Round 14: Advent journey

Round 14: Advent journey
December 20, 2014

RRound 14 was two weeks ago Wednesday, December 10.  It seems a long time had pass and I have already forgotten it. Besides going to chemo treatments is already normal for me; it is like going out to eat or going to the gym.

However, my last treatment was memorable because it is Christmas time.  The infusion center was fully decorated for Christmas.  It was pretty amazing.  I was told that some nurses and staff came in over the weekend to decorate the waiting room, halls, and infusion rooms.  It changed everything.  I like it.  They did it for us, cancer patients.  I was told also, that a cancer patient, being treated there, would be coming the following week to sing Christmas carols at the waiting room.  She sings professionally and she is bringing friends with her.  I can only imagine the scene: Her voice permeating the rooms inside the infusion center while the hisses and beeps of infusion pumps try to drown the Christmas music.  Bravo, fellow cancer survivor, bravo!  Next time I will bring my minus one CD and sing too.  Ha!

Simbang Gabi: My advent journey.  

I have been on an advent journey that goes back when I was living back home.  Filipinos have this Catholic tradition called “Simbang Gabi”(literally translated as Mass in the Night), wherein early morning masses are held, normally at 4:30 am, for nine consecutive days before Christmas.  The tradition was started by the Spanish priests as way for the farmers to go to church to give thanks before going to work in the rice fields.  Simbang Gabi started December 15.

Back home, I have vivid memories of going to the early morning Simbang Gabi with my cousins and friends.  Waking up so early in morning as a teenager is not exactly easy, and you have to do it for nine consecutive days.  It takes effort beyond benevolent intentions.  I don’t remember ever completing it for the nine-day novena period but I do remember the early morning rise.  I remember it was cold (about 40F) and I would walk the empty streets on the way to my cousins house.  Each year my cousins and I would have a contest among ourselves as to who can complete the nine-day novena mass.  I would go the first few nights and would lose focus, not wake up, and not complete it.  Until now…

December 15 at St. Henry at 7:00 pm – Done.  

December 16 at Immaculate Heart of Mary at 7:00 pm – Done. 

December 17 at St. Matthias at 7:00 pm – Done.

December 18 at St Wenceslaus at 6:30 pm – Done.

December 19 at St. Ita at 7:00 pm – Done.

December 20 at St. Cornelius at 4:30 pm – Done.

We will have to wait and see.  Doing this nine-day mass have given me a new perspective, aside from the spiritual renewal it gives you.  I have never seen so many churches in my life and did not even know they existed here in Chicago.  Each Simbang Gabi is full of Filipino worshipers and of course, where there is a Filipino gathering there is Filipino food after.  I just wish they serve vegetarian dishes but that would be hard for any rice-eating Filipino.  I plan to continue this tradition.  Tomorrow I go to Toronto to visit my sister and guess what: They have Simbang Gabi there also….and of course food.  

I am enjoying this advent journey.  It has given me time to reflect where I have been and hopefully God has heard my prayer of healing.  I am even going to different churches to make sure my prayers are heard, and even as far as Canada…eh?

Today is special also.  It is my birthday.  I celebrated it with my family and even my youngest brother arrived today from the Philippines for a visit.  Life is good.  Join me in my journey of renewal and thanksgiving.


56th birthday

56th birthday with Irish 

Round 13: Back to reality

Round 13: Back to reality
December 4, 2014
Circa: December 3, 2014, Wednesday.
I must be dreaming.  I hear the drip of the chemo pump as it infuse toxins in my body.  “Drip…drip…drip.” I am no longer in Manila.  I am back to reality having chemo at UofC hospital.  I just got back from Manila, where it is warm and the air is full of the festive season of Christmas.

The streets of Manila is also packed with cars, trucks, jeepneys, and people.  You cannot escape the traffic and congestion.  It is part of the normal life in the city.  Even local residents complaint about it.  So when my friends and family would take time to see me I really appreciate their gesture.  Time is often the most valuable gift to give or share.

