Wednesday, April 13, 2016

If This Were My Last Goodbye

A lot of people have this wrong perception of how all cancer patients should look like: pale, frail, skinny, bedridden.  Many think, "Oh, you look fine!" and assume those with cancers are perfectly alright and should be able to handle and do things like any other healthy person without complaints. Well, yes, we sure can (although we sometimes 'secretly' get tired easily). 

Hi! My name is Sylvia. I am 29 years old. I am currently in advanced stage Triple Negative breast cancer. My cancer has spread to my left pleural area even after chemotherapy and bilateral mastectomy plus removal of three affected mediastinal lymph nodes. I am constantly achy especially on my upper left side of body even after my surgeon had drained out 1.7 litres of pleural effusion and done a pleurodesis (sealing of my pleural space), and we do not know why yet (Doctors could not find any sign of tumor from my scans).

I am writing these to speak my mind, honestly and straight from my heart. I would like and hope to speak for all cancer patients, too.

It is not a norm for a real sick person to go around telling people, "I am terminally ill." or "I am dying soon!" So, we need to always be aware. Be kind and compassionate. Be observant and considerate. Just like how we greet and ask how any of our other friend is doing, be caring and check up on your loved ones and friends. No, it is not the sick person's fault for not informing you, without you ever asking or being concerned, when something serious happened to them.

Stop, please stop with the belief or theory of alternative treatments for cancer. Stop telling people diagnosed with cancers that conventional treatments, i.e. surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy are bad and are medical scams and that we should never go for them and alternative natural therapies cure. I was once a stubborn, very confused and foolish advocate of such beliefs. Let me share with you my experience.

When I first got diagnosed with Triple Negative breast cancer in 2013, it was stage 1. I underwent a partial mastectomy and left axillary lymph nodes dissection. I was talked into not going for chemotherapy. I ran away from my oncologist and shunned him even when he emailed me to further explain. I was bought into the idea that natural alternative treatment cures. I did ketogenic diet, took some herbal medicines and supplements and juices.

Then I got pregnant with my third child, Kaitlyn. Towards the end of my pregnancy, I noticed lumps on my remaining partial breast. I thought at first, that they could be blocked milk ducts. After delivery, I tried to breastfeed Kaitlyn from my other breast. I began to notice my lump (the initial cluster of small lumps had now grown into one) had gotten bigger. I later went to the doctor and got referred back to my initial surgeon. He took biopsies of my lump. The result came back (and he was sad to convey to me): recurrent Triple Negative breast cancer. He scheduled for CT scan and then surgery, followed by chemotherapy.

Once more, I had people coming to me to tell me not to go for all those. They asked me to try out the alternative therapy. They even told me that CT scan emits radiation and is not good and asked me not to go for it. So, I ran away from my doctors, again. I kept running away, so much so that when my oncologist saw me during my admission (or rather, quarantine) for being severely neutropenic after my first cycle of chemotherapy, he told the nurse, "She has a habit of running away from doctors, except for Dato Yapp (my surgeon). I don't know why. She is like Houdini. Now you see her, now you don't." 

I began with my natural therapy. Those people told me they would be supporting me and cheering me on all the way. I was a complete vegan for over 7 weeks - no salt, no oil, no fats, except for some potassium salt and spoonfuls of cold golden flax seed oil, and selected vegetables and fruits. I could only have brown rice or quinoa or sweet potatoes once or twice per week. I had to do coffee enema detox everyday and take certain supplements and tea and had loads of fresh juices (a lot of carrots) per day. I lost a lot of weight, became skinny and very weak. I turned orange - not even yellow, but orange! My skin was very sensitive and I bruised and bled easily. I was so miserable and alone on that journey. There were many times I had to starve myself because I was not allowed to consume any other food outside and would need to wait till I got home to prepare and cook my own food (juggling between work, three kids - one infant, coffee enemas and the many juicing). As I was munching away on my greens one day, I was thinking, if I had to continue on like this with my life even after, say, I got cured by this, I do not think I would want to live this way for the rest of my life! Oh, and my lump grew bigger, faster and the skin covering it was red and appeared angry. I was angry. I would feel pain at times but when I asked my 'supporters', none of them could give me exact answer to my whys. Instead, they kept telling me to follow the therapy strictly and asked me to read up more. I read a lot and I later found out that most who did not go for conventional treatment, especially for those with Triple Negative type, did not fare well. They ended up dead faster.

