Pink Ribbon Pride: Breast Cancer Survival Stories
Breast cancer is one of the most terrifying diagnoses for women. But these women beat it and now wear their pink ribbons with pride!
Breast Cancer usually starts with finding a lump in the boobs with a mammogram or an ultrasound. The fear and stress start to set in when faced with the uncertainty of it being benign or malignant. For many moms and women, we see it as a death sentence. But we also want to share the stories of women who found power and strength after their diagnoses. They took it upon themselves to carry on fighting in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
When Breast Cancer Reared Its Ugly Head
Every story with bad news usually starts with rage. “I was angry. Not at God, not at the Universe. There was no why-me and all that. Cancer runs in my immediate and extended family, and I was generally trying to live a healthy life, though I wasn’t depriving myself either. I guess I was angry because I felt that I was doing many things “right” and I still “developed” cancer,” says Owen Santos, now on her 6th Cancerversary.
But for others like Eva, it was fear. “Immediately after getting the news, I went to the guest room where there was an altar and I knelt down, prayed, and cried. I asked, “Why me?” My children were still young — third-year and first-year high school back then. It was really a feeling of powerlessness,” shares Eva who survived her bout with Breast Cancer 13 years ago.
But Breast Cancer can be quite the bugger. Once being bad enough, getting the same diagnosis the second time just made a survivor like single-mom Nikoy de Guzman bite back. “Time to fight, because I’m winning this battle again. Sorry Breast Cancer, you picked the wrong girl to mess with ‘coz she’s not giving up,” declares Nikoy who’s currently celebrating her 19th 1st Cancerversary. “I told myself, ‘Hey Nikoy, you gotta get well and you really have to fight it with all that you have ‘coz your son depends on you a whole lot!'”
The Fight Begins
But how does one fight what they can’t see? For Cherry de Guzman who’s about to celebrate her 10th Cancerversary this coming March 2022, it took some reflection and the decision to go for the treatment. “My thoughts were to ask why me? I began to reflect on the matter and realized why not you? I felt I just have to go through the chemotherapy quickly and that will be it and it’s all done. In short, to get over the procedure as soon as possible. Of course, with God’s grace.”
The decision is not easy especially when chemotherapy makes people look like the “walking dead”. “You see, chemotherapy really makes you look bad,” Nikoy says. “Bloated, with gray-colored skin, dark eye bags, discolored nails, etc. But I said to myself, ‘Excuse me, hindi ako papangit ng dahil sa cancer!'”
Besides the physical changes, the treatment also takes a toll on finances. For some bucket lists of dreams would have to be put on hold. “This whole cancer thing also affected my family FINANCIALLY,” says Owen. “My treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, Herceptin, maintenance, scans, lab tests, etc.) was expensive. Funds could only go so far. I did not have insurance (I couldn’t afford to sustain payments) and only had Philhealth. Nearly everyone contributed funds for my treatment for which I am so very grateful. I also approached PCSO for help. This is the other burden that cancer patients have to deal with. For some people, you can afford it only up to a certain point.”
And how did they know the fight’s begun? It’s when their biggest pride, their long, luscious locks of hair, begin to fall in chunks. “I had a bigger struggle when I lost my hair! I cried so much! Because of the classical ballet background that required us to place our hair in a bun or let it down for modern ballet, I’ve always had long hair, and I spend a lot of time and money on its care. I cried so much when I had to have my hair shaved off because it was starting to fall out in chunks as a side effect of chemo,” shares Nikoy.
But they were not alone in this fight. “The first person I talked to about it was my husband,” says Eva. “It was hard but getting that prognosis meant we had to entertain the possibility of losing someone we loved.”
But There is Life After Breast Cancer!
After a long, hard fight, Nikoy, Owen, Cherry, and Eva eventually proved that Breast Cancer lost its bite. “There IS life after cancer. Why be sad or “losyang” just because you have cancer? It’s actually a chance to begin again, reestablish yourself, or something like a rebirth,” says Nikoy, now the president of the ICanServe Foundation. “As for me, it IS hard to make plans! I just live each day to the fullest, and continue to be the best mom, managing director, dancer/choreographer, make-up artist, yoga teacher, fitness instructor, and breast cancer advocate that I can be.”
It takes a while but becoming one’s own advocate against Breast Cancer helps. “Be your own advocate,” advises Owen who’s working as the Managing Editor of Asia Democracy Chronicles. “List down your questions (as in write them down because you might forget to ask them when face to face with the doctor), and actually ask them, then write down your doctor’s replies. Ask follow-up questions if you need to. A good doctor will give you time. Ask about side effects, then ask other patients and other survivors how they dealt with them. Inquie about treatment options. About sources of funds. Ask, ask, ask. (Including asking your doctor where you can save money, what you can do away with, etc.).”
But prevention has always been the best way to fight Breast Cancer. “Early detection is key and Breast Cancer is curable,” shares Eva who’s about the celebrate her silver year in Ericsson. “Especially if you’ve found it early on.”
While those are the things we can do, we also need to accept that there are things we also can’t control. “Accept, reflect, pray, and smile,” says Cherry who’s currently teaching at West Visayas State University.
While it’s rather cliché to say, they all agree, “Life’s too short so make the most of it while you’re alive.”