Surviving cancer in a foreign land

IN the past 12 years of my stint abroad as an overseas Filipino worker, never did I think that I will ever face a “death” sentence. Yes a death sentence – not as a consequence of a crime committed but because of having the most dreaded and deadly human disease as cancer! Thousands and thousands of miles away from my immediate family and country, having had to face this life’s ultimate ordeal is something, in itself, very debilitating! I thought that I will have to deal only with earning dollars so I can provide the best for my family back home in the Philippines! I was wrong!

I admit that I was really caught off-guard with the shocking diagnosis I received that fateful day of November 16, 2000! Who wouldn’t, anyway! Foremost on my mind was not the fear of dying – it came to fore much later as I went through the process of accepting my fate. Ah, the fear I had then!

Who will take care of my ailing mother, old nanny and youngest sister? Who will look after my two children and adopted son? Who will provide the needs of my other siblings? Who will help those breadwinners under my employ? Who will look after the interest of our land which I painstakingly redeemed numerous times from various individuals? I fear the land will go because, sad to say, my siblings’ hard-up situation will force them to sell the land. Then my wildest dream of having the happiest and the most beautiful family compound will all go to naught!

Those were the questions I asked then. Of course, they were asked because I thought I will die soon! Funny, really, how the word ‘cancer’ can make us think immediately of death!

Actually, these very real responsibilities I have, were the ones which helped me fight back and stay convicted to live a long, long life! I tell you, there was once a time when I was in the last thread of hope that I asked God to end my life! Be quick with it, oh Lord, I prayed. Looking back, I strongly believe, that it was the time when I realized that God didn’t want to end my life. I strongly believe that He just wanted to shake me and tell me that: “Hey, you’ve been too much engrossed in helping others that you forgot to help yourself! Wake up and attend to your ailing body and reestablish your priorities in life!”

From then on, I faced my “death” sentence with renewed vigor! I promised myself that I will never, never allow my body to be wasted away by this dragon! As you know, some parts of my body were already removed and lately, as a consequence of another not-so-common human disease named Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) I inherited from my late father, two new bony areas are slowly wasting away. This, of course, along with my fast deteriorating hearing loss, is not connected to the cancer. I understand that some more parts will possibly be involved in the years to come but I don’t care! I will fight this monster until the last breath of my life! Even if I have to crawl in order to go to work! I want to be strong and I want to keep my body working for as long as it takes to function!

Since the publication of my article “Woes of an OFW” last December 5, 2000, so many people, known and unknown to me, have sent emails to ask about me. The steady flow of emails I received, especially the ones from the three mailing lists (two were created by me prior to my cancer diagnosis) I subscribe to, actually kept me going and amidst the trials I continuously faced, I slowly emerged from my temporary downfall into a stronger, positive and fighting demeanor!

The initial shock of the diagnosis started to wear off when I began to learn about my disease. The internet suddenly became my ally! I spent the next 10 hours or so, after hearing the bad news from my gynecologist, searching the web.

Leiomyosarcoma – such strange-sounding word! How do you get one, I asked then? Because I remember the doctor told me before that the fibroid is never malignant! Then how come I had a cancerous fibroid tumor? Leiomyosarcoma, or LMS for short, is a very rare form of cancer affecting the soft (smooth muscle) tissues of the body. And according to one of my readings, LMS is known for its high metastatic activity! Oh, my, what now? The tumor was already removed after invading my uterus. Where else can it go, I asked then.

More search and I was finally taken to this mailing list which later has become my lifeline as I struggled to accept my life-threatening ordeal. The mailing list – The Leiomyosarcoma (cancer) Online Support Group – has provided me with accurate information and the latest innovative management for my type of LMS! I really am thankful to God I found the list because it has saved me from having to accept from the not-so-knowledgeable-on-LMS oncologists in Kuwait their standard practice of subjecting a “high grade” cancer patient to chemotherapy and radiation. The caring members of the list warned me that LMS does not, if at all, respond to chemotherapy and radiation.

Another major surgery

Just over a month after undergoing my first ever major surgery – myomectomy, to remove the fibroid tumor from my uterus – I was again wheeled to the operating room last November 29, 2000. The operation, according to my husband, lasted for nearly five hours. The surgeons, after removing my uterus, two ovaries, two fallopian tubes and cervix, took their time in looking into my other organs for possible infiltration of the cancerous tumor. My appendix went, along with a very “suspicious” nodule above my small bowel.

What else did they remove? I remember asking my husband as soon as I regained consciousness. I was informed beforehand, and was made to sign a paper testifying to the knowledge, that the surgeons may remove other organs aside from our previously agreed ones (the whole reproductive organs) if needed. Did they remove my stomach, or part of it? What about my intestines? My liver? My spleen? My gallbladder? My kidneys? My urinary bladder and ureters? Oh my, you should see the expression on my husband’s face!

As related by my husband, he had difficulty controlling his tears, when he saw me after the surgery. It was too much for him to take and he wished no other husbands will ever be subjected to the same situation he faced! I was white as a paper, he said, and all kinds of tubes, bottles and bags were connected to my body. He could hardly see my face because of the oxygen mask covering almost all area of my tiny face. I have one large tube connected to my nose; another tube to the right side of my neck (central venous line) where three bottles of solution were simultaneously connected; a tube connected to my left arm where blood was dripping from a bag; a tube on both sides of my lower abdomen where drains from my abdominal cavity were pouring into weird-looking bags; and another tube for draining of urine. A funny-looking object was also connected to my right index finger (was reminded of ET, the movie) which gave off a sound every time my vital signs showed below or above normal. My chest was full of numerous small round patches connected, by tiny wires, to another machine which monitored my heart. And one tiny wire connected to my back – the only tube, in fact, which I welcomed gladly – which supplied my body with pain-relieving medication. In one hour, I was allowed to press the button four times, and the machine will pump the heavenly drug into my system.

I stayed in the Recovery Room (Intensive Care Unit) five days and four nights. By the time I was moved to my room in the Female Ward (of the Kuwait Cancer Control Center), I only had three tubes – the central venous line and the two ones connected to both sides of my lower abdomen for draining out the secretions from inside my cavity.

My saga continues, my dear readers, on the second part of this long-overdue story.

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: July 20, 2001

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