Surviving Cancer

Three young women share their life-changing battles with the Big C.
by Micah Sulit   |  Mar 31, 2010
illustration by Momon Corpuz
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For Mayumi Pimentel, 15, Nicole Agbayani, 20, and Elaine Lim, 28 there's one conversation in their lives they will never forget—when they were told they had cancer.

Cancer begins when cells in one part of your body grow abnormally. Cancer cells don't die - they multiply and spread to other parts of the body. In children and adolescents, the most common types are cancer of the brain, lymph tissue, bone, kidney, eye, and white blood cells (leukemia).

YOUNG AND SICK

When Mayumi was 14, an x-ray revealed a mass on the left side of her chest. She had stage 2-B Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph tissue. She was schocked by the news. "I never thought I would get cancer. I was very active in school and I was the strongest girl on our pep squad."

Mayumi underwent chemotheraphy. "I was scared at first, but I got used to the needles. I was disgusted that all these chemicals were entering my body. "After eight chemo cycles, Mayumi also had radiation theraphy.

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"Sometimes, I felt sad, but I never thought of giving up, " she shares. The most difficult part was being separated form her only sibling. While she was undergoing treatment, Mayumi's brother caught chicken pox so he and her dad lived in another house for eight months.

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Chemo and radiation didn't remove all of the mass in her chest. Her doctor assured her that in most cases, the tiny mass left is only a scar in the lungs.

Mayumi still has to be cautious about contracting sickness, but she's no longer on cancer medication. Of the tiny mass in her lungs, Mayumi says, " I still get scared, but I feel like it's no longer there."

MIND OVER MATTER

Nicole was diagnosed with Stage 1-C Germ Cell Ovarian Cancer at age 18. A growth on her ovary ruptured and cancer cells spread to her abdomen. "As soon as I was alone with my family, I cried. Then we prayed. While most 18-year-olds only had mundane concerns, I had to make a choice-fight for my life or give up on my future."

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Fortunately, germ cell cancer is responsive to chemotherapy, making a 100% cure possible. Nicole also underwent surgery to remove her left ovary and fallopian tube.

Chemotherapy was the hardest part for Nicole. "I constantly felt as though I had been beaten to a pulp. My skin and muscles were so tender, even the slightest touch would leave me bruised. The build-up of acid in my stomach also caused nausea, loss of appetite, and diarrhea, which led to weight loss." When her hair began to fall off after her first chemo session, Nicole decided to have her head shaved.

"The period during my treatment was the most alone I ever felt. I knew I was the only person who could help myself bounce back to normalcy, "says Nicole. "There were times when I thought I didn't have it in me to fight, buy using the ‘mind over matter' strategy would always put me right back in the saddle."

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After three whole months of treatment, Nicole was cured. "I am no longer taking medication, but I still have regular blood tests and CT scans to make sure there has been no recurrence."

AN EVERYDAY STRUGGLE

Elaine was 19, a college senior, when doctors discovered a tumor in her knee. She was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. "I couldn't believe it, "she recalls. "It felt like a bad dream."

From her hometown of Davao, Elaine went to Manila for chemotherapy, which she describes as something you would not want to put anyone through. "It was like going to hell and back. I always felt lethargic and I had no strength to do anything. I had several huge, painful sores in my tongue which made eating difficult. "Elaine lost weight and all her hair fell off too.

Elaine also had surgery. "I had around eight operations. Cancer left me with battle scars all over my left leg. "For years, Elaine had to use a wheelchair, then crutches, and then a cane, to help her walk. Cancer also took an emotional toll on Elaine, who had missed her college graduation, and felt she was missing out on a lot of other things as well. "My feelings were a roller coaster. Sometimes there was hate, sadness, fear, anger. Other times there was hope, faith, joy, acceptance. Every day was a struggle."

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"The most difficult part was not knowing what would happen next," she shares. "There were times when I had bouts of fear and doubt, and I felt that I just wanted to give up. But I realized I wanted to do a lot of things. I wanted to live life to the fullest.

In 2003, Elaine went back to Davao to finish her degree, then moved to Manila to chase her dreams. She can now walk without support and the tumor in her knee is completely gone.

CHANGING LIVES

Today, Mayumi and Nicole are back in school while Elaine is working for a magazine. All three agree that surviving cancer has changed their lives. "I became nicer to the people around me, and I devote more time to my family," shares Mayumi.

"I now appreciate the things I took for granted, like having appetite for food of stamina to climb a flight of stairs, "says Nicole, "I also learned to value the present. Nobody knows when their time on earth worthwhile."

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"Cancer made me realize that asking for help doesn't mean you are a lesser person," says Elaine. "It also made me realize that to live one's life to the fullest is to share yourself with others." Elaine occasionally visits cancer patients and talks to them about their experiences.

Surviving cancer has given Mayumi, Nicole, and Elaine a new lease on life. Overcoming the Big C isn't just about growing hair back, regaining the use of a leg, or resuming a normal life - it's starting a brighter, more meaningful one.

SUPPORT FROM THE SIDELINES
Know anyone with cancer? Here's how you can help.

  1. Read up on their cancer type. You'll understand their illness better and you'll be able to provide more support.
  2. Be sensitive to their needs and wants. Act normally around them. If they need to be away from people for a while, respect that and visit them when they're ready.
  3. Make yourself available. Sometimes all you need to do is be there for them. Text them occasionally and ask what you can do.
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About the author
Micah Sulit
Contributing Writer
Micah is a freelance writer who loves to travel, take naps, hoard postcards, and send snail mail. Now she designs her own postcards for her stationery shop, Eden Street. She loves Star Wars and Star Trek equally, and Eleven is her Doctor.
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