not here to inspire

I have a love-hate relationship with Inspirational Cancer Stories. They’re great for giving hope for someone who’s gone down a Google rabbit-hole of looking up a bad prognosis. I have personally looked for stories of people with a similar diagnosis in the Profiles sections of the LLS site while I was sitting in the chemo recliner, waiting for my three-hour infusion to finish. It’s good to know that someone else has made it too, especially if the the odds are grim.

But just like influencers on social media, cancer “influencers” tend to be all perfect and happy and their lives are roses. A lot like how cancer is portrayed in larger media. It’s usually a feel-good, inspirational story of “overcoming”.

When in reality, it’s a period of survival and facing your own mortality.

As much as those stories provide hope to a person with cancer, they’re sugarcoated by words like “cAnCeR jOuRnEy”, “Warrior”, “Fighter”, or something that invokes “Strength”. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the fighting-language. I compared the struggle I had during induction chemo as a “war within my body” since my cells are dying like soldiers protecting their land from the a foreign power laying waste into my system. But that’s as far as I have gone.

No matter how long or short treatment may take, whether or not traditional treatment therapies or surgery has worked, even if the disease relapses or comes back worse, or even comes back with a friend (looking at you, cancers caused by treatment), it’s not a journey paved by a yellow brick road. It’s more of a Rocky Road, but laced with nausea, heartburn and a see-saw between constipation and diarrhea.

It’s not a journey that results in some epiphany. Not a voluntary excursion. Not a pilgrimage that will bring you closer to your god. It’s hard enough to go through the treatment and deal with its side effects, we shouldn’t feel guilted into “making the best” out of a terrible time. Being able to exist and get up in the morning and eat something without throwing up should be good enough. The bar may be low, but our fucking morale is low.

I am tired of being told to be strong, as if that’s all that will get me through this hell. Let me complain, let me cry, let me breakdown. That won’t change how my body responds to treatment. All of this is out of my control, it’s blind luck and I won’t know which side of the statistics I’d land on until I get there. No amount of vegetables will save me, no moment of weakness will kill me.

But I guess the reality of these odds aren’t inspiring. Uncertainty is terrifying.

adulthood is a scam.

I think many of us, if not all, wanted to grow up and be adults as fast as we can. We wanted that fast-track to freedom. Being told “you’re so mature” was a huge compliment from people we considered adults.

For me, the moment my parents responded with “you can buy it with your own money” when I asked for a little treat on a random day, I realized the freedom that adults have. You mean I don’t have to ask permission to buy ice cream? I just… buy it?

But of course, being an adult is so much more than that.

I’ve gone to mention this a few times since I turned 25-ish… adulthood is a scam! The bills, the rent, the prices of kitchenware and spices and household furnishings… the price of owning a home! We can’t afford shit.

But there’s one other thing no one ever warned us about when we reach “adulthood”: our parents (and other parent-figures in our lives) get older.

It starts with you slowly realizing in your 20’s that, hey, mom and dad are just figuring life out too. There’s no guidebook or instruction manual to living life. They’ve made mistakes, and worked with what they’ve got, and that’s what you’re doing too. Wild!

Continue reading “adulthood is a scam.”

cosmic relief.

I was raised Catholic, so it should be obvious that I don’t really believe in religion anymore, right? Ah, but don’t tell my grandparents!

I started questioning the religious practices we had to follow when I was a teenager. Why do I have to go to confession when God sees everything anyway? Why do I have to give something up for Lent when my non-Catholic friends didn’t have to? Why do I have to sit in church on Sundays and listen to some man’s lecture? Why can’t I point out loopholes in the Bible or in the “teachings” of church? I slowly became uncomfortable with the indoctrination.

Life and death is out of our control and understanding. That’s why many of us turn to a belief system to cope with this reality. We tell ourselves that the stars have decided our future before we were born. Whether it’s Astrology or Christianity, crystals or crosses… these are some of the ways we deal with our anxiety of the unknown.

Continue reading “cosmic relief.”

positivity isn’t enough

It’s hard to talk to someone who’s going through cancer or grief, we get it. But for the love of all things beautiful, don’t give us advice or “inspirational quotes” when we’re not asking for it.

