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Life Goes On Even With Cancer

February 01, 2018

By: Marjarelle Pascual


It was a sunny Thursday morning when I met with one of the bravest and quirkiest women I have ever seen in my life. I was actually feeling a little nervous while walking to the Cancer Center lobby but when I got there, I was immediately greeted by a cheerful woman wearing a black top and skirt with pearl necklace. I clearly remember taking note of how good her skin is and how young she looks. She radiates happiness and positivity, it’s impossible not to feel good around her. As soon as we sat down, she immediately made chika to me and told her journey fighting the "Pink Battle". I was inspired after hearing her story. It made me realize how strong a woman can be for her friends, her family, and most importantly, for herself.


Can you tell me a little about yourself? My name is Cristina Del Mundo, 52 years old, married and a breast cancer survivor. I came from a big family in Batangas. My dad is an engineer while my mom is a teacher, raising 9 children: one a boy, the rest are girls. We grew up leading a simple life. I graduated from the University of Santo Tomas with a degree in Chemistry. I only have one child because when I wanted to have another, I was already diagnosed with cancer.


Can you describe your lifestyle before you were diagnosed? As a registered chemist, I’ve worked with a lot of mostly pharmaceutical companies like Unilab. I also worked in DOST, Maersk and in a mining company. After 9 years working in the lab, I decided to change careers from being a chemist to Sales and Marketing.


In my new career, I got to meet a lot of people, went to different places, and enjoyed a lot of perks. It definitely was a whole new world for me. But, of course not everything was a bed of roses. I had to be more focused so I spent more time in front of my laptop. I became sleep deprived and I was not eating healthy. My stress level was so high that my immunity got so low. I was not sickly while growing up but later, I noticed that I easily get colds and my back always hurt. I thought it was just scoliosis. It didn’t occur to me it could be something worse.


When were you diagnosed? It was on November 2005. One time, I was taking a bath when I felt a hard lump on the underside of my breast. It was that simple. I didn’t even feel any pain before that. I wondered what it was but I got scared and nervous. We don’t have cancer in our family but I got myself checked. That time, the mammography at Cardinal was out of order and most of the doctors were on vacation since it was the Christmas season. So, I decided to wait and came back for an ultrasound on January 6 the next year.


Who is your doctor and how did you find him/her? My oncologist is Dr. Valorie Chan. One of my sisters was an ICU nurse at Cardinal and that is why Cardinal has always been our preferred hospital even if it’s far from our house as we're living in the south. All our doctors, who we trust and believe, are here.


I’ve been searching for an oncologist and I’ve heard a lot of good words about Dr. Chan. One day, I found out that she had a clinic at 3:00 am. Her secretary asked me If I was willing to wait until that time. I was thinking I want to live and if this doctor can help, then I am willing to wait whatever time she deems to come. And so, we went to her clinic. There were so many patients waiting for her that I realized she is really a very sought-after doctor. Also, my surgeon was Dr. Ernesto Acosta while my OB-GYNE is Dr. Mila Ibay.


When Dr. Chan told you that you have breast cancer, how did you react? I got scared! I was already on stage 3. It took me so long to come for a treatment because I really didn’t feel any symptoms at all. My husband was in denial and wanted a second opinion. I asked Dr. Chan what caused my cancer since we don’t have it in the family. She said study shows cancer is not only genetic, but having major risk factors such as stress, poor eating and sleeping habits can lead to contracting the disease.


Even after all the doctor's explanation, we were still partially convinced. We still went for a second opinion and had the histopath results double-checked at UST Hospital. We even thought of sending it to the USA but it will take at least two weeks for the result. Dr. Chan advised us not to waste any more time because everyday counts!


Her immediate advice was to have a Mastectomy. When I heard that, I just said "Sandali lang, Doc. Iiyak muna ako.” I went to the restroom and cried till there’s no more tears to cry. Afterwards, I calmly returned to her clinic and asked, “Okay, game, Doc. What should we do?”


I asked her to explain the outcome of the Mastectomy and even voiced out a request, “Basta Doc, isa lang request ko. Kailangan maganda ang tahi. Dapat straight and malinis.” Dr. Chan readily agreed to all my whims and immediately scheduled my operation.


I also did my part as a good patient. I googled everything about breast cancer. I believed that if I am well informed about the big C then I will know how to beat it. I think it also helped if the patient really trusts and feels comfortable with her doctors. I was really on board about everything, like I even have a notebook with me during check-ups and really take down notes.


How did your family react/dealt with the diagnosis? It took a long time for my husband to accept it. The surgery was scheduled two weeks after the diagnosis and even after the surgery, he was still in denial. I’ve accepted it because I want to live. I looked at it objectively. I even asked myself if I can continue to live with only one breast - of course, I can! My son is only 10 years old then, I don’t want my son to grow up without a mother. I want to see him grow, finish college, get married and all. I want to grow old with my husband. But then reality bites, I was also thinking about all the expenses, my job, my life. What happens if I don't defeat this? But I stopped stressing myself over these things and just stayed focus in beating this cancer. I know that this was a wake-up call because I had been abusive of myself. I asked for forgiveness from God because I did not take care of his gift which was my body and my health.


Before the operation, I talked with my husband and son. They were very quiet like mukha silang namatayan. I said to my son, "Mommy just forgot to take care of herself to be healthy. Since I will be busy getting well, it will be daddy who will take care of you so you should be good " I promised them I will get well. I told my husband not to worry. I will defeat this cancer. I will not leave him.


