Cancer cases in PH increasing

In the Philippines, while the cost of medical care is low, funding medical expenses is difficult. This is perhaps one of the reasons why people are turning to charitable institutions to seek financial/medical assistance. No matter how rich they are, their bank savings will be drained if a patient had been staying in the hospital for too long or he has expensive maintenance medicines.

According to Rubin Z. Magno, Manager of the Charity Assistance Department (CAD), as of 1st Quarter this year, there are already 38,199 total number of cases received through the Individual Charity Assistance Program, to which the agency spent about P1.34 billion.

Topping the list of the most requested cases is confinement/hospitalization with 13,769 requests at P571.48 million; next is chemotherapy with 8,313 requests at P386.15 million; and medicines with 8,415 requests at P157.64 million.

In 2017, there are 143,200 overall total number of cases, to which the agency spent about P4.75 billion, and every year, the requests keep on increasing.

That’s why instead of introducing a new game this year, PCSO is focusing on innovating its strategies and enhancing its existing games to increase its sales revenues.

“As we all know, PCSO generate funds come from Lotto and other digit games, which is precisely the reason why we are going after illegal gambling because only gambling lords benefit from it. They don’t remit taxes to the government! While our Lotto, STL, and other games benefit everyone, especially the poor and the sick,” said PCSO General Manager Alexander Balutan.

Rising number of cancer cases

 One of the alarming nature of requests at PCSO is chemotherapy, which ranked second after hospitalization/confinement.

In a four-year comparative report submitted by the PCSO-CAD, there were 25,566 requests for chemotherapy in 2014, 34,884 in 2015, 46,423 in 2016, and 49,635 in 2017.

According to Dr. Anthony Leachon, President of Manila Doctors Hospital Medical Staff Association and Past President of Philippine College of Physicians, cancer is the third leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the country after heart and vascular system diseases.

Among men, the six most common causes of cancer diagnosed in 2010 (Globocan) were lung, liver, colon/rectum, prostate, stomach, and leukemia. For female, number one is breast cancer.

“It’s bothersome because majority of patients are young and poor, and they have limited resources. Sad thing about it, they are the ones that smoke and drink a lot, have unhealthy diets, with no access to health facilities. When they are sick, they don’t have money to fund medications and monitor its recurrence as well,” said Leachon who is also an Independent Director of PhilHealth,

The seemingly increasing number of cases of cancer worldwide, including in the Philippines may be due to an increased detection brought about by the development of newer, more effective diagnostic tests and increase rate of consultations or screening, said Dr. Joan Marie Balbuena-Arcillas, Medical Oncologist at Manila Doctors Hospital and Asian Hospital and trained at Philippine General Hospital.

“Most patients diagnosed with cancer have masses or nodules that gradually or suddenly enlarge prompting consult and diagnosis. Other cases can be incidental during routine tests. The gold standard for diagnosing cancer is doing a biopsy of the mass or nodule,” said Arcillas.

Malignancies develop from normal cells in the body that mutate or transform into abnormal versions of themselves. Normal cells reproduce themselves in an orderly fashion and have specific life spans.

When exposed to certain factors such as cancer-causing chemicals, viruses, smoking or radiation, these normal cells may become susceptible to undergo changes called gene mutations. These mutations may eventually cause these cells to keep on reproducing, live much longer, and spread and reproduce in other parts of the body.

“A few individuals, however, are already born with certain gene mutations, and thus, they have an inherited predisposition to develop specific cancers, such as breast and colon cancer,” Arcillas added.

Cure for cancer

Sadly, there’s no absolute cure for cancer. Even after complete treatment and/or remission, there’s a probability for recurrence based on certain risk factors, such as a higher disease stage upon diagnosis and tumor subtype.

“This is why, like diabetes and hypertension, patients need to undergo regular monitoring and surveillance,” said Arcillas.

Cancer treatment depends on the cancer type and stage, and the specific treatment modalities that are to be done for each specific case.

“Surgery, radiation and systemic therapies (chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, immunotherapy) are the mainstays of cancer management for most types and cases. Other disciplines and services may also come into play to have a holistic cancer management, such as pain management, nutritional support, counselling, and rehabilitation,” said Arcillas.

The cost of surgery depends on the hospital and the specialty of the one performing the procedure. Government hospitals usually are cheaper and most have provisions for charity cases.

“Same goes for chemotherapy, but with the additional consideration of the specific drugs to be used. Certain drugs are prohibitively expensive especially the newer ones that have just been approved for use,” said Arcillas.

For now, there is no proven scientific evidence yet that alternative therapy in the form of herbal medicine, specific diet, or drink really work.

“Some may even be detrimental to overall health and resorting to these alternative treatments may cause delay in seeking management that can actually work. People who are diagnosed with cancer have the best chance of surviving by choosing evidence-based therapy,” said Arcillas.

Providing health care for all

Unfortunately, instead of going immediately to the hospital or doctor for treatment, majority of the poor and the young think first where to get out-of-pocket payments as these are not covered by their insurances.

“In contrast with the rich, they have HMO, PhilHealth, and savings. So kapag may cancer sila, hindi na nila ipinagpapaliban. If they have to go a doctor for colonoscopy to rule out colon cancer, or if they have a lump on their breast. They won’t think twice,” said Leachon.

“Consultations are usually out of pocket payments, which is 57 percent, mataas yan! Wala n’yan ang PhilHealth, and almost all, 100 percent you can avail of your benefits when you’re admitted (or confined),” he added.

Now that the House of Representatives has approved on third and final reading, the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Bill or HB 5784 will “ensure that every Filipino citizen is entitled to healthy living, working and schooling conditions and access to a comprehensive set of health services without financial hardship.”

One of the salient features of the bill is “pooling of all funds intended for individual-based health services together (PCSO, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, etc.) and designating PhilHealth as the national purchaser” so patients won’t have to wait for hours or go to different charitable institutions to seek financial assistance.

For now, Leachon saw the need for the Department of Health to do a massive public healthcare information campaign and utilize the Social Media to promote preventive care or spot early signs and symptoms of any disease.

“There are several reasons why we fail in our healthcare system: ignorance or lack of knowledge, combination of poor and uneducated patients, non-compliance and implementation to law with corresponding penalties/punishments (e.g. nationwide smoking ban), no caloric counter, and the environment of the Philippines is not conducive to health – no parks, no biking lanes, no smoking areas. Schools/workplace do not encourage healthy diets. It’s shaping the environment,” said Leachon.

PCSO ASAP Desks

PCSO is mandated by its Charter, or Republic Act (RA) No. 1169 to “provide and raise funds for health programs, medical assistance and services, and charities of national character.”

Few people know that instead of going to PCSO Head Office in Mandaluyong City or its extension office at the Lung Center of the Philippines, patients can also go to 58 PCSO At-Source-Ang-Processing (ASAP) Desks in partner hospitals and facilities nationwide.

ASAP Desk aims to expedite the provision of services by partner hospitals and facilitate the manner the requests are processed in PCSO, which caters exclusively to the respective hospital’s patients so they won’t have to appear personally at the PCSO Offices.

It is also a point of access to Individual Medical Assistance Program (or IMAP), a flagship program of PCSO under the CAD designed to attend to the financial needs of all individuals with health-related problems through the provision of financial assistance.

Apart from ASAP Desks, PCSO also has 63 branches across the country. Patients will only need to submit a medical abstract, statement of account, letter from the hospital, and personal letter from the applicant.

Published originally at The Manila Times, Health Industry section, April 7, 2018 with minor edits

 

1 in 4 Filipinos are hypertensive

It’s easy to know you’re sick when you have the signs or symptoms. But when you don’t, one day you’ll find yourself sick without a warning, and that can be very alarming.

“Most hypertensive patients have no symptoms. The known symptoms of hypertension like headache, dizziness, nape pain, and blurring of vision are non-specific and could be due to other causes. The best way to find out is to have one’s blood pressure taken. It only takes a few minutes to do it,” said Dr. Rafael R. Castillo, member of Executive Council of the International Society of Hypertension (ISH) based in United Kingdom and Chairman, Communications Committee, ISH.

