Dealing with Cancer: New Motherhood and Survival

Note to Readers:  Last April 10, I received an email from Heather. She’s a survivor from a rare type of cancer called Mesothelioma. She asked if she could in any way spread the word about this disease through my blog. Like you, this is the first time I’ve heard about this disease. And it was scary from her experience to even imagine possibly leaving behind a daughter or a son while they are so young.

Without looking at how many readers I’ve got, she only considered reaching out to fellow mothers. I hope this reaches many women despite my humble blog. I’m encouraging everyone to share/repost.

And to Heather whose courage I admire, it took me a while (my apologies). But as they said, better late than never!

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About eight years ago, I was faced with something that no one expects in their lifetime. Even worse, it was devastating to the euphoria that I had been blessed with just months before when I gave birth to my first child, Lily. Lily was such a beautiful addition to our lives that I still find myself in disbelief over the next series of events.

Heather and Lily

Mesothelioma Cancer Survivor Heather Von St. James with child Lily. Heather was diagnosed with cancer 7 years ago. She has been an advocate of the disease ever since.

I just wanted to get back into the swing of things after Lily was born. I started working again full-time. My husband also worked full-time. We were going to provide a beautiful life for Lily and we were preparing for her first Christmas just a few months in the future. It turned into such a difficult time. I began feeling exhausted, too tired to move or go to work, and I was losing weight at about five to seven pounds a week. Something was definitely wrong.

My doctor ran tests to figure out what was going on, but in the mean time, I went on being a mother. The results came back, just a few days before Thanksgiving. There I was, ready to hear about a simple deficiency or little problem that had an easy solution, when instead, the doctor told me that I had malignant pleural mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs caused by asbestos exposure. I was unknowingly exposed to asbestos as a child. It utterly shocked me to my core, and yet I was left to make a decision. Without treatment, I would only live another 15 months. I had to do something.

We decided that I should see a specialist in Boston. He had helped many patients with mesothelioma already. On February 2, 2006 I had a surgery known as extrapleural pneumonectomy, which removed my left lung, parts of my chest and heart lining along with parts of my diaphragm. I spent 18 days in the hospital and after another 2 months of recovery I began chemotherapy and radiation treatments. All the while, I was still trying to be the best mom and wife I could be considering everything. It was truly one of the most difficult times of my life.

I’ll never forget the way that my family and friends came through to help in this time of need. My parents provided care for Lily at their home in South Dakota while I was in the hospital, as well as a place for me to stay while I was recovering from surgery. I will never forget the way that we were blessed with so much help from our loved ones. I am truly grateful for their support.

Being faced with such a difficult situation, quickly puts things into perspective. Having gone through such a hard time made me truly realize and appreciate what is most important in my life, my family. Being able to use my experience and everything that I’ve overcome in order to help others is very special to me. My battle with cancer shaped who I am today and has allowed me to spreading awareness and keep up hope for this terrible disease.

Heather and Family

Heather and Family

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To learn more about Mesothelioma, visit this link and know more about Heather’s and other cancer patients‘ inspiring experience against this disease.

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Mindset Overhaul

Hello blog!

Its been 4 months since my last post and I sincerely missed you! I’m currently on my energy boost mode (that’s between 11:00pm to 2:00am daily recently). And as I found my to-do list brightly highlighted with “DONE”, I figured I now have a guiltless time to revisit my alternate world.

Last time I checked, I mentioned that we had Olive baptized. She was 3 months old then. Fast forward to now. She’s a budding 7-months old baby with advanced locomotor skills which have kept us (me, Mr. H and Yaya) all the more watchful of her. She’s been laughing at funny faces we make, peek-a-boos and quirky sounds. A few weeks ago, she was down with mild fever, cough and flu, but she’s all better now. She’s grown her first teeth and has been fond of biting anything and anyone. She has really become our source of fatigue and joy. And each day, I wanted to spend more time indulging in this phase of her childhood.

7 months old Olive

7 months old Olive

Time is essential for me right now. And time is something I do not want to spend often as a stressed out work-at-home mom who doesn’t have a social life and is unhappy. So I decided to shift back to gear one and take things in stride.

The Happiness Factor

In June, I was able to earn $300 a week from my freelance job. It felt great and I wanted to maintain earning that figure for as long as I could. But that accomplishment came with a price.

I was less attentive in taking care of Olive. I did not gave enough attention to my husband and our business. And despite those, I still found myself constantly stressed and feeling guilty. Stressed because I know, I left a lot of things undone for our business, and guilty because I felt I was irresponsible as a mother and a wife. Think of having a bag full of a month’s laundry which I only washed because we didn’t have anything to wear anymore.

