle with Cancer. Chapter 6.

It’s just been a few days and dad has already taken a turn for the worse.

First, it seems that these past few weeks, he’s been sneaking in cigarettes whenever my mom’s not around. Hence, from a mild case of emphysema a month ago, he’s now progressed to moderate emphysema. He needs to be hooked to an oxygen tank now all the time.

Second, his stay in the hospital hasn’t helped him recover his strength. He still can’t sleep at night, still doesn’t eat. His muscles have started atrophying due to immobility. So he still can’t move around without any active assistance from anyone.

Third, in his quest to try to get discharged already, he asked the doctor for oral antibiotics instead of an intravenous one. The oral antibiotics seem to not be working in curing his pneumonia, so now he’s running a fever.

It’s heartbreaking.

One of the hardest things to deal with when an immediate family member is seriously ill is the effect it has on the family members. Inevitably, it also takes a toll on family relationships. You’ll never see eye to eye on how to handle the situation. Things like these bring out either the best, or the worst in people.

I don’t quite know how it happened… but mom has started treating me like the eldest child in the family. She calls only me when news comes in about dad’s condition. And she makes me be the bearer of bad news to my older brother, and the rest of our relatives. She expects me to handle arrangements about finances with everyone else, and to be the one to make decisions in her behalf.

I’m not complaining.

But admittedly it’s also starting to take a toll on me. It becomes even more difficult when I get calls in the middle of a busy, hectic work day. Of course, family always comes first before work. So there’s no issue there.

I guess it’s just not doing much good for my emotional state of mind. I need these uninterrupted retreats into my work for hours at a time to retain some sense of equilibrium. If I’m not whole, how can I be there for the rest of my family and be the strength they need me to be?

I’ve always heard stories from families suffering through a family member battling a terminal illness and heard how difficult it is for family members. But what I thought…. is nowhere close to how it really is.

*Sigh*

Our Battle with Cancer. Chapter 5.

On Friday night, dad was rushed to the hospital.

Since he began his treatment two months ago, the tonic he takes is such that his body is self-cleansing and self-detoxifying. Which means that especially at night, he keeps coughing and expelling phlegm; and pees a lot through the night. Which means too that in the last 2 months, he hasn’t been getting the quality sleep that he needs.

Before he got sick too, dad was already a picky eater. When he got sick and went on a diet with no meat, he hasn’t been eating properly too.

Since then, he’s lost 20 pounds. He’s not a big man to begin with. Before he got sick, he only weighed 130+ pounds. So now he’s reduced to skin and bones.

All these things combined, he started losing control over his basic motor functions on Friday. He couldn’t walk a few steps without falling and stumbling. He had no more bladder control. When I saw him that night, he couldn’t even talk anymore. He was slurring his words and couldn’t maintain eye contact anymore.

This is his third day in the hospital, and so far he’s doing fine. He isn’t in critical condition, and his stay in the hospital now is intended mainly to help him recover his strength. I can’t say for sure if it has done much good in terms of getting him to regain the weight he’s lost, but at least he has recovered some of his basic motor skills. Still weak for the most part though.

Seeing him in that condition last Friday night was very alarming. There was this heavy thing on my chest that wouldn’t go away. I couldn’t speak, and I was simply just numb and scared at the same time.

I finally told some of my colleagues in the office about dad’s condition last Friday. I had to — cause I had to abruptly leave the office that evening.

To my pleasant surprise, revealing one of the heaviest burdens in my heart was a relief, for doing so found me some friends who understood what I was going through for they had gone through it themselves.

It’s very different talking to people who’ve been through it. You’d know right away – the words they use, the things they say, the emotion by which they tell you things… For once, I had people who were articulating the things I couldn’t even articulate to myself.

They understand instinctively – the need to continue working and keep yourself busy even if all these things are going on – because still allotting time to work and do what I have to do makes me feel that there’s still a part of my life that goes on. That not everything is lost because our family is going through this.

They understand too how situations like these can cause even the closest of families to fall apart. This weekend I went through a lot of disappointments with my immediate family members. A brother who thinks first and foremost about money rather than the overall well-being of everyone in the family… another brother who continues to act as if nothing is wrong and doesn’t manifest any changes in anything he does or says… and parents who continue to argue, fight, bicker and put each other down in the midst of all this… and a patient (my father) who can’t yet accept with peace what he’s going through.

They understand too when I say how much I long for normalcy to be restored… though they tell me it will never get back to normal. But that in time, it will be okay.

And they understand that the hardest part about all this is seeing him go through so much pain…. so much so that there’s a part of me that just hopes that if he’s not getting well anyway, then the sooner his pain can end, the better.

It’s comforting to know that others have been through this, and have survived.

Because everyday is a struggle. Every minute that my mind drifts casts a stab of pain in my chest. Every time I think about the hospital bill and the things that my brother and I now fight about on a daily basis, I get ambushed with anxiety and panic. Nowadays whenever my phone rings, there’s a momentary flash of alarm.

Not to mention the fact that I’ve all but given up any time I have left for myself. Times like this, the first to go is time to recharge and recover. As it is, I never had much free time to begin with. With work, my husband, my household chores – the only time I had left for myself were all the times I spent taking a bath and going to sleep. Now, even sleep takes a backseat on most days.

