‘Walk faster!’ he shouted at me. No more grandma to shield me from bullies. I’d wake up with saliva foaming from my mouth. When I got the results, my fear became a reality.’

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“My journey beings with my delivery. My mother’s gynecologist did not foresee that I was going to grow too big just two weeks prior to the predicted birth date. It was only during the process that they discovered my mom had developed gestational diabetes, causing me to grow abnormally large.

They tried to deliver me, but my neck got stuck for ten minutes. My mom pushed, they pulled, but my shoulder kept getting in the way. By the time I finally came out, I was a vegetable. My Apgar Score was 0-1 and the chance of infant mortality was high.

I was able to be revived, but remained in an incubator for a month. When I finally went home, I was covered in hematomas. My dad wanted to sue, but the damage had already been done. It didn’t stop there.

Growing up, I experienced slurred speech, weak physical balance, and poor motor skills due to hypoxia, lack of oxygen in the brain. I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. My parents had the opportunity to put me in a special school, but they turned it down. They wanted me to live a normal life.

Courtesy of Ma. Isabel Morales

Up until the age of seven years old, I experienced seizures. As a child, I never understood what was happening to my body. I’d lay down for a nap and wake up with saliva foaming and pooling out of my mouth, my eyes rolled back in a state of delirium. It would always happen around nap time. Neighbors with cars would rush me and my mother to the hospital. On other occasions, I would wake up in the hospital having forgotten it all. My pediatric neurologist prescribed me phenobarbital to regulate the attacks and the irritations in my brain.

Courtesy of Ma. Isabel Morales

After being an instructor in a maritime school, my dad became a seaman to better provide for me and my family. Although he was often away, I was a daddy’s girl and he was my pillar of strength. He was the one to always hold my hand and give me reassurance whenever I needed it.

Courtesy of Ma. Isabel Morales

I was an only child for six years. Then came along my sister and brother, both delivered from C-sections and born without any health complications. Due to my condition, however, my dad asked my mom to give up her career in order to fully attend to my needs.

Courtesy of Ma. Isabel Morales

I went to a regular, mainstream school and was surrounded by ‘normal’ children. From nursery school to grade school, things went by like a breeze. My classmates were always nice, and I had the comfort of my paternal grandmother who stayed with me the whole time. My mom would take me to and from school every day.

Then there was high school and no more grandma to shield me from the bullies. While I did gain a few genuine friends, others were only after what I could give them, and some were outright bullies. I remember a boy from a lower level making fun of my mobility issues as I passed by his classroom. ‘Bilisan mo! Bilisan mo!’ he shouted at me. Walk faster, walk faster. It stuck with me. When I complained to the school officer, they punished him by making him bathe outside in the sun at noontime. Payback time, dude! Others had a great time mimicking the way I talk, the way I walk.

My good classmates were really nice and would often help me to the restroom or offer to eat lunch with me. At this point, my mom still took me to school every day and always packed me food. Due to my weak motor skills and balance, I had to always hold onto someone in order to walk or else I would easily collapse to the floor.

Courtesy of Ma. Isabel Morales

Unlike everyone else, I never experienced attending an FTX (Field Training Exercise), an extracurricular activity where you go camping with your classmates out of town. I never received chocolates or flowers from possible admirers. They expressed their affection for the girls who were just as equally fit and healthy as them. I never fit in with any one friend group. When I didn’t get a date to our senior prom, I went instead with a friendly gay classmate of mine who also didn’t have a date.

Courtesy of Ma. Isabel Morales

College was where I really excelled academically and developed close friendships. I liked fashion, makeup, and drinking occasionally. I never smoked. Later on, my parents threw a party for my achievements. My relatives and friends were all there for me. Things were looking up.

Courtesy of Ma. Isabel Morales

But just nine months after that, I lost my dad to lung cancer at just forty-eight years young.

He chose to work until he passed so that we wouldn’t have to worry about our finances. I will always remember him for how hard he worked to give us a good education. After his passing, I wondered how he would’ve reacted to every milestone in my life. I’d dream up my conversations with him. In my head, we’d go on short walks down our street after dinner to digest what we’d eaten, talking the whole way through. It was a hard blow for the family. Being the eldest sibling, I took it the hardest. Thinking about him still causes an aching pain in my chest, even after twenty-four years.

