As the world knows it, cancer has been relentless in causing death among people from all walks of life —─ never choosing a time, place or situation to strike, even among the healthiest and fittest people alive.
Lung cancer was relatively unknown 15 decades ago, comprising only one percent of all cancers recorded in the past. Today, most of us know someone who is suffering or has died because of it, the record now at 18.4 percent of all cancer deaths worldwide.
Whenever it chooses to strike, cancer affects all systems at once. And upon diagnosis, it goes for the emotions first.
Feelings of anger, disbelief, fear and sadness mixed altogether start the decline of hope while the fight for cancer is at its first step. It takes quite a while to get over the initial shock and if it’s not monitored well, the overall disposition of a person is affected.
A patient’s emotional welfare is important to the progress of their battle with cancer. It is the first step in gaining a broader understanding. It can get patients to face the disease head on, with the right amount of mental strength, love, support and faith in God.
A voice with hope
Tetit Melendres-Aristan is a stage IV lung cancer patient, diagnosed with lung adenocarcinoma that started with a simple cough sometime in 2018.
“Nung nalaman ko yung diagnosis ko, nagulat ako. Para akong nabagsakan ng mabigat na bato (So, when I first heard the diagnosis, I was shocked. I felt like a big rock had fallen on top of me),” she lamented. “I was distressed, but I took the problem head on. Why? Because I had strong faith in God.”
Tetit thought her persistent coughing was the usual symptom for her allergic rhinitis and took the same prescribed medicine from her EENT (eye, ear, nose and throat) doctor. When her cough continued, she went to see her doctor and was prescribed a drug, told her that if she didn’t get well after, she had to go and see a pulmonologist.
“So, I did not get well. I went to see a pulmonologist and I was diagnosed with asthma,” she shared. However, it didn’t seem to improve her health.
Her brother-in-law, also a doctor, recommended another pulmonologist.
“I went to that pulmonologist and he gave me an antibiotic for a week and then asked me to come back. So, when I came back to see him with my x-ray results, he told me that I had pneumonia and (that) I had to be confined,” she said. It didn’t get better after that, not until another x-ray was taken and a whitish area in her left lung was seen on the results.
After taking countless CT-scans, she was advised to take a PT scan to see the extent of the cancer. “I had it in both lymph nodes, on both sides of my neck, while there was a mass in my left lung and my right lung was also affected. Even my left adrenal gland was affected, my liver was affected. And it had even spread in my bones,” she shared. “It was a case of stage IV lung cancer and I was not even a smoker.”
She lived a healthy lifestyle as much as possible; going to gyms and regulating her food — so the immediate news of having stage IV cancer struck her hard. But even so, it was and is still within her to keep on going.
“Sabi ko sa sarili ko, I have to psych myself up. Hindi ako dapat matakot, kailangan matatag ako kase keeping a positive attitude or positive disposition is important (I told myself I have to be strong. I shouldn’t be scared. I have to psych myself up, as keeping a positive attitude or positive disposition is important),” she shared.
Tetit’s positive disposition and her belief in God is what has kept her going in her battle against cancer.
“God is bigger than my cancer. And if I have my faith, or a strong belief in Him, that he is with me, I shall overcome this. I will not allow this disease to pull me down,” she said. “Alam kong mahirap, pero sabi ko sa sarili ko, laban lang (I know it’s hard, but I told myself to keep on fighting),” she added.
And it paid off. With her strength to overcome the disease and the rise of new treatment options, her tumor continues to regress. “I’m keeping the faith, and I’m going for the cure,” she said.
Strength through support
Despite new treatments and options available for lung cancer patients, as well as emotional support from friends and relatives, there are some patients who still lose the good fight.
Late actor Spanky Manikan, who battled stage IV lung cancer, died at the age 75.
During the Voices of Hope: Winning vs. Lung Cancer Media Forum, his wife Susan Africa shared the battle her husband waged against the disease via a video message.
“Our journey was filled with so many challenges — filled with the physical, financial and emotional trials that needed to be addressed,” she shared.
She was also blessed to have relatives who helped provide resources and time for Spanky’s medications and hospitalization. Africa made sure that her husband’s emotional welfare pushed him to keep on fighting cancer.
“We made sure that he was happy and comfortable at home. We invited his family and friends frequently to visit him and we’d watch his favorite movies constantly every day to keep him happy. We’d place his favorite pictures on the wall to cheer him up. He also read nice messages from friends and family on Facebook and social media,” Susan recalled.
“We’d make sure that his spirits are always constantly up so that he could continue to fight cancer through the support of the people close to him,” she added.
Advent of change
Innovative treatments have been redefining the world of cancer patients as breakthroughs in healthcare, uplifting the hopes of improving patient outcomes. But even with the new advancements in equipment, it’s important to detect and prevent the onset of the disease as soon as possible.
Few patients with advanced lung cancer barely make it through the two-year mark, and survival of five years has been virtually unheard of. It has been difficult helping patients survive even just for a year.
In 2018, there were 17,255 new cases of lung cancer and 12,454 deaths due to the disease.
Given the malignancies in lung cancer, MSD brings hope through its campaign Voices of Hope: Winning vs. Lung Cancer. It started in 2017 which promoted early screenings, the importance of dialogues to strengthen commitment to fight the disease and increasing access to treatment options.
Last 5 September, along with Tetit, lung cancer survivors, caregivers, specialists, as well as representatives from medical societies, hospitals and governments resolved, shared and developed gaps, action points and opportunities for improvement in each phase of the cancer journey of Filipino patients — from symptoms onset to post treatment.