A neophyte warrior’s amazing journey beating cancer

Meggie finds her true strength as a woman that cancer cannot beat. She is every woman’s hero for the inspiring courage.

Guest Blogger: Margareth Rose “Meggie” Santos

I always keep in mind that God is enough.

If I have Him, I have all that I need. I don’t want to sound like a preacher but my heart is always filled with joy every time I think how God made miracles in my life.

My 2-year cancer story is among the most spectacular miracles I personally witnessed.

The day I knew I had cancer was not the day I went to see the doctor. I knew I had it years back. Just like the rest of us when we feel something, I always ignored believing it will come to pass. Denial is an easy excuse to face a sordid reality.

The pain would be intermittent. Sooner than I thought, my breast was already deformed and had a discharged.

I kept my condition to myself.

I was worried at the cost of getting sick, and with my family members “depending ” on me, coming out with the truth that I had cancer would like an explosion.

One day I decided I should do it. I stopped smoking and went to see my pastor friend Efren and his wife Winnie. 

Smiling and putting up a brave front after my 2nd chemotherapy last October 2015.

Honestly, I didn’t know how to handle the situation. Telling my family and discussing the financial aspect of the treatment were difficult.

I only had a part time job and had very little savings left.We prayed for guidance before they accompanied me to my doctor.

But God always has His ways.

That August weekend,  my friends and I planned a trip to Davao. I took it as an opportunity that it would be the right time to tell them my story. But it never happened.

After a 3-hour trip and shopping, I took a shower. That was when my wound bled profusely that I almost consumed a roll of toilet paper. It never stopped.

There was no other way but call for help and told my friends that I needed to be brought to the hospital. It came as a shock to them because nobody knew my lump was already in that advanced stage.

After that frightful evening at Davao Doctors Hospital, everything was never the same again.

We went home to General Santos City the following day. I was brought to specialists and one test came after the other. When all the results were out I knew I was in advanced stage of invasive ductal carcinoma.

Mine was sadly a case of neglect.

My doctor said cancer nowadays doesn’t have to be that damaging as it used to be. As long as your body is receptive to the medicines, you can be treated. That was were I anchored my hopes on.

I am fortunate that my doctor, Dr. Cortez happened to be a very close family friend. It is important that we trust our doctors.

That evening I prayed to God and asked Him for me to get well and for Him to guide me in all of my decisions.

All smiles after finishing my 8th chemo session.

Truly, God’s way is amazing. 

The outpouring of support was overwhelming.

Friends near and afar, family members, high school classmates and batch mates from Batch 77 of Notre Dame raised funds for my medication.

My former colleagues from South Cotabato ll Electric Cooperative, Inc. (Socoteco 2) and party mates from politics, friends from Rotary, my prayer support group from Singles For Christ and a lot more.

I told myself in jest it pays to be Ms. Friendship. God has blessed me with friends who stood by me.

My first chemotherapy treatment was on September 22, 2015.

I needed six and an additional two more sessions. On March 30, 2016, I have completed eight. Each time I went to the hospital for the session, I would ask God for strength. The prayers helped me complete my medications without any complication.

I had my mastectomy and on July 12, 2016 then my repeat biopsy after. The result was favorable. All of the 10 lymph nodes test were negative.

My cancer stage was downgraded from stage 4 to stage 2b. I still undergo daily treatment and calcium shots every six months to strengthen my bones. These procedures could continue for the rest of my life but I already claim my victory!

My journey battling cancer was easier because my friends, even people I hardly knew, fought with me. We did it together!

I have claimed that the Lord has healed me. Now I am a woman of faith coming out stronger, braver and bolder. I thank the Almighty for blessing me with a family who stood by me all through out my journey. We’re all in these together.

A young friend whose mom didn’t survive cancer gave me this book. It was the first I’ve read while going through the ordeal and got so much inspiration from it.

I am a neophyte warrior, happy and contented with God’s mercy. I have just been blessed with another lifetime. We have an amazing God who heals. Cancer is just a chapter in our life and not the whole story.

Nowhere in my life has this saying became even more meaningful, ”Where there is great love, there can always be miracles”.

I find joy and gladness not only today but in almost everyday of my life because it has been said that contentment only comes when we realise God is all we need.

There are infinite possibilities in life. In my own experience, one can never be a loser because you get something good out of being hurt. You become stronger in spirit and closer to God, Life acquires more meaning.

