Dionisia Sira-Chiu: A beautiful life rich with 90-year journey of faith and courage

Dionisia Sira-Chiu’s life story is the story of every woman. Rising, falling and rising again. She has the courage to challenge the status quo of her time and led the way how things can be done by women if they have persistence. Now she tells us her story heading Maya Angelou’s call, ““There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

“Even before you were born, the community is already waiting for you to do something” – Chiu Bun Gim

A woman inspiring fellow women

In her time, women’s struggle to be empowered took roots rising from motherhood to inspiring the family’s thriving business to flourish. Her candle shines forever for women to follow.

What makes a woman’s life different? In particular, what made this one story special?

I have interviewed and written about many women from all over the world and there are few who stood out among those I met. One is Dionisia Sira Chiu, the woman behind the well-respected Chiu families whose businesses are based in Koronadal City, the capital of South Cotabato Province, but spans the whole Mindanao island.

Dionisia’s journey is a wealth of wisdom about family, relationships, faith, courage, trust and yes, compassion towards others. What struck me most was her tenacity as she went through life’s bumps and hurdles. Did she cry and spent sleepless nights over them? I am sure she did and imagine what lessons I found. Did she, at a point, waver through the challenges? I am sure she did, just like you and me. This one many women would share in common.

Indeed, what makes a woman rise above the rest is that effort to do something for her own community; to spread kindness and to do things that matter to other human beings, especially those in need. Often, our life’s inspiration is driven by the passion of people around us. In her case, it was her late husband Chiu Bun Gim, a migrant from mainland China whose business foresight led him to venture in the Philippines. But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Childhood at the time of war and peace

She was born from parents who valued education at a time when going to school was a tough challenge. “My father used his rusty bicycle to take us to school which was 7 kilometers away from our barrio (village) named Balabag to the town of Santa Barbara”, she recalls. She became among the first batch of students who graduated from grade VI together with those from grade VII.

Born on May 8, 1929, Dionisia Sira grew up in a deeply religious family who never missed praying the Angelus every 6pm every day followed by the Holy Rosary. “I was always sleepy during the prayers but I managed to complete them”, she says. Somehow, these seemingly tedious traditions helped build her patience and inner strength. She eventually became the prayer lead during important religious celebrations.

Santa Barbara, a town in Iloilo Province is located 16 kilometers from Iloilo City. Though few people may know at present time, it is part of the country’s important independence history. The Revolutionary Government was inaugurated in its town plaza in October 1898 led by Roque Lopez as president. The revolutionary forces successfully launched the campaign to liberate the province from the Spaniards. Then the Japanese came and occupied many municipalities in Iloilo province.

Driven and determined. She witnessed the violence of war but it did not diminish her desire to reach her goals.

Dionisia, fondly nicknamed Nising to family, friends and acquaintances, was old enough to witness the atrocities. She says, “Many people fled outside Balabag for fear of violence. We have heard of rumours of people being beheaded. It was terrifying that I saw myself how a beheaded guerrilla being kicked by a Japanese soldier.”

“There were times when we have to put off the fire in the kitchen hastily, carrying the uncooked rice in the pot straight from the wood stove and run for safety in our air-raid shelter”, she adds. Every grain of rice is considered sacred in the Philippines and should never be wasted even at war time.

From Visayas to Mindanao

After her first two years studying a degree in Pharmacy from Colegio de San Agustin in Iloilo City in 1951, Nising moved to complete the remaining two years of the degree in the University of San Carlos in Cebu City, graduating on 1953. By then, the family moved to Mindanao taking advantage of the government’s program, the National Land Settlement Association (NLSA). Majority of those who made the move came from the Visayas region.

Immediately after graduation, she took the boat from Cebu City to General Santos City in Mindanao. In that journey, Nising met a Chinese guy named Chiu Bun Gim, who was quiet but was fond of going around in the boat. He brought us and some boat officers together to play games. That fateful meeting, almost uneventful, actually became the start of their long journey together in 1957.

Persistence personified. Her parents instilled in them the value of education and this challenge was not easy in the 50s. But she prevailed pursuing what she wanted.

She spent her early days in Koronadal City taking care of her siblings who were still studying. “I was cooking and keeping the house for them”, she shares. She established her small pharmacy in nearby Kipalbig, Tampakan that she named Sira’s Medicinas Caceres in 1955 specializing in household remedies. With the health clinics and hospitals inaccessible in the 50s and transportation difficult, her pharmacy became the refuge of people in need of immediate treatment.

“I have sewn the wounds of a farmer with abaca fiber who got into an accident. I assisted several child births. One night, I was summoned to help a man who was knifed and was profusely bleeding. Faced with these challenges that could mean life-and-death, I have no choice but to use what I have learned and help save lives. Fortunately, most of these patients survived and I was happy I was able to do my share”, Nising added.

Finding love and the future

They next time she met when Chiu Bun Gim was when she remembered offering her services as an interpreter. She ended up working as secretary doing their admin work ensuring that their communications with clients were done promptly. On the side, she taught them proper verbal and written English.