Based on the national survey released by the Department of Health in 2017, the total number of hypertensive Filipinos is now more than 12 million, with more than half of them are unaware of their condition. Roughly, 1 out of 4 to 5 Filipinos in general.

“That’s why the International Society of Hypertension, in collaboration with the Philippine Society of Hypertension and 22 other local medical organizations have a yearly May Measurement Month (MMM) wherein we screen blood pressure nationwide to diagnose unsuspecting hypertensive patients,” said Dr. Castillo.

Launched in May 2017, May Measure Month (MMM) is a global awareness campaign led by the ISH. It represents the world’s leading scientists, clinicians, healthcare providers, and allied health care workers, all with a common interest in hypertension (high blood pressure) research.

According to the MMM website, high blood pressure is the number one contributing factor for global death, causing strokes, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular complications with 10 million people dying each year due to conditions related to hypertension.

This May 2018, there will be mass synchronized global blood pressure screening campaign just like last year and everyone is invited to participate and spread the word.

Although there are rooms for improvement, Dr. Castillo described the not-so-healthy lifestyle of Filipinos that are making them sick.

“Many Filipinos are still smoking, we eat a lot of processed foods including junk foods, we don’t exercise enough and we live a stressful life. High BP and other heart diseases result from the interaction of genetics and environmental or lifestyle factors,” he said.

As to who’s more prone, Dr. Castillo said, “Both male and female are equally prone to high BP, males are more prone before menopause of women; after menopause, they’re just about the same.”

He advised proper diet, regular exercise and intake of medicines to control and prevent high blood pressure.

Last year, American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and nine other health organizations released new guidelines lowering the numbers for the diagnosis of hypertension (high blood pressure) to 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and higher for all adults. The previous guidelines set the threshold at 140/90 mm Hg for people younger than age 65 and 150/80 mm Hg for those ages 65 and older.

This means 70 percent to 79 percent of men ages 55 and older are now classified as having hypertension. That includes many men whose blood pressure had previously been considered healthy. Why the change?

“Because they have shown based on studies that although the previous BP levels were achieved, there already signs of high BP on the heart, kidneys, brain and arteries. They, therefore determined the threshold at which these target-organ damage starts to occur. And based on their analysis, it starts from a BP of 130/80 mmHg,” explained Dr. Castillo.

Apart from lowered threshold, the new guidelines don’t offer different recommendations for younger people or older than 65 years old.

“Instead, people with those readings are now categorized as having either elevated pressure (120 to 129 systolic and less than 80 diastolic) or Stage 1 hypertension (130 to 139 systolic or 80 to 89 diastolic). A reading of 140/90 mm Hg or higher is considered Stage 2 hypertension, and anything higher than 180/120 mm Hg is hypertensive crisis,” said the report.

The new guideline also redefined the various categories of hypertension, eliminating the category of prehypertension, which had been defined as systolic blood pressure of 120 to 139 mm Hg or diastolic pressure (the lower number in a reading) of 80 to 89 mm Hg.

For more information, visit http://maymeasure.com/

Article originally published at The Manila Times, Health Industry section, April 14, 2018

The truth about getting sick in the Philippines

This year’s World Health Day theme hits close to home as I have experienced first-hand how to undergo financial hardship when my precious seven-year-old niece, Rianna got sick and died, leaving us with a huge financial debt.

World Health Day calls on world leaders to take concrete steps to move towards universal health coverage (UHC), ensuring that everyone, everywhere can access quality health services without having to undergo financial hardship.

I detailed in my previous post, Life Without Rianna how we lost her to devastating and debilitating illnesses: encephalitis-pneumonia-ovarian cyst teratoma. And this entry will tell you the reality when you get sick in the Philippines. At least based in our experience.

Her 10-month confinement costed us a whooping P13 million (US $250,250) hospital bill all in all. Rianna was rushed to a premier hospital due to her critical condition. When she arrived at the emergency room, she immediately experienced seizures so she was brought to the Intensive Care Unit and stayed there for four months, which is more expensive than regular rooms.

Every month, the hospital was charging us more than P1 million (US $ 19,250) for her confinement, medications, and tests, excluding our personal expenses, her medical supplies and medicines which my father opted to buy outside later on because it’s more cheaper and to lessen our hospital expenses.

We were becoming restless as our bills began piling up. How in the world are we going to pay for it?

My sister, Rianna’s mom was jobless because she had to devote her time 24/7 taking care of my niece. We didn’t employ a Private Duty Nurse (PDN) because that would cost us another P13,000 (US $288) every month.

My other sister and I had regular jobs, but our combined incomes still won’t be enough to pay the bills as well.

While my parents were retirees, that shouldn’t be their responsibility in the first place and they don’t have enough money as well.

But let me tell you the truth: Rianna had an estranged father who was supposedly shouldering all the responsibilities and expenses and taking the lead role and we were just supposed to be there as back-ups or support. But that didn’t happen.

We took the lead role, and he just came in whenever he pleased.

While he let the hospital charge Rianna’s bills to his insurance card, he and his family refused to help pay in cash when his card was maxed out later on, insisting that we should be the ones paying as we were the ones to blame for Rianna’s sickness.

So we had no choice but to find an alternative. My father (Rianna’s grandfather) went to charitable institutions such as Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation, Caritas Manila, GMA 7’s Kapwa Ko Mahal Ko, ABS-CBN’s Lingkod Kapamilya Foundation, but despite all the guarantee letters they issued, the hospital still won’t allow Rianna’s discharge unless we pay in cash.

Good thing we had good and close friends who launched a series of fundraising campaigns to help us pay our hospital debts. They organized two Concerts for Cause, distributed Coin Bank for A Cause, and did Zumba for a Cause all for Rianna.

Thank God those campaigns had been very successful because they were very well supported by our families, relatives, workmates, classmates, and friends from church (some of them I haven’t even met in person like Ipuna Black), and neighbors who bought tickets and also donated cash to help us.

After that, we also launched our own fundraising campaigns via Facebook seeking financial help. While at first, it was too embarrassing for me to beg, I had no choice but to go for it just to survive our dear Rianna.

Despite our efforts to pay a portion of our debt and issue a Promisory Note, the hospital still demanded for my parent’s land title, to which I really broke down in tears. Giving them our land title could mean our house could be taken away from us if we fail to pay our debts.

And it’s not just a house, it’s our parents’ home built over the years through their sweat, blood, and tears. It’s our home.

At a point when we were almost ready to give up, a lawyer from the Public Attorney’s Office intervened for us and he was able to secure a Court Order, ordering the hospital to release Rianna and honor the Promisory Note or else, they shall face the consequences.

Republic Act No. 9439 prohibits the detention of patients in hospitals and medical clinics on the grounds of non-payment of hospital bills or medical expenses.

Section 3 of RA 9439 states that, “Any officer or employee of the hospital or medical clinic responsible for releasing patients, who violates the provisions of this Act shall be punished by a fine of not less than P20,000, but not more than P50,000 or imprisonment of not less than one month, but not more than six months, or both such fine and imprisonment, at the discretion of the proper court.”

The hospital gave in and finally allowed Rianna’s discharge. I was so elated. We were so relived and overjoyed. We immediately brought Rianna home so she can continue her recovery and medications there under our care.

However, our expenses didn’t end at the hospital. At home, we were spending more than P30,000 (US $577) for Rianna every single month to buy her supplies, medicines, doctor’s check-ups, air-conditioned room (due to her pneumonia), and weekly physical/occupational therapies, and other maintenance.

When she eventually joined our Creator last August 12, 2017, we were devastated because we were not expecting it. No one’s expecting it. It’s not part of our plan, because we were positive, we were hopeful that she will eventually go back to normal. We did everything to support her and extend her life.

But God has other plans. It still hurts up to now, but I would like to believe He has other plans and they are for the better.

