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Lessons cancer taught me

(1st of two parts)

My mother is a cancer survivor.

She can call herself one now after clearing her 5-year surveillance period which fell on her 72nd birthday. In the middle of her birthday dinner, she received a surprise call from her oncologist declaring her healed of her Breast Cancer. Tears of joy were shed and for me, a feeling of relief finally came over me like I could relax for 5 minutes after being tense for the last 5 years.

While my mother is now dealing with Parkinson’s disease and she can’t freely move on her own and can hardly speak, I intentionally reminded myself that it was a time to celebrate and there were many reasons to do so. 

We’ve met really good people along the way: doctors, nurses, therapists, even other cancer patients supporting my mother’s journey.  We’ve grown closer as a family and we’ve learned to be more committed to one another.  In many ways, I think we’ve become more loving towards each other.  We get to witness acts of kindness towards my mother – people going our other way to make her feel important, remembered, and included.  But most of all, after chemotherapy, radiotherapy, cell therapy, a double mastectomy, a craniotomy (brain surgery), and several hours of rehab therapy I still have my mother whom I can speak to, hold hands with, and can hear me when I say, “I love you, Mom”

Remembering all this makes it a good time to take stock of the lessons I’ve learned throughout this journey. These are lessons learned the hard way and hopefully the ones I’ll always remember.

Time is all we have.  It is all we can give.  And we determine the quality. Cancer’s win-loss record is terrifying. In fact, in my mother’s case, 50 percent of diagnosed patients will not live beyond 57 months. When these statistics stare you in the face, you will know with amazing clarity what is most important in your life. Every petty problem disappears and your schedule magically clears up when you’re faced with the possibility of prematurely losing your mother.  So now every single day (and you can break this down into minutes) is an opportunity to share time with her.  It is true what they say: time is our most precious possession because it is finite. But it is even more finite to the cancer patient.  While you think you have time, your loved one might be on a different schedule.  So, we aren’t going by our clock we go by theirs. Say what you need to say and share moments of vulnerability with each other.  If you do, these are moments you will cherish until your time comes.  If you don’t, you’ll be beating yourself up for just as long.

Hard as it may be, remember that your loved one’s tombstone can’t hear you when you finally find the courage to say something. If you’re holding on to memories you made in the past and your loved one is still alive, you’re not making good use of time. 

You don’t have to be a doctor to be a part of the cure.  “If she dies, her doctors will lose a patient while I will lose my mother.” I have the most to lose if this goes south and I have the most to gain if we do this right and I won’t accept merely being a spectator hoping for the best. 

This was the mindset I took on ever since my mother’s Stage 3 cancer diagnosis.  It started with understanding the disease, coordinating with and among her doctors to clarify the treatment plan, talking to other cancer patients and eventually getting the family on board.  Then I got into deep research on how cancer is not just genetic which you treat through doctors and with drugs but it is also metabolic which can be effectively attacked by diet and lifestyle.  This led me to test these theories on myself first and later on we switched up her diet making it anti-inflammatory (inflammation is common in cancer and other metabolic diseases) and more neuroprotective (brain healthy). Today you could mistake her blood tests for that of a 20-year-old.

In the medical community, the metabolic theory of cancer is solid yet small but is gaining momentum. One day metabolic intervention as an adjunct to current methods of cancer treatment will become mainstream. Unfortunately, I can’t wait that long.  Fortunately, it seems that what I’m doing is working. 

The quicker you accept, the quicker you adapt. It is written in the Holy Bible, “for He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:25) Bad things happen to good people (more on this next issue).

***

Taffy Ledesma is a true son of Negros. Growing up Bacolod City, he was educated in USLS from grade school to high school. He pursued his university degree in Manila and built his career in marketing across Southeast Asia. Today he is the Managing Director of a multinational advertising agency based in Jakarta, Indonesia. He is also a photographer, a coach, and a family man. He returns to Bacolod regularly to spend time with his parents and the Ledesma family.

He is the grandson of the late Dading Ledesma, who also used to write the column, Ad Astra per Adrdua in the DAILY STAR. In his teenage years, he would transcribe his grandfather’s handwritten drafts for his column to the family’s first ever computer.*

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