Our Battle with Cancer. The Final Chapter.

Written on my mobile phone September 4, 2010.


On August 29, 2010 at around 3 in the afternoon, dad took his last breath while surrounded by his family, and the song “How Lovely is Your Dwelling Place” playing softly in the background of the hospital room.

My uncle says that in his life, dad didn’t have many (if at all) valuable possessions. But in his dying bed, he was a rich man surrounded by those he loved best.

In the end, it was his cancer tonic and the consequent weight loss that got him. For because of the weight loss, he had to be put back on a high protein diet to help him regain his strength and the nutrition his body badly needed. Sadly, cancer cells thrive on protein. In a matter of a week and a half, his lung tumor size doubled, obstructing his major bronchial air tubes.

A few hours before he passed away, his lungs had already failed and oxygen was no longer being processed by his body anymore.

During his wake, many people had exclaimed that it all happened so fast.

That, it did.

We expected to have months with him yet.

But who knows the will of the universe?

I just hope and pray that wherever you are now, Dad, I hope you’re in a happier, more peaceful place than where we are. Please watch over us, and let us know in however way, that you’re okay…

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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.

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.

Our Battle with Cancer. Chapter 3. (and some thoughts on Chemotherapy)

After a month since we found out about dad’s condition, we collectively decided as a family to forego chemotherapy in favor of alternative medication.

Before dad got sick, I was one among many (I believe) who thought that chemotherapy was the best treatment for cancer. Whether the intention is a cure, prevention of progression or prolonging a life…  TV shows we watch, the news we read and conventional medical doctors all tell us that chemotherapy is the best, and perhaps the only treatment that has better chances of working.

But over the past few weeks, I did my research. I spoke with friends whose family members have had cancer. I read forums composed of lay people like myself. Read a bit too on what chemotherapy is, what cancer is, and all that jazz.

Of course everyone will have their own opinion about the matter…. and I’d like to categorically state that everyone’s opinion matters, and everyone’s opinion is valid (provided of course it’s supported by facts). This is my opinion based on what I’ve seen, heard and read.

Chemotherapy for people with early stages of cancer, who are young and strong — is a great idea.

But for people who are not as strong – physically, mentally or emotionally – chemotherapy may actually contribute to making an already sick patient… even more sick.

Here are some facts about Chemotherapy:

Chemotherapy kills any cell that is growing (dividing) fast, whether it’s a cancer cell or not. So, some of the normal, healthy cells in the body that grow quickly can be damaged. Specifically:

  • Cells in the bone marrow–this makes a patient feel tired, bruised and makes a patient bleed easily. It also puts the patient at a higher risk of infection
  • Cells that grow hair–this causes hair loss throughout the body
  • Cells of the skin and mouth–this causes dry skin, dry mouth and can even cause mouth sores
  • Cells in the stomach and intestines–this causes major nausea, vomiting, or even diarrhea

Of course many would say that the horrible side effects of chemotherapy are nothing if you take it in context of being able to save a patient’s life.

But here’s some bit of news I found online, which was also republished by a renowned journalist (Jaime Licauco) who writes for the #1 nationwide broadsheet in the Philippines.

“According to an important paper published in the Australian journal Clinical Oncology in 2005, the survival rate over a five-year period of Australian adults treated with chemotherapy is only 2.3 percent, and even lower for Americans at 2.1 percent.”

So all these side effects, and no healthy and comfortable statistics to even assure the patient about its success rate.

Conventional medicine would junk my post and criticize my post for saying all these things about the one treatment where many put their faith on… but then, I’m only copying bits and pieces of information that I’ve found in other more renowned, more established news sources. You can check my sources below and see for yourself.

Cold hard facts aside, I’ve also spoken with friends who’ve had relatives with cancer. About 9 out of 10 of them have all told me that Chemotherapy is not a good idea. That their relatives who were treated with chemo regretted it, and eventually just decided to stop it. That chemotherapy made them feel even more morbidly sick and depressed than they already were. That it made their bodies deteriorate faster, compromised their immune system even more.

And the hard part about starting Chemo and then stopping it midway is that it makes the disease progress even faster.

It’s ironic how before we found out about dad’s condition, I, like many conventional medicine believers, used to think that only an idiot would choose to not undergo chemotherapy even if there is the slightest chance that it could cure the disease, arrest the disease, or at least prolong a human life. You’d think if you were already talking about saving the life of a loved one, you’d choose what conventionally seems like the more logical choice.

And yet, I look at my father these days and just think to myself that whatever the outcome of anything we do in the next couple of months and years, what is most important is that we do whatever it takes to make his remaining time on earth as comfortable, as pain-free and as happy as possible. I don’t want him to spend all his time in hospitals talking to doctors upon doctors.

And so, after much deliberation, we decided to try the treatment prescribed by this Korean-Japanese Immunologist whose premise (like most alternative medicine doctors’ principles) is that instead of giving dad medication to kill his cancer cells; this treatment will boost the body’s immune system to enable it to fight the disease on its own.

The premise seems logical — in fact, if you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Human bodies are equipped with antibodies, hormones, lipids and other organisms that can protect and heal itself. This is a scientific fact we all know. If you think about it, this premise makes it possible to even think that it can treat not just cancer… but other diseases as well.

Of course we conducted our research. This immunologist has a fairly good track record in curing not just cancer, but even gangrene and asthma.

I don’t think this is the best treatment option possible…. because I don’t know all the other treatment options available out there. I’m sure there are thousands. Thousands of well-meaning conventional medical doctors; thousands of well-meaning alternative doctors; thousands of faith healers and other kinds of healers… and chances are, there are other treatments out there that sound just as good as this one we chose… or perhaps even better.