Time also passes quickly.  I was just in Manila and now I am back having chemo.  My day started early in the hope it would end early too, but that was not to happen.  Earlier my blood test showed my phosphate level was low, not enough to get my infusion started.  They consulted my clinical trial doctors and decided to re-run the test again.  On the re-test, my phosphate level came back normal.  Why?  I don’t know, I was just glad it did.

Sometimes you just have to accept things as they are.  Once in a while I still get catch myself wishing I don’t have cancer.  In fact I like to believe what others people are saying when they see me.  “You don’t look like you have cancer!  You look good.”  I wish that was true.  The reality is I hear the drip of the chemo toxins, smell the sterility of the room, and see other cancer patients getting treatment.  That’s reality.

Another dose of reality: Linda, my clinical trial nurse, gave me my next chemo schedule up to end of January.  The way it goes I expect to be on this program all the way to Easter next year.  La…la…la.

La...la...la.  I hear nothing!

La…la…la. I hear nothing!


P.S.  While in Manila I got to spend time with a good friend and fellow cancer survivor, ChrisB, who is doing well.  Keep your spirits up!  I am cheering for you, mate.  More chemo this Wednesday.  Oh, well.

Round 12: Surprises and blessings

Round 12: Surprises and blessings

November 26, 2014
Manila, PH
 This week is Thanksgiving week in the US.  It is one tradition that my adopted country has taught me to appreciate; that and Black Friday shopping (joke).  But seriously, Thanksgiving is one day that is specially dedicated for giving thanks and being surrounded by family.  Christmas evoke the same feeling in me, especially if celebrated in the Philippines.  
This Thanksgiving I am blessed to celebrate it here in the Philippines, where I am on business.  Although I will be celebrating it away from my wife, kids, and Ethan (my grandson), I could not pass up the opportunity to see my mom, brothers, and their families here.  It is my time to say thanks to them for their prayers and support.  It is about being with them sharing stories rather than a formal sit-down-turkey-eating-football-watching day.  Also, I wanted to see the look in my mom’s face when I surprise her by being here.
She did not disappoint me.  Picture this: Sunday, Nov. 23, I arrive early morning.  My youngest brother, Raul, picked her up and along my other brother, Rene, who suddenly arrived from southern Philippines a day earlier.  Rene gave the lame excuse he had to take care of some banking matters in Manila.  (My mom was already wondering why go to Manila when there are major banks also where he lives…hmmm).  Mom was unware of my arrival, so all three went to my hotel Sunday morning on some flimsy excuse.  Mom stayed in the car with Rene, while Raul got me.  My mom always has this infectious habit of praying the rosary to while passing time and she was deep in prayers as I saw her walking up to the car.  I walked to her side and knocked on the door and opened it saying.
Merry Christmas!
Light.  Camera.  Action.  To say that she was crying, shouting, flailing, in total disbelief, shocked, crying again and shouting (you get the picture) is an understatement.  It was a if I appeared in god-like manner as she was praying.  When she finally settled down and managed to speak she just hugged me, and I lost it.  I felt her warm love wash away the pain of cancer.  It was like being born again as a baby.  A mother’s embrace is so nuturing and enduring that it can give you back your life and fill up any emptiness.
My mom has already given me so much that I wanted to give back too by being here with her.  In that moment, my Thanksgiving was complete and was thankful.  Fate has somehow conspired and aligned everything just for me to be here with her: the unexpected business trip to Manila, the timeliness of being off chemo treatment during the week, the clearance from my doctors to travel, the stable scan results, the circuitous route I took due to flight delays and miss connections (Chicago/Tokyo/Guam/Manila), and the support of my family back in the US.  For all that and more I am very  thankful.
Unfortunately, there is no video of the Thanksgiving surprise to share, but you get the picture.  The moment is etched in my memory along the strong feelings that goes with Thanksgiving 2014.  It will become part of my cancer journey of Thanksgiving.  I read back on what I wrote last year and the message was still the same for me; be thankful for all all your blessings.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.
Rene, Raul, me, and mom at Marriott Hotel lobby

Rene, Raul, me, and mom at Marriott Hotel lobby

With mom in car after she recovered from shock.

