BATA’NG BUKIDNON: The year I fought death by Haiko-sugishiro*

The author posted this piece on Deviant on July 1, 2011 – Editor.

MALAYBALAY CITY (Bukidnon News/29 September) As I first entered the gates of Bukidnon National High School wearing my newly bought uniform, I felt very proud again. It was as if I had been brought back to my first year, so new, so innocent. That was more than a year ago.

I was so excited then, I was a new high school student for the school year 2009-2010. I was in section Newton. I had new faces to see, new names to remember, new friends to make. It was divine; I was in a different world where I was before.

At first I thought that high school couldn’t be compared to my elementary days, but I was so wrong. So, in no time at all I met many new friends, conquered new problems I have never made before, you know, just the average high school life.

It was in the last week of July when I started to feel very strange, I felt weaker than normal, heavier perhaps.

I thought it was just stress; we were getting unusually plentiful projects lately. So, we went to a doctor to see what it is. At that time, I had a very large lymph node on the right side of my neck, it was almost as big as a tennis ball, and it was huge! The doctor decided to take a sample of it so he sucked out a small amount of fluid from the node.

Several weeks later, the results arrived. It was lymphadenitis a kind of tuberculosis. I wasn’t too surprised by the result; I had a history of tuberculosis when I was younger. So I brushed it off. I took my medicine for six months even when I was in the RSPC (Regional Schools’ Press Conference). I was so sure it was just nothing. Until ▬ I noticed that my node wasn’t getting smaller. Then I got worried.

After I finished my prescribed medicine, we went to the doctor again. He said he would try something else. He offered us to do a second biopsy, the type where I lie at the table awake while he cut me up. Of course I agreed, I was scared for my health. He operated on me that same afternoon.

Several months passed, I think it was at the last week of February. We went to the doctor again.
My whole world shook as I read that piece of paper. ‘Hodgkin lymphoma,’ Stage 4 Cancer.

‘Am I going to die’, I asked myself as I was going home that day. I can’t believe it, stage 4! I was so healthy, so sure I wasn’t going to get this. ‘How many people get this thing again? One in a dozen? A hundred? A thousand? Why now? Why ME?’ I was in denial; I didn’t want to believe what I was facing. A simple cold I could believe, but this? The notorious CANCER?

As I was going through chemotherapy, I still could hardly believe it. It was almost as if I was dreaming. I couldn’t feel any pain, couldn’t get out of this nightmare. I cry and shout and get moody a lot, then laugh a while later. It was horrifying for me living in a body full of antibiotics and pain medicine; I wasn’t living in my body anymore. If I was, I would have felt pain. But no, I was oblivious, can’t feel anything. They poke needles at me, I cry but not at the pain, I was crying because I was nervous, scared in fact. I was used to the pain. In fact, now as I’m writing, the left side of my neck especially my left ear is numb, I can’t feel anything. Even if I pinch it until it bleeds.

After six months of agonizing chemotherapy, I had almost all hair at the top of my head. It was painful to see my reflection, I was so fresh just a few months earlier, but now, I was like a hideous monster nobody wanted to see. I would hide and hide, but they would still find me. They point and they whisper as if I wasn’t noticing. Everywhere I go people would whisper and look at me dirtily. ‘What did I do to them?’ I asked myself. I felt judged and alone.

A few months later my doctor advised me to take a CT scan. So we did. CT scans tell me if I still have cancer left in me, so I was willing to go the distance. We went back to Cagayan de Oro City to hear from the doctor that I still have 15 percent of the original cancer cells I had.

It was getting tougher to get rid of them. The longer they stay at my body the more resistant they become to the effects of my therapy. So my oncologist (Author’s Note: a doctor who specializes at cancer patients) decided to extend my chemotherapy for two more months.

But even eight months of on and off chemotherapy cannot get all of my cancer cells.

I was getting more and more nervous every day that goes by, the cells are still in my body. I was getting depressed. By then I was out of hope that I was going to get any better. I was thinking ‘there’s no more hope in the world that I can get through this.’ My mind was thinking that but my heart wasn’t willing to give up, I was too young to give up. It was truly a test of faith.

I was two weeks into my radiation therapy when I noticed I was losing my sense of taste. Everything tasted bland and plastic like. I couldn’t eat anymore, the combination of throat pain and the fact that I couldn’t taste anything was unbearable! I could go on a day or two without eating but my mom would press me in. she would scold me if I don’t eat. And I don’t want my mother to get mad; her blood pressure would go up. I don’t want my mom to collapse just because I didn’t eat. So I pressed myself, pinching myself every time I would not eat. My mom did not even know I was doing it.

After my radiation, I was anxious to get another CT scan. I was so very afraid that there would be some cancer cells left. I was afraid that I couldn’t do what I could when I was still cancer free, that there was nothing the doctors could do. I was prepared for the worst. But good news all around! The doctor declared me cancer free, but I still have to wait five to six years until she could confirm that. There’s still a chance that it would come back, and I tell you, it’s not a chance that I’m willing to take. I’m fighting this disease with all that I have!

Even now, a month after I was declared clean; I’m still cautious of myself. If I feel just a little bit wrong, we would run to the doctor and ask if I’m alright.

It’s not easy to get over this disease, even for my family. We just rarely use the word cancer at our household, we call it C.A or something else, just not cancer, and it just brings back too much bad memories. I don’t get bothered by that word too much though, I already gotten used to it (too much time in the hospital I guess).

I also don’t get bothered by people asking questions about that, I think it’s very good that they’re willing to ask questions. I think it’s healthy to ask, especially if you have cancer in the history of your family.
I think I would never get over of the pain completely but I think it was good that I was one of those people who survived. It was all planned.

This year is truly the year when I fought death.

At least I have something to tell my children and grandchildren someday.

(Author’s note: This is actually a true story. It’s my story of the year I fought death. I hope my story gives you hope and  hope it lets you realize that life is precious and you should cherish it every day you have. Your family is important too. You don’t know when they will say goodbye, so cherish your moments with them. You will never know, it could be the last memory you’ll have of them.)

(*Haiko-sugishiro is Tracy Ann S. Villanueva, a second year student of Bukidnon National High School. She was diagnosed of the ailment in February 2010.

Her family describes her as courageous and joyful child who fought her condition with vigor. After more than two years fighting the big C, she died on May 24, 2012.

Her brother Huey John, who studies in Iligan recalls that he never felt “T-ann,” as she was fondly called at home, was ill during their bonding times over long distance phone conversations.

Brother shares that in one of the entries in the personal journal she kept, his sister wrote that “no matter how imperfect their family is she would always choose them even if someone will bribe her with $1 billion.”

Tracy was a vibrant learner of campus journalism, even winning some awards. She also loved visual arts, especially anime. Like many young people her age, she started her own collection of entries for her own manga or Japanese magazine art in Deviant Art, which is like the Facebook of art lovers.

Family and friends gathered in their home today, September 29, to mark Tracy’s indomitable life and spirit. She could have turned 16. (Bukidnon News)