A Walking Miracle

2018 was a difficult year and the fallen human in me wanted to curse it as a bad year. But, the Christian in me sees it as a redemption year! The Lord called me and redeemed me! However painful the process was, He showed me His sovereignty. He is in control and has the power to use anyone for His glory.

He doesn’t always nudge us; sometimes He jolts us… When He speaks, it will be powerful enough to change your life. (C. Tiegreen)

I grew up knowing Jesus Christ but I didn’t have an intimate relationship with Him until this crisis. Before this, I felt quite invincible career-wise. I was a young professional woman with goals. I was a thesis away from finishing my master’s degree in nursing while working in the Operating Room. I received my referral letter for a bridging program to become an Australian nurse. My plans were going in my favor until they didn’t.

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21)

In 2018, I surrendered to the Lord. I realized I am nothing without Him. He has made known to me how fleeting my life is (Psalm 39:4). He taught me that all men are like grass, it withers, and that all their glory is like the flowers, they fall (Isaiah 40:6-7). I prayed that I live the rest of my earthly life for His will (1 Peter 4:1-2).

As 2018 came to a close, one of my most memorable moments was when we had a Christmas celebration with the pediatric cancer patients in a hospital in Cagayan de Oro. One time, I asked the Lord, “Why me? I am still young. I can do so much more.” But, seeing the faces of these children, I felt the Lord rebuked me. They are way younger than me. They deserve to have so much more in this life. I take comfort though that the Lord is close to the children and the sick. There is hope in Him.

Christmas Party

I welcomed 2019 with a declaration that it would be a year of restoration (1 Peter 5:10) and renewal (Isaiah 40:31). I declared, in Jesus’ name, that 2019 is a year of miracles! But, just when I thought I was a step forward, I was taken two steps back.

From a blessed Christmas in Cagayan de Oro, we went back to Manila on January 4. On the 7th, I had CT planning for the Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) that would target my 2.1 x 4.8 x 2.6 cm mediastinal mass, as seen in my scan last November 2018. Surprise, surprise. Days after, my oncologist called me to see her immediately. The mediastinal mass increased in size, measuring 6.5 x 3 x 3.2 cm. A similar mass is now seen extending to my right chest, measuring 3.5 x 2.6 x 2.8 cm. Nodules are also seen in both lower lobes of my lungs, likely metastasis. These are just 9 weeks after my last chemotherapy session!

My oncologist talked to me and my family about our limited options and to weigh their pros and cons. First option is radiation therapy only. Second option is radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Third option is radiation therapy and hormone therapy (a drug in phase II clinical trial). Fourth option is no treatment at all. It felt surreal to be given the choice not to go in treatment anymore. It felt hopeless. I was reminded again of the 4 reasons patients at stage 4 undergoing palliative treatment may choose to stop: the patient cannot tolerate the side effects, treatment is not working, the condition is not improving nor worsening, or the patient simply chooses not to. I had to remind myself the fifth reason I previously thought: The patient is healed.

My oncologist recommended chemotherapy for systemic treatment. I declined. I chose radiation therapy only. As a palliative patient, I felt that I needed quality of life the most, which I certainly didn’t have when I underwent chemotherapy because I was often admitted in the hospital. With heavy hearts, we ended the consultation with a prayer.

I lost the confidence I had entering the new year. I found out that my cardiologist actually said that I will only live until December 2018. I felt death is just lurking in the corner. I felt like a ticking time bomb. I felt cancer was an undefeatable giant, a great mountain. I was confused with the aggressiveness of my disease. I was confused with my situation. Is my endurance being tested? Do I lack faith? Do I lack patience? Am I not fighting enough? I felt defeated.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? (Psalm 13:1-2)

I struggled with my prayer life. I didn’t know what to pray. I was stuck between striving for an audacious faith for healing and begging for serenity and a peaceful death. I struggled with my will to live. I have my family to live for but I felt that I already had a good life. The mental and spiritual battles were tough. I had to constantly go back to the Scripture, to the Lord’s promise of life to everyone who believed in Him. He already conquered death. I should not fear it. Each day I wake up, it’s either I see my family or finally my Creator. And, it’s a win-win situation.

Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

On January 15, I began my radiation therapy. On the first day, the technicians had to draw on my chest to mark the treatment field. The first thing I thought seeing it was “What the heck is this in my chest?” How can a tumor this freaking big be inside me? How can I still be breathing? Lord Jesus Christ, You amaze me! He definitely is keeping me alive for a purpose!

Treatment Field

Radiation therapy didn’t start easy. I kept getting fevers and chills every night for the first week. I was crying to the Lord for deliverance from the suffering. My radiation oncologist said that it was too early for radiation complications because I just started. I had to see a pulmonologist who gave me antibiotics and had me undergo some tests for Pulmonary Tuberculosis (PTB). Praise the Lord! Deliverance came. I was negative for PTB and fevers were gone. I finished 24 IMRT sessions on February 15.