While I continue everyday to try retaining some sense of normal in my day to day activities, the thought of all that we face just nonetheless continues to lurk in the shadows.

I wait for the day when we’ll start being okay again.

Lessons from Human Thriller

I’ve recently begun rereading and re-collecting books by an author I used to love as a teenager.

V.C. Andrews. Her most popular book is called “Flowers in the Attic”, which is the first in a series of 5 books that tells the saga of a family line. At the core of this saga is a family trait that has the seemingly uncontrollable urges for incestuous marriages. At its counterpoint are influential, dominant family members who are religious fanatics who have strange methods (bordering on evil) of enacting punishment.

In “Flowers in the Attic”, 4 siblings are locked in a room with an attic for several years — locked in by a selfish mother and a sadistic, vengeful grandmother. You can just imagine what that scene would be like. A teen girl and guy locked in a room for several years at the peak of their growing sexuality…. I personally shudder and grimace at the thought of ever having anything more than a completely brotherly relationship with my siblings… and I’m quite sure most people on earth feel the same way.

But then, that’s why it’s called fiction.

As a teen, I voraciously read V.C. Andrews’ books (she has about 70 titles!). I still can’t properly categorize her genre… her books are always a mix of horror, thiller, drama and goth. It’s not about clear-cut crime, or horror in the supernatural sense of the word. Her books are not the type of books one can easily forget about. I always find myself still reeling for days after reading every book. Her themes border on the extreme and disturbing, because what she does is paint a picture of the human soul at its blackest and darkest. She does epitomize “the things you only read about in books”.

I don’t quite know what drew me to her books as a teen. Maybe it fits well with the angsty, emo teenager that I was.

Nowadays, I’m no longer angsty and emo. In fact, for many years I found myself staying away from heavy reading (and even heavy movies) since I wanted to fill my life with lightness & beauty in the quest for a more positive outlook in life. Why I choose to go back to my teen favorite Goth writer at the peak of my general distress at life, I’m still trying to figure out.

But I have a theory.

Lately I’ve been feeling that life is generally heavy on many fronts. With dad’s illness, our financial troubles, our less than perfect domestic situation, and everything else… occasionally I find myself feeling lost and simply drained. Sometimes I veer towards wondering if this kind of life where many things that go wrong need to be put to right, and I’m the only one who can put it to right — will be the way everything else unfolds for the rest of my life.

At times when life just seems too heavy to bear, a book like “Flowers in the Attic” and all the horrors within in – make me feel like the luckiest person in the world compared to these kids locked in an attic by their own flesh and blood. It’s just fiction, I know. But it’s not unlikely that the extent of human evil can make something like this actually possible.

Sometimes in moments of vulnerability when we feel our entire world is just crashing down around us, it helps putting things into perspective. To every horror story, there are other worse horror stories out there. Maybe at the end of it all, what matters is how we’re able to tear ourselves away from self-pity so we can move on and continue trying to make things better.

Adults Celebrating Birthdays

Today, I turned 34.

At my age and stage in life, I don’t quite know how to react to birthdays anymore.

When I was younger, birthdays were extremely exciting. The one day of the year when you get everything you want (within reason, of course) without any guilt. As a child, it was the one day of the year nothing was denied you. As a teenager, it was the one day of the year when I ceased all wars at the home front with my mom. As a young adult, it was the perfect excuse to get plastered and completely wasted without any guilt.

As an adult, I just don’t know anymore. For a while, my birthday coming up just usually put me in a sad mood. I figured it out a couple of years ago that birthdays are generally sad because as an adult, it just doesn’t mean anything anymore. The tendency to compare the excitement of a birthday to a little girl made the nothingness of an adult woman’s birthday even more pronounced. As an adult, it used to drive me nuts that a birthday was just like any other day of the year. But you tend to expect more, yet nothing actually makes you feel that same giddiness as a child.

This year, I approached my birthday with a magnanimous spirit. Yes, it was just another day. And no, I wasn’t expecting anything really.

But maybe it’s human nature to expect that on a special day like today, you do still get a break somewhat.

Oh, I’m not talking about a break from work. Or taking a break from the business of getting through the day. Or the business of all the chores, errands and all the hassles that come with it.

What you do expect though is that maybe one day a year, you can take a short break from the things that get you down.

I have yet to understand with loving patience how dad can’t even take a few seconds to forget about his sickness for awhile and all the financial problems that my brother and I deal with everyday — to even wish me a Happy Birthday.

Nor can I understand how I still need to resort to gentle coercion just to get my hubby to swallow his habitual isolation to spend an hour or two with me with my friends from work here at the office party. (The party’s not for me, my birthday just happens to coincide with our Ad Agency’s anniversary).

It broke my heart awhile ago. But just for a few minutes.

Cause birthdays, as in real life, are filled with its share of painful things. But I can’t afford to let those things weigh me down, or drain away my reserves of positivity and hopefulness.

And so we move on from painful episodes and just hope for better things to come. And if they don’t… well, there’s a lot of alcohol here tonight to keep me company.

Happy Birthday to me!