Archive for December, 2014

Round 15: The year in review

December 31, 2014

The last day of the year I am at the infusion center of UofC for treatment.  One last hurrah for the year, and then another one next week to start the new year.  I am sitting here again at the waiting room and it has not changed: Patients still waiting for their treatment or have their vital signs checked.  It will be the same even if it is the start of the new year, 2015.

As they got my vital sign, I had to smile because my weight had increased: plus three pounds.  Ooopps.  Must be all that Christmas cookies.  Ho…ho…ho!  Oh well, I will work that out at the gym.  Also, it will soon be the start of the running season again.

2014 was a good year for me.  For cancer survivors, each year is a good year but 2014 was also memorable.  Let’s see:

  • February.  Mom was with me until she went back to Manila with my brother, Raul.  She got to spend Valentines with us.
  • April.  My wife and I went to Kona, Hawaii for the first time and had a blast.  I still dream of going back.
  • June.  Had a successful emobolization of my spleen at MD Anderson Houston, TX.  This corrected my low platelet count issue.
  • July.  I got accepted to the clinical trial at UofC and my tumor so far is stable
  • October.  Fractured my right foot while training for the NYC marathon.  That sucks.  I ended up deferring the marathon for 2015.
  • November.  Had an unscheduled visit to Manila to see Mom and family.  I am very thankful for this opportunity.
  • December.  Completed the Simbang Gabi nine-day novena mass.  Also, I spent a few days with my sister in Canada with my brother Raul again.

Listing all these events made me feel so blessed and thankful.  2015 starts tomorrow and I look forward to whatever it has to offer for me.

Happy New Year!


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Simbang Gabi…eh?

December 23, 2014.

Mississauga, Ontario, Canada

The Filipino community here did not disappoint me.  They have their own Simbang Gabi celebration, so the streak is still on.  My wife and I attended the service at St. Peter’s Catholic Church (more like a chapel), Mississauga, Ont.  The church is small and very old, but cozy enough to seat about 100 worshipers.

Big or small it is the worshippers that matters.  The old church might creak and moan with its wooden infrastructure, but it still brings out the best in everybody, especially at Christmas time.  To me, Simbang Gabi masses always brings back memories of celebrating it back home.  After mass, there are street vendors outside the church selling “puto bumbong” or “bibingka”.  These delicacies are best eaten with hot chocolate made from pure cocoa called “tablea.”  Ah…these are the simple delights of waking up early, going to mass, and eating warm treats that nourishes the body and soul.

Here in Mississauga, as in Chicago, there is a fellowship gathering after mass.  And when Filipinos gather you do not go home hungry.  Sometime you go home with even more food, I kid you not.  So after mass we went to the basement of the church and there you see a full display of food all brought by the parishioners.  Wow.  There was pancit (fried noodles), lumpia (spring rolls), fried rice, egado (pork dish), puto (rice dish), rellenong bangus (stuffed fish), etc.  These Filipino-Canadians have put the after-Simbang-Gabi fellowship in Chicago to shame.  They even have Indian dishes like chicken biryani and samosa brought by fellow Indian Catholics.  Moreover, for some of the home-cooked Filipino foods they serve here, it is only worthy for special occasions or small gatherings because they are difficult to prepare or expensive.  I love it here.

I am all done.  I have completed the nine-day novena mass.  Tomorrow, I head back to Chicago and celebrate it with my family.  As my advent journey closes, I am very thankful for this memorable experience.  It has brought back memories of my youth and fun times with my cousins, singing Filipino Christmas carols again, seeing many churches, meeting new friends, and reflecting more on the importance of the blessing I have.  It would have been an ordinary, rushed, and commercialized Christmas for me.  Instead, it has turned to a beautiful experience.

I am fortunate to experience all this.  I also have not forgotten those who are struggling with cancer, especially my recently diagnosed friend Helen, or those still at the infusion center of UofC.  My advent journey has taken me to place I have never been to, made me experience new things, renewed my faith, and gave me additional pounds.  Ha!

Maligayang Pasko (Merry Christmas)

December 21 – St. Peter’s Church at 7:00 pm.  Done.

December 22 – St. Peter’s Church at 7:oo pm.  Done

December 23 – St. Joan of Arc at 7:00 pm.  Done.

Lots of food at St. Peter's.  Yum.

Lots of food at St. Peter’s. Yum.

Two rows of food at St. Joan of Arc

Two rows of food at St. Joan of Arc


Footnote:  The “eh?” expression is very common among Canadians.  They seem to say it every other sentence.  Back to Chicago tomorrow for Christmas eve preparation.

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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 

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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.

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