Posts Tagged ‘christmas’

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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Santa is coming …soon.
December 20, 2013

Icould not believe the year is almost over.  Our Christmas tree is up and the gifts under the tree are growing.  My grandson, Ethan, still has no notion of what Christmas brings, Santa, or Christmas wishes.

Ah…wishes.  I have a few of those.  I am sure you have your own list too, but have you been naughty or nice?  I look forward to Christmas because it is one of these events that bring my family together in the spirit of renewal.  Thanksgiving was about the blessings, while Easter might be about rebirth or renewal as well, Christmas brings a different feeling.

Love.  Sharing.  Giving.  These are what Christmas evokes for me.  I have received many things, more than you can think of, especially this year.  The year started with a bad prognosis and I had to claw back every second of my life.  You were there to help me by giving time to visit, prayers to comfort, and food to nourish.  You gave and I responded.  That’s the reason why I have often said all of you have become part of me.

I wish I can give more, more of myself, more of my time, etc., as a way to express my gratitude.  Since there is a only one of me to give there are limits; instead, I try to live a righteous life and be an example to my family and friends.  However, I still have many faults I have to iron out.

So for this Christmas, my wish is to be given more chances to correct myself so I can be around to give more.

Happy holidays!

Happy holidays!

Happy holidays to everyone.


P.S.  As a cancer update, Dr. G of MD Anderson called last week to give me news on the option for surgery.  He said their surgeons are not recommending surgery to remove the lesions in my lungs.  They are many and if done, I will not be able to run or do marathons.  I also started chemotherapy again to keep my cancer in control while I look for other options.

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E’s World: It is all about me.

December 30, 2012

O“Out of the way.  Beep…beep”  I hurl through the kitchen, made a right through the dining room, another right to the living room, and another right back to the kitchen.  This is my route or you might say my race track.

I run around the circuit pushing my little Mack truck I got as a gift on my first birthday.  Woohoo!  With its one wheel missing in the front, I whirl around the house, unmindful of the toes I run over.

 “Sorry, mom….oops, sorry Maggie the beagle.”  Ignoring the shouts of my mom, I continue with my ‘driving’.

My little place is getting small and it is getting harder to navigate.  There is this big tree whose roots seem to be growing and growing with boxes and wrapped items.  This tree suddenly sprank up right after Thanksgiving.  First it was empty now it is busting at the seams.  I think it might have to do with this Christmas thing.

My Lala (Grandma), mom, and aunt seems to flourish leading up to this Christmas.  They dragged me around in shops full of people carrying stuff.  All I wanted is to play with Mack truck.  But they tell me I am going to love Christmas.  At school, I even get to meet the boss of Christmas named Santa.  He wears a red suit and is huge.  I must be missing the point of this Christmas.

Santa and Me

Santa and Me

My family went to church on Christmas eve and the priest talked about the birth of Christ.  Huh?  How is he related to Santa?  I learned about Santa before Christ.  Santa gives me gifts, while Christ, I still have to understand.  Santa has many brothers and they are all fat and all seems to be wearing the same red suit. Celebrating Christmas is complicated but somehow it lifts the spirit of the people.  I understand it is about giving to others; for now, the only joy I can give is my love for my family.  Hopefully, when I grow up and understand all this I can give more.  I wrote my Ampa (Grampa) a note for this Christmas as part of our project at school.

“I will not remember you for the material things you provided but I will remember the feeling of being loved by my Ampa.  Love, Ethan.”  I signed it with my hand prints…cool, huh?”

I know it is all about me, for now….

Signed, Ethan

Signed, Ethan


P.S. My Ampa is recovering from his 5th chemo cycle and wishes everybody a Happy New Year!

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My Christmas Holiday

December 27, 2010

“ow come you have not been updating your blog?” My younger brother, Rene, just reminded me when I called him to wish him and his family Merry Christmas.

“I know.  I have been too busy.”  I replied.

Deep inside me it was a lame excuse.  Let’s see; there is work, being lead on a big office project, the holidays, etc. I did not even include the running which I also have neglected.  I have put aside writing thinking I could always come back to it when I wanted to. I was lulled into thinking it is easy to get back to my blog knowing it will always be there.  There is also the intoxicating taste of ‘normal life’ that you forget your priorities.