With mom in car after she recovered from shock.



Round 11: Weekly routine.

Round 11: Weekly routine.
November 16, 2014

AAt the hospital: Wednesday, November 12.

Hmmm….  Not very many people today.  The waiting room is not full and it is already the middle of the morning.  I checked in and sat to wait for my name to be called.  The normal routine is to get my vital signs, like weight, blood pressure, temp, pulse, and oxygen saturation.  Then they take several vials of blood for the study and lastly, they access my port.

This is my weekly routine unless I have a chemo break.  I practically have memorized my vital sign stats and at times I would play a game with the nurse tech to guess exactly my weight, BP, pulse, temp.  With the weekly blood test, I know the results my kidney function, blood work, platelet count, and other details enough to understand them.  Then I have monthly CT or PET scans to monitor my tumors.  I know every change in my body and the impact of my exercise and vegetarian diet as a result of these weekly tests.

These weekly routines give me a sense of stability or normalcy, and I am thankful.  Also, I have mentioned it before, it helps me be grounded with my priorities.  Outside the hospital, there is the hustle and bustle of life: the text messages, the email, conference calls, bills, etc., but these are temporary and insignificant when measured against health and family.  My routines at the hospital allows me to see things differently.  I am glad I am given that opportunity and share this with you.

Thanksgiving is coming up in a couple of weeks.  I am looking forward to it because I will celebrate it differently this year.  If all goes well, it will be a special Thanksgiving.  One more round of chemo on November 19, which is also the birthday of my daughter Abby, then Thanksgiving week.  I will definitely write about it.

P.S.  I am still wearing a boot to help heal the fracture in my right foot.  Hopefully, the doctor tells me I can remove this thing.  Then it is rehab time.



Round 10: It’s a miracle.

Round 10: It’s a miracle.
November 1, 2014

Last Wednesday at the hospital:

“It’s a miracle. It is a miracle that I have been married to the same woman for 58 years.”  Then turns to me and my wife.  “I know you two are going to be married to each other…forever!.” Without stopping, he continues to fill the waiting room with his stories.  “I finished three degrees and done it all without a student loan. “

He’s back.  He is an old gentleman who comes regularly to accompany his wife for her treatment, and he talks to everybody. And I mean everybody.  You would think he is a politician or have made a career in radio but no, he is just folksy friendly.  This time around we were the closest one in talking distance of his booming voice. He had shuffled in pushing his wife in wheeled chair and sat near us.

“Good morning!  How are you?”

It was too late for me to move or put my coat in all the chairs around me. I was caught.  What do I do? I listen to his “talk.” Politely.  I try to keep a straight face and look interested while his wife just sat quietly across him.  She just watches him and most likely heard all the stories of his husband.  A guy next to me snickers and shakes his head because he knew I was caught.  Fresh bait.  Then, he pats me in the back for my bravery. Under his breath he says:

“No commercial interruption! Like a satellite.” Then chuckles.  Ha…ha.  Whatever.

Nonetheless, I love scenes like this. The conversations in hospital waiting rooms are so animated and at times, downright hilarious.  It is open and well-meaning.  Everybody is here for one purpose: to get well.  You learn a lot too, like cancer does not discriminate.  Also, you can find your sense of purpose by listening and seeing examples of enviable love.  Take this happy old couple.  They must be in their 80s having been married for 58 years.  She goes to her chemo and he goes with her.  Some cancer patients would just have given up when diagnose at that age, but not her.  She is here, wanting her chance at extending  her life.  Chemo takes a toll on you and yet she goes, and with her: her husband.

I am no match for this lady’s bravery; more so, for the dedication of the husband.  He is the miracle.  Both of them are.  They are amazing.  Then the nurse calls them, it is time for her treatment.  He bids goodbye then slowly shuffles along to follow her.