I am tired of the toxic positivity from people who aren’t genuine when they “check in”. Stop calling me your hero or your inspiration. My experience doesn’t need to be meaningful or inspiring for my existence to be worthy. I am just trying to continue living. There’s nothing else to it.

“God gives the hardest battles to His toughest soldiers.”

So if I was weaker, I could have continued to have a normal life? I could have had the option to have biological children? I could have lived the rest of my life not terrified of a relapse for the years that follow if I survive?

“You don’t look sick.”

I’ve lost my hair, and a bald head is probably a cancer trademark. So I do kind of look the part. But I get it, you want to say I am more responsive, I look like I got more energy, I’m smiling more, I have more of an appetite, I don’t look like I’m struggling to exist… say that. I “don’t look sick” because this is a better day than others, but I am still sick. Don’t deny it. It still exists even if you can’t see.

“At least you get time off work.”

Continue reading “positivity isn’t enough”

it grows back. but you can’t go back.

You were told about all of the possible side effects of the chemotherapy. You know of one of them the longest because it’s the one you’ve seen in the world during the earlier part of your life. You know you will lose your hair.

Your doctor said that it happens after the first two weeks. You know what to expect, and you get one of the nurses to chop your hair off to make it easier when the hair loss starts. The plan is to shorten it, then buzz it off once the hair loss gets too much. One of the other patients who was there before you has warned you that the hair will be everywhere.

So you wait.

Day 16 comes, and you wake up with some of your hair stuck on your pillows, and plenty all over your shirt. It’s happening.

You brush your hair to see if it will help, but you realize it will only keep getting more and more hair because they’re not sticking to your scalp anymore. You stop. You wonder how long you can keep your hair since it’s thick. Peeking in the trash, it looks like you lost a lot of hair, but the hair on your head still looks the same as yesterday.

Continue reading “it grows back. but you can’t go back.”

bad blood.

As an adult, you become responsible for yourself. You buy your own groceries, cook your own food, wash your own dishes, and clean your own home. You call maintenance when something’s not working right in your apartment, like the radiator knocking. The worst part is calling the doctor when something isn’t feeling right. You’re still alive and breathing, nothing alarming, maybe a tiny concern… but what do you even tell the doctor?

You do it anyway. You describe how you’re feeling, as best you can, in the fifteen minutes you have them on the phone. You sigh in relief when they order bloodwork and send a referral for physiotherapist for that stiff neck you’ve been living with. Finally, things are moving and you can get some answers.

You get woken up the next day by a call from your doctor’s office, but he’s not your doctor. He tells you that your bloodwork came back and the results are very low. He urges you to go to Emergency, and that they would be able to help you. You don’t understand the urgency of the situation, so you have a bit of breakfast for some sustenance and slowly get ready.

But you could only move slow. Each breath you take seems finite. You wear the coziest sweatpants, which didn’t take much effort to put on. You make sure you have your phone and your IDs on you so you won’t have to run (or crawl) back for them.

You manage to park across the street from the hospital, but walking across the street still gassed you out three-quarters of the way. You beg your boyfriend for a quick break so you could catch your breath. It’s funny when your body’s telling you something but it gets lost in translation. You need people like doctors and nurses translating for you.

You have shortness of breath and you’ve had a cough for a week now, but you know it isn’t COVID because you got tested not long ago. You tell the screener your predicament, and he makes you wait to be called in. You tell your boyfriend to wait in the car while you find out how long this is going to take and they don’t allow visitors or companions inside because of the pandemic.

A triage nurse calls you in and you describe everything you’re feeling. She says you’ll get some transfusions and you’ll be good as new, but each bag of blood takes about a couple hours and you would need three or four. So you text your man, tell him to go home while he waits and you’ll let him know when you’re done.

You get set up in a room by yourself. A nurse comes in to chat with you while taking some blood so that the hospital can run their own tests. He also asks you to pee in a cup to make sure you’re not pregnant, and the bathroom is around the corner from your room. You make an attempt but nothing would come out, and you come back to the room almost gasping for air.

An hour later, a doctor shows up. He asks you how long have you been feeling unwell and you tell him the truth – it didn’t get this bad until December, but looking back, it may have started in September or even before. He then starts talking about the results of their bloodwork… and you hear a statement you’ve only seen on tv and movies.

“These numbers are concerning because they are consistent with cancer.”