It is just sad we have to experience pain before we value life and learn to live it to the full.

Meggie is now an active member of the Cancer Society of GenSan sharing her story and inspiring more women to support the fight against breast cancer.

Every woman should do these:

  1. Go to your doctor and do not waste time in denial. I learned this the hard way. This doesn’t have to happen to you.
  2. Prepare yourself for the results. Keep yourself strong. Our lives are tested by the courage we face every challenge. 
  3. Leave the treatment and other processes to the the experts: your doctor and God. After all is said and done, let your faith take over.
  4. Do your daily journal. In my case, it gives me a sense of worth. You see your journey very clearly.
  5. Do not be ashamed to ask for prayers. It helps a lot. My friends and acquaintances stood by me and I never felt alone.
  6. Ask God to heal you. He listens.

My family is my source of strength and inspiration

I realized life can be lived simply without racing for time. Cancer made me slow down and be thankful everyday. 

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Margareth Rose Santos, or fondly called Meggie by friends, now teaches part time at Brokenshire School of Socsargen, Inc. and is based in General Santos City, Philippines. She continues to be an active member of the Rotary Club of Dadiangas and the Cancer Society of GenSan. In her free time, she still takes part in Socoteco-2 activities where she was a former Institutional Development Manager. Meggie was also a former Sangguniang Lunsod member (city councilor) of Gensan.

Communicating: Just break that glass!

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”Albert Schweitzer

A cooperative becomes true to its name when it’s run by an inspired and involved team. Koronadal 1-A Director Myrna Clavesillas working with her group.

The Communications Workshop for 25 participants, an interesting mix from different departments of South Cotabato Electric Cooperative, Inc. (Socoteco-1) did not disappoint. I made it a point it was not my workshop but theirs. This was often easier said than done, but in this case it was a breeze. Making it great or not, it is in their hands, not mine (well, a big chunk will also be from me, not passing the buck). They did it! The 3-day activity aimed to uncover many opportunities that will make service better for its over 100,000 consumers from 10 municipalities of the province of South Cotabato located in the southern part of the Philippines.

The first day was quite gloomy. Few people came early. An uncertain thought crossed my mind. Will this work? Maybe? As I settled with the materials I bought, I assured myself that in my years of doing a communications workshop, I never went home empty-handed. The house was always brought down. But there could be a first, right?

A frontrunner in the country’s electrification program alongside 120 electric cooperatives in the country, Socoteco-1 has seen many awards roll up its sleeved through the years. How do you keep up with the reputation and service reliability in the social media, and generally the digital communications age? Service includes prompt and effective information sharing with consumers, many of whom are now the milennials – young income-earners who pay the bills.

A leader is often one who is very much part of the team’s work, from the trivial to the most critical, sleeves rolled-up and making decisions. All eyes on Socoteco-1’s new (OIC) General Manager Edsel Epistola (3rd from left) as he takes the coop to new heights in rural electrification.

What have we learned together?

  • Everyone is genuinely interested to be part of change for the better. Looking at internal communications, it was acknowledged that change has to keep on – and going digital is the future that needs to start soon. While printing documents is still valuable, use of emails and online messaging cuts all the tedious bureaucracy that makes the flow of information slower, and thus, often missing its consumer service targets.
  • Planning isn’t always boring. There are many ways to do it, and involving as much people means many great and exciting ideas can come out of the table. Of course there should be someone to take the lead and ensure the best ideas get to the chopping board and into the cooking wheel. But having those ideas out is a good – even great – start. As we did this, it was fun and amazing to see how the groups came up with fantastic media plans for major coop events (think annual meetings, district elections, etc.) deemed boring because they’re done every year on same process.

  • Go for macro and get their minds up and running. While learning activities such as grammar review, how to do an online publications (and so many how-to’s) or specific skills building are critical, making them contribute to the big goals can help them see what are the skills they need to build to make the big one happen. They become part of if and they know where the organisation wants to go. How will you exactly know the parts to fix if you don’t know where you want to be? Decide on the goal and work next on the small ones that will run it.
  • It’s fun to talk about the issues. Get them out sun-dried on the table! What are they? Before getting that group activity to the participants, I was quite curious how open, daring and courageous they are in sharing the challenges and issues that slow down service, and even their own enthusiasm to do things. They did! This time they did not talk about them in the hallway but also came out with very practical easy-to-do solutions. Audience considered, creative activities and resources (fun, I must add), minimal budget and a lot more. Let’s wait for them to make it happen!

