Our family’s battle against cancer..
The first of many times in 2018 when Mama was rushed to the hospital. It was because of severe back pain.
After that a series of check-ups, tests, MRIs followed for weeks until finally the dreaded visit to an Oncologist.
Mama was diagnosed with multiple myeloma – cancer of the bone marrow. For Mama it was concentrated at her spine which caused multiple fractures on her vertebrae (T6 and T12). It caused her so much pain that she could not stand up, sit down, walk or move without extreme pain. She was immobile most of the time just to subdue the pain. She used to sleep on a reclining chair because lying down and getting up intensified the pain.
We were told that it is curable through chemo therapy and it is not aggressive. However, if left uncured my mother’s spine will break down fast which will leave her paralyzed.
So we all accepted the fact that she will go through chemo at least 1 to 2x a week and also the fact that our day to day will change and adapt around the situation we were in. We ended up getting a wheel chair for her, a hospital bed, walker, we all swapped bedrooms so she wouldn’t have to sleep upstairs. During the initial months her bed was in our living room. We did a lot of changes at home to make her as comfortable as we could all through out this battle.
Mama’s first chemo therapy session. We didn’t know any better and it cost us PhP 135K+ just for 2 vials of Velcade + professional fee + facility fee. She stayed on Velcade during the first 10 sessions and we eventually switched to the generic Bortezomib because it is a bit cheaper.
We asked our Oncologist for pharma contacts where we could directly buy the medicines at a cheaper price. We also sought the financial assistance of PCSO. It was convenient because they had an office at the hospital. However, (with elections coming) the PCSO office was eventually removed late last year so they were only able to help us a couple of times but like any kind of assistance we are thankful for those.
Mama’s spine pain was too much that a regular pain killer couldn’t ease the pain. She had to take morphine 3-4x a day. It helped ease the pain a bit but along with it comes hallucinations – it wasn’t pleasant. I remember driving to/from the hospital for her chemo sessions at only 10-20 kph because a little bump on the road would extremely pain her.
Mama’s body reacted badly to the chemo medicine that she almost did not make it. She couldn’t eat, she threw up every time she tried to eat. Her digestive system was not functioning at all that food were not going down and out. Her tummy bloated. Her skin color was greyish. She lost weight. Her head was lolling as her neck couldn’t support it. It was the lowest condition she’d been.
She was rushed to the hospital and was confined for almost a week then after a few days returned back and was confined again for another week. It was the most scary of times for the whole family, I can’t imagine Mama’s internal struggle. I even believe she went through depression. Seeing her suffer was too much. We could only pray. Before all hope was gone we requested for the hospital priest to administer to Mama the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. It happened on Aug.19.2018. Then a couple of days after, she was released from the hospital and we noticed significant improvement in her health. I would like to believe it as a miracle.
Her chemo sessions stopped while she was recovering in the hospital, it resumed in September. At that time we also decided to shift to a different doctor, someone who specializes in multiple myeloma – a Hematologist-Oncologist. We learned that multiple myeloma affects blood streams – our bone marrow is where the blood streams through. Any abnormality on our blood chemistry (like creatinine, calcium, potassium etc.) affects the functioning of our body and its internal organs. Thus the need to closely monitor Mama’s blood chemistry all throughout her chemo which her initial Oncologist failed to do. She was also given more oral medicines to help keep the balance in her blood chemistry.
Mama’s recovery was slow given her age and the criticality of her illness. This battle affected each and every one of us in the family. Financial strain aside – it is not only a test of our faith, it was a test of our patience and love, of body and mind. Personally, I suffered mentally too even to the point of secluding myself and staying away from my friends. There were a few persistent ones who checked up on me from time to time and to them I am grateful. The attention and support from our relatives – particularly my parents’ siblings and cousins – are a big help to Mama, they made her feel she is not alone in this battle. Friends and relatives extended financial help the best they could. Our family is truly grateful. Praying wasn’t our last resort – we start and end our day with it like we always do – it intensified as it gave us hope and helped us hold ourselves together.
Mama’s last chemo session. Looking back 9-12 months ago, I can’t believe that we are here now. Mama can move around now slowly at short distances, her spine pain & fractures have long been gone, her appetite improved. Traces of multiple myeloma do not go away even after the chemo but its level can be kept marginally low through maintenance medicines for a couple more years. That’s the next phase of Mama’s long road to complete recovery.
We are happy that her chemo therapy has finally ended. That she made it through, and our family is stronger than ever. This experience made me realize again of God’s Great Providence. May it be financial or emotional – help comes around when we needed it the most.
To whoever is battling cancer – keep going and don’t lose hope. To those going through this the first time, research helps a lot and looking for pharma contacts for cheaper meds will somehow help alleviate the financial burden, don’t hesitate to ask or accept help from friends and loved ones too. A miracle is sometimes only a prayer away.