I tried justifying my act. I pushed myself to work hard because I wanted us out of our current apartment. The houses we are looking at cost the same, if not more expensive. But I was looking for a place where we could be more comfortable as a family with a growing kid. I was unhappy with our current environment and the fact that we’re experiencing flooding.

I wanted us to be financially capable of drawing ourselves out of here. But I learned that I can’t change everything in a month’s time, no matter how mad and desperate I am with working.

I was only leaning to become more stressed, more unhappy. I felt like no one was taking me seriously and I was hating by myself, alone.

Pause and Realizations

That’s when I tried to stop for a while.

I felt like I deserved to rest after working so hard. I took time to literally just lie down and do nothing but reflect. Then realization and remorse hit me.

I realized it wasn’t just me who’s having a hard time. Mr. H has also been restless (driving for days, sometimes sleepless working on preventive maintenance schedules and lifting heavy objects). It wasn’t my sole responsibility to earn for us. We’re partners and he’s also burning his ass off earning for our family. I need to stop saying “I”. It should be “us”, “we”.

I shouldn’t work hard. I should be working smart. But right now, the place just doesn’t allow for an engaging workplace to hire an assistant. The first and last one who came for a walk-in interview didn’t came back. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean I couldn’t work smart in the future. Answer: Set up a spare workstation once we’ve transferred office.

I am unhappy and whining all the time. I am too stubborn to accept that some realities that can’t be changed overnight. I read somewhere that 90% of the problems a man has is caused by himself. For instance, I was sleepless for 2 nights in a row because there’s a wild and loud party on a nearby covered court. I can’t do anything about it. And yet I kept myself bothered about it for several days.

I don’t have a social life. But becoming a mother didn’t cause that. I chose to live here, that’s why. And naturally, I wouldn’t have my family and friends here.

I am not the best person to take care of a child. I admit that. That’s why we hired an in-house nanny. But that doesn’t excuse me from bonding with my baby, and for not lending a hand when Yaya needs to do the cooking, dish washing and the laundry.

Finally, I felt like I was too hard on myself for no good reason…

Night owling again…

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Cultivating Good Vibes

The rest period after my workaholic June was an extended one.

WE treated OURSELVES to a full body massage. It wasn’t at the expensive spas we used to frequent when we were still dating (those that offer sauna and 1.5 hour couple massage). But with a baby behind us, Nuat Thai at the nearby Shopwise sufficed. The last time we had a more luxurious one was the day before our wedding in 2011. I know… its 2013 already.

I started declining job invitations I’m unsure if I could accomplish in time. Instead, I focused with my regular clients who send me tasks every now and then. That meant I didn’t have a full load. But I wasn’t really happy with having a full load and restless just the same.

Pending job invitations... >_>

Pending job invitations… >_>

I scoured the newspapers, internet advertisements and braved talking to the Cebuano landlords/ladies of apartments and houses for rent. I wasn’t successful and we were nearly frustrated discussing with prospects only to back out because of practical reasons. Just in time, my father-in-law told us that someone from their hometown is building a house and they’d want to rent it out to someone they know.

We visited the site (it was still under construction) and it turned out to be exactly what we were looking for. A 3 bedroom duplex house with a garage. The owners are kind enough to allow our business. One room was allotted for our office. They had a really nice ventilation (strategically placed windows in almost every room) which were lacking in most of the houses we’ve seen. The bathrooms are new. And Olive can roam around in a walker. It was the answer to our prayers!

There was a kapilya nearby where fiestas and parties are held oftentimes. But instead of whining about it, I just found a valid excuse for us to occasionally sleep in a pension house.

Alba Uno

Alba Uno Pension House. I dream of sleeping here one noisy night.

I volunteered to do collections from business clients and bank deposits from time to time. Going out of the house makes me forget that resentment of not having family and friends close by. Aside from the cardio, I’ve been able to visit the public library and learned that they offer free wifi access. I was able to enroll our accounts for online funds transfer which has been in my to-do list for so long. I also made efforts to meet with fellow freelancers within the city (who also lack the social life that usual employed people enjoy).

Looks familiar? #librarygirl

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More than anything else, I made it a point to express and show my love for Olive and my husband. I let her crawl, sit, roll and stand on our queen size bed, play with stuff toys, sing songs to her, teach her how to high five, clap and close/open her hands. I embraced her, kiss and cuddle as much as I could, because I know tomorrow she’d be bigger. I carefully watch over her milk, vitamin and hygienic supplies so we wouldn’t run out of stock, and personally walk to the drugstore to make the purchase even when her dad isn’t around.

