10 Things Cancer Has Taught Me

This was something I wrote for tenminutes.ph exactly four years ago. I’m republishing it here although deep in my heart I’d rather not. I don’t want to be vulnerable on the internet. But hey, maybe a few of you can learn a little bit of wisdom from my 26 year old self to help you go through whatever you are going through right now.

10 Things Cancer Has Taught Me

November last year, I was very excited. It was the 24th birthday of one of my closest friends from college and we plan to have a reunion-ish gathering with another girl friend. I was really looking forward to that day, for we were going to play Kinect on the birthday girl's Xbox.

I love to dance and I haven't tried Kinect yet and everyone I know was talking about it. However, the day before, I got sick with a very high fever. A month before that, I was also sick for almost a week and was even confined to a hospital.

I missed it.

I wasn't able to attend her birthday.

What I didn't realize is that I was going to be missing a lot of events and parties after that day.

I was diagnosed with left ovarian cyst and had to undergo surgery. My belly became bloated, it was very painful. When the biopsy results came, it was declared that I have stage 1c ovarian cancer and I need to undergo another surgery to remove my remaining ovary and uterus in order to prevent the cancer from spreading as the tumor already burst even before my first operation.

It was the darkest day of my life.

Fast forward to now, I realize how blessed I am despite everything that happened to me. I may sound crazy, but if it wasn't for my cancer, I would still be a lost girl trying to figure out her life full of hate and regrets.

Today, I would like to share with you valuable life lessons this chronic illness has given me.

10. Everything happens for a reason and it is beautiful.

I can't count how many times I’ve heard this phrase, but it is only now that I understand it fully. Six months of chemotherapy have given me enough time to ponder, to clear my mind. I’ve made a lot of realizations, but to sum it up, let me leave you this illustration. Sometimes, in order to fix something, you have to break it into pieces. My life was a mess, but I’m on my way of rebuilding it the way I want it to.

9. Money and work will always be important but don't forget that you are the more important.

My father died when we were young and my mother does not have a stable source of income. Being the eldest among two siblings, it is my responsibility to take care of my family by de facto Filipino tradition. Because of this, I forgot to take care of myself and it made me miserable. I realize that in order to help others, I should help myself first.

8. There is a need to educate ourselves about personal finance.

Working hard and giving your all for your family is a noble act, but also a mistake not just by me but by many Filipinos out there. I've heard a lot of stories of OFWs working their butt off just to go home with no significant improvement in their lives or teenagers from the provinces who stopped schooling just to go to the city and work as maids as the survival of the entire family depended on them. The root of this problem is not really about how little money we make but how we manage it.

7. Waiting is praying.

Chemotherapy drugs and their accompanying side effects will make you very irritable, impatient, and hot headed even if you were originally a nice person. It also makes you weak, nauseated, and lethargic. I hate those feelings, but if I want to get well, I must endure. I can't find the exact words to describe the discomforts I felt. I just want to scream at everyone I find annoying, but my mother told me to be patient as waiting is praying.

I only need to wait until the 6 sessions of treatment are over for those side effects weren't permanent.

6. The role of social media.
I was isolated during the 6 months of treatment in order to ward off infections and acquiring viruses from other people, but I didn't feel lonely thanks to Facebook and my blog. Social media and the internet not only made me stay connected to the world, but I was getting an outpouring support and love from friends and relatives all around the world.

5. I have a choice.

Be happy or feel miserable? Be blessed or get stressed? Even if there are things that are beyond our control, we still have a choice on how we feel about it. As I've said, everything happens for a reason. Whatever you are going through right now, trust that God is working to lead you to where He wants you to be. I remember Bo Sanchez saying this; God's priority is not your destination but your development.

4. I'm not dying with cancer. I'm living with cancer and so does everyone else.

Yes, everyone is at risk. I'm not saying this to scare you, but to remind you to take care of yourself better. Whether you believe in heaven or not, we are all going to die someday and it pays to do good and be happy about it. Many people get into destructive vices and their excuse is that they only live once so might as well make the most of their youth. I tell you, you are not the only one affected by your actions. If ever you get sick, somebody must take care of you. When you die, still, somebody needs to take care of your body and the responsibilities you will leave behind. Those things aren't fun. This doesn’t even include the effects it is doing to your relationships and other people around you.

3. There is no limit on what you can do. Reach for your dreams.

Before I was diagnosed, I was hired by a call center and was undergoing training. I quit a job that I really like but don’t pay much for a job that I do not like but have better benefits. Do not judge me for making such decision if you do not know my whole story. I'm an enduring person and I always try to give it my best no matter what. At some point, I was thankful that I got sick since I now have an excuse to quit working in a job that I do not enjoy.

My personal mantra now is "I survived cancer, I can do anything". I'm still looking for that place where I can fully emerge my knowledge and skills, but if I can't find it, I'm determined to build it.

2. There is always a way.

Hospitalization is expensive. Surgery is expensive. Chemotherapy is expensive. Getting sick is expensive. I was our family's main source of income, so when I got sick and had to stop working, we were literally living on a prayer. I didn't have savings for many lame reasons. But we manage to survive until this very day and we were able to complete my treatment through God's grace and with the help of generous people around us. I can't thank enough the people who have helped us spiritually, financially, and materially.

1. There is no greater love in this world than a mother's love.

Because of bad decisions she has made in her life, I've hated my mother. She has been a good person yet, I still hated her. But along the way, I realize how fortunate I am to have a selfless mother that only loved us too much. My mother was a stranger to me, but my cancer has brought us closer. You know what? I think the cancer was necessary so that I can finally see the treasure chest that is right in front of me. This for me is the most valuable lesson.

I still got a long way to go as a daughter, but I'm a better person now than who I used to. Life is still hard, but I believe that better days are just ahead.

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