Tuesday, September 16, 2008

In Gratitude

It was early this year when I just came home from an event that I got a heartbreaking news from Raymond, my brother-in-law. His wife Tessa, my younger sister, is diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer. I could still remember how I tried to be strong when I went up to her room immediately after I learned about the ailment. There she was in a corner, staring at her only daughter. I walked up to her and assured her that everything would be fine. Deep inside, however, I was so scared for her. Who would have thought that a 30-year-old woman who does not have any vice, lives a simple and quiet life, and eats healthy food would be afflicted with cancer?

I phoned some of my doctor-friends and doctor-clients for options and opinions on her condition. She underwent a battery of tests and opted for chemotherapy. Her doctor told her that she didn’t need a mastectomy (removal of breasts) because the cancer was detected early on. It also helped that she was young and her physical condition at that time could withstand the rigors and effects of chemotherapy.

I never thought that my younger sister could be that brave for the duration of the treatment. She took on the battle with the Big C head-on. She was strong. She needed to be. We all had to be strong for her as well. I think more than anything else, the prayers of the family and friends helped us a lot.

With my sister's permission, here is the letter she sent out to our family and friends who stood by us during our most trying times. Tessa, my dear sister, I look up to you for the kind of strength you have shown during this entire process. Remember that we all love you.

Thinking back to the first days after I've learned that I had breast cancer, it felt as though my world had turned upside-down and inside-out. Terror and grief overwhelmed me. All I could think about was my diagnosis and the overpowering feelings that controlled me. My life was overturned in the most dramatic way with death staring me in the face. I remember the fear in the faces of my loved ones and the pain and grief I put them through.

After the last treatment, I know my life is forever changed by cancer. I realized I cannot return to my old life because I am a different person after the crisis. Having gone through chemo and radiation is like having gone to hell and back. I have battled the worst and have come out victorious.

I hope and usually believe that I am going to be okay. One reality that you cannot escape is the hard fact that no one can ever promise you that the cancer is completely gone, that you are cured, that you can live the rest of your life without worry. Sometimes I do get scared, and then I remember what I have already been through. My faith sustains me. I would never have thought that I could manage surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and feeling so ill but I did. If the future brings me more cancer, I now know that somehow I will manage.

One of the most important things I have learned from this healing journey is that God will use the cancer as a tool to reverse our life and make it better. Sometimes, it takes cancer to give us the clarity we need to see in our life; it’s always for something bigger and better. Breast cancer has changed me physically, emotionally and spiritually. I’ve learned a great deal about my capacity for strength, for courage, for empathy, and for love. If there’s one thing that cancer has taught me, it’s that I am stronger than I think.

I am proud to be part of a very special sisterhood ICanServe, and grateful for my companions on this journey. They have inspired me and reminded me once again of how beautiful life is and that it does not cease to be beautiful during or after cancer.

Thinking about my own life with breast cancer, I must acknowledge that my family, relatives and friends deserve most of the credit for my coping. Your prayers and support give me strength to continue fighting this battle. I will forever be grateful to all of you. I wouldn’t have gone through this without all of you by my side. I am overwhelmed by your powerful messages of love, prayers and encouragement. Thank you so much.

To my daughter Gela, thank you for giving me more than enough reason to fight this disease and for always telling me “it’s okay mom” whenever you see me crying. Your smile and laughter helped me go through the bad days during my treatment.

Most of all, I thank my husband, Mon, for always being there for me every step of the way. No matter what the future brings, we will get through it all together.

Thank you everyone... for everything.


Tessa with her husband, Mon and two-year old daughter, Gela - Christmas 2007.
Tessa during her sixth and last chemo session at Medical City - August 2008

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