Now one the eve of my monthly chemo maintenance, I am reminded again of why I am here.  I am here for those who are still suffering due to cancer and for those who were taken from us.

The holidays are a special day for most of us.  It is made special by the presence of those dear to us.  We have traditions e.g. midnight masses, gift giving, reunions, family dinners, etc., that reinforces our relationships which makes this season more meaningful.  It is those meaningful experience that makes it all worthwhile and forever remembered.

I celebrated my Christmas with the same traditions passed on by my family.  I received my own share of gifts from the family too.  Let’s see; there was a slipper, timer, shoes, and the traditional sweater one gets every year.  Oh well.

I need to tell my family, no more sweaters.

On the running front, I started running again yesterday.  I came across this marathon training program that emphasizes more on speedwork, intervals, and lessers miles.  I am going to try that for next year.  I notice my body needs more time to heal so this ‘less is more’ running program might workout better for me.  For next year, my wife and I are planning a spring marathon (Illinois), a summer half-marathon (Rock n Roll), and of course, we will do the fall Chicago marathon for American Cancer Society.  I also entered the lottery for the NYC marathon in November.  Let’s see if I get lucky.

I also need to blog more regularly.  I need to tell you about the journey of my friend, DebbieD, who is currently fighting liver cancer, and the inspiring tri-athlete, KristinM.

It is good to be writing again.  I am still here, we (my fellow cancer patients and survivor) are still here.


PS:  Let see what the Grinch brought me for Christmas (see my previous blog on the Grinch, ‘Twas the night before Christmas‘ – December 24, 2009)

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‘Twas the night before Christmas

December 24, 2009

….when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

It was also seven days after the December 17 ‘massacre’ when lots of cancer cells died from Dr. B’s chemoembolization raid on my liver.  Fellow cancer cells mourn for the loss of their fighting comrades.

“Tsk…tsk.” But there was no bugle tap for the dead cancer cells for they were  not welcomed.  True to their habits, they did not go down without a fight.  They called in their ‘demon’ allies, who stalked me night and day.  I called them my demons, and for Christmas they called their special ally—The Grinch.

The Grinch has been bothering me since the massacre.  First, he induced me to vomit at the hospital.  He almost derailed my homecoming plans with vomit spells but I put a stop to that with Zofran.  Haha…  Then comes the chills, low-grade fever, sleepless nights, and constant stabbing pain in my abdomen.  He even threw in a couple of hiccup spells all intended to lower my résistance and be a pest.

Dr. B’s scientific explanation is that my liver is releasing toxins, therefore all the side-effects of chemo are coming out.  It is a clear indication that the cancer cells are dying.  He adds:

“I gave you a heavy dose of chemo. I knew your body could take it.” I just have this effect on people who express too much love for me 😮

“You will be in pain and feel lousy for a couple of days but we are sending you home with codeine for pain, zofran for nausea, and other medications.  If you have high fever call us or me personally.”

It has been a while since I experienced the nasty side-effects of chemo, and when it came it I was weakened.  I did not deal with abdominal pain before but the chills, vomits, and hiccups brought me back to reality and sleepless nights.  With the incessant pain, I try to strike a balance on when I should take codeine.  Too much of that stuff makes you constipated, so you counter it with stool softner and fiber.

At the hospital, I did not feel the pain because they know how to manage it.  I was even hooked up to my favorite gadget, personal control analgesic (PCA).  I just press a button and it discharges, Delodid (more potent than morphine), a drug addict’s delight.  It resets after a couple of minutes and I can press the button again.  Ah, heaven.  Then, in between I can request for Toradol, another pain killer.  They also gave me Decadrol, steroids to help my immunity.

But at home, I have to find the right balance with codeine, stool softner, ant-nausea pills, and Metamucil.  This puts a dirty smile on the Grinch.

“I wouldn’t smile, Grinch.  Lots of your friends are dead or are dying from the punishment given by Sheriff B.  And soon you will be gone as well.  Pain is temporary.” Besides, Santa is almost here.  The cavalry is arriving led by Rudolph.

It is Christmas eve.  Yes, the house is quite.  The promise of white Christmas is here.  The outside air is even calm.  Maggie, the beagle, is snoring in her bed.  My wife is asleep besides me radiating with all the warmth and care I needed to get me through the night.  Perfect.