It was financially draining to take care of a very sick patient, especially on the part of my parents, who had to shoulder all the finances, stress, and responsibilities. But they never regretted it. Not once I heard my father complained. Nor my mother.

My parents gave their all to Rianna. Rianna’s mom gave her all. We gave our all to Rianna.

But I can understand why some families and/or relatives would chose to give up their loved ones who were already bedridden, or dying with lingering illnesses because they cannot afford anymore to spend for his/her long-term medications or care.

But while we were struggling, I can honestly tell you that God really provided for our ALL needs during those difficult times. In fact, when we felt so low, I could feel his presence, his help through people or any other means as an assurance that He’s just there and will never leave us.

God never left us. He was there all the way.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life. What you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds, they don’t plant, harvest, or store up feed in barns. For your Heavenly Father feeds them, and aren’t you far more valuable to Him than they are? Can anyone of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:26)

And from that experience, we learned so many things, especially how hard it was beg just to survive a sick kid, and how it felt to get rejected as well because not all people were generous. But maybe they were undergoing their own personal struggles and crosses as well, and we completely understood that.

However, we will never won’t forget those people who were there for us, who never left us, who sacrificed their own personal, hard-earned money to help us. We may not be able to pay them back, rest assured we will pay forward.

Now that the Philippine House of Representatives has approved on third and final reading, the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) Bill or HB 5784 will “ensure that every Filipino citizen is entitled to healthy living, working and schooling conditions and access to a comprehensive set of health services without financial hardship.”

I am crossing my fingers that this shall be passed into law soon and be strictly implemented, because if it happened to us, it can happen to anyone much worse than what we experienced and this will benefit people who really have nothing and who have no one to turn to.

It’s hard enough to be sick, what more if you have no means to get well or pay for it. As one good doctor puts it: Poverty and poor health is not a good combination.

But despite so many health and political issues and tragedies that are hounding our country, I still have high hopes that someday, our country will get better in terms of providing healthcare, and will really choose no one whether he’s rich or poor.

I really do hope that someday.

To my precious niece, Rianna, please know you are my inspiration. We love you and we miss you every day.

This is a monthly blog collaboration and our theme for this month is about health/ World Health Day. For more stories, check out these amazing and truly inspiring writers/bloggers who participated in this collaboration. Let me also welcome a good friend and new addition to the collaborators, Gelyka Ruth Dumaraos. Happy reading and hope we inspired you:

Ipuna Black: Health is a State of Balance: Mind, Body, Spirit

Barb Caffrey: We Must Do Better and Insist on Better Health Care (A Collaboration with a Purpose post)

Tajwar Fatma: World health day

Jothish Joseph; Are you healthy?

Divyang Shah: World Health Day

Sonyo Estavillo: #WorldHealthDay & Why Mental Health Matters

Jane Love: Three Vital Components of a Healthy and Balanced Life

Nicolle K.: Alert: A Collaboration to Everyone’s Health

Sadaf Siddiqi: Health is Wealth

Gelyka Ruth Dumaraos: How My Father’s Health Condition Made Me Shift to a Healthier Lifestyle

 

 

 

 

When dreams come true

It’s nice to be back! I always tell people if I’d be given a chance to go back to any school I’d been to, I always say it’s Nuestra.

I have quite a lot of memories and unforgettable experiences in Nuestra. But the major one was in July 16, 1990 when a 7.7-magnitude earthquake hit our country.

We were in Grade 4 then. The school structure was not like this. It was an old two-story building made of wood. It would really creak whenever we go up and down the stairs. I felt it was going to collapse anytime.  So when it quaked, we didn’t know where to go or hide – under our tables or chairs, so we rushed to the grounds where it was safer.

But now, so much has changed. Look at the concrete four-story building with auditorium. It looks really beautiful. It feels good to be back!

During our time, Nuestra had only until Grade 6, no High School. So after Grade 6, so we had to enroll in different schools. I wish we had High School back then so we won’t have to leave after Grade 6.

My 12-year-old me during our Grade School graduation in 1993

Anyways, I remember when we were kids, we were often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Or “What course would you like to take in college?”

Some kids would say, “Oh, I’d love to be a doctor, engineer, architect, or accountant.” Some would say, “My mom/dad wants me to take this up.” Some would say, “None yet.”

When I was in High School, I knew exactly what I wanted to take up in college – Journalism. I want to be a writer.

Growing up with both parents who were Accounting graduates, I was pressured to pursue the same course/degree. There’s no money in Journalism!

But knowing myself who loved English, literature, culture and the arts, more than Math or numbers, I stood my ground and told them, “Mom, Dad I want to take up Journalism.” They were quiet, but they didn’t push for it.

 As the eldest child, much is expected of me that it trained me to achieve more, be more conscious of my actions, and be a good role model.

While I always belonged to the top 10 of the class and always the Class President, I was too lazy to study. I could have achieved more if I took my studies seriously but I was more focused on my extracurricular activities.

In Grade 6, I was only consistent top 2 of the class but won as President of the Grade School Student Council. I didn’t get an honor though because I didn’t belong to the first section.

In High School, I was the Class President until 2nd year high school because right in the middle of the year, the whole class wanted me out as class president. They conducted a re-election to replace me as Class President. I was too immature that time and I had a failing grade. I got 74 in my Natural Science subject.

It’s time for a new ‘Me’

With my favorite English teacher and adviser, Ms. Ofelia Larosa

Second year high school, second quarter was one of my most embarrassing, frustrating, disappointing, and unforgettable experiences in my life.

I was very sad. I cried after school and days after that. But instead of feeling down, I told myself, I needed to change for the better and prove myself to my parents, my classmates, and my teachers that I’m better than what they think I am.

Third year high school, everyone was surprised when our classroom adviser announced I was top 1 of the class. Imagine from having a failing grade, I made it to top 1.

And then suddenly, they all wanted me to be the Class President again, to which I declined. That time, I really focused on my studies and made it finally to the Star Section in fourth year high school.

Unfortunately, it was too late to get an honor because it was already our last year in High School.

During our graduation, I was very depressed because I failed my parents again. I felt I can be Valedictorian but I was just too lazy.

So that’s when I started wishing: Since I won’t be able to deliver a Valedictory Speech anymore, I wish I can be a Speaker during graduation rites someday. But how?

You see during our time, they only invite politicians, celebrities, and famous people as graduation speakers.

And since I had no interest in politics, there’s no way I could be a politician. And while I can sing, act, and dance, I don’t want to be an actress. So what were my options?

Road to PMA

With my Math teacher, Mr. Ariel Honrado (center) and grade school classmate and fellow alumni, Leonard Samson

I was incoming fourth year Journalism student at the University of Sto. Tomas [in Manila] when I decided to enter Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City as a cadet.

PMA experience was hard and happy at the same time. I was too skinny and my skin was burned that time, but I learned a lot of things: PMA helped me discover my strengths and weaknesses, conquer my fears, try new things and adventures, meet people whom I treated like family. PMA taught me to go beyond my limitations, and it built my self-confidence.

But after surviving cadetship for two years, I realized that soldiery was not really for me. I miss my family. I miss serving the church. I miss writing. I miss civilian life.

Then why did I enter PMA in the first place?

Well my goal back then was to be the first-ever female PMA graduate in our town in Montalban, Rizal.

Up to now, there is no female yet who graduated in PMA in our town. It could had been nice to hear my name: Mylene Orillo, first ever female PMA graduate of Montalban, Rizal. But PMA was not for me. Who knows you can be the first!

I also wanted to challenge myself then, be different and extraordinary. But my heart is really in Journalism.

So after two years, I went out of the academy, finished Journalism in UST, and started working.

Finally, a dream come true

With Mrs. Purificacion P. Singueo, School Principal and Rev. Fr. Gerard Joaquin V. Masangya, School Director

Nineteen years of serving the church, 15 years after college and five jobs later, I never thought my dream to finally speak during graduation would finally become a reality.

