Living with a Recurrence

By Marisette Galang

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When Breast Cancer hit me in 1997, all I thought about was the physical side of it….losing femininity and fear that I will be loved less… Not until my eleven year old daughter Raina asked, "Mom, does that mean you are going to die?"

Unstoppable tears, fear, anxiety and questioning just preoccupied my whole being. Here are some thoughts and reasons that came to mind as to how and why I got cancer:

Genetic causes

Was diagnosed with Stage I, invasive ductal carcinoma, I had a lumpectomy with axilla dissection and no lymph nodes involvement. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy followed. After which, I lived a less intense, more spiritual, semi-retired, free-spirited and health conscious . Before all these, I felt immortal and now I have no idea what lies ahead but had the outlook of "Living life to the fullest, one day at a time, moment by moment". In no time, I was back on my feet, better than ever.

Co-founding Bosom Buddies, a breast cancer support group fulfilled the desire of my heart. This way other survivors would benefit from having a network of support when not knowing how to cope during the initial diagnosis and working for a total support care system enabling me to cope as well.

I was vigilant with my health to the point of being overzealous. But I really am that kind of person, wanting to be in total control. In December 1999, I had a routine CT scan that detected a 2 cm. lesion in my liver that led to a CT scan guided fine needle biopsy. The scare was overwhelming but it was a false alarm. Biopsy results came out to be Nodular Hyperplasia, simply benign. That was my best Christmas! The color of life was more pronounced and in depth. I felt like I had a new lease to life!

Reality faced me in June, 2000. Confirmed diagnosis: Metastatic Breast CA to the liver and even the bones. My 2 cm. lesion was now 11 cm. and multiple. What six months can do? I had no time to theorize as to how this happened considering the precautionary measures and stringent lifestyle I chose just to be healthy once again. Everything happened in a week. Family and friends mobilized and acted for me. I dealt with concerns in a detached manner - physically present but like a third party witnessing events, making decisions of a lifetime, chaotic preparation for my departure and the anguish of my loved ones. I left the day after my wedding to what I knew was going to be a horrifying experience. Life was certainly now on the fast lane.

It has been over two years since I was diagnosed with metastatic disease. My prognosis was poor. And was told that treatment was based on control and maintenance of quality of life rather than a cure, which is not possible. Meaning, I will be on treatment for life.

Numerous dear friends who have been diagnosed similarly at Stage 4 have just passed on like soldiers at war. I will not deny that it has been a roller coaster ride this second time around but I believe that I am more equipped, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

I have been stripped of my health, my personal life, my career and the comforts of my home in my own homeland. In my reflective moments, I ask, "What truly is the purpose of my life?" No doubt, my purpose for living is to be around for my daughter. As I explore deeper, I wonder if life is so great making it worth fighting so hard for with all my might. Yes, life is certainly precious! Because if in my struggling experience, I am able to reach out in the hope that my life shows evidently love, courage, determination, strengthened faith and hope. Then I know that my sharing will someday be helpful. But more importantly, in my weakness, God's strength is seen.

What I have learned in this journey...

Death is certain to all of us and it is emotionally difficult to accept. As one learns to accept and face mortality, we should plan ahead. I think of every possible scenario. From this treatment to my next break, for a much awaited vacation, to the next birthday celebration and wonder if I will be around for the next Christmas. Morbid as it may sound, I want to have a so-called "Living Funeral" or better termed as a thanksgiving celebration to see all those who have touched my life on way or another. Have been preparing my "Planning Ahead" folder with lightness and candor. Am I scared of death? I have no fear of death itself but the process of death meaning the pain and indignity of suffering.

Incidents like these serve as a reminder to all of us that we live on borrowed time and as such should take each and every day as a true blessing! Life is truly so short.

More often, I have to be strong for my loved ones, for I see through their eyes the pain in their hearts witnessing what I am going through.

But in spite of affliction, I consider myself blessed to have the gift of time, hence, the gift of life.

So how am I coping and enduring? Only through God's Grace!!!