Just you and me, Grinch.  You are not going to steal my Christmas.  I am here breathing and in child-like anticipation of receiving the blessings of life.  I am awake not because of you but for the simple pleasure of greeting everybody out there, Merry Christmas.

Come on, my demon-friend, let’s go get some Ensure and cookies.  Ho…Ho…Ho!


Woohoo...white christmas!

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At the starting line with Dr. B

December 22, 2009

I did not recognized him when he walked in that Thursday morning, December 17.  Dr. B, my radiologist, was in a surgical outfit.  It was different when I first met him last November 23 in his professional white smock.  (See related post, The long road ahead, November 28)

“Are you ready?” He greeted me.  I was going to be awake through the chemoembolizaiton procedure and I was already all prepped up by his staff, and was cold.  Have you notice how cold these operating facilities are?  They say it is because of the machines they have to keep cool but how about me?

I hear in the background the nurse reading my name, my birthday, telling the doctor why I am in there, and my vital signs.  I look at the clock and it was almost 9:30 am.  My day started at 5:00 am with my normal morning rituals, except for breakfast or any liquids, so I was hungry.

“Yes, I am ready” I replied.  He signals the nurse, who has been steadily infusing me with antibiotics and fluids for an hour now.

“Mr. Alvarez, I am going to give you benedryl to make you feel sleepy and relax.” Said Eunja, one of my nurses.  Whoosh!  I felt a rush go through my head and body.

“Wow.” Eunja heard me and asked “Did you feel that?”

She did not intend to give me give me any discomfort.

“I tried slowing the push but high volume of your IV to your port-a-cath seems to have carried the medicine fast.”

Oh well, I thought.  I could not blame her she means well…all of them.  The port-a-cath I have is inserted into the jugular vein which then goes to the heart, so you feel the medicine surge faster instead of infusions from the arm or peripherals.  The implant device is convenient for cancer patients to avoid being poked regularly during chemo session.  (Note:  Veins deliver the inward flow of blood to the heart versus arteries which deliver outward flow of blood from the heart.)

I felt a pinch in my right groin.  It was the local anesthetic Dr. B administered.  He feels for the femoral artery and marks it.  He makes the incision then slowly threads a wire going to my liver.  No pain there.  He stops and tells me he needs to map his way to the liver.

Map?  Don’t tell me you lost your way?  I should have brought my GPS.

But he has something better.  He puts a catheter over the wire and says:

“I am going to inject a dye contrast to map your artery.  You are going to feel radiating heat.” I felt the warmth radiating in my stomach.  He takes an image and there is our map.  Whew!  Smile liver.

He repeats the process inserting different types of wires, catheters, etc, moving ever so closely to the tumors.  With him in the room was Dr. F, another radiologist, and they discuss the careful approach to my liver.  They need to find the right artery to deliver the chemo then embolize or shutdown the artery to lock the medicine in.  One of the tumor was located at the edge so it took them time to position the wires.  He repeats the procedure until he is close to all three tumors.  Satisfied, he locks in the catherter and ask the pharmacy to mix the special chemo concentrate for me.  Houston, we are locked and loaded.

Dr. B tells me it is this time when his patience is tested because of the wait for the chemo concentrate from the pharmacy.  I guess you got have them fresh, right?  Nothing beats fresh chemo in the morning.  I love the aroma of fresh chemo.

When it arrives, Dr. B and his staff were in a flurry of activity.  He delivers the first chemo concentrate with embolized particles.  Panic breaks out among my cancer cells.  What the f#$%k!  Incoming….. boom!  Another concentrate, another, another, and another. I lost count but Dr. B came out firing on all cylinders.  Die, sucker!  Rat-tat-tat.  Shots fired.  Shotgun, machine gun, AK, cruise missile, kitchen sink… Welcome to Chicago.  Do you feel lucky, punk?  There’s a new sheriff in town.  Get out of town by sundown and don’t let the door hit you on your way out.  Ka-boom!

Cloud settles and I all feel is blouted pain in my abdomen.  As if somebody hit me in the stomach several times.  Raw.  But it is over.  Well done, Dr. B, with your help my journey has begun…again.


My wife, me, and Dr. B "The New Sheriff"

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