A lot of us are also experiencing burnout from the calamities, political climate, the pandemic, etc. Did you ever experience burnout and if yes, could you tell us more about it and how did you arise from it? How did it change you?
A few months of the COVID 19 quarantine had passed. Early on, life had taken routine all within the confines of the home. We were able to go with the flow of doing our business online -- classes, meetings, shopping, deliveries, parties, even drinking sessions. It was our fortune to have the means to adjust to the situation.
When the restrictions eased up a little and permitted, I brought our 15 year old to see her cousins (precautions implemented) and clocked it to last for only for 15 minutes. After the visit, she couldn’t help it when the tears started to well up in her eyes. In between sobs, she said it just really hit her how much it means to be able to talk to another person face to face, that the connection is way different. She went on about terribly missing her friends even though they see each other online everyday. I hugged her tight and felt her grief over the loss of her experiences. No goofing around. No chit-chat in whispers. No volleyball. No after school milk tea and fries. And on and on…..
“No labels, Ma.” We’d always thought that the quarantine would be the idea of heaven to our Gen Z child. After all, she’s part of the techie generation. But she schooled us and our misguided empathy -- that technology is for playing games, for entertainment; sure, to communicate but for them, it is a poor substitute for authentic in-person connections.
That night, Jun and I talked about it and knew we had to take action. I messaged the parents of her closest friends for quick “at their house gate” visits. They all agreed, their own kids pining to see friends. Her smile when I told her was everything.
COVID 19 effectively restricted or even put a halt to our “normal” day to day activities. I talk with our children daily and I palpably sense, at times, how trapped they feel given that now more than ever, the uncertainty of life has been thrown right smack into our faces.
Nine years ago, I felt more than trapped. I felt doomed. I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer (BCA). I believe it was because I was HER2 (+), the first oncologist I consulted (whom I knew was one of the best at the time) said that I was likely going to have metastatic disease..’typically to the lungs, to the brain”. She then rattled on about the five year prognosis. My desperately confused brain drowned out her words along with a flood of tears that wouldn’t stop overflowing. All I could think of were my kids and what insurance policies were under my name. I was asking Jun about that, who then was trying his best to calm me down but ended up crying with me.
My Ate, also a doctor, snapped us back to rational mode. Though she lives Stateside, she was my on call 24/7. In the early goings, when I’d become erratic, she would right me back in. It was also through her that I was introduced to an online support group for women with HER2 (+) BCA. There, I found kinship, courage and hope. As much as it matters to have the reputed best doctors, it is even more important to have an ever supportive home team. I had an awesome foundation in my family and relatives. For the rest, I chose my people well and it was through them that I found my best team of doctors. I love them all. Bawal ang nega.
Like a queen, I mass sent via text and email groups the announcement that I was diagnosed with BCA. Why? Well, there was a sense of altruism to it. I wanted to give a wake up call for the many like myself who have been hell bent on establishing careers or going on with their daily grind to just check on themselves, too. But truth to tell, I also needed to expand my home team. I connected with friends, sisses whom I have not touched base with in years. During the days I was down and until now, I only have to close my eyes and feel the collective warmth and love I was given. This is my ultimate Care Bear Stare.
I had my surgery five days after my 38th birthday. That morning, I was unhappy and a bit cranky. You see, I was moved from being first case to third case. Hungry!! But all that was water under the bridge as soon as my anesthesiologist started counting down 5-4-3….and I was out. Propofol rocks!
The night before surgery, I clung onto Jun as I cried my last tears (ever about the whole BCA business). He promised to always have my back. Family and friends sent messages of love and support non-stop. I remember then falling asleep somewhere in the middle of our Novena to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I knocked, I sought and I asked. I believed. From then on, there was only one way for us...to look and go forward. Because I believe. This was my mantra then til now.
Six weeks after my surgery, I had the first dose of chemotherapy. Beforehand, I had listened to the experiences of my BCA sisters and so I braced for the worst. Thankfully, with my oncologist’s “cocktail”, I didn’t even get nauseated. I did feel tired most times and would recharge by cocooning myself in the hammock that hung from the large low branches of the venerable but benevolent mango tree in the front yard. I could tell that tree anything and the best part, it just listened...it never talked back (proof that I stayed sane the entire time). Tree paid attention when I recounted the most mundane or ridiculous things like my happiness over seeing my red colored pee because, you know, Thank God. Kidneys -- check!
One morning, I saw clumps of hair on my pillow and wondered about it. Oh yeah...I had chemo two weeks ago. And so, it’s happening now. Even before I had the red stuff etc. infused, I made the decision that once I saw hair fall, I would have it shaved off completely. I didn’t want to be at the mercy of this condition, I wanted to have control over it in whatever way I could manage. That afternoon, Jun and I sat side by side at the barbershop. It was an effortless shave. I looked at my perfectly shaped bald head in the mirror. I looked at me and I smiled. Damn, I really rock this look!
I went bald openly. But I must admit, it got cold up there pretty quick so I always had a bonnet handy. Goodness though, the number of hats I got. I really appreciated these but I still ended up just using my one bonnet. I accepted and loved my bald head. People should have gotten me large hooped earrings instead. Or some brow pencils and lippies!