After our talk, I hugged them. When they saw how brave I was, their attitude seemed to change. They've been really supportive. Even our house helper, who can’t read or write and had a speech difficulty, told me that he doesn’t have money to help me but what he can do for me is to shave his hair too because at that time I already lost my hair. My husband also shaved his hair. I realized then, so many people loved and cared for me, doing small things to make me feel better. My siblings were all worried how they will act in front of me but to their surprise, I was in good spirits, jolly and positive, acting as if I don’t have cancer. The situation made our family closer, even with my in-laws. The support system of a cancer patient is very important as is the attitude of the patient herself. Everybody should be in high spirits and be positive.


Aside from Mastectomy, what other treatments did you have to go through? After surgery and chemotherapy, I also underwent eight cycles of radiation for a month. The first few cycles were bearable. I can still do some selfies while doing it. But it was on the 5th to 8th cycles when it started to really get to me. Even the tiniest sound hurt my head. On the 7th,, I was ready to quit because of the pain. So much pain that you can’t sleep and eat. I was crying while eating. Half of my body looked like it was burnt from radiation. But I still tried to fight the negativity with the thoughts of my family and that, at the end of the race, I will come out victorious.


During the days when the pain is unbearable, did it stop you from doing your normal routine? How is your disposition during this time? According to Dr. Chan, it's old school practice to just stay at home and do nothing while doing chemo treatment. She said that cancer and chemotherapy should not stop you from living your life and being productive. Changes happen but still live and enjoy the things you do before the big C. However, one should know the limitations that you have to undertake. Work but it shouldn't be so stressful. Meet people. Go places. Work out. Eat healthy. So I worked, went to the gym, played golf, ate healthy. In all these, my husband supported me.


I’ve heard that some women with breast cancer have hesitations to undergo mastectomy because they feel it would make them less of a woman. Did you ever feel that way? No, my focus was to live. I can live my life even without my breast. It’s a small thing compared to cancer. I did not question God why I had cancer because I knew that it was my fault why I had it in the first place. Life doesn’t have to stop because of cancer. Life goes on even with cancer. I, myself, went back to work after every chemo session. I lost all my hair so I started to wear different wigs, which I really enjoyed. With different style and colors, I felt like a fashionista and my staff supported me with my wig escapades. I was never moping and crying. I was standing, fighting, enjoying life and doing the things I love.


After all the treatments and procedures you’ve been through what did you do when you heard that you are already Cancer-free ? When I was informed that I was cancer free, I was ecstatic! At the same, I said to myself, I will keep my new lifestyle because I know that the cancer might reoccur if I am not careful. If I feel something is not normal, I promptly consult my doctor about it. I am definitely more careful and health conscious now.


What did you like best about CSMC handling your case? I actually gave birth to my son here. I feel comfortable and knew that Cardinal Santos have the best line-up of doctors. All the doctors are experts and are the best in their own fields, especially the doctors who treated me. They feel like family. The machines and medical instruments are high-end and competitive with other hospitals, especially those in the Oncology department. I will never go to another hospital. If someone asks me for the best hospital to go to, I always recommend Cardinal Santos Medical Center. More so now that Cardinal is already ISO-accredited, having the best line-up of doctors, best facilities, best care givers, a clean and hygienic hospital. I also became really close with Dr. Valorie Chan. I looked at all my doctors and the staff nurses who took care of me like they were angels in disguise who were sent to take care of me and heal me. I’m very thankful to the doctors and nurses of Cardinal.


Are there any other assumptions/misconceptions about breast cancer that you would like to shed some light on? Before, they said that there is already medicines for BC. Among all types of cancer, it is the “easiest type, it is more curable.” Drugs and treatments were already developed. But I believe the patient's outlook and support system is a big factor to beat cancer. The patient should be more responsible and careful with her body. I believe in science but I also believe that it should be partnered with faith in God. There are no “easy type” of cancer because it can metastasize and afflict other body organs like lungs, ovaries, liver, etc.


Personally as a millennial, I’m guilty of taking my health for granted. What can you advice for young people, like me? “Nako kayong mga Millenials! You are all so fond of staying up late at night.” Before, I used to think eating will make you strong but you really have to be more careful of what you eat. Please take care of your health. Health is wealth. If you eat good and healthy foods, it will make you stronger, more energetic and may look younger than your real age. But if you eat unhealthily like consuming fast foods, having bad sleeping habits due to partying and too much work, as well as smoking and drinking heavily, then really nothing good will come out of it. So my advice is to eat more fruits and vegetables, avoid processed foods. Exercise and have a positive outlook in life. PREVENTION is better than the CURE. I advice also to have regular check-ups as well, apart from keeping a healthy lifestyle.


Any message to women who are still fighting their pink battle? There is always a reason why cancer happens - may it be genetics or lifestyle. Be positive and stay focused. Keep the faith, pray. I believe that things we encounter in life are sometimes consequences of the things we did and are still doing but it may make us stronger and and lead us closer to God. Also, we should be alert on what is happening in our body. If you feel something is not right, consult your doctors immediately. If you have to seek a doctor, then find one that you can trust and be comfortable with.


It wasn’t all bad experiences. It was more of wake-up call and you don’t want to go back there again. So be responsible. For me, my battle with the big C, whether it was good or bad experiences, made me a better person, led me to a better version of myself. It made me realize that I never valued my life before and that our life is gift from God. No one knows when your time is up, not even the doctors can tell you that. Only God knows. I was healed by my faith. If you pray and ask God for healing, focus your mind and be positive, it helps in the healing process. Take everything objectively with an open mind and an open heart. Don’t give up! “Laban lang!”