Radiation Therapy

My family and I sought another opinion from a thoracic oncologist from another hospital in Manila. He also recommended chemotherapy but he advised I undergo PET/CT scan a month after I finish my radiation therapy. When I told him I am considering continuing treatment in CdeO after the scan, he supported my idea as he personally knows my local oncologist. Then, I went back to my radiation and medical oncologists and expressed this desire to have a PET/CT scan and to go home for treatment. My medical oncologist supported me also as she personally knows my local oncologist too.

We finally packed the place we rented in Manila for 8 months. Looking back, the Lord has been so good and faithful. It was difficult, even seemed impossible, but He made it possible. He has sent angels and He continuously has been gracious. Before flying home, when I had my heart checked, I had a revelation. The cardiovascular nurse told me that my life is a miracle and that I am a living testimony of the Lord. I realized then that I am already the miracle I asked the Lord for. I’ve been praying for a miracle, a healing. But, this body, though sick, is already a miracle. How can I be alive with stage 4 cancer? How can I be alive with extensive thrombosis (blood clots) on my chest? My every day is a miracle. I am Your walking miracle, Lord!

Hundred Islands National Park

The ups and downs in a cancer journey is like a roller coaster. One day, I was enjoying my time with family and friends. The next, I was rushed to the hospital. In the wee hours of March 11, I woke up in pain and collapsed. I experienced almost fainting many times, especially during chemotherapy, but it was the first time that I lost consciousness. My parents said I was out for about 3 minutes. The first thing I remembered was hearing my name being constantly called by my aunt, like she was waking me up. Then, a sense of consciousness dawned on me that I just collapsed. I felt scared, like I was being pulled out of the darkness, the emptiness, the abyss. I prayed. What was that Lord? Am I not saved? Looking back, I think I was overdramatic and the Lord was probably rolling His eyes. Then, I felt calmness wash over me. I knew I would be okay even though my family were already in panic.

I had a cranial CT scan. The immediate concern was a clot may have dislodged from my chest and could’ve traveled to my brain. Praise the Lord! It was not a clot, but a subcentimeter cyst in the pineal gland of my brain. Really? How heavier can this cross I carry get, Lord? But, the Lord rebuked me. I realized that each one of us carry a cross designed for us, a cross that we can bear. It is a cross that we must take up to follow Him (Matthew 16:24).

Before we flew back to Manila, my local oncologist in Cagayan de Oro requested for a slide review of my previous biopsy in the same hospital where I will undergo the PET/CT scan. When we arrived in Manila, I began to have fevers, chills and night sweats. I experienced pain on my right abdomen radiating to my flank area. I was also easily fatigued and breathless. I thanked the Lord for the strength that carried me through the week.

On March 27, I received my PET/CT scan result and it was not good. There is progressive malignant disease. The mediastinal mass increased in size, measuring 6.2 x 7.9 x 2.9 cm. There are lesions on my lungs and kidneys. Abnormal lymph nodes are all over my chest and abdomen. But, on the same day, the result of the slide review came out as Primary Mediastinal (Thymic) Large B-Cell Lymphoma (PMBCL). It is a high-grade (aggressive), rare type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It now fits what has been happening to me. I was misdiagnosed. Unbelievable!

I have endured various treatments—surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy—for almost a year for Invasive Cortical Thymoma. I have fought through poor prognosis and palliative care. My family and I have fought through physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and financial battles. We can’t help but look back on missed calls and what-if’s. If only the biopsy I had after surgery got it right! But, we choose to move forward and see this as what it is—an answered prayer. A miracle in misdiagnosis!

I saw my oncologist and she had mixed feelings. She was disturbed with the misdiagnosis, asking me, “Didn’t we have a slide review?” We didn’t. She is the go-to doctor for lymphomas. And, we missed it. I had an expert for my type of cancer after all. Ultimately, she is happy for me because if I truly have PMBCL, though still in Stage 4, I have better survival chances—even a chance of remission or cure. Words I haven’t heard since I embarked in this journey! And, though relapse may still happen, there are more treatment options.

I called my local oncologist and told her about everything. She was surprised with the results and talked to me about the initial plan of treatment: chemotherapy.

To my medical colleagues, I realized the importance of differential diagnosis. More importantly though, I realized that doctors are healing instruments of the Lord and the ultimate Healer is still Him. I badly want to ask the Lord why my family and I had to go through all what we’ve been through. But, I know He has a purpose for everything and that reason is enough. Deep within me, I know it had to happen.

On March 30, I went home to Cagayan de Oro. I honestly dread undergoing treatment again but I know the Lord got me! He carried me so far in this journey already. I have nothing to fear. I have everything to fight for and to fight with. I feel the Lord smiling down at me, saying, “My child, I love you. I have plans for you.” (Jeremiah 29:11)