Whenever my husband comes home after a full schedule (of deliveries, checkups and pull outs), I remember to prepare a dry bath with lukewarm water and a soft towel. I kiss him whenever he goes to sleep first, and take the 2-3:00 am shift of feeding Olive. I became more thoughtful of buying material things (while we’re together) that he needs but wouldn’t prioritize because he’s thinking of our expenses, like a new collared shirt or a better brand of hair gel.

Let Go

Within that rest period, I let myself indulge with things unrelated to work and with which I felt gratification afterwards. Things I stopped doing because I thought I didn’t have time or I couldn’t afford them like:

  • Cooking a meal
  • Doing the laundry
  • Reading AND finishing books (I’ve finished 2 books within that rest period, including Steve Jobs)
  • Watching movies and random Youtube videos
  • Having drinks and pastries in a cafe
  • Appreciating new artists and downloading MP3s
  • Running (although I haven’t repeated this after that one time)
  • Sorting things (clothes, files, bags etc.)
  • Making random lists
  • Thinking about the good times and how I could repeat that with my family in tow

Otherworldlyworkplace

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With those, I let go of my workaholic self and saw how different everything could be. The end result wasn’t like an Extreme Makeover Self edition radical kind of change, but I knew I felt better.

I saw that I have a budding family, a promising business and career, a hope for a better household and the resources to enjoy life. Nobody was demanding me to work 40 hours a week while looking after a baby and running another business but MYSELF. I should stop because I wasn’t actually happy.

And when I did, I felt more lighthearted. I was more playful and was easier to get along with. Everything seemed simpler.

I finally came to terms that in order for me to be happy with what I have now, I should not focus on my anger, frustration and sadness. I am licensed to feel angry, frustrated and sad. But I shouldn’t keep myself feeling that way all the time. Looking back, I felt stupid and stubborn acting like a kid.

I couldn’t say that I won’t feel negative again in the future, its part of my personality after all. But I wouldn’t force myself to go robot mode again, and feel sorry about myself afterwards.

To sum it up:

My to-do list is always full. But I’m pleased that everyday, there’s something being crossed off.

Bubbling Up

Sound asleep ^_^

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I just put Olive down after her 12:30 AM feed. I’m finally at ease that’s she’s been pacified. Sobrang nasaktan after ng vaccination kanina (kahapon actually, 6:00pm) that she won’t stop crying sa clinic and ayaw din dumede. I was anxious for her. Sabi kasi ni Doc hindi siya lalagnatin sa 5-in-1 vaccine ngayon (the combination of which I’m lazy to look up in her baby book), but she would be in pain. She was prescribed with Tempra to relieve the discomfort. Nung sinabi na in pain, I’m already anticipating the similar pain I felt after my HPV vaccine shots. Parang binugbog ang braso ko. I was afraid its the same thing Olive’s feeling. Ang liit pa naman ng hita nya (although mataba), but you get the proportion I’m talking about.

Anyhow, she’s better already. She’s having a favorable sleeping pattern these days – awake in the morning and asleep at night. Thank God dahil nakabawi na kami ng tulog. Although ako, the usual later sleeper, late din magising. ^^’ Excuse ko — kasi ako nagpapadede sa kanya ng midnight and at 2:00 AM. Olive’s also beginning to do mini-push ups, a lot more coos and gurgles and responsive smiles and laughs! And she’s only just 2 months!

I think, eto na yata yung phase na sabi nila, masarap magka-baby. After the tiring 9 months of pregnancy, the unexpected delivery by CS and a stressful recovery, now ko lang naaappreciate talaga yung gift na may baby. Yes, it is tough physically, mentally and financially. And sometimes the restless crying could drive me insane. But my tiny cupcake gives me all these positive notes:

  • Fun and comic relief when she seems to talk back to me in her own baby language
  • Contagious happiness when she flashes her smiles and laughs
  • Feeling of achievement when she’s able to do something new, as if her progress is also ours
  • A more caring disposition (actually, a more motherly disposition)
  • Youthful vibes, because when there’s a baby, your inner kid just gets out
  • Wanting ALWAYS for the best and not settling for anything second – yung “pwede na yan” attitude (be it toys, dresses, food, etc.)
  • A reason to slow down and cuddle coz we’re a family
  • Constant reason to accomplish more and earn more
  • Alleviated respect to my parents because they must’ve cared for me the way I do with Olive now
  • A drive to establish a homey feel on our apartment (or anywhere we’re living for that matter) — yung gusto mo kumpletuhin na yung mga gamit sa bahay although I didn’t really cared before
  • And lastly… A daily reason to wake up with a smile

If you have a baby yourself, I’m sure you feel the same. Or if you’re a new mom and you’re stressed to your wits, believe what people say. This That phase shall WILL pass. 🙂

