Cancer is a road that leads to a healthier, better place

by Cristina Elisa C. Salvo

Around Christmas time in 2010, we were happily expecting our dear Stella when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Since then, I have had 2 surgeries, 4 sessions of chemo and 6 weeks of radiation. Fortunately, the cancer was caught early. I was told that I had Stage 1 breast cancer but because of my "young" age, my doctors wanted to treat the cancer aggressively. I completed chemo on May 30, 2011 and radiation on Aug 15. I am presently on hormone pills which I will be taking for 4 and a half more years. At the moment, I am well but my body is still recovering from all the stress of the operations and the side effects of my treatment.

I felt my breast mass on Feb 2010. I was taking a shower when I decided to do a quick self breast exam (this was probably the 2nd time that I have done a self breast exam ever). It was as if someone within me whispered, "take the time." I then consulted my family doctor and was scheduled for an ultrasound. Ultrasound recommended a biopsy. By the time of my biopsy, I was already pregnant and was told that my breast mass was benign-looking upon repeat ultrasound and that the biopsy may even cause damage to the engorged ducts in my breast. The doctor recommended that I come back after I give birth. During my prenatal check up, I told my OB that I had a breast mass and so I was referred to a breast surgeon. The surgeon also gave the same assessment - that the mass appeared benign on repeat ultrasound and that I come back for follow up after delivering my baby. However, as my pregnancy progressed, I noticed that the mass was increasing in size and I was also experiencing some pain in the area. I insisted that they take the mass out. And so without any suspicion of malignancy, my surgeon performed a lumpectomy while I was 36 weeks pregnant. After a few weeks, I came back to discuss my histopathology report and was shocked by the result - cancer. My delivery was induced at 38 weeks. I gave birth to Stella via C-section on Jan 9. (I was supposed to deliver normally but Stella got a bit impatient after 12 hours of labor and decided to put her entire arm out to shake the examining fingers of my OB :)). I was given 3 weeks to recover from my delivery and was again scheduled for another breast operation to extend the tumor margins and to perform sentinel node biopsy. Thankfully, the nodes were negative for malignancy.

This year passed by so quickly. It was filled with the joy of Stella's birth but has also been tainted with sadness due to my condition. Looking back, it was easy to see the hand of God in all these events. From the timing of our pregnancy, detection of the mass, my diagnosis and treatment, God was there. That makes me feel blessed and moves me to give thanks. I have met other patients with late stage cancers who showed so much courage and grace. They helped me find my own courage and led me to discover grace. All of them and their families are in our prayers. My cousin, Tin, who recently passed due to late stage breast cancer was also an inspiration and a source of strength. She is severely missed and will always be remembered for her unfailing faith in God and for the smile that she offered to everyone, even until her final moments.

During my second breast operation, my surgeon told me, "We are going to cure you today." After having gone through surgery, chemo, radiation and hormone treatment, I ask myself - am I cured? I pray that I am and trust that the Lord allowed me to "survive" for a reason. Cancer was more than an illness. It was a life changing event that forced me to look at things differently. I had to believe that this terrible disease could result in something good and that God, in all His wisdom, knew what was best. True enough, there was an abundance of kindness, love, and goodness during this difficult time and, once again, plenty of reasons to be grateful...

Thank you Spencer, for making me laugh (especially during chemo), for shaving off my hair and reminding me that it will grow back, for telling me that I will get better, that I will become well again, for praying with me and praying for me everyday. Thank you Papa for being strong for us and for not letting me see you cry. Love you very very much :)

Thank you to our family and friends who supported us and prayed with and for us. We love you all very much. Thank you to all the doctors, nurses and support groups who care for cancer patients and their families. You are a source of strength for so many of us. We will be paying it forward.

Stella, you will not remember the time when Mama had no hair. Nor will you recall the days when Mama and Papa had to leave you with Lola Mama because we had to go to the hospital. Instead, you will remember Mama and Papa singing you to sleep, reading you a book, giving you a bath, kissing and hugging you sooo many times until you pushed our faces away with your little, plump hands. You will grow knowing and believing that you are very much loved and that you are God's precious gift to us, our beautiful bright star, our beloved daughter. We love you very very much Stella.

I will be turning 33 in a few days and this birthday will truly be a memorable one - not because of gifts or a party or a dinner in a restaurant but rather because of the year that was. I have learned that we are not entitled to another 12 years, or 6 months or even a single day of life. Everything can be taken away from you in a blink of an eye. That realization has led me to see the immense strength that comes from faith, the profound peace brought about by complete trust and the love that has constantly been present in my life. I give praise to God and thank Him for He has always been with me and has never left my side. I may have fought the big C but I know and believe that I have the greatest C of all in my corner. He is my Christ, He is my Savior, He is my Healer.

Cancer is not a rare disease. Breast cancer alone affects millions of women (and men) all over the world. I wanted to share my story because cancer can happen to anyone. So please be vigilant and take the time - take the time to eat healthy, to exercise, to learn about your risk factors, the appropriate screening procedures and please share this knowledge with someone you love. Early detection is the key to fighting this disease. Cancer is not something to be ashamed of. Yes, a newly diagnosed cancer patient has a difficult road ahead but I would like to believe that that road leads to a healthier (or a better) place.


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