Metanoia: How cancer changed his life

(A testimonial writeup following a documentary featuring a group of people whose ways of life have changed due to a calamity, that is being diagnosed with cancer, shot by students of the Bachelor in Journalism of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines last January 24th and presented last January 26th in compliance with the requirements in the subject Intercultural/International Communication. Dokyu to be posted here soon.)

Halata bang may kanser ako?

This was a question with a not-so-obvious answer raised by Mr. Fernando Lazaro, 44, Stage 3 colorectile cancer survivor, as we conducted an interview with him for a documentary/subject requirement we were making.

Yet, the answer would not really be obvious until he showed us his tummy with some sort of a bag installed on its right side and the long vertical cut scar on his belly. That bag, technically called the colostomy bag, serves as depository for his solid waste coming directly from his large intestine to regulate his bowel movement since his anus has already ‘blocked’ and is now dysfunctional.

Lazaro, the youngest in the family of 6, was the only one inflicted with cancer in the entire clans, both from his parents. He believed he got it from his job being a staff of the pest control and maintenance unit of a fast-food chain somewhere in Cavite, since he used to mix chemicals to spray in the pantry often without his safety gears on, i. e. goggles, face mask and gloves. This is aside from the general perception that colon cancer can be caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, that is frequent intake of food with internal organs of animals – i. e. intestines – as main ingredients, such as isaw and papaitan, or of alcoholic beverages, which he also admitted.

Every time he felt stomach pains then, he would just massage his tummy and rest for a while, and he would go back to work right away. But, after two months, he would groan louder for the pain got even worse. Upon admitting himself in the hospital just for check-up, he learned he already had Stage 3 colon cancer.

It was the most shocking moment that happened in him and his family, yet he was determined enough to get well again. He underwent chemotherapy for six months and several operations, the last held on February 2003, which caused his abovementioned situation and, eventually, survived from further complications brought by colon cancer. He is now maintaining his present condition through his colostomy bag, a healthy lifestyle and continuous medication, thanks to his doctors at the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH).

But the worst things were yet to come. Aside from the huge costs he and his sponsors spend for his medication, he almost lost everything: his job, his self-confidence, even his wife. Obviously, he quited from his work immediately after the diagnosis. He was not open enough to share his condition with other people. He would often be reprimanded by pay-toilet guards whenever he was ‘called by nature’-slash-‘releasing his resentments out of his body’ and disposing it afterwards. Misunderstandings were brought up between him and his wife which ended up in their separation on, coincidentally, Friday the 13th last month.

Yet, he said, life still goes on. “Every time makikipagkita ako sa mga kaibigan ko para maglaro ng basketball kunwari, magdadalawang-isip muna ako. Pero sasabihin ko sa sarili ko, ‘Wala akong sakit, wala akong sakit.’ Tapos makikipaglaro na ako, pero dahan-dahan lang, baka matanggal kasi ‘tong [colostomy] bag. Kapag may okasyon, kaunti na lang kinakain ko, tapos kaunting inom na lang din. Ayokong ma-depress na lang palagi dahil lang may kanser ako. Oh, mukha ba akong may kanser?” In this sense, he likes to live just as normal as how other people live.

Actually, he is now the vice president of the Ostomates Association of the Philippines (OAP), a so-called ‘cancer support group’ under the stewardship of the Philippine Cancer Society (PCS), a non-government and non-profit organization which partners with government agencies and the private sector and reaches out through cancer education and efforts to help underprivileged cancer patients. His group has already done several activities like regular visitations to other cancer patients and joining the ‘Relay for Life’, an annual activity organized by the PCS every February where participants, i. e. cancer survivors, walk the venue the whole day in support of other cancer patients. Right now, he and his group tries to establish contacts with prospective benefactors to satisfy their need for more supplies of colostomy bags, which cost less than PhP360 a set, to give to other colon cancer patients who cannot afford buying one.

True enough, his experience being diagnosed with colon cancer and the aftermath has changed the course of his life, yet, again, life shall go on for him and for others suffering from this degenerative disease in order to recover fully and survive. “Walang dahilan para ma-depress. Fight, fight, fight lang. Pray ka lang lagi, makihalubilo pa rin sa mga kaibigan, libangin ang sarili lagi, offer-an ng words of encouragement mga taong kapareho mo rin ang pinagdadaanan, laging masaya ang isipin. Ang importante naman eh kung ano pa ang magagawa mo para maging kapaki-pakinabang at masaya pa rin ang buhay sa kabila ng ganitong hirap.

Indeed, he has gone through a metanoia, a conversion from his old ways, lifestyle and attitude toward life into a new and transformative one.

  • As mentioned, the OAP is i the process of establishing contacts with prospective benefactors who can provide their need for more supplies of colostomy bags to be given to the less-fortunate colo cancer patients in hospitals where they visit regularly, e. g. PGH. Please contact us here, here, here, and most importantly, here and here. May God bless your generous hearts!

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