But we’re running out of time. Dad chose him, so I will just have to believe that this will work.

Sources:

American Cancer Society

How Effective is Chemotherapy?

Our Battle with Cancer. Chapter 2.

It’s confirmed. Dad has Stage 3 Large Cell Lung Carcinoma (Lung cancer).

It’s still inconclusive if the cancer has metastasized to his bones and lymph nodes. A previous biopsy done on his lymph nodes done last week turned out negative for carcinoma, so we’re still a little bit hopeful that the Stage 3 is not yet leaning towards the bad Stage 3.

I’ve been spending a lot of time online, reading up on anything possibly related to dad’s condition. From emphysema, to lung cancer treatments, to large cell carcinoma (as opposed to small-cell carcinoma), to the definition of Stage 3 cancer, to alternative medications, to anything else that might actually help in some way.

Here are a few things I learned today:

1. There’s a wealth of medical information about cancer, in general. Anything you may need to know about the condition itself is all online.

2. There’s also a wealth of information about the different treatments for cancer. From the traditional chemotherapy and radiation, to alternative medication and herbal cures. But I’ve yet to see any sites that compare both. And I have seen no sites that compare the different alternative medication options. What makes it even scarier is that you sometimes would find yourself doubting whether or not what’s written is a legitimate product/ review; or just a product of a scam or quack doctor.

3. Since my brother and I are the ones who need to raise the money to fund dad’s treatment (whether out of our own extremely shallow pockets; from the pockets of loan sharks; or from ‘generous’ relatives who will finally pay their debt back), I googled “cost of chemotherapy treatment in the Philippines”. The search did not yield any substantial results. I wonder about this. I know that all things considered, we’re still in pretty much good shape compared to 90% of the country’s population…. but really, in the Philippines this would be the first question out of most people’s lips: how much will it cost to get treated for cancer? I need to know how much we need to raise. But I’ve yet to find any information online that answers this.

4. One of the hardest changes I’ve had to make in my life since this all began (aside from the quitting smoking thing) is acknowledging that I can’t ignore my family anymore. And if it means having to go beyond my usual EQ levels, it’s not really an option not to do it. This extends to being able to stomach talking to relatives I haven’t spoken with (for good reason) for almost a full decade now.

These are very trying times, and this is just the beginning. I worry a lot these days about many things. I guess that’s natural. How this all unfolds, only God can tell.

But I continue to pray for strength and courage enough to endure; and patience and love that this crisis won’t spell the end of a conflict-less relationship with my siblings.

Our Battle with Cancer. Chapter 1.

No one ever told me it would feel like this.

I’m not the one with Cancer.

But when it hits someone in your family, it hits everyone in the family. No matter how tightly you hold on the one another’s hand, at the end of the day, you deal with the news in your own way.

I’ve always felt that among my siblings, I’ve always had to be the emotionally stronger one. The one who can make swift decisions even when everyone else can’t. The one who can hold back the barrage of emotion that’s always threatening to unravel. The one who can put on a strong front and inspire strength in everyone else.

It’s the loneliest, gloomiest place to be in.

—-

My father was diagnosed with Pneumonia last week.

3 days later, the doctor said it was emphysema.

2 days later, his CT scan results revealed that he already has lung cancer.

Based on the same report, there’s a possibility that the cancer has already metastasized to his liver, lymph nodes and bones.

I was with Mom and Dad last Saturday when we found out the news. Actually, the doctor wasn’t inclined to be brutally honest when face to face with my folks. So he asked me to call him when I had gotten home. When I called him, his prognosis was much worse than it was when we were in his office.

On the one hand, maybe it is easier hearing the worst news you could possibly hear from your own daughter… rather than from a doctor.

On the other hand, being the bearer of bad news is not the best role in the world.

When I was around 13 or 14 years old, I buried my 2 grandfathers, two consecutive months in a row. It was the first time I’ve ever encountered death at so close a proximity. My paternal grandfather died of Cirrhosis of the Liver (although he already had previously suffered multiple strokes, and had emphysema). My maternal grandfather died of lung cancer.

Around 2 years ago, one of my best friends from College passed away from Pneumonia, as a result of complications associated with a Kidney transplant. He was 32 years old.

Those were the 3 instances in my life when Death became a little bit more personal. I shed a couple of tears, and spent many nights worrying about everything.

But facing a slow, silent killer when it already involves your own parent, regardless of your relationship…. well, no one ever told me it would feel like this. How could they have told me, when I myself don’t even know how to describe how it feels now?

What I do know is that lately, I find myself gravitating towards people who’ve already buried a parent; or who like me, have a parent battling a terminal illness.

I now understand what a friend of mine told me a long, long time ago when she buried her father when she was only 13 years old. She said something to the extent of – the words ‘i know how you feel’ don’t mean anything coming from those who’ve never buried a parent, or who’ve never had a parent with a terminal illness. The death of a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle… that’s nothing compared to the pain you feel when it starts happening to your own parent.

Anyway, we’re far from done.

Dad needs to undergo a biopsy this week to get conclusive results on what stage his cancer really is in. We’re still hoping that contrary to what the doctor told me, that he isn’t at Stage 4 yet.

Mom also knows a doctor, an oncologist and cancer surgeon who, without a biopsy, is able to diagnose the cancer stage and can appropriately and quickly recommend the best treatment.

This week, we’re seeing all the doctors we need to see. And trying to raise the funds we need for cancer treatment.

At this point, it’s too early to conclude anything.

We continue to hope and pray for the best.