Five breast cancer survivors share stories of hope and inspiration

Published October 13, 2020, 2:50 PM

by Paola Navarette

How you can beat and triumph over the big C

Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed with breast cancer or know someone who has, it can be comforting to feel connected and supported during the journey.

So this Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let’s celebrate life by looking back at real, inspiring stories of women who battled breast cancer—a call for everyone to raise awareness and not to be afraid of regular checkups.

Dr. Gia Sison

Mental health advocate

It has been seven years since occupational medicine specialist Dr. Gia Sison won her fight against breast cancer but she tells her story like it was just yesterday. “When a doctor becomes a patient, the lessons learned can ripple outward,” she says. “I’m used to being the one with answers. But as a survivor, I also know what it’s like to be on the other side of the equation—to be the one in need of comfort.”

Prior to her diagnosis, she discovered a hard lump on her left breast while having a phone conversation with her father. “I knew right away that something was off,” Sison says. “Following a biopsy, I found out I had stage two breast cancer.”

Fortunately, her doctor friend convinced her to go through the whole process, from diagnosis to treatment. Sison underwent six cycles of chemotherapy and turned to her family and friends for emotional support. “Faith kept me going,” she says. “Cancer taught me to embrace life because, at the end of the day, all battles are won by those who remain grateful for what they have.”

Sison’s experience with breast cancer strengthened her compassion as a doctor. And now, she leads the Philippine chapter of the Livestrong Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides support for people affected by cancer.

“To women who are battling the big C, keep fighting and finish strong,” Sison says. “Don’t let your diagnosis define you because your mindset can be powerful against cancer.”

Patti Javier

Communications director

Makati Shangri-La Hotel communications director Patti Javier has been having annual executive checkups since she was in her late 30s. In 2013, when a radiologist told her he’d found a suspicious spot in her breasts, she was certain he’d mixed up her results with someone else’s.

After all, she had no symptoms, was physically fit, and had no history of cancer in her family.

“I was never hospitalized my entire life,” she says. “I grew up with a pediatrician mother and I thought I was healthy and invincible until I was told of having this condition.” Right that instant, Javier had a biopsy, and her doctor diagnosed her with ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS, often called stage zero breast cancer.

She then pursued a treatment plan—radical mastectomy and immediate reconstruction—and had a new life outlook. “When you’re staring at something like this, you have to make every moment count,” she says. “So I paused my active work life to prepare my body and spirit for the surgery, and I prayed, reflected, and surrounded myself with people who care.”

Thankfully, after the surgery, her oncologists said there was no need for chemotherapy or radiation. “For a brief period, there was darkness, but I knew without a doubt that I was going to be well, and that life will go on,” she says.

On remission for seven years, Javier has been taking hormone therapy since. “I am blessed that my case was detected at an early stage because I can use my skills more for a worthwhile cause.”

Dr. Jocelyn Jularbal-Aromin

Pediatrician

Dr. Jocelyn Aromin, or simply Joy, is now based in the US but her uplifting story is one for the books.

Aromin is no stranger to cancer. She was first diagnosed with a malignant breast cancer ten years ago, had a recurrence five years later, and is now in remission with her second bout of breast cancer.

It was particularly challenging for her to jump roles—from being a doctor to a patient. “Accepting my diagnosis was a process,” Aromin says. “As I prayed for acceptance, I began to understand why God allowed cancer in me.” Having a positive mindset, she says, helped her win against the disease.

“Cancer has shaped me to become a grateful person, even with seemingly trivial things. For example, I love that my long thick hair has grown back, and my nails have turned pink again,”Aromin shares. “Nothing can compare to the joy of carrying a baby in my arms again. Being entrusted with the care of patients is a gift.”

Crisann Celdran

ICanServe foundation chairman

Crisann Celdran was just 26 years old when she found out she had stage three breast cancer.

She had just married her best friend and was looking forward to a new, exciting chapter in her life. “Right in the middle of this so-called perfection, a doctor I went to for no apparent reason felt a palpable lump in my breast. I had not experienced any pain of any sort,” says Celdran.

Celdran immediately underwent a modified radical mastectomy that left her with a single breast. She also endured six months of chemotherapy and 33 sessions of radiation, which left her bald and exhausted.

In 2005, six years after her diagnosis, Celdran sat down and celebrated with her doctor.

“Although we were both ecstatic to know there was no more cancer in my body, I still wanted a child,” she says. “She did give me a go signal. She never really said it explicitly, but I knew my chances to have a child were slim.”

Despite fears the grueling treatment could have damaged her fertility, Celdran discovered she was pregnant. “In a month, I was feeling unwell. Instead, I found out I was pregnant. Six weeks later, through my first ultrasound, I found out I wasn’t having a child. I was having two! We were shell- shocked,” she recalls.

Celdran’s doctors expected a difficult and possibly complicated pregnancy, but it turned out to be relatively easy. Today, her medical tests still show there is no evidence of the disease.

“Every morning, when my two energetic boys barge in and greet me a great morning, I am reminded that miracles can happen to anyone every day,” she adds.

Rita Nazareno

Designer and TV producer

After 24 years of living abroad, Rita Nazareno left her Emmy-Award winning television career in the US to helm her own label under the heritage of her family-owned business S.C. Vizcarra.

But shortly after moving back, she was diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer. Nazareno underwent a double mastectomy and endured eight cycles of chemotherapy and 33 sessions of radiation.

“From the onset, I made sure to surround myself with laughter and positivity. It was tough but I had a great support system,” she says. “I learned about mindfulness and awareness. And I had incredible, very lovely people who stuck by me. They wouldn’t let me go.”

Looking back, Nazareno remembers how tough her journey was. “It was after I was cleared and started taking the medication that the depression hit me. But I was able to find resources to help me cope—meditation helped me a great deal,” she says. Speaking through experience, Nazareno has several tips for those who are currently undergoing treatment: “Keep the music playing, and listen to Lizzo or Janelle Monae. Watch fun movies and TV shows with friends and family. Surround yourself with people who will make you laugh. Celebrate your battle scars and meditate.”

Nazareno has been in remission since 2012. Aside from designing hand-woven bags and watching her other creative ideas brought to life by her world-class craftsmen, she is also passionate in supporting breast cancer awareness.

 
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