Thank you to my former classmate, Mr. Leonard Samson and former teachers for giving me this huge opportunity.

Actually this is not my first time to get invited as speaker. My first speaking engagement was two years ago in St. Matthew’s College (former St. Matthew’s Academy) where I graduated in High School.

But Nuestra is different. This is not only a school for me, this is my second home.

Back then, we were required to attend Sunday masses and ask for the presiding priest to sign it? Do you still do that up to now? We did that before.

It was tasking at first, but looking back, it taught me obedience (following orders to attend mass), honesty (if you really did attend mass and if it was really the priest/lay minister’s signature), perseverance (you do it no matter how hard), be responsible student and Catholic, and commitment (going to mass every Sunday, not only when it pleases you).

And in those life experiences I shared to you, I realized five things:

1) You don’t have to be a politician or a celebrity (unless that’s your dream) to get invited as Guest Speaker during graduation, or to be called successful. All you have to do is love what you do, be passionate about it, work hard, and always give your best shot and people will recognize you. If you did your best, and your best still wasn’t good enough, just like the song, then try again!

Did you know when I wrote this speech, someone commented, refrain from highlighting “graduation speaker.” I’m like, why not if that’s really my dream when I was in High School, apart from being a writer?

And look at me now? I’m not rich, I’m not famous, but I am happy because I am doing what I want in life, because of that dream. It started with that dream. And I won’t let anyone belittle my dream no matter how insignificant or small he thinks that is.

And who I am today, I owe it to this school, to my teachers, and my parents who supported me all the way through my ups and downs, failures and successes. They helped me to become a better person, strive to be the best and inspire people, especially the younger generation, and hold on to my faith.

But I never let my success or accomplishments get into my head because power or position is temporary. You are only as good as your last article, last position, or last performance, movie/song especially to actors/singers.

One day you’ll wake up and everything you’ve worked hard for – your power or position are gone. The only thing that’s left is you or your family, and of course, God.

You know, it takes years to build a reputation or an image, but it only takes days, hours, or seconds or one Youtube video to ruin that. So don’t hold on to that power or position because nothing lasts forever.

However in life, you will encounter people who will be little your dreams, make fun of you, criticize you, or put you down, don’t mind them. We don’t live to impress other people. We cannot please everybody. Get up, stand tall, it’s not how many times you fall but it’s how many times you rise again.

2) Honor God. Offer your time, talent, and treasure to God and He will take care of the rest. I always tell this to my audience: Growing up, I only knew two adjectives that best describe myself: Intelligent & Talented. I was never the pretty or sexy girl in class. I was never a Muse, always the President.

But I have two major talents: I can write and I can sing. Writing, obviously, is my source of income. So I only have one talent left and that is Singing. So I asked myself, what can I offer God? That’s when I started singing in churches as psalmist and I also head the Parish Renewal Experience (PREX) music ministry.

You must always have something to offer God: The best of the best. And that’s what I offered God: My voice, my talent, time, and treasure, and I never regretted that because He made everything possible for me and my family.

While He didn’t make our lives easy or wealthy just enough, He was there all the way, every step of the way. Success, opportunities, and blessings poured in.

3) Stop comparing yourself to others. We have our own sets of timelines and destinies. Not because someone is more successful than you now means you won’t be someday. Not because they were married, they are happier. It doesn’t work that way.

Love, marriage, kids, life doesn’t follow a set of timelines. So sleep while you can, play while you can, study while you can, take care of yourself, don’t think of that boy/girl crush too much who ignores you, because when you reach my age, just one bark of a dog at the middle of the night, won’t put you back to sleep no matter how hard you try.

4) Don’t rush. Yes, I can feel how you are itching to go to college, have a job, leave your homes, and be “independent”. I felt that, too.

When I was 12 years old, I wanted to be 18. When I was 18, I wanted to be 30 so I can move out of the house and live by myself.

But when I turned 30, I still live in our house and wanted to be 12 again. Yes, it’s so ironic. Being an adult somehow means independence and having your own money, but it also meant more responsibilities, heartaches, problems, and obligations.

Trust me, it’s more fun to be young – when you can do everything, eat all you can, stay up late and sleep the whole day the next day, and just ask money from your parents. Don’t rush. There’s a time and season for everyone.

5)  Lastly and the most important thing, Love and respect your parents. Ephesians 6:1-3 of the Bible says, “Honor your father and your mother so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on Earth.” Believe me, you will never get anywhere if you disrespect your parents.

I was a straight student before. I only went to school-church-house and vice versa. My mom was too strict then. I hate that. But I can’t do anything because I really wanted to graduate and work after. She gave me just enough allowance so I can go home and eat without going anywhere, but I endured it.

When I graduated and started working, I can whatever I want now, and she doesn’t say anything because she’s proud of what I have become and I earned her trust. She knows I won’t do anything stupid and in case, she knows I can handle it. Break the rules when you have mastered the rules. Always remember that!

Once again, thank you so much to my Alma Mater, Nuestra Senora de Aranzazu Parochial School for giving me this great opportunity, for recognizing an alumna like me, and for the quality education you have given me.

To all my former teachers, thank you for guiding me and for always believing in my capabilities and talents when I was your student. I wouldn’t be here where I am today without you.

And to our dear Lord, the author of life, thank you for all the blessings and opportunities, and for making all my dreams come true.

Thank you and good afternoon!

This speech was delivered during the 1st Senior High School Commencement Exercise of Nuestra Senora de Aranzazu Parochial School in San Mateo, Rizal, Philippines on March 23, 2018.

To All Women Who Made a Difference in My Life

Every year, we celebrate March 8 as International Women’s Day.

For this month’s blog collaboration, I am paying tribute to all women who made a difference in my life:

Image by Jane Love

My mom – Thank you for being supportive, caring, loving, and understanding. I wouldn’t be here where I am today if you didn’t support me and my dreams. Thank you for being the light of our family, for being strong and positive, and for having the faith that never withers.

My sisters – Thank you for the love, support, and for the patience, and for being my best friends. I know I’m not perfect and I have shortcomings as well but thank you for understanding me and giving me adorable nieces and nephew.

My aunts – Thank you for the support, care, and concern, and for helping my mom raise me and my sisters when we were younger, for all the presents, praises, and appreciation – thank you.

My female and female-at-heart friends – Thank you for the friendship – for all the fun, laughter, tears, stories, memories, and experiences that we shared. We may not see each other often, but I know our friendship will stay the same.

To all married women – Thank you for all your sacrifices. Being a wife and a mother at the same time is not easy, but the satisfaction you get when you see your husband and kids happy is priceless. You’ve proven to the world that women can do everything for her family no matter how hard it is. Thank you for keeping your marriages and family strong despite some challenges.

To all working moms – I was raised by a working mother so I know how she juggled her time working and looking after us. Thank you for inspiring all women that having kids doesn’t put an end to your careers. You are not working only for yourself, but for your family as well.

To all housewives – I know giving up that job or position you’ve worked hard for in years is not an easy decision, but you had to choose between raising a kid you’ve also prayed hard for and a job that won’t hug you, kiss you, say ‘I love you’, or wait for you at the door at the end of the day. Thank you.

To all single mothers – Raising a child without a husband or the support of a husband or even a family is not an easy feat. But I admire you for holding your head up high despite some people putting you down, mocking you or criticizing you. In a world where you can choose between staying single or raising that child, you chose the latter because there’s no greater feeling in the world than having a child.

To all single and empowered women – In a society where everyone expects you to be married, you chose to be single and prove to them that life is not all about getting married and having kids. You are single by choice or due to circumstances, but that doesn’t mean you are not happy at all. Not all married couples are happy, some already want out of their relationships but they just can’t. Thank you to all single women for being successful, happy, empowered, and for inspiring other women to do the same and reach for their dreams.