After my graduation, my love life continued to be non-existent. I was lost and wondering what to do next. Will I be able to find a job? If able-bodied people are struggling to find one, how bad will it be for me? I decided to take up working around the house. Everyday after breakfast, I swept the floor. My mom gave me 1,000 pesos a month so that I could buy whatever I needed. I got a pedicab and drove all around our village.

Years later, I was offered a job as an office clerk under our local government school program. My salary was 5,000 pesos a month, ninety-six American dollars. My fifteen-minute tricycle ride to and from work alone was 1,000 pesos a month. The salary was able to fund occasional food and trips. Out of town trips had to be saved up for. After working there for nine years, my salary was increased to 8,300 pesos a month, or $159.33 dollars. It isn’t much, but it’s better than nothing.

Then, in December of 2011, I began experiencing abdominal pain. At first, I thought it was related to my menstrual cycle. I would take pain relievers, but the pain kept coming back. With all the guts I could muster, I finally asked my mom to take me to a nearby diagnostic clinic to have an ultrasound. When I got the results, my fear became a reality.

They found a tumor in my ovary and suggested I undergo a rectal exam immediately. But I never got to it.  The pain I felt that day was unbearable. I couldn’t move. I had cold sweats and every time my brother tried to carry me, I would scream in pain. He rushed me to the nearest hospital that night.

Our neighbor was the OBGYN in residency at the time. When the pain killers she gave me didn’t work, I begged her to operate on me. The tumor had embedded itself and she couldn’t take it out on her own, so she called in a surgeon. I had an emergency operation performed that night. I was a tremendous bleeder.

I stayed in the hospital for a week and waited for the biopsy results. Family, relatives, and friends were all shocked to see me in that state. I was scared and anxious. Everything was going by so fast. When the results came in, it was confirmed that I had cancer.

Next, the oncologist informed me that I needed to undergo yet another operation. The tumor had burst inside of me and spread cancer cells all over, so a radical approach was necessary. I would need a hysterectomy. My dreams of conceiving a child dissipated quickly and I cried on the way home aboard a public bus.

The recovery process was difficult. I was weak and nauseous. I struggled to go to the bathroom and my knees felt like jelly. For a while, all I could do was sleep.

Then came the chemotherapy. I was warned to prepare for it both mentally and physically. I remember feeling so scared and browsing through the pros and cons of chemo on Google. The metallic taste, hair loss, nausea, vomiting. I would need extra drugs to combat the side effects. The hair loss dawned on me the most. I was scared of losing my thick hair and eyebrows and couldn’t imagine them gone. My hair was what made me me.

I underwent six cycles of chemotherapy. I would start at 8am and not leave until 4pm. I was always the first one to arrive and the last one to leave. I had new ‘classmates’ now, this time the other cancer patients. They were all being treated for different organs.

I lost weight from the constant stress. My hair became brittle. Every time a breeze blew by, I could see strands of hair falling to the ground. I decided to cut it short to escape the effects.

Courtesy of Ma. Isabel Morales

When it got worse, I walked into a barber shop and told them to take it all off. My thick hair was gone. I could no longer work. I couldn’t entertain big groups of visitors. I was tremendously susceptible to infection.

Courtesy of Ma. Isabel Morales

But slowly and surely, things got better. I got healthier, stronger. Soon after, I was given the green light to go back to work. Then I got the news: I overcame the BIG C!

It has now been seven years post cancer. I am grateful for God and for my supportive Filipino family. We are clannish and no matter what happens, they are always there.

Courtesy of Ma. Isabel Morales

Today, I am happy, healthy, and thriving.”

Courtesy of Ma. Isabel Morales

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ma. Isabel Morales of the Philippines. You can follow her on Facebook here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. For our best stories, subscribe to our free email newsletter.

Read more about women overcoming cancer:

‘When I was 18 years old I felt a lump in my breast. I immediately made an appointment and was quickly dismissed, young women my age didn’t get breast cancer.’

‘I was petrified, sobbing into Jon’s shoulder. He leaned over and held my hand. If he wanted to leave the relationship, I would understand.’

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