  • Social media is the way to go. It’s cheap, it’s in and it’s where everyone goes for the latest news. There are risks, yes. But as everyone has realised quite loudly, there’s no way ignoring it. When people need information, they hardly buy a newspaper (sadly) anymore. They open their phones and browse to find it. While a printed newsletter or report is still much valued, how do we get them online so more consumers can read them? Looking forward to the electronic version of Socoteco-1 Today very soon. At least we’d live to see the day it is available online.
  • Being a service utility means preparedness. To put is clearly, is the coop ready for an emergency? Apparently, resources-wise, they are! A response team is in place and a rough plan and how it will be managed. Does everyone knows about it? Not really. Then this is an opportunity to get this organised while there is time. How do you ensure protection of the coop’s electricity distribution and its services going when there is a disaster? It also has a community responsibility to assist when it can. Reviewing the plan and it’s roll out turned out to be a great time for everyone!

Often, all we need is to sit down and listen to each other’s ideas. That’s what teamwork and serving is all about.

What did I personally learn in the process?

It didn’t take a while to pick up the pieces. Working for 12 years in Socoteco-1 isn’t an easy thing to forget, I wasn’t even trying. It was also my first job in conducting trainings, publishing newsletters (changing it’s name to Socoteco-1 Today) and annual reports, writing its creed (that, fancy, they still use as a pledge until today), running a medical mission in cooperation with South Cotabato Provincial Health Office and more. In short, it became my foundation for the next phase of my career and jumpstarted my love for humanitarian work that took me to different countries. It felt good to be back sharing what I built up after I left 16 years ago. What I learned is that you always have that chance to go back and share. Then and only then can you say you’ve come full circle.

We’re not hanging gloves with this statement. There’s still a lot of work to be done.

“The 3-day workshop was very enriching and fun-filled. It made me realise how important well-planned activities through the use of communications tools and multi-media channels can effectively convey information and influence the stakeholders and public’s behaviour and support. I am happy to be part of this workshop and grateful to have witnessed how talented the Socoteco-1 staff members are! I believe it was able to unleash the potentials. Kudos to Socoteco-1 and thank you Cecil for facilitating the activity.” – Myrna Clavesillas, Director of Koronadal 1-A, Socoteco-1 Board

I should say the future of rural electrification in the country is bright if we make use of these excited and inspired minds to run it! It was more of a pleasure than work – thanks to Socoteco-1 especially to the ISD team led by ISD Manager Shean Roxanne Munar for making it happen!

“Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

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Happy to hear comments, feedback or interest. Please email me at cblaguardia@yahoo.com or mobile at +639399262669. Better yet, follow the blog by ticking the box up or in FB @istoryya. Thanks for the visit and share.

Marrying in Nepal: Fall in love or get arranged?

By Alina Rajbhandary Shresta

Alina met her knight-in-shining armour with a lot of help from her family. Her resistance was no match to the powerful pull of destiny.

In Nepal, it is normal for a woman to be married with the man selected for you.

Raised as a very independent Nepali woman, I could never imagine doing that. Not my cup of tea. Just thinking about how I would spend my entire lifetime with a stranger chosen for me bring shivers up my spine. I resisted the idea – much more the reality.

Thus, in 2002, when there was a proposal to meet up with a man who passed the criteria of fitting into our family requirement of a suitable son- in-law, I was distressed. Terribly. The potential groom’s photo got especially delivered to me at our house. It was actually a group photo of men and one of them, of course – was my future.

When I saw Pushkar for the first time in that photo, my immediate answer was a big “no”. However, my over-eager family interpreted my “no” as a “yes”. Eventually, I got persuaded to meet and see him in person. I invented many creative excuses I can imagine. To no avail.

Finally, my youngest sister Namrata came up with an idea that was so simple yet did not strike me earlier. She said, “You don’t have to marry him, just meet him. Enjoy a good pastry at his expense (if he is generous enough to pay for it) and come home.”

It was brilliant, for me at least. It sounded like a hilarious solution to my dilemma of being an obedient daughter who cannot go against my parents’ wishes. I thought I had nothing to lose and it would be a good end to the ongoing conversations at home.

