Filtered By: Lifestyle

My sister’s silent killer

The author's sister in 2006, when the cancer was first detected.
It was 2006 when my sister Baby (as we called her) found out through a biopsy that she had an infiltrating ductal carcinoma—stage 3 breast cancer. I was expecting it was cancer, since she had already been complaining several times some years before that she had a frequent ache on her right chest and had a yellowish discharge coming from her breast.

There were occasions while I lived in my sister's apartment during my college years which made me completely aware of her condition. At the time, she worked in a mall in Cavite and had been separated from her husband, who had left her and taken their only son to live with him in the US. Their son, Israel, is now 19.

Only few months after the diagnosis, to prevent the spreading of cancer cells, she underwent an operation to remove her breast and part of an ovary. The operation was done at Philippine General Hospital. She was given oral chemotherapy to impede the disease from affecting other organs in her body.

I remember her saying that her doctor told her that if she survived five years on the oral medication, it would mean that the cancer cells were diminished. But after only about three years, my sister again felt pain in her chest and had to go back for tests. This time, it turned out that the cancer cells had metastasized, and several tiny tumors began appearing on her upper body. The cancer was aggressively invasive and traveled to other internal organs in just a short period of time.

She was broke when she was dismissed from her job due to her illness. She went home to our old house in Pampanga in 2010.

Baby a few years later with her son Izzy, who she said was her only happiness.
My sister, whose real name was Nerisa, was one of our family's breadwinners. A year after her college graduation, she went to Manila to look for a better job to sustain our family, as we had been abandoned by my father who left his family for another woman.

It was in Manila that she met her husband, from whom she later separated. He then went to the US to work as a nurse and later petitioned their son to become a US citizen.

Despite her illness and her own marriage troubles, she was full of hope and she still wanted to live longer. After it was discovered that the cancer cells metastasized, on her doctor's advice she underwent cobalt therapy which the local government sponsored.

Even combing her hair became a hard task that Baby needed assistance with.
The real horrors of cancer are not only the bald, pale-skinned patients that we see on television and in newspapers. The real horror of cancer is the pain caused not just by open lesions on the skin but also by wounds in the heart and mind as cancer sufferers feel lost and secluded from the real world, where they were supposed to feel happy and fulfilled.

But, "I still want to live," were the frequent words my sister told me. "I still want to see my son become what he wants to be." She would be in tears shen she said this last part. She missed her son very much. Israel did not come home on a regular basis as he was going to school in the US during the time his mom was battling the disease.

According to Dr. Claro Cayanan of the Manila East Medical Center, early detection is the best cure for cancer. He said that sometimes people who feel aches and pains in their body are reluctant to go for check-ups out of fear, but he said this wouldn't really help. If more people sought medical consultation and help, he said, more lives inflicted with cancer could be saved.

Baby had to be taken to the hospital almost every week because the wound on her chest was constantly bleeding.
The last few days of my sister Baby's life was a coming home. After supplies ran low of the  blood her body needed due to the high demand for her blood type in several hospitals in Central Luzon, my sister gladly embraced the idea of letting go. Our relatives were chilled when they saw the large amounts of blood coming out of the wound in the chest like a flowing faucet, but not even once did I see fear in her eyes.

She was a brave fighter. As she once said, "With all the hurtful realities that happened in my life, do you think there are still things that make me fearful? Cancer is not a disease for me. The bad things that happened in my life were actually the disease. And cancer was the cure as it healed everything that was done wrong and made me embrace God."

Last November 27, my sister died. She was the bravest person I have ever known. — BM, GMA News