Continue reading “bad blood.”

the (side) hustle

There have been a few people I’ve met who promote having a side hustle while also having a 9-5. Whether that side hustle is some MLM or a legitimate hustle where they sell something they’ve made, doesn’t make it any less of a hustle.

A real good baker I know makes beautiful sweets and cakes on the side for birthdays and weddings. She makes fancy fondant cakes for money every now and then. An old coworker has some sports fashion line going. They charge a reasonable price for their products. Those who are in “direct sales” though… well, they’re a whole other thing. Respect for the people doing the hustle, but it sucks that they prey on vulnerable people (and sometimes even desperate people who are struggling) to make profits. Whatever. MLMs, look them up. There are a list of all of them somewhere on the internet if you’re curious.

But – my question is – why supplement your income with a side hustle? Why can’t we just get paid a liveable wage. For four years, I was serving burgers and fries in the McMillions. Then I was getting paid below-minimum server wage, depending on tips that range between 0% to 25% depending on the guest. I left the food service life after getting my first office job, which I was super thankful for because it was a permanent job with employer-paid benefits and vacation. Yeah, I was able get my dental expenses covered and I was able to finally remove my problematic wisdom teeth for an affordable fee, but soon after, I realized that it still wasn’t enough to survive on.

Continue reading “the (side) hustle”

shame on you, smart person!

There’s been something weighing on me for the past few weeks since I spoke with an old friend. It’s something I couldn’t pinpoint right away and I didn’t even know it had a name until she said it.

Smart shaming.

It has always bugged me as a part of the culture I came from. I grew up with examples of it around me. As children, we were taught the importance of intelligence. That’s how you’ll get in the best schools. That’s how you’ll get in the best programs. That’s how you’ll get a scholarship. You’ve got to study and work hard – that’s how you’ll get ahead.

There’s a list of schools… almost like the Ivy League in the Philippines. There’s the top three or four universities, and there is a prestige if you get in.

But the moment you mention you’re a part of any of these top universities, you get some side-eye. “Galing mo naman, iskolar ng bayan.” “Ikaw na, taga-UP.” “Aba, ang talino mo naman.” These statements are literal compliments, but it is 99% always said in the same sarcastic tone I’ve heard.

We’ve been told to strive for great things, but once we hit the standard, once we “make it”, we’re shamed for getting there.

It’s not only restricted to education though. I’ve seen and heard people being mocked for beautiful artwork. “Naks, ikaw na ang painter!” In speaking a foreign language. “Nosebleed ka naman, pa-English-English ka pa.” Hell, even being mocked for their looks. “Siya na ang maganda!”

So we put our heads down. So we don’t tell anyone unless asked, and if we are, we say it in the softest voice possible so that no one thinks we’re bragging. Why isn’t it normal to celebrate our wins without someone else feeling offended?

Continue reading “shame on you, smart person!”

Progress.

Last month was tough. The dark days became even darker and stronger, like waves that crashed harder as they came. It was exhausting. I felt defeated every single day. I found myself in a place I thought I would never go back to thirteen years ago, and I knew then that I had to do something. It took one crazy, spontaneous, emotionally-charged trip across town, two full days laying in bed with no desire to leave, and three major emotional breakdowns to finally get a clear mind.

I’ve since pulled myself together, but I still don’t have my shit together. I’m still in that place of uncertainty which triggers my anxiety every now and then. But now, I am slowly embracing the uncertainty because change comes with it.

Looking back on last year’s journal entries made me realize how much I have changed and accomplished since then. It doesn’t seem like much now, but last year’s me would have been happy with these little-but-significant changes that I’m learning of incorporating into my own life:

Continue reading “Progress.”

Nothing good comes easy.

Well… that’s not entirely true. Some things in life come easy, and that’s when you know it’s where you’re supposed to be. If it feels natural. If you feel like you belong. Like a good laugh, or a good conversation with a friend. Or the moment when you first meet someone, and it seems like you’ve known each other from a time long ago that you just get along so well. The same may be said for the opposite – when getting along is just so difficult that you know you’re not meant to be in each other’s lives.

But why do people still say “nothing good comes easy” with some things?

How do you distinguish between an obstacle to overcome and a wall blocking the way because it’s not meant for you? How do you know when to fight for it and when to give up?