Of course, I also have not so good memories. There was the time when our car window was smashed in while parked outside our daughter’s school who was getting fetched. The target: an insulated cooler, also then just picked up, that contained all of my chemo for cycle 6 and cost a hefty six digit price tag. There were other unfortunate occurrences -- my ANC dropped a number of times causing treatment delays, painful mouth sores, cardiomyopathy, febrile episodes, Enterobacter cloacae in my portacath. Like anyone who had misfortunes, we felt bad, started to question why. But that process just breeds more ill feelings so I’d be the first to say stop and let go. We faced them all but we didn’t dwell over them once we had a handle on it.
Past is past. I have learned not to hold on to the bad. Instead, I choose to look and move forward to better things. It’s cliche but life really is short and because it is, better to create and hold happy memories. Here’s one -- my typically uneasy around needles husband intently watching a YouTube™ tutorial on subcutaneous injections and giving me my G-CSF shot in one steady go. That was a proud moment.
After Jun and I had grappled with and started to settle down about my diagnosis, we took our kids for a day out to tell them about cancer and what that meant for me and our family. At the time, they were 14, 12 and 5 years old. Middle child was actually freaked and blurted out, “Are you pregnant again, mom?” Once we got that sorted out, questions ranged from what is cancer to are you going to die? This was another record breaking day in tears. As we hugged and held on to each other, I came full circle in my resolve. Through whatever we were going to deal with, I will make certain at least one act or gesture so that each day, I will see them smile. No more tears. Also, no way they’re going to cash in those insurance policies soon, ‘no.
And because assembling a supportive home team is a must, in the days before I had to undergo surgery, we talked to my children’s homeroom advisers and school guidance counsellors. We continued to stay in touch.
Our eldest has autism. There was no saying how he would react to seeing my grenades (JP drains), portacath, bald head etc. No doubt he was curious when all these were happening. But he understood Ma was sick and “going to hospital”. He was a great source of comfort, always rubbing my bald head and insisting to go bald himself (which he did).
As for the girls, the youngest knew I was sick but that of course, I only had to get better especially after getting a lot of hugs and kisses apart from my treatments at the hospital. Our then 12 year old wasn’t as naive. But I found that she needed to understand what was going on with me in clear and simple terms and what the plan was -- in the face of uncertainties, she hung on to what was certain.
“Ma, will we ever get rid of COVID 19?” “When do you think I would be freely able to hang out with my friends again?” These questions are a constant in our family chats. And, I am stumped
when it comes to these. However, we have agreed on what we continue to be certain from even 2020 BC (Before COVID-19). Our main are:
1. You can never say I love you too much. (same goes for Please and Thank you) 2. Hugs and kisses are unlimited. Snuggles, too, at whatever age.
3. Dad and I are available to talk about anything and everything. No judgements. (This rule goes both ways)
4. Family car rides are great.
5. Between my daughters and I, Day6 is best. Oh, and TXT.
6. Our three dogs -- Tasha, Loki and Pepper -- are the goodest doggoes ever. 7. We can only move forward, infallibly with faith.
8. Chores. Without question.
There are days though that more support is needed than usual. Have you heard the song Zombie by Day6? It strikes a chord especially now. Daughter was so caught in this, played it over and over. I listened. I gave her the time and space to grieve. Yes, grieve. These past few months, our young have lost much in terms of life experiences out and about. And, who knows for how much longer. She was typically the friend who was relied on but now just feels so helpless and useless. The empty feeling was taking a toll. When she was ready, we talked, shared a bottle of soju, talked more, had another bottle and another....
In the years 2020 BC, my daughters and I often have chats about life stages and goals. That whatever the life stage goal, the most important thing is meaning. No accolade is worthy if the work you do only sincerely serves yourself. In the COVID-19 context though, we revisited these chats and “resized” to daily goals. We also established that perspective matters. It may not be much of a big deal for you, but it is to the other person. See, in that way, life is never empty. It depends a lot on what you choose to accept as reality. No act of kindness, no act of love is too small.
When the opportunity to go big happens though, go for it. For us, twice a year, our family does a clean out of every room in the house. We’ve done this for years even before Marie Kondo became mainstream. Whatever you feel you don’t need anymore (read: you’ve barely used it or forgotten it even existed) but another person could still use, let’s donate or give it away. Over the years, I have often been told to hold garage sales instead. That’s too much work though. And I just need to get stuff moved quickly, out of sight for my sense of inner peace. It has never been my nature to hold on to material things but I do nurture people.
If something is meant for the trash bin, it goes in there. I don’t believe that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. It has to be that what is good for me should also be what another person deserves to receive. In this way, I feel pride and joy in sharing what I have because I am sure it will make the recipient feel happy and cherished. My daughters and I dwelled on this fact a bit more. You can’t expect to feel any fulfillment in giving when you aren’t in the right place, when you aren’t in your right mind. It is crucial to feel good about yourself first. And there is no shame at all in asking for help to get to that state. No one deserves to be a Zombie. One good thing I guess from this whole crazy shuttered situation is that we’ve really come to terms with the need to accommodate and support each other. The home team is important, remember?
Recounting our experience as a family and those of my own nine years ago has helped us to frame what’s going on into something we can manage. These lessons are keepers. Choose to exclude the negativity. Be bold. Reach out. Listen. Believe. Have faith. Keep moving forward. Repeat.