So, I prayed harder and asked God to show me or tell me what He wanted me to do. Even if He wanted chemotherapy for me, I said I would go for it (because I was so stubborn and was in such dilemma and turned the real medical experts down initially). God spoke to me. He spoke to me through our Bishop Cornelius (because I told God I may be slow, so please be more obvious with me and if possible, speak to me through a spiritual director). I went for mass that Friday and the readings and homily happened to be about listening to the voice of God without distractions. The devil uses many things to distract us from God. We live in a busy and noisy world that we often miss out God's soft promptings. After mass that day, Bishop spoke to me, away from the crowd and told me, "Go. Go for (conventional) treatments before it is too late."

I dropped all pride and contacted my doctor whom I turned down and ran away from (I even lied to him I was going elsewhere for treatments). I told him I wanted to go back to follow suit with his plan of treatment(s). He never questioned me and even got me an immediate appointment. He scheduled for my CT scan and blood tests - all done within a day. He later had me meet up with oncologist from the National Cancer Center here.
CT scan showed my cancer was at stage 3b. My lump was too big for a straightforward mastectomy and the cancer had spread to some lymph nodes around. So I had to go for neoadjuvant chemotherapy to shrink it before surgery. Praise God that all other organs were clear. Hence, I started on my conventional treatment journey. Looking back, I am very glad and grateful to be under such thorough care and close monitor from dedicated teams of qualified doctors and nurses. Thanks to the Brunei government, I am not even paying for my treatments done locally.

So, please. I know many of you may mean well, but please be very aware when you try to sell your ideas, especially on alternative treatments and being against conventional therapies which I realized have indeed helped save and prolong many more lives (when detected and treated early).
You may end up confusing and stressing out or killing a cancer patient. By all means, do try your alternative therapies yourselves when you do not already have cancer. Of course, a well-balanced diet and healthy lifestyle are essential for everyone, whether sick or not.
I get some people telling me I should do this or that, or I should not eat this or that and they shove these ideas down my throat, shutting me up even when I try to explain my point of view. When I told my personal experience with alternative treatment, I even had people telling me, "You sure?! Maybe you didn't do it long enough! You should have continued on longer!" Yeah, and I may be dead long ago if I did! 
Frankly, when one does that, it makes me feel like a failure, that whoever you are, I have failed you by getting cancer, because I do not know my own body as well as you do and I have not been taking good care of it because I have not done as you say. So, thank you, but no, thank you, really.
Ironic, isn't it, that when you say you have cancer, suddenly people around you turn into cancer experts overnight. They want to have their say in your life and decisions. Hello, where were these people when I did not have cancer? What is even more ironic is the fact that these people never had cancer themselves. Most just 'read' or 'heard' uncertified claims of people being cured alternatively.

I still believe in the very end, it is God who heals. He allows everything to happen for good reasons. God is good and all His plans are always perfect. Let go and let Him be God. Man can plan all they want but in the end, it is God who is in control. He makes all things beautiful in His time, in His ways. 

So, I accept my cross and pray for the strength and grace to carry it through till the end, worthily. Whatever comes, I thank God for all that He has already blessed me with. Yes, I used to live with regrets and doubts and always wondered about the 'would have, could have and should have's but if I were given another chance, I would do it all over again. My trials have helped shape me into who I am today. God has been so ever patient, faithful and gracious to me. There were many things I did which I am definitely not proud of and although I had disappointed God and my parents, He in turn, has blessed me so much more than I ever deserve. To be able to wake up every morning and to be given another brand new day to live and to make right and to glorify Him is truly, truly a blessing and a gift from Above. Thank You, Lord!

As for my husband, I thank God for him. Over the years, we have both been through so much. Through all the ups and downs, the many times we were on the verge of quitting, and although he has seen me at my ugliest (and I do not mean this just physically), he has never given up on us. He has never let me go. He has stuck with me through thick and thin, and he is still here with me even on this difficult journey, supporting and loving me more. I honestly do not think any other guy would be able to do this. And we are blessed with three beautiful children.

Our children have brought us so much joy. I have learnt so much and have grown along with them. Little Kaitlyn came at just the right time (when a lot others thought it was the wrong time for me to be expecting another), and brought us more laughter and joy. She has taught us to be better parents and brought us closer as a family. 