To all young girls – Yes, I understand how you wanted to grow up fast, leave your homes, and be “independent”. I felt that, too. When I was 12, I wanted to be 18. When I was 18, I wanted to be 30 so I can move out of the house and live by myself. Look when I turned 30, I still live in our house and wanted to be 12 again. Although being adult means independence and having your own money in a way, you have more responsibilities, heartaches, problems, and obligations. Trust me, it’s more fun to be young – when you can do everything, eat anything, stay up late and sleep the whole day next day, and just ask money from your parents. Cherish every day because it’ll never come back. Sleep while you can, play while you can, take care of yourself, don’t think of that boy crush who ignores you, because when you grow up, just one bark of a dog at 2 a.m. won’t put you back to sleep no matter how hard you try.

To all women of all sizes, race, color, and status in life, Happy International Women’s Day!

 

This is a monthly blog collaboration and our theme for this month is all about women power, feminism, women who influenced our lives, women’s issues, etc. For more stories, check out these amazing and truly inspiring writers/bloggers who participated in this collaboration. Happy reading and hope we inspired you:

Swati Kadam: Womenarrior

Ipuna Black: Collaboration With A Purpose: Dedicated to Women Worldwide

Barb Caffrey: A Woman’s Work Is…Everything? A Collaboration With a Purpose Post

Sonyo Estavillo: #InternationalWomensDay: 10 Interesting Female Facts You Might Not Know! #PressforProgress

Divyang Shah: Women in Life

Tajwarr Fatma: Let’s Practice Women’s Day

Jane Love: Thoughts of 21st Century Teen Girls on a Woman’s Role in Society Today

Nicolle K: Alert: A Collaboration for the Women

Sadaf Siddiqi: Celebrating Women Worldwide

Capturing Moments with Caricapture by Donna

I met Donna Inosanto-Pahignalo or “Mommy Dons” as she’s fondly called, when I was the Editorial Head of a publishing company. She was the Creatives Department head that time, until now.

At first, we would only talk about work matters. But when she got pregnant with her second child, Kyra and we became seatmates, our conversations became more personal. In fact, I am one of Kyra’s god mother.

What I love about my friendship with Donna is how we could talk and exchange thoughts about anything without the fear of being judged. Perhaps our one-year age gap is one factor, and two, she is a very good listener, and can offer good and honest-to-goodness advices when needed.

I like that our friendship has no conditions or expectations. We don’t go out after work since she has a family and I live far away. But I appreciate that she’s always my shoulder to cry on, especially during my lowest times. I don’t know what to do without her that time.

Honestly, I admire her as a wife for keeping her marriage and relationship strong despite some challenges. She is also a mother of two, but can still afford to work and look after her kids and husband after work.

I would always ask her, “How can you do all that? I’m single and I still can’t find time to do everything I want.”

She would just smile at me and answer, “Time management lang ‘yan mars.”

Donna is a graduate of Fine Arts, Major in Advertising at the Technological University of the Philippines. And even before, she’s always loved doing caricatures, it only took her many years to turn that passion into living.

Today, Donna creates solo and group caricatures. She finds complete and utter joy in knowing that her artworks are being appreciated and it touches the hearts of her clients.

Let’s get to know her more and her artworks:

Why ‘Caricapture’?

Donna: Carica – from the word “Caricature”; Capture – from the word itself “capture” / “capturing memories or moments”

With your busy schedule, how do you find time to do caricatures?

Donna: When I get home from work, I rest for one to two hours, and look after my kids. I’m grateful because my husband helps me in taking care of our kids. Then after that, I start doing my caricatures. I don’t know, but my creativity usually kicks in at night (laughs). Even if I do it until the wee hours as long as I know my clients would appreciate my final artwork, I don’t mind the sleepless nights. It feels good!

What are the challenges in doing caricatures and how do you overcome them?

Donna: Challenges… maybe if there are ‘unlimited’ revisions (laughs). It’s hard on my part. Unlike in corporate or agencies, they charge revision fees. In my case, I just treat them as discounts to my customers so they will be my repeat clients. They don’t know that doing faces is the most tasking of all because it’s the basis of the caricature – they should resemble the client, I cannot magic that. There’s a process even I do it using computers or digital.

Another challenge is doing group portraits because I do it by bulk and the time I allot in doing that is usually only after work. Group caricatures usually take seven to 10 days to make; solo to two to three to characters usually overnight or one day, depending on my priorities each day.

Why caricatures?

Donna: I thought of it last 2008 when I learned how to use Vexel art, the basics on how to produce that kind of art. I was amazed so I tried and practiced using photos of celebrities at first, and then I thought, why not do it with people I really know? That was in 2010. Then it spread thru word of mouth but only within a few people.

I remember my officemate’s brother is one of my first clients who eventually became a loyal customer, Ms. Resty. When I improved my artwork and style, I posted it officially on Facebook as CariCapture by Donna.

Where do you get your ideas? What’s your secret?

Donna: I usually get ideas and concepts from my clients – what they want me to create for them, then I just enhance it in the process. My secret? Maybe it’s loving what I do best, appreciating whatever [talent] God has given me, and sharing it.

Advice to young artists

Donna: Practice always makes perfect. Explore and never limit yourself. Thank the Lord for your talent and never forget to share it.

Here’s some of Donna’s favorite solo and group caricatures and the stories behind them. I hope you like them too:

Caricapture for Hazel

“I did this family caricature for a dear friend named, Hazel last December 2016. It was an anniversary gift for her husband – she wanted it special. I also helped her in surprising her husband when she gave the gift. That time, Hazel was already battling cancer so her husband told me, she wanted every moment special and will be remembered forever. Hazel eventually joined our Creator last May 2017.”

Caricapture for my Mother

“I did this family caricature as requested by my own mother as her birthday gift.”

Caricapture for Amia

“This is one of the very first group caricatures I did in 2016. It was memorable because my friend’s mother-in-law was very happy to see the whole family in the caricature, including her husband, who already passed away. It looked exactly like him.”

Caricapture for Lia

“A friend asked me to do this for her close friend, Lia Del Castillo, whose celebrating her birthday. Lia is a GMA news reporter. We personally delivered the gift to Lia’s house. Although she didn’t receive it personally, I overheard she roared in laughter after opening the package and said, “Oh my god! Hahaha! Wonderwoman Lia! (laughs).”

Caricapture for Teng

“Teng asked me to do this for her friend who was engaged and soon-to-be married that time. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to give this gift because the wedding didn’t push through.”

Personally, this is my favorite because Donna created it for me for my blog’s header. Isn’t it amazing?

Mars Donna, hope you liked my feature. Thank you for everything and good luck in your future endeavours. Please know that I’m always here for you.

For inquiries, check out Caricapture by Donna on Facebook.

 

 

The Sandy Project: The Launch

To celebrate Sandy Aranas’ fifth year in heaven, her family and friends gathered on February 12, 2018 at Green Sun Building in Makati City to launch The Sandy Project, a dengue awareness and prevention campaign with school aged children as the target audience.

 

“At a tender age of 10, we lost Sandy, my only daughter to complications of dengue. I don’t want other children to suffer her fate or other parents to suffer mine,” said Atty. Peaches Aranas. (Click here to learn more about Sandy’s life)

The launch was an evening of thanksgiving and charitable giving. They had a reading session of “Kung Ako’y Isa”, a children’s book that speaks of a child and what could have been if she were the water, earth, warm wind, or fire in preventing dengue.

The poem ends with the Sandy talking about how, together with many, dengue can be destroyed.

“The launch of The Sandy Project is but a formality. As in the past years, we endeavor to reach more kids to educate and empower them to keep their homes free of stagnant waters and to defeat dengue,” explained Atty. Aranas.

The team, headed by Atty. Aranas will go all over the Philippines and speak to the children by reading the book together. They also do a walk-through of their neighborhood on their slippers with anti-dengue buttons as a reminder for them to act purposely.

Lastly, they will distribute self-testing dengue kits to the health centers to save lives on time.

“Sandy’s life is not ended. Her life lives on through this advocacy,” concluded Atty. Aranas.

