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Young Blood

The Big C

I didn’t know the specifics of the disease, only that I had an ominous feeling about it. The topic was briefly discussed in my biology class during my high school days. The cells in the body suddenly acquire a mind of their own, reproducing at an alarmingly fast rate without the body’s permission—that faulty gene in the body.

Perhaps I possess a certain degree of naiveté that led me to think that I was untouchable, that this disease would not be able to touch us. My parents were health-conscious and I never knew a close relative that had it in any form. However, in July of this year, I heard the most cringe-inducing word my mother would ever utter in her entire life: cancer.

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I will never know how my mother found the strength to deliver the devastating news so casually. Maybe it’s because she has been working in the medical field for so long that such occurrences become ordinary. But I am not my mother. My knees shake at the sight of blood. I do not have a high tolerance for pain. But at that moment, no amount of heartbreak or physical pain could compare to what I felt upon learning that my mother is battling breast cancer. I think any woman who battles this kind of cancer would feel a little betrayed. The very thing that gives sustenance to a new life would be the death of you. As if being a woman weren’t hard enough.

In my family, I took the news the hardest. I shut myself from the world and refused to talk about the disease. I thought that if I didn’t recognize it, it wouldn’t exist. For months I could not even mention the word, for fear that by doing so, the situation would feel all too real. Before my mother contracted the disease, I did not know so much about breast cancer, only that the Philippines has the highest incidence of it in Asia. I’m torn between wanting to know more because I want to be informed, and not wanting to, because I’m not sure if I can handle the truth.

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The first time it hit me that my mother has cancer was during her first visit to the oncologist. At the time, we were in the waiting area along with the other patients. Every one of them looked the same, with their head covered by a cap or wrapped in a scarf. All of them lost an integral part of their womanhood. I was looking at their faces but all I could see was my mother’s.

My good memory was something I was thankful for back when I was a student. Now I feel like it’s become a curse because of my ability to remember things in detail: what she smelled like, what hospital gown she wore; when she was wheeled into the operating room and I could see the effects of the sedatives on her; when she was finally in the recovery room with her blank eyes, uttering words she wouldn’t even remember once she was “recovered.”

I remember the way the big needle pricked her skin. I remember all the tests she would undergo just to make sure her platelets remained in a normal state. I remember, after her first chemotherapy session, the way she would throw up the contents of her stomach, however minimal they were; the way she would try to get up from her bed but would be too weak to do so. I remember the horrible things. But I never forget the good things. It’s the irony with cancer treatment that you feel worse before you can feel better.

You see, when a member of the family gets cancer, it’s like everyone else also gets the disease. Because it is crippling. It changes the family dynamics. You are forced to learn new ways of living to accommodate the change. Most of the time I feel like I’m stuck in this endless loop of the same nightmare, and every day I keep hoping that I would wake up from this bad dream.

But this is reality: My mother has lost her right breast. Soon she will begin losing some hair, too, because of the treatment. It is very hard for a woman to go through something like this—losing the physical manifestations of what “identify” her as a woman in this society. It was because of this reason that I began to realize how, when it comes down to it, these things actually serve purely aesthetic purposes. Often, we define beauty by the color of one’s skin, the length of one’s hair, the thinness of one’s waist, or the size of one’s bust.

I am reminded that beauty goes beyond the physical. Beauty is strength. Beauty is compassion. Beauty is attitude. Beauty is looking pointblank at your worst fear and being able to see the silver lining. Beauty is the ability to love wholeheartedly even if you feel like your own heart

is broken.

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Looking at my mother, I can honestly say that she has never looked more beautiful than she does now—with her right breast gone and with her scars as proof that she has battled a deadly disease.

After the storm, you begin to search for the rainbow. You realize that having support is a big step toward recovery, and that every story of survival serves as hope. You realize that having cancer is not a death sentence.

My mother is not just a statistic. She is so much more than that. Cancer will not define her, and neither should it define other women battling the disease. My mother is loving, understanding and strong. With or without cancer, she continues to be the same person and refuses to let this disease control how she lives her life. I guess my only regret is that it took a disease for me to really look, listen, and know my mother as a woman and not just a parent.

In the realm of possibility anything can happen, but it is the perception that makes a difference. Yes, cancer is a “C” word but it isn’t the “Big C.” I refuse to let this disease dictate the way we live our lives. Cancer is a learning experience and it has taught me to appreciate life. It has led me to an understanding that this particular word can be overcome by a bigger “C”—like courage. Most importantly, when you feel like things are getting out of hand, you offer your suffering to someone who knew exactly how it was: Christ.

Frances Grace Damazo, 22, says she “no longer considers herself naive” but “remains a dreamer” and “prefers to see the glass half-full instead of half-empty.” Her ultimate wish is for her mother to defeat cancer. She is on leave from law school to “pursue other interests.”

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