By MARIA KATHRINA LOPEZ YARZA
December 6, 2010, 12:15pm
MANILA, Philippines — It takes a Courage to face The Big C.
Cancer begins in the cells,which we have learned are the building blocks of the body. Under normal conditions, our bodies produce new cells as we grow and as we need them. They replace the old cells that die. However, under abnormal conditions, some new cells grow in the body when they are not needed, and the old cells do not die when they should. These kinds of cells eventually form a mass called tumor.
In spite of the numerous tumors that I have in my brain, I am truly blessed that they are benign, not malignant. Nevertheless, a tumor is a tumor — it can still be harmful. My Neurofibromatosis (NF2) disease is not a form of cancer, although many people mistakenly take it as one of The Big C. I am never offended by it. I explain to them patiently what NF2 really is.
In the course of battling with NF2, I get to meet a variety of people, including those who are also sick and disabled like me. In 2008, someone sent me a message and placed an order of the products that I sell. A newfound friend. A cancer survivor. Armin C. Cruz told me the story of his own battle.
Armin was a sickly child. He was in and out of the hospital from the time he was born. At the age of 10, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Initially, he was misdiagnosed to suffer from pulmonary tuberculosis; but after a series of tests, the doctors found out that it was thyroid cancer, an odd case for a 10-year-old kid since this type of cancer usually affects adults. He underwent two, 12-hour long major operations called Subtotal Thyroidectomy wherein a part of his thyroid gland was removed in order to take out a relatively large portion of the cancer tumor. He underwent radiotherapy to eliminate the remaining cancer cells that were not successfully removed during the previous surgeries.
Although the operations were successful, by that time, the cancer cells had started to spread to his lungs.
During those times, he was not fully aware of the kind of disease that he had and the gravity of his health condition. All he knew was that he was terribly sick and had to frequently go to the hospital for medical treatments and check-ups. He never dared to ask any questions. He just cooperated.
Armin was left in the dark on what his real condition was. It was never disclosed to him by any family member nor friends in order to protect him from being fearful about his illness, hoping that this would allow him to live a normal childhood. And he did.
When he was 12 years old, he started feeling a mixture of emotions — fear, loneliness and uncertainty. After his radioactive therapy session,he had to be isolated in a room to prevent other people from getting exposed to the radiation. He felt like he was in jail, a prisoner, without freedom to go out and be with his family and friends. Day in and day out, doctors and nurses in white protective suits were his constant companions. He felt as if he had a dangerously contagious illness. He was put in quarantine for seven days until his radiation levels were safe. Seven days of eerie silence. Seven days of isolation. At a young age, he learned how it was like to be depressed and terribly lonely and ‘alone’.
He found a pen and a piece of paper and started doodling and writing what he was feeling. He wrote his first poem. Putting his thoughts and feelings into ink, paper and canvas became a healing balm to his loneliness.
He was 18 years old when he finally learned about his real condition. Learning everything about his illness made him more aware of the things around him. He tried to reflect on his experiences and difficulties, and concluded that it is God’s will and the flow of life which He has to face, accept and battle with. He never blamed God; instead he considers himself fortunate to live through it.
He graduated with Bachelor of Science in Advertising at Polytechnic University of the Philippines in 1994. A year after, a tragic car accident caused his left leg to be dislocated; and a metal plate was inserted by surgery.
Although he was still battling with cancer, he never allowed it to be a hindrance in fulfilling his dreams and living a normal life.
In 2002, the greatest blessing in his life came. After five years, he was diagnosed clear and free of cancer!
In one of our conversations,we talked about the importance of support groups. He recalled the love and sacrifices that his parents had to endure for his sake. He said, “Sabi ni tatay, kaya raw sa public school niya kami pinag-aral dahil para ma-sustain ‘yung gastos sa akin. Si nanay naman ang nagbabantay sa akin, natutulog siya sa corridor kasi hindi siya puwedeng pumasok sa room dahil sa radiation… ‘Pag naiisip ko ngayon ‘yun, nakakaiyak. Ang parents talaga natin, gawin nila ang lahat para sa anak.”
Armin is now 39 years old, cancer-free, and hopes to stay that way. He has started his own advocacy page on the web and blogs at https://kamalayangkalayaan.wordpress.com which contains not only his poetic and artistic works but also variety of issues on health, environment, and pride of our nation are tackled.
He currently works as a freelance graphic designer and a video designer. I am always amused by his works of art. He even composes and arranges songs. He composed and arranged a song for me, using the words and principles that I live by. Check out his Facebook page for a glimpse of his works at facebook.com/armin.c.cruz or email him at email@example.com.
Whenever I meet someone who has The Big C, I tell them about my friend Armin’s victorious battle. I’d say: “If Armin can, then why can’t you?”
Achieve the seemingly impossible dream. It takes The Big C to overcome The Big C. It takes the Biggest Courage to fight the Big Cancer.
(The author is suffering from a rare genetic disorder called Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2). She maintains an online store (www.kcatyarza.com) that sells products she personally designed to benefit her hEAR Fund Raising Project. She was also a finalist in Cebuana Lhuiller’s Happiest Pinoy 2010. If you have any questions, you can reach the author through firstname.lastname@example.org)