Through my journey, I have witnessed and continue to witness God's amazing grace and His great love. He has sent and keeps sending so many beautiful people, earthly angels and saints into my life. I get a lot of help, support, prayers and love. I know there are many people around the world praying for me - many I have yet to meet but they genuinely and unceasingly pray and help and feel for me. I am eternally grateful. God provides. He always makes a way, even when there seems to be no way. 

God answers prayers. The time when I needed to do my BRCA gene test, I was trying to find the best and cheapest place to do it (It is not available in this country). Then I prayed for the cheapest and most convenient way, one where I need not fly out. That very afternoon, my oncologist called me up and asked me to call this man who called him out of the blue to tell him he offers this service to collect the blood and ship them out for BRCA and other gene tests. Praise the Lord! 

There are many people and things in my life I am thankful for. I have so much more to learn. I pray for more patience and love, for the grace to forgive and forget any past hurt that I still hold onto, and to fully surrender to God and His wills always. 
To anyone I have affected or offended, whether knowingly or unknowingly, I am truly sorry. Please forgive me. 
I pray for the grace to always offer up my every pain, suffering, complaint and trial for the salvation of souls and conversion of sinners everywhere throughout the world. To practise resignation in trials, to be meek and humble. 
I pray that the good Lord will bless you all abundantly, always.

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. - Philippians 4:13

All praise and honor and glory be unto God forever and ever!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Welcoming 2015

Spending these last few hours of the last day of 2014, and as most of the rest of the world seem eager to welcome the brand new year, I...honestly do not know how I should be feeling. There are so many things running through my mind.
2014 has been... Overwhelming. Almost too overwhelming. So many things have happened.

We have welcomed the newest member of our family, Kaitlyn - who was overdue and I had the chance to finally experience the agonizing pain of being induced for labour. It was horrible! Over 10 hours of pain - contractions of 5 minutes apart right when it began! - only getting closer and more intense through the hours. With Nathan, I felt nothing until the pushing stage - only the uncontrollable urge to push; with Mikaela, I felt and timed my contractions from 6.30am and was out and about until the contractions were 5 minutes apart later that evening (both no pain reliever). With Kaitlyn, I was given gas which did not help much except it made me dizzy. Of course all those were worth it the minute I laid eyes on her. Today, she is 11 weeks old.

At the same time, I cannot help but feel a tinge of sadness that Kaitlyn has not got the chance to get to see her grandmother. I know my Mum is in a better place now and is watching over us. I miss you, Mummy. 

They say end the year with a big bang. Well, my big bang came with the diagnosis of recurrent breast cancer - the same rare and aggressive Triple Negative type. It does not really concern me if it were only me. I am just thinking of my kids who are so young. I feel sorry as well knowing that they may be carrying this faulty gene. 

Regardless, I shall prevail! This is my cross to bear. Still sticking with God. So, bring it on, devil!
A good friend of my parents' told me to look at it at a different perspective - perhaps I need to be the one to find the solution for my children who are still young - just in case they face this in the future. She gave me this quote from the Bishop when she attended mass that day.

"We do not know what tomorrow brings, but we walk this journey with Faith."

Yes, faith in the Lord.
Keeping focus on the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness for everything in and of this world is only temporary.

Until then, do with me as You will, Lord. Let Thy will, not mine, be done.

To all you amazing friends and family who have been praying for me, thank you! I am eternally grateful for these saints in my life to help ease this temporal journey.

Have an amazing New Year, Everyone!
God Bless!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Mummy Dearest...

I do not like it when it gets dark,
It reminds me of that unfateful night
And that call I received from Daddy at about 3am...
I used to think about it when I heard news or saw movies of such.
Now that it is really happening to me,
It feels so odd, so raw...
It shocks us all still - so sudden, so unexpected...
I did not even get to see you
There are so many things I wanted to share with you,
So many I have yet to do with you and for you,
Places you wanted to go "When I get better," you would say.
We all looked forward and clung to that hope all these whiles...
Gone too soon...
I wish I could hold you,
Supposed to spend this time off with you
But now I am here... mourning.
Always so selfless, and putting us and our needs before yourself,
You hid your agony and sufferings from us kids...
I beat myself up for not being medically-knowledgeable or educated enough to see the signs.
Such strong will, you fought till the very end, never giving up.
Was it the doctor's mistake and negligence? Treatment gone wrong? Or wrong timing?
I am sorry I was not even there for you and with you...
But what is the use of putting blames now?
It changes nothing. It cannot bring back my Mummy...
Over the years, you have cried for me and with me; laughed with me; worried for me; gotten angry or disappointed in me, but you never stopped believing in me; prayed unceasingly for me;
And most importantly, you have taught me how to love, and to pray and know God.
Your love and legacy shine through and shall live on forever...
It comforts me though, to know that you are in a better place now
Home where it is filled with much beauty, peace, love and joy.
At least it ends and takes away your pain and sufferings...
Now that you are with the Lord,
I shall be strong and good and do my part to the greater Glory of the Lord, as you had
So that I may be reunited with you again
And all the faithful ones
When my time on Earth has come.
I love you and I miss you dearly, Mummy...