I should be in NYC now on the even of the NYC marathon.  I am feeling well, recovered from my last treatment, and would have run tomorrow’s race with my wife.  Instead I am home and will be watching the race tomorrow on TV.  I am still chained to my boot but healing well according to my doctor.  They took a comparative X-ray of my foot and it showed good progress, but I still have to wear the boot for three more weeks.

Round 9:  Chained Six to Eight Weeks
October 26, 2013

Iam still saddened by the Jones fracture in my right foot.  It does not help that it came during my tapering period for the marathon and my movements restricted by a boot.

Athletes/runners taper or rest for a few weeks prior to competing to get maximum performance during competition.  It is normal to be restless during this period but to be restless and immobile does not help.  I have gone to the gym during the week and tried to work off a sweat on the hand-bike it is not the same.  You can’t do much when you are chained to a boot for several weeks.  No running, walking, cycling, or yoga.  I can’t wait to get back.

Last Wednesday, I went for my treatment.  My clinical trial doctor and nurse were surprise to see my foot in a boot.  I told them of my training accident (aka stupidity), and my missing the Chicago (October 12) and will miss out NYC (November 2) marathon.  That’s two for the price of one price of one penalty.  I showed them the X-ray of my foot, so now it is part of the study.  I wonder what will the clinical sponsor think of their guinea pig.  Tsk…tsk…number 5.   Fine mess you got yourself into.  Whatever.

So far I am doing fine.  I feel strong and I can shake of the side-effects faster.  I think it is due to my marathon training.  I totally believe that exercise or any physical activity and good diet can help in recovering from chemo or fight cancer.  I know it is not easy and it takes discipline.  What helps me is setting goals, like running a half or full marathon.  With a goal set, my behavior change and with it comes discipline.  I also think it is because of a curious mind: Can I do another marathon? Can I do an Ironman?  Can I do one mile more?  I want to know.

This year I may not have run any marathon but what I got is a fit body, stable cancer nodules, and a fresh outlook in life.  That is more than enough for me.  I am thankful.

With Speedy for my Round 9 treatment

With Speedy for my Round 9 treatment


P.S.  Round 10 coming up this week.  Oh…boy.


Scans and Fractures

Scans and Fractures
October 20, 2014

LLife is always two-sided.  Yin and yan.  Good news and bad news.  Scans and fractures.

I recently had my CT scan (October 15) to see how my nodules are responding to the trial drugs.  This was pre-scheduled as part of the clinical trial.  Previous to this , my last scan was September 3, so after a month of treatment the comparative result was good: Stable impression.  Whew.  LindaJ, the nurse specialist, called right away to give me the results.  “Stable”, she said.  I was trying to fish for more details but there was none.  Then I saw the full report, it was all stable, stable, stable.

I was so happy.  Woohoo.  Another milestone pass.

Now for the “other” news.  I fractured my foot.  This happened two weeks ago Sunday, October 5, during a 10-mile tapering run along the lakefront.  At mile 7, I stepped on an uneven pavement and rolled my right foot.  Next thing I know I was on the ground.  My wife was not around since I ran ahead.  I had that sinking feeling of stupidity as I felt some swelling in my ankle.  My wife caught up with me and we walked back to the car.  I limped and prayed that my foot was ok because NYC marathon was waiting for us this November 2.  I trained hard the whole summer and I was almost there.

After some icing and rehab sessions with Noreen and Jamie of Novacare, and a consultation with Dr. Reilly of the Running Institute, this “Humpty Dumpty” could not be put back together in time to race NYC.  Sucks.  Arghhh….  Gone.  Just like that.

There is an official name for my stupidity: Jones Fracture.  It is similar to the recent injury of Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunders but in my case I do not need surgery (Thank, God.  My clinical trial doctors would have flipped).  What I need is 6 to 8 weeks of foot immobility, then rehab.  I try not to look back and play the “what if” game because I can be hard on myself.  Cancer and running taught me just to take what is given.  It is time to move on.  Chalk this up as another colorful adventure I look back to.

All is not lost.  My scans are good and there is always next year to look forward too.  Rejoice Kenyans.

Jones Fracture


P.S.  Next treatment is this Wednesday, October 22.  Never stops.


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