Cheap ways to de-stress diri sa Cebu

Yesterday, I attended 2 job interviews. I commuted independently without the help of Mr. H – 4-5 rides of jeepneys I guess. There weren’t any traffic jams; smoke, heat and dust I endured during the travels were tolerable. I could still breath some fresh air courtesy of mountains surrounding the City. I didn’t have major language barrier problems since I’m used to the byahero lingo in here. Some must know for Tagalogs & Foreigners:

Para! = Lugar nya/Manaog

Baba = Naog

Sa tabi lang = Lugar lang

Paabot po (ng bayad) = Palihug

Bayad = Plete

Galing sa = Gikan sa

I was hungry after the last job interview. The carinderia that used to be beside the road was gone and to think I already have mild ulcer… Anyhow, I sufficed with a cup of coffee back at Mr. H’s office and another half cup of local tsokolate which I economically sipped while waiting for their out of office meeting to conclude. We went home around 9 pm and with no time to cook, we settled with instant noodles and our favorite char-grilled chorizo matched with puso sold outside.

Yesterday ended and we woke up late today feeling a little bit rejuvenated but still stressed – as in the things we were thinking from morning until before we slept remain running in circles through our minds. Although there were quite a few opportunities that we’re working on as well, we really ought to do any of our usual stress relieving regimens.

So far, this is how we cope…

1)   Jogging for me, Yawyan/Arnis practice for him

I wasn’t really eager for this one before. Considering how slow a runner I am and how my endurance hasn’t been physically challenged for some years now, I was always hesitant about this ‘idea’. But Mr. H allowed me to buy a new pair of rubber shoes to replace the broken one I had back in Cavite. It was sweet of him but his true ulterior motive was to eliminate my excuse for why I can’t jog or go climbing with him. =_=’

NOT A GANG WAR! Arnis sparring at Ayala Parking Lot in Cebu.

Cebu City Sports Complex

Cebu City Sports Complex. A sports venue open to the public.

So I was kinda forced into this, but later on appreciated it as well. We jog around the Ayala parking lot after office hours. Or on days when he’s not working, we run at the Cebu City Sports Complex. Sometimes, his fellow arnis and yawyan fighters meet up for sparring which lets me run alone (without a tyrant after my tails). XD I especially felt some sort of achievement when I was able to run the CCSC Olympic size running track for 2 laps. Last time, I was able to finish 3 laps!

You could definitely channel your inner angst/grudge/stress/rage in this physical activity and let yourself benefit from it.

Cost: Ayala parking lot (no fee); CCSC (PhP10/head before 5pm; PhP15/head 5pm onwards).

2)   Movie nights

I’m a fan of comedy films and he’s a fan of action flicks. Every other night, we try to find a movie to watch before bed. I only beg that for stressful days we watch something funny and uplifting rather than morbid violent ones. ^^’ Of course this is accompanied by late night snacks – usually peanuts or any left-over from edible groceries.

Anyone could use a good laugh after an anxiety-driven day!

Cost: PhP 20-30 pesos for midnight snacks

3)   Videoke

We rarely do this, but when we do its megalomaniac! There’s this cheap videoke bar aroung Mango Ave. – not the fancy ones but those catering to students with a tight budget. They have air-conditioned videoke rooms – more than 8 I think. What I like most is that they have new songs on the playlist/songbook! Definitely Katy Perry-Avril Lavigne-Rihanna!

We first went there with my college friends and then later on just the two of us. The bar also offers finger foods, meals and alcoholic drinks. But if you come in with a full stomach you won’t be paying a hefty price once you check out.

Singing your heart out can fine tune any broken string in your psyche!

Cost: PhP100 per hour (food/beverage not included)

4)   Camping

Mr. H. is a loyal and full-pledged mountaineer. And when he wants to take mind off things, a change of environment wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Sunset

Sunset at the campsite.

An ideal place is at RCPI in Lahug – a popular place for mountaineers without money as Mr. H says. The travel wouldn’t take 1 hour from the City. You can ride a habal-habal at JY Square Mall going up Mt. Babag. From the dropping point, its only 3-5 minutes hike up to the campsite which offers a spectacular view of Cebu City and nearby islands during the day. Night-lights across the panorama dissolve negativities and give you a moment of peace. The view from the top reminds you how small things are after all.

Temperature up the site could drop to 19 degrees. Waking up surrounded by fog and mist are also likely. It’s a tension reliever from the fast life in the City.

Cost: PhP250/head is a moderate amount and ensures you comfort and satisfaction for the transportation and food expenses on an overnight camping.

Now, now… what option to take later?