Their relationship gradually blossomed and they faced together the changes in the business industry as they started a family that grew into six children now leaders in the real estate and trading industry with growing families. Valentin now owns Chiu Kim Enterprises. Joseph owns Viajero and other businesses. The four women Maria Victoria and Maria Veronica, Maria Rosario and Maria Henrietta are main incorporators of Marbel Universal Trading, Inc.

“What I really admired in him was his being soft-spoken and thrifty. Imagine that with his P120 monthly salary from La Perla Cigar & Cigarette Company owned by Lucio Tan, he sent P100 to support his family in Xiamen, mainland China and saved the remaining P20 which later were invested into his business ventures assisted by close friends”, she adds.

During Chiu Bun Gim’s death in 1996, whose tombstone was engraved with his favorite saying, “Be like a candle which burns itself to give light to others”, it devastated her but she said she was prepared. Way back in 1980, he was already having a prostate problem and high blood pressure. This led a surgery administered in Chinese General Hospital in Manila and was followed by a diagnosis of colon cancer in 1992.

He went home to Koronadal City after his surgery where he was cared for by his family. Unable to travel anymore, his family from Xiamen came to visit him and the two families met. This part of her life will need a longer sharing time.

Raising a family of business leaders, Dionisia and Chiu Bun Gim with children. From left: Henriette, Rose, Val, Joseph and twins Vicky and Vernie.

Together with Chiu Bun Gim, they worked hard building a business. Every cent and effort counted. This trait they were able to inculcate in their children’s lives.

A campaign to give back to the elderly

At 90, Nising found her calling to take care of people her age. “One instance that really struck me was when a frail, old woman, probably my age, was begging and went to our store. I asked her why she was alone and nobody accompanied her. She shared with me that her children have no time for her and she had to find food for her needs. It broke my heart. The elderly took care of their children while growing up and now that they are old, nobody can return that love to them”, she laments.

That encounter gave birth to her dream of establishing a home for the aged in Koronadal City. There were a lot of hurdles but with the support of her family and various support groups, the dream is gradually unfolding. The groundbreaking event of the one-hectare site donated by the family was a triumph of compassion over the odds. After a careful selection, the Board of Trustees of Anawim Koronadal Home for the Elderly was set-up composed of respected members of the community.

Dionisia Sira Chiu’s 90-year journey is not over yet. It is just taking a good turn to the more fulfilling phase of giving back.

I am grateful to be a woman. I must have done something great in another life.” – Maya Angelou

Age is just a number. At 90, Dionisia still travels the world, now exploring it with her grandchildren. A life well lived and full of adventure.

An early celebration of her birthday in Hong Kong witnessed by families from the Philippines and China. Everyday is a celebration.

Before his death, Chiu Bun Gim had reunified his family in Xiamen, China and Koronadal City, Philippines. The tradition of annual family reunion started alternating locations in both countries.

Dionisia’s life is inspired by many beautiful quotes and poems among them Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata. Note: Copy of the prose poem photo grabbed from www.sacredart-murals.co.uk.

I do not know what to do next: Pregnant with our second child, my wife got diagnosed with cancer

By Mario Taguinod Talosig, currently an OFW in Oman

Jhungien and Mario on her healthier times. This young couple has big dreams and are working their way to achieve them. Until cancer came and challenged their journey. “The first time I was told, I was devastated and unable to speak”, Mario said.

The date June 10, 2018 would be one of the most unforgettable dates in my life. It was the day my wife Jhungien Bernardino Talosig was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), in short – cancer. Nobody will be able to explain that feeling when you hear that a loved one is afflicted with one of the most dreaded of diseases.

What made it even tougher was that Jhungien was pregnant. Our first child Marien Yzabhelle is already seven years old and her pregnancy was an answered prayer. We were excited and thankful. However, she began feeling weak with persistent fever and cough. As she had gone through a tough experience for our first child, we thought it was just normal.

When her blood test showed too low beyond normal, we were referred to a hematologist in Adventist Hospital in Santiago City, Isabela in the Philippines. After the initial tests were done, the hematologist privately talked to me about my wife’s condition. “Acute myeloid leukemia or AML is a type of cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. It is also one of the most common types among adults but rarely diagnosed in people under 40.”

What made things and decisions even more difficult was that she was pregnant of our long-awaited second baby. The baby we had been waiting for seven years after our first-born Marien.

Hearing this, I did not know what to say. I asked God why Jhungien. When I was trying to research on her having low platelets and hemoglobin, I even avoided even thinking of cancer.

I was advised not to inform her until the result of the Bone Marrow Aspiration & Biopsy (BMA) was released. We stayed in the hospital for one week until we decided to move to Manila upon the doctor’s recommendation. We never wanted to go to Manila since we are not familiar with the place. We also have few relatives to call for support.

We were then admitted to University of Santo Thomas Hospital’s Clinical Division. The doctors, thankfully, did not charge us with professional fees, but the medicines and laboratory fees were expensive. We stayed for more than a week. We were almost