Your Daughter

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry December!

I wrote down my resolutions for the year 2013. As this year is coming to an end, I realized that I have not been able to achieve most goals I have set for the year, mostly due to my diagnosis of cancer and the surgery which followed. 
However, there is one resolution which I have managed to keep, one which I added in at the last minute, and gave no big thoughts to it - at the time, it seemed 'small' compared to all the other goals, which I regarded as major ones. 

"To be truly happy, in God's ways and by God's wills."

Looking back now, I am grateful that during my darkest hours, I chose to listen to that inner voice - which I would love to believe, and I believe were messages from God. Today, the 'smallest' resolution ends up as my biggest achievement, surpassing all the rest of my goals set. I still have 2014 onward to make sure those get fulfilled, whichever and whenever God wills.

Here are some things I have learnt along the way.

Never keep count. It does not matter how much you have done for another which may have been taken for granted or never been repaid for. Remember, you are doing your part, and do it from the heart, and do not expect returns.

Do not expect someone to change, especially for you. No one is perfect. If and when you love someone, you accept him/her as he/she is. If he/she has to change the bad ways, he/she will and shall in time, with God's grace and will, for their own good.

"Give Time time." In the heat of a disagreement / misunderstanding / difficulty, we may think we are right and the victim, and pick on others' faults / flaws. Over time, you will see why it always takes 'two hands to clap'. We each have our own faults and in the end, it does not even matter who takes the bigger blame.

Forgive and forget in order to move on. One good and normal option for most is of course, to move or stay away from the people/problem. However, if you never made peace with the heart, no matter how far you distant yourself, you shall and will never be freed. 
One best advice I got was from a priest from the Philippines. He told me to treat Forgiveness as a gift. Just as God our Father forgives and shows us mercy, we can give this gift to others as well - to forgive and to love. 

Actions really speak louder than words. I read somewhere about an advice given on dating a guy based on what he does, not what he says. Words can most times be only words. People say sorry or show their love in different ways. Their actions may mean and show way more sincerity from their hearts than mere "I'm sorry" or "I love you".

Love. One of the best quotes from the late Nelson Mandela is the one on love, that 
"No one is born to hate another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
Yes, I find that it is so easy to love and care for another if we only open our hearts to it. I am sure it is because we are made in the image of God and because God is love and He first loves us, that we love. 
Love truly is the greatest, and this world needs more love.

Put God first. Always make God the center of your lives and seek Him first. Seasons and people and things change, but the word of the Lord stays forever. When the world has turned its back on you, God is always there, so you are never alone. Trust in the Lord with all your heart that He shall show and provide the way even when there seems to be no way.

Alright, there are more things I can and will learn. 
As Christmas draws near, I feel joy although I am actually quite stressed out with work, and was irritated because I am stuck in this holiday seasons with no chance to take leave. Anyways, my favorite most beautiful time of the year is here. Let us not forget the true purpose of this celebration, our anticipation of when a Holy Child is born - a Messiah, a true King!

Have a Blessed Christmas!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

God Never Blinks

My colleague gave me this book and said I would like it - and I love it!

It is a compilation and expansion of the fifty lessons life had taught Regina Brett, which she wrote for a newspaper column when she turned fifty. 

I love how Brett tells stories with each life lesson that she had learnt from the obstacles and problems she had been through, which she regards as "My lessons. My honors. My gifts." 
She talks about becoming a single parent and a college drop-out at 21; having to work odd jobs, and then eventually landing on the career which she loves; working out on her relationship with God; making peace with her difficult childhood; finding love in all the wrong places, and then finding the perfect man and getting married at 40; and then being diagnosed with breast cancer at 41. - I can pretty much relate, somehow, except that I am no single parent and that I chose life by choosing not to go for Chemotherapy.