For more details or if you are interested in taking part, you may check the Facebook page: The Sandy Project.

 

The Sandy Project

There may be no greater pain in this world than losing a child. Atty. Peaches M. Aranas shares the pain, the denial, the anguish, the grief, and the slow but gradual healing she and her whole family felt when they lost their only daughter due to dengue. They hope that with their advocacy, they could make other parents more aware and conscious about how to prevent this mosquito-borne infection, and hopefully save a child’s life

A graduate of Ateneo De Manila University, Atty. Ma Louella “Peaches” M. Aranas never thought this tragedy would ever come to her family like a thief in the night. It’s been five years, but the pain is still there and it seems like everything happened only yesterday.

Who can ever forget Sandy? Sandy was her only daughter and the youngest of her three children with Atty. Jesus Clint Aranas, the newly appointed Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) Deputy Commissioner, whom she met in law school. A 10-year-old lively girl who’s well-loved by her classmates, teachers, and her family, Sandy’s life was cut short by dengue.

Meet Sandy

 

Sandy was born small, with big beautiful eyes, but was full of life and active. She was very affectionate, always happy.

Sandy went to Mahatma Gandhi International School in Merville and her teachers would often describe her as the type of student who liked to be the life of the party – the liveliest and the most entertaining in every school plays. In fact, she auditioned in every play; wanted to be a singer, dancer, model, entertainer, lawyer, or a doctor. She was a champion archer a year before she passed away.

On the day she died, the whole eight floor of St. Luke’s in Bonifacio Global City was full of people who showed sympathy to the family; and every night during her wake at Heritage Park Chapels and Crematory, the arrival of flowers were non-stop, filling the area such that they had to be transferred to a bigger chapel.

“So many people loved her. So many people loved our family,” says Atty. Peaches in a very emotional interview with H&L.

During the wake, one of Sandy’s teachers shared how her daughter would always say “Hi” to everyone and would act as “ate” (older sister) around younger kids. “She would go to the classroom of Kinder students, and they would eat together. She received so many letters from them. She’s well-loved,” shares Atty. Peaches.

One time, when Sandy saw a schoolmate sitting alone waiting for her sundo (someone to pick her up), she sat beside the kid and waited with her.

Every year since Sandy passed away (except during her third year) the school conducted a program for her, even planting a cherry tree in her honor. She really made an impact on everyone. “Everybody loved Sandy because Sandy loved everybody. She was friendly, that’s how she was as a student and schoolmate,” Atty. Peaches fondly says.

 That fateful day

One Sunday afternoon in February 2013, Sandy was slightly feverish. In the Aranas household, it has been a standard practice that whenever any of the kids are sick (be it a simple cold, loose bowel movement, or fever), the kids are promptly brought to their pediatricians for the needed tests, including a dengue test, to make sure.

“In our family, my husband’s the type who’s obsessive compulsive. Every time any of our children would have fever, we would immediately test for dengue. It’s SOP (standard operational procedure)  in the family,” explains Atty. Peaches.

That day, she brought Sandy to St. Luke’s Global for a dengue test. While waiting for the results, the mother and daughter went to S&R Membership Shopping, which was adjacent to the hospital, to buy some groceries. When they were about to pay the groceries, Atty. Peaches received a text from the doctor.

“Peaches, it’s positive. Come back here,” the text said.

They dropped their unpaid groceries and hurried back to the hospital. When they reached the hospital, one doctor initially told them it was false positive – “It’s not dengue, it is measles. It’s a virus infection or some sort” so they were advised to go home.

But the other doctor who happened to be a family friend insisted to confine Sandy in the hospital. After learning she might have dengue, Sandy asked her doctor, “Am I going to die?” And she immediately replied, ‘Of course not Sandy, you’re not going to die.”

Dengue

Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne viral infection causing a flu-like illness. Majority will recover and get well with just supportive treatment, especially adequate hydration and nutrition.  A small percentage of patients, however, can have serious or  potentially lethal complications, such as a full blown dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF).

With the Aedes aegypti mosquito as its vector, the dengue virus comes in four serotypes; namely, DEN-1, DEN-2, DEN-3 and DEN-4. Lab tests showed that the fourth strain was the one that infected Sandy.

Deceiving clinical course

What may start out as a benign self-limiting viral infection may suddenly make a turn for the worse in some cases of DHF. The progression towards DHF or dengue shock syndrome (DSS) usually occurs after three to five days of fever. Ironically, the fever has already subsided in many instances at this point; and this may mislead many to believe that the patient is heading towards recovery. On the contrary, this is the critical period that requires high vigilance from caregivers. When the fever disappears, the dengue patient has to be closely watched in the next 24–48 hours.

“The Dengue Shock Syndrome (DSS) is characterized by bleeding that may appear as tiny spots of blood on the skin (petechiae) and larger patches of blood under the skin (ecchymoses). Minor injuries may cause bleeding. Shock may cause death within 12 to 24 hours. Patients can recover following appropriate medical treatment,” explains an article published in Dengue Virus Net.

According to Atty. Peaches, Sandy was not even exposed to any dirty environment. She didn’t have any symptoms apart from fever. So the doctors could not fully explain where she had gotten the virus. None of her classmates had dengue either.

Sandy was confined in the hospital and experienced fever for the first two days. When the fever disappeared on the third day, Atty. Peaches thought Sandy was getting better, but her platelet count indicated otherwise. Her platelets and blood pressure dropped perilously.

“I’m a sucker for positive things, positive thinking. Everything will be okay. But that night, everyone was freaking out already. Even the machines started beeping non-stop, so Sandy had to be transferred to the ICU. We were awake the whole night,” she recalls.

At the ICU, Atty. Peaches patiently waited for 48 hours. Her doctors advised that during this period, dengue would resolve by itself. The whole family hoped it was just a nightmare, and that their family would soon wake up from the nightmare. But Sandy’s heart was getting weaker.

The doctors’ dilemma was which medicine to give to Sandy to balance her dropping blood pressure and markedly tachycardic heart rate. They opted to manage her hypotension with potent inotropic agents that can increase the blood pressure but further increase the heart rate.

Viral myocarditis

Unfortunately, the virus infected the muscles of Sandy’s heart, causing inflammation and swelling in the myocardium leading to acute myocarditis. Myocardial inflammation may occasionally be a complication of viral infections like dengue fever. Her young heart weakened and went into congestive failure. Everyone was hoping against hope that it would only be transient; and Sandy would soon be on the way to recovery. But the odds turned against Sandy.

The 48 hours came to pass quickly. Atty. Peaches thought Sandy was getting better so she even bought pizza for everybody and had managed to sneak a quick dinner with her husband out of the hospital, for the first time since Sandy was hospitalized.

When they got back, she was advised that Sandy would be transferred to a regular room. But at around 11 pm, Sandy woke up experiencing difficulty in breathing feeling like she was drowning. Her monitors beeped continuously. She remained in respiratory distress; and medicines didn’t seem to relieve her.  They had to intubate her and hook her to a mechanical ventilator.

Atty. Peaches remembered earlier telling God in one of her prayers, “Lord kung kukunin mo na si Sandy, ‘wag mo na s’yang pahirapan. (Lord, if You need to take Sandy, please don’t make her suffer.) But she was alive [then], no one’s saying she was critical.”

That night she told her daughter, “Sandy tomorrow morning, it’s going to end. You won’t feel your pain. You just hang on. Tomorrow, when the sun rises, you won’t feel anything. God will take the pain away.”

Sandy was silent. But Atty. Peaches remained steadfast in her faith that when her daughter woke up the following morning, she won’t be suffering anymore.

It was a long night, or so it seemed to Atty. Peaches and her family. Sandy suffered non-stop cardiac arrest the whole night, only interrupted by epinephrine injections through Sandy’s tiny veins.

At around 11 a.m. the following day, Sandy’s weakening heart stopped again. They gave her another dose of epinephrine and revived her by pumping her chest. It seemed like eternity. It went on for hours, with everyone feverishly trying to pump life back into her arrested heart.