The meeting was set up at Hotel Himalaya in downtown Kathmandu. I drove to meet him with the wise matchmaker seated beside me in the car. Families often engage with a matchmaker for arranged marriages. As soon as we reached the hotel, he pointed to the man at the door who seemed very excited. He was friendly and overly accommodating. Of course, I told myself, he will show his best foot forward.

Pushkar had lived in the United States for 11 years and came home for a break after acquiring his engineering degree. I suspected he also came home to find a wife. His acquired accent reminded me of one of the American shows I watched on TV, which I found very funny. This made me chuckle.

We talked about our interest and hobbies in general. I concluded we were poles apart. He shared his love for fishing and I was like “yeah right — fish in the heart of the city” (add an eye-roll)! Since my mind was already made-up, half of what he said flew past my head. I did not find them interesting. This concluded our brief (and in my mind, our supposedly last) meeting.

“I was raised as an independent Nepali woman. I cannot imagine not making my own choices.”

When I reached home, everyone wanted to hear how he was and my answer was ready, “He is not my kind of guy”. I confidently closed the chapter and life became peaceful. Or so I thought.

Two weeks later, I received a call from our landline telephone that was not working for a while. It was Pushkar, and I got alarmed. I soon recalled this was the number I shared with him when we had our short and forgotten meeting. I pretended to be my sister, trying not to sound like myself, informing him about the distant possibility of talking to a girl who was extremely busy with work. I was then working as a teacher.

He did not give up. When he called the following day, I picked up the phone again and this time, I got caught red-handed. He asked, “Is this Alina?” and running out of alibi, I have to admit I am the one on the phone. He immediately added, “I heard you do not like me? What is it about me that you don’t like – was it my looks?”

Before I could answer he continued, “There’s a face cream in the market I have heard about- called Fair and Lovely- do you think I should start using that?” My jaws dropped and I was lost for words.

Eventually I responded, “Yes, do that!” That did not faze him. “Which cheek should I start with – right or left?” My response- “Your call”. The conversation did not stop. He went to say, “What if I am fairer on the right side and dark on the left side”.

I have no idea if it was a joke or part of a vengeful plot to spite my decision. It was a hilarious chat for sure, but I was scared at the same time. I ended the call but this was just the beginning.

The next day he called again. He said, “You know what, you are the first girl to say no to me and I find that quite attractive – I always thought I was good looking.” The calls got frequent. My sisters and I sat together almost every evening to hear his endless tales just to burst out into peals of laughter.

Here was a man who was so confident that his charm would work on the girl he wanted to marry. I strongly believed it was just a passing phase of my life and would end soon for all of us, including the uncalled-for laugh sessions.

The beautiful bride on her wedding day. “It was destiny.”

My parents noticed the buzz in the house and decided it was time for them to meet Pushkar. A meeting was arranged between two families- his and mine.  This formal meeting usually culminates into marriage.

My resistance broke down. I had no time to think when my parents finally decided he was the one. They added to remind me he was better than the Bollywood actors I admired on screen. Yes, they also did question my earlier decision to say no.

After six months of courtship, I happily married the man I have not imagined would be my husband in the first meeting. It was destiny.

This became the most important lesson in my life.  Sometimes the best gifts in life come as a blessing when you have no clue and when you least expect it. Our choices may not be right but when God has plans for you, they find their way to come full circle.

My husband was not a choice I made, but he is my destiny. He was my perfect fit. He became a friend, a mentor and above all my inspiration.  After 14 years, we were blessed with two boys Pratyush, 12 and Pravaath, 7. Both of them asked me once, “Mom, why did you say no to our dad?” adding, “We don’t like this story of yours.” I just smile.

I guess they love that the story has a happy-ending.

“Sometimes your best-laid plans may fail for something much better to happen. Go for your dreams but don’t be disappointed when it doesn’t happen exactly as you want. Better things may replace them and surprise you. For girls on pressure to get married, don’t give in easily. Enjoy life and what you love to do. Your knight in shining-armour will find you, if he is your destiny.” – Alina

Now. Alina is a happily married woman to Pushkar and a loving mom to Pratyush and Pravaath. Yes, there are still fairy tale endings. And they lived happily ever after …

Alina R Shresta is currently World Vision Nepal’s Communications Manager and a very passionate humanitarian worker and advocate for the better future of girls and women.