As I read through every lesson, I was going, "This has got to be my favorite lesson!" Then I realized that the next, and the next and the following were also my favorite. Halfway through, I decided there is hardly anything from this book of lessons which I do not learn from.
It is interesting, fun, witty and so full of Life! 

Reminds me to be grateful for each day and everything that I have been blessed with. 

Lesson 40: If we all threw our problems in a pile and got a look at everyone else's, we'd fight to get back our own. "Yes, if we all threw our problems in a pile, I'd take mine back, not because they are easier, but because they are mine. My lessons. My honors. My gifts."

Friday, November 22, 2013

Get Names Right!

I have always emphasized on the importance of getting names right - be it people's or things'. It is crucial. The same way we would not like others to get our names wrong, please do the same for others. It does not hurt to simply ask "I'm sorry, but how do you spell / pronounce that?" Does not even take up one minute of your time.

Names are identities. They play major parts especially in identifying crime suspects or even heirs to wills or thrones. If it is not important, what is the point of identification cards or passports? Oh, would you like if God were to get your name wrong or mistaken you for someone else on Judgement Day?

I met one client today. Lost the account, but I have learnt so much from this amazing lady! She has decided to not continue because since day 1, people have gotten her company's name wrong though she has tried all marketing ways and approach in different medias to make her brand name known. I do not blame the media. It is the people with their 'whatever' attitude.
It gets pretty annoying. I have personally met a lot. They just completely shut it off - do not even bother to at least try and get it right, let alone remember.
Always with the attitudes, "Oh, too difficult to pronounce." or "Such a long name!" or "What sort of name/word is that? Never heard of. Not in my dictionary, so I don't need to remember."

It just shows how much you really care, at all. The first basic point of getting to know someone, and most people have failed terribly...
If you really find it hard to remember or pronounce, then at least create a shorter form or simpler version of the original name, or get a nice nick/pet name, especially for someone closer. Goes a long way to show how much the other person matters or how close he/she is to heart.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Faith Like a Child's

"And calling to Him a child, He put him in the midst of them and said, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven."          
- Matthew 18:2-4

I have come across these verses numerous times in the bible, and have even quoted these before in one of my previous posts. 
However, I had never really grasped the true meaning of the message, or rather, I had never comprehended how it applies, until today - and I learnt it from my 6-year-old son, Nathan. 

Like most other 6-year-old boys, there are times when Nathan can be such a pain. Being hyper apart, he tends to be very hard headed at most times. His therapist and doctors have been trying to figure out a diagnosis for his drooling and delay in proper speech. At first, we saw an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist and thought it was Ankyloglossia (tongue tie) and he even underwent a minor surgery for that. No difference made. Then we thought mild cerebral palsy, and then the pediatrician said there is nothing wrong with him, and sent him for speech therapies. It is impossible for it to be nothing - he has been complaining to me about pain in doing certain movements, and even chewing. The speech therapist said it could be ADHD - he has pretty short attention span, giving you about 10 minutes of his focus and then he gets out of control. She shall continue monitoring him until she figures out the best therapist to send him to. Traditional specialists say it has something to do with his nerves, or his imbalanced posture. We have tried many means. Until about last year, I had always blamed myself for his condition.

So, what has my son taught me about Faith?

Just last night, my daughter, Mikaela was muttering about being scared of the dark. Nathan then comforted his sister with his limited speech, "No scared. No ghost. Jesus strong! (flashing his bicep - he shows a lot of actions to help people understand what he is saying.)"
I have been telling my kids that there are no such things as ghosts, only Holy and evil spirits, and anytime they start to be afraid, they can always turn to God and pray - Jesus is always there with them. It touched me so much to hear these from my son. Such faith and trust coming from my not-so-little boy.

Since baby, people have been calling Nathan the happy or smiling boy, always with a big grin on his face, especially when seeing someone new - though he may smile his habitual crooked or cheeky smile. I have noticed, even after we have scolded him for misbehaving, he tends to forgive and forget fast. Just this morning, he made me blow my top in the car when sending him to school, but when he got down to enter the main door, he turned and looked at me and gave me a loving and sincere smile and waved goodbye gleefully at me. That hit me, how much we can really learn from a child.

Then I realized what Jesus meant when He said what He said in Matthew Chapter 18 Verse 2 to 4.

I may not be the best mother, but I have learnt to thank God for giving me such beautiful blessings in my life. I pray that I am able to love, teach and guide my children the way Jesus would, the way He does.