It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and, there’s probably a good chance you know someone who’s been ravaged by the big C. Sadly, breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women worldwide: in 2018, there were over 2 million new cases. It is is a cruel fate that devastates far too many women.
Mom of two and breast cancer survivor Aina Lacson, shared her experience with Modern Parenting, giving us insight on what it feels like to receive that heartbreaking diagnosis, surviving chemotherapy and what inspired her to stay strong. Here’s her story:
Aina Lacson’s story
This story has a happy ending, I assure you. The fact that I am writing about it is good enough proof. Getting to this point thought is an entirely different adventure which, if you read on, will bring you lots of sunshine, at least a chuckle or two.
We spend our life planning for the future, predicting it, assuming we can control it. But really, we can’t. I had planned my life perfectly: I had gotten my dream job, was finally living in my own country close to family, and my gracefully ageing parents. The children were blossoming, the hubby too was on his entrepreneurial runway. Life was good.
The story takes an exciting twist when I was told that I was running on some kind of “time limit.” A cancer diagnosis feels like stubbing your pinky-toe really hard on a wooden chair: it hurts like there’s no tomorrow—pun intended—the pain seems insurmountable because it was an unexpected blow. You cannot muster crying because the pain seems too far away to trigger tears. Aside from the physical pain, you struggle to get your bearings right.
The dreaded diagnosis left me walking like a zombie, incredulous and confused. Of course I cried myself to sleep that night and a few more nights thereafter. And in between tears I asked the Big Guy questions about His choice of a patient. I wondered why many hooligans deserving of such a death sentence (or worse) were spared. I wondered why a devout and practicing Catholic like me, had to be stricken with such a dreaded disease when I was a dutiful mother, wife, and citizen. I threw the question out there: what did I do to deserve this?
My first wig…
The wig was the first thing I thought about after the cloud cleared. I mulled over the color, the length and the texture of the hair. Maybe I could go blond? I surfed the net for wig stores and found but a few and thought that someone should offer more choices. After the hair issues, I decided to take stock of what I had done in my life. I tried to condition myself saying I was satisfied with where I was and what I had done. Of course, I could use a few more decades or so to improve my pending tasks but that was beyond my control.
Breaking the news…
I woke up the next day a completely different person. Exhausted and frightened, breaking the news to the children was what broke my heart to pieces. It also proved to be a very humbling experience: we parents normally are the strong ones but being weak is not such a terrible thing. Admitting both our strengths and weaknesses teaches our children to be prepared for anything.
Telling my parents required a litte more humor. “I’m pregnant,” I started off. “49 and pregnant.” My speil caught my septuagenarian parents totally off-guard. They looked at me as though I wasn’t an alien. My mom’s pout would’ve given Trump a run for his money. After the awkward but eventually hilarious silence, I proclaimed I had stage 2 breast cancer. Hearing that wasn’t as shocking any more.
“I think they found the pregnant joke more repulsive, mom!” my daughter quipped.
A step into the unknown
My grand plan was suddenly hidden behind a fog. It felt like all my monopoly money was abruptly snatched from me and I was sent to jail. I could only plan for the day and wish that the next would be as manageable. I woke up still thankful I was alive and had a chance at living longer to see my children get married. My “get out of jail free” card was still somewhere under the pile of cards I have yet to unearth.
Each day was a step towards an unknown abyss. Tests, doctors, hospitals, and the dreaded alcohol-infused room scent. Instead of lamenting my case, I surprisingly found myself thankful for being able to afford all the poking and screening. Instead of burying my head into my cellphone while I waited in rooms lined with fluorescent white lights and leatherette chairs, I looked around to watch the people around me, whose lives have also been turned right-side-up because of illness. I learned that detours in life should be met with gratitude. When we travel too fast on the lane called life, the rest area is always a welcome respite. And so I took it as such. This was perhaps, a much-needed pause I had been subconsciously waiting for. As they say, be careful what you pray for!
Trying to look at the bright side, always
Losing a breast and wishing for a double-D cup was somehow my go-to thought, next to the blonde wig. Then again, I would look like a lop-sided bicycle whose back wheel was way too big and unruly. I did not think of the pain, the bandages, the dressing, the oily hair because I could not shower. I did not lament the time I needed to heal and instead was thankful I had time. Chemotherapy wasn’t even on my radar until after I had met up with my surgeon one week later.
I concluded therefore, that when tragedy is in the near horizon, we humans tend to look at the little patches of grass, the colored fluttering butterflies, and the bright twinkly stars that dot the world. Either that or we avoid the path completely. We face the inevitable only when we are right in front of it.
When being bald is cooler…
Instead of immediately going “cold-turkey,”, I opted to cut my hair in phases. The salon was the first stage. Three weeks later, the barber shop came next for a military cut. And when my pillows appeared to be stuffed with human hair (mine!), I ran to the bathroom and had my husband shave my locks off with his mustache clipper, however reluctantly. I thought I would bawl, but I found myself feeling liberated. I think hubby felt more devastated, considering he had thinning hair himself!
The wig, the bandanas, the big belly due to my big appetite were a welcome treat. Who knew wigs can be made from my own hair? I didn’t avail of it though as I wanted to try a different color but realized shortly that being bald is so much cooler, figuratively and literally.
Fast forward to one year later, chemo and radiation cycles done, I underwent the mandatory scan and was told that I was “negative” for cancer cells. The doctor had to repeat himself twice as my brain could not seem to digest his words. I was clean, he said. At least for now, I am. The treatments had worked and I am C-free. I could not thank the Big Guy enough. I was pleased too that I had met wonderfully talented medical practitioners who helped quell my fears, at least most of them. Getting an oncologist to laugh at my macabre jokes was a stretch but I was happy I had the energy for it.
If however after the scan I had been told that those little buggers were still lurking ferociously in me, I would have said no to another round of Chemo. My months of chemo cycles and being burned by radiation is a chapter in this fast lane of life I wish to forget. However thankful I am for science and the discovery of all the medications that kill the awful cells, it is, at the least, a nauseating, painful, equally poisonous process of killing also the good cells.
Thank you memes, Netflix K-Dramas and Friends
I know I would not have survived pleasantly without the hilarious IG posts, Netflix K-dramas, and reruns of Friends. I looked forward to having a “Rachel-do” when my hair grows back. I cannot imagine how my Pink Sisters of decades before, my aunts and cousins, survived their own quarantine without the perks of technology today. I consider myself uber-lucky. I received lots of fruit, anti-oxidant teas, essential oils that covered the hospital scents, and fluffy slippers thanks to courier service. Pink had become the color of luxury: it took on a different, simpler name, and pink became my favorite color once more.
Being grateful for everyday
15 months after the dreaded announcement, I look back and thank my lucky stars, moons, clouds, and the Big Guy up there. The journey had been torturous albeit splattered with laughter and lots of colorful bandanas. I learned to slow down and discover real generous souls, comforting and optimistic. I am thankful for my home, my children and my husband. My entire family kept me afloat, and yes, they beat Netflix by several rounds.
As I am (we all are) on borrowed time, I pray we take advantage of today. I wish we celebrate the hot and humid Manila weather, even when we can barely stand outside. How heavy it must be to be laden with jackets and snow shoes when one is ailing. Instead of complaining about sitting in traffic or waiting in line, let’s celebrate that we can stand in line and have time to do so. Instead of bewailing the masks that cover our smiles, let us smile more with our eyes and our deeds.
There is so much to be thankful for, and we just need to pause, count the lines on the road, and look up at the world, the place we call home. Being gracious for what we have today trumps the grand plans of tomorrow.
After surviving breast cancer, I learned that the biggest day of my life is every day.