Four more epinephrine shots, and not even a feeble response from her young heart that had taken so much beating already.

That was it. Time to let go. And Sandy joined the Creator that day.

A test of faith

Sandy’s onset of sickness to the time of her death only took a week. For Atty. Peaches and her family, it was the longest, grueling week in their entire life. For a month after Sandy’s death, Atty. Peaches studied everything about dengue—from the medicines down to the last treatment given to Sandy to make sure there was really no lapse in treatment.

“I ruled out any lapse in the medical treatment. That’s the grief stage, you have bargaining. You’re in denial! So I’m thinking, maybe there’s something the doctors didn’t do. I had to make sure they’d given the right treatment and medication. I have to be at peace,” says Atty. Peaches.

Toll on family

She admitted that her daughter’s death really took a toll on their family, causing some strain in their marriage; their kids also felt distraught and somewhat disoriented by the experience. JC, her eldest son, quit school. Her second son, Paco, who was the Palarong Pambansa Champion in Archery in 2014, also quit the sport when Sandy died.

Of all families and couples, Atty. Peaches never thought this tragedy would happen to them as they had a seemingly perfect family, a beautiful marriage; and successful, high-profile careers as lawyers, managing their own law firm. “Our marriage was beautiful. Our family was solid. We spoke in church. We counseled different marriages,” she says. It seemed Sandy’s death turned everything upside down.

She admitted she had to go through therapy to help her cope with the loss of her daughter and it was not an easy feat. The pain was unbearable. But the truth is, tragedy respects no family, marriage, and status in life. When someone undergoes a crisis, everybody acts like crazy and go through their own coping style.

Admittedly, Atty. Peaches almost lost herself in the process, but after going through therapy, she started picking herself up and she felt that the healing has already started, at least for herself. She discovered a lot of things about herself and learned to love herself first before loving other people – a concept one can only understand if he/has gone through a crisis.

“It’s true that when one experiences a crisis, life can go upside down. It can really happen. It’s not because they’re bad people. It’s because it hurts. Families can quarrel; children can rebel,” she laments.  But she is grateful for the healing. “It’s slow, but I know we’re getting there. In fact, JC (now 18 years old) has already decided to go back to school.”

A few months after Sandy died, another tragedy beset Atty. Peaches’ family. Her father died of cancer in the United States. But if there’s one thing she has learned from everything that had happened was that one has to stay steadfast in one’s faith—it is a test of faith.

Wag kang lumiko, wag kang bibitaw. (Don’t give up.) Trust, just pray to the Lord. He is the only person we can trust,” she shares. “There is power in believing in God.”

If before, she could not relate with the people with family problems and broken marriages, now she can fully understand how they felt.

“Before, I could never understand because my life was perfect. But I understand now. Back then, if someone had a problem with their husband, I have so many motherhood advices because I don’t know what else to say!” she says.

The Sandy Project

As part of her grieving process, Atty. Peaches founded The Sandy Project in 2013 to help people, parents, and especially the kids become more aware of dengue.  She cannot bear to see another mother losing another Sandy in their lives.

“It’s not easy. I feel I have not yet surfaced from the experience of losing a child. I told myself, ‘I have to do something,’” she says with conviction.

The Sandy Project is a self-funded advocacy project of Atty. Peaches where she participates in outreach programs related to dengue. Once she helped a friend who went to Albay in Bicol by personally donating umbrellas and raincoats to kids. She actually wanted to tap the kids so they will be the one to remind or tell their parents. She wanted the awareness to start from the children.

“Imagine! One second was all it took. Just one bite from the mosquito. That’s how dangerous dengue is and we take it for granted. We don’t take it seriously,” she says.

The only problem is that she doesn’t have time to look for beneficiaries so she relies on friend’s recommendations. She doesn’t even know which foundation to support, but says she’s willing to help orphanages and support a child’s education, but her only request is they talk about dengue.

While she appreciates the Department of Health’s efforts to talk about dengue, she thinks that the message is not being taken or received seriously by the public. So she wants to personally let all parents know that they can lose a child like her Sandy if they don’t take it seriously and if they don’t clean up their place.

“If only, everybody is conscientious enough. Then we will prevent this from happening again. The problem is, we’re not serious about it,” she laments.

Through it all, Atty. Peaches just wants everyone to understand and see the face of a mother whose daughter died of dengue.

“Ito ang mukha ng nanay na nawalan ng anak. Ito ang mukha ng bata na namatay sa dengue. (This is the face of a mother who lost a child. This is the face of a child who died from dengue.) There’s a face. There are lives involved. It’s not just statistics. It’s Peaches, Clint, JC, Paco, and Sandy,” she says.  “It’s been three years and five months and we’re not yet over. This is what dengue did to us – to my family. And it still hurts.”

 “There’s a face. This is the face of a mother who lost a child. This is the face of a child who died from dengue.  There are lives involved. It’s not just statistics. It’s Peaches, Clint, JC, Paco, and Sandy. It’s been three years and five months and we’re not yet over. This is what dengue did to us – to my family. And it still hurts”

Note:  When I heard the howling of a mother who lost her child to dengue in a radio interview, I was very emotional. Tears fell down my cheeks. There may be no greater pain in this world than losing a child. As a mother, I didn’t know how that felt, but as an aunt, I know exactly how it felt because seven months ago today, I saw my niece (Rianna) took her last breath at the emergency room right before my own very eyes.

Rianna died after a two-year battle with encephalitis, pneumonia, and ovarian teratoma cyst. It hurts so much, how much more for my sister (Rianna’s mom) and all the mothers out there who lost their children to illnesses. 

I re-posted this article I wrote in Health and Lifestyle magazine in 2016 in the light of series of deaths due to dengue and allegedly from “vaccine failure”.

To Atty. Peaches and family, thank you so much for sharing Sandy’s story. It is really sad losing our most precious loved ones, only God knows why, but I know, Sandy and Rianna are now happily playing in heaven. They will always be missed. 

 

5 People You Will Love in Your Lifetime

It’s February, the love month, so we’re supposed to talk about love. But when we talk about love, some people only think of a guy/girl or a romantic love. Here, I am going to share those people we love other than a guy or girl:

  • Our Family. Desmond Tutu once said, “You don’t choose your family, they are God’s gift to you as you are to them.” Thank God I didn’t have to choose my family – my parents (most especially), my sisters, brother-in-law, my nephew, and my niece. If not, I wouldn’t be who I am and where I am today. Our families know us inside and out, with or without make-up, with or without shower, our mood swings, our weaknesses and strengths. There’s nothing you can hide from them. While we don’t always agree on everything, we fight, we argue, we get into each other’s nerves, but at the end of the day, we are still family. They will always be there for us no matter what.
  • Our Friends. I love my friends who don’t give up on me. I’m not perfect – I have mood swings and I’m very sensitive. But thank you to those friends who accepted me, those friends I don’t get to see and talk more often, but who’ve been there with me at the lowest point in my life; who just listens to me, who takes time to see me, who understands me, and who shares everything about them without hesitation.
  • TOTGA (The One That Got Away). I had this long-time friend with whom I developed romantic feelings with. While he admitted to having the same feelings, his dilemma was choosing between having me and a family or pursuing his life-long dream. At first, we tried working out our “mutual” feelings just to see where our feelings will lead us but eventually, we had to give up each other because we both knew it wouldn’t last anyway. Looking back, it was one of the best decisions I made in my life because while I set aside my feelings and let him pursue his dream, I felt proud and happy because I gained the respect, trust, love, and support of his and my family and our entire community and I was part of the fulfillment of his dream. We still see each other though as friends and he looks happy and fulfilled.

“They say if you love someone, then set them free. If they come back again and at the end, it was meant to be.” – Some Good Things Never Last

  • Our Dearly Departed. It is really sad to talk about these people whom we loved so much but had to leave ahead of us and go to a place where there’s no more pain, no more sickness, and no more sadness. There’s nothing we could do about it. To my favorite niece Rianna, my grandfather Ricardo, my grandmother Constancia, my uncle Jessie, and my aunt Victoria, you may be gone but your memories will live forever in our hearts. You are dearly missed.
  • Our Better Half. He will come from another country or place, with different background, customs, traditions, attitudes, and lifestyles. You won’t always agree, you’ll have personality/opinion clashes from time to time, but that someone will make you do things you’ve never done before, will make you go out of your comfort zones, who will make you happy, sad, angry, kilig, and excited at the same time, who will love you, accept you, understands you as you are – with or without shower or make-up. Cliché as it sounds but it is the kind of love that is worth waiting for.

Some people are blessed to have found their better halves, some people are still searching for them, but don’t fret. Not finding the fifth love doesn’t mean you are less of a woman (or a man), you have four others to fill you up and I think they are more than enough to live your life.

“The best kind of love is the kind that awakens the soul; that makes us reach for more, that plants a fire in our hearts, and brings peace to our minds.”

This is a monthly blog collaboration and our theme this month is about love. For more stories, check out these amazing and truly inspiring writers who participated in this blog collaboration. Happy reading and hope we inspired you:

Jane Love: What Manner of Love is This?

Swati Kadam: Complement

Ipuna Black: A Mother’s Love

Nicolle K: There’s No One Right Way to Love

Sadaf Sidiqqi: Love and Respect

Sonyo Estavillo: Love as a Solution: Diving Below the Superficial

Divyang Shah: Love the Living Being

Barb Caffrey: Celebrating the Love of Friends

 

 

 

Goodbye, Ate Yollie

“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”
― Lemony SnicketHorseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid

 I wrote a blog post for Ate Yollie sometime last year to help raise funds for her medications and chemotherapy sessions. Sadly, Ate Yollie passed away last January 25, 2018 after an almost seven-year battle with breast cancer and bone metastases. I would like to post this in loving memory of Ate Yollie. 

How I met Ate Yollie

Yollie and I taken in 2012

I first met then 58-year-old Yolanda “Yollie” Santos in 2009 when I was the head of the Lectors and Commentators’ Ministry in our parish. Back then, she was the head of Mother Butlers’ Guild (MBG) so we just talk and discuss things every chance we get.

She was the type of person you can easily get along with. She’s soft-spoken, very accommodating, friendly, and exuded a very vibrant personality.

When I found out that she used to be a reflexologist, I didn’t hesitate to invite her to our house to give us a regular home service massage.

A native of Rodriguez (Montalban), Rizal, Yollie worked as a caregiver in Taipei, Taiwan from 1996 to 2001. She provided solely for her kids after her separation from her husband while her kids were left to her mother’s care.

In 2004, she studied Reflexology at the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Calamba Youth Training during her stay in Pansol, Laguna while overseeing her uncle’s property.

There she started working as a full-time reflexologist for various resorts near Mt. Makiling, servicing Korean, Japanese, and Filipino patrons paying PhP 500 for a half an hour massage.

In 2008, Ate Yollie’s mother urged her to go back to her hometown in Montalban to personally take care of her three kids and when she went back, she started attending church and joining MBG.

In 2010, Ate Yollie suffered Invasive Ductal Carcinoma or Breast Cancer (Stage 1) where her right breast was removed. She was declared free after undergoing chemotherapy, but after a year (June 2012), she was again diagnosed with bone metastases or bone cancer that prompted her to undergo a series of chemotherapy again.

“I couldn’t speak. I wondered where I would get all the money for my chemo. I started questioning God, ‘Why me? I’m a good person. I’m not a murderer!’ But I apologized afterwards and thought it was just my fate and it was a test of faith,” said Ate Yollie.

With God’s providence, she was able to finance her chemo sessions through guarantee letters from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), and financial support from some co-parishioners, lectors, friends, parish organizations, and government officials.

Her one regular session cost around PhP 30,000, excluding the dextrose, laboratory fees, and medicines.

“The doctor said that my cancer could be hereditary because my grandmother died of a brain cancer. Or it has something to do with what I eat. I had weak bones ever since I was a child. I would often fall from the stairs. So now I was advised to drink milk and Calcium Caltrate. I have to be extra careful this time. Although it’s not viral, I still have to wear a mask whenever I go out because I already have a weak immune system,” said Yolly.

After a while, we thought Ate Yollie was recovering as she was able to serve the parish again as a member of the LCM. But her drastic weight loss became noticeable, maybe not only from the pain she’s suffering but also from worrying too much on where to get money again for her dextrose, laboratory fee and maintenance, vial, and other needs for her next sessions.

“I used to be stubborn. I don’t go to church before. But I’m glad I attended church before I had this sickness. I’m really scared – scared for my grandchildren and kids. I’m also sad because there are very few people who devote their time in serving the church. I feel I was brought here to serve and prepare for my condition. Please pray for my recovery. I still would like to serve our parish in the future,” said Yollie.

Her church service didn’t last long tho as she decided to stop after having a hard time walking due to a twisted vein in her spinal cord.

Her doctor advised her to undergo therapy sessions and to have a back brace to support her back, but she had no means to finance it. She had no regular job and her kids had their own families too. She had no one else to turn to.

We tried helping Ate Yollie by raising funds, while some help came, they were not enough to fully support her needs and sustain her continuous medications and therapy sessions.

Our last encounter

Last December 31, 2017 before our Sunday mass, I chanced upon Ate Angie Abegan (a co-lector and Ate Yollie’s frequent visitor) and asked her about Ate Yollie.

There she revealed Ate Yollie’s getting weaker and weaker every day so she had to visit her frequently to talk to her, buy her food, massage her legs, or even bathe her.

I wanted to just give her money for Ate Yollie, but something inside me urged me to go see her. Little did I know that would be our last encounter.

After the mass, I went with Ate Angie and lay minister Arthur Libertino to Ate Yollie’s house. True enough, she hasn’t eaten her breakfast yet and it was already past 9:00 am.

I felt sad looking at her condition. She was lying in a wooden bed (near the window and door so maybe she can access them easily) with a small pillow under her head, looked very weak and can’t even move.

Ate Angie told Ate Yollie I was there, but she didn’t react. I thought she just didn’t hear it. But as I spoke, she started recognizing me through my voice. 

“Ikaw pala ‘yan, ate Mylene. Alam ko ikaw ‘yan dahil sa boses mo. Salamat sa pagbisita (Oh, it’s you Ate Mylene. I know it’s you because of your voice. Thank you for visiting me),” she said.

“Yes it’s me. How are you?” I asked her. She answered briefly. But I knew right there and then, she can’t see me anymore.  She can only hear my voice.

I had to leave Ate Angie for a while to buy food for Ate Yollie. She requested for French fries, spaghetti, and coffee in Jollibee, but I ended up buying her spaghetti and juice in a nearby restaurant because there were too many people in Jollibee.

Everyone’s buying a cake or desserts in preparation for the New Year’s celebration that night. So when I got back, Ate Angie already finished massaging Ate Yollie and we had to go home as well because we also need to prepare for the New Year’s.

After that, I wasn’t able to visit Ate Yollie again. I wanted to but Ate Angie had to leave for an out of town trip for a month; while I became too busy with my new work that there wasn’t a chance to do so. Some of our co-lectors visited tho but they reported she can’t recognize people anymore.

A text from a good friend and co-lector informed me that she finally joined our creator on January 25, 2018 after a day or two in a comatose at the East Avenue Medical Center.

It was a sad day for me, but I know she will be in a better place right now, where there is no pain, no sickness, and no sadness.

Ate Yollie, wherever you are, please know you will be missed. Thank you for the friendship, your kindness, and dedication. You are now home with the Lord. May your soul rest in peace.

 

For those who wish to visit her wake, her remains lie at the Antipolo Funeral along Brgy. Manggahan highway, Rodriguez, Rizal. As of the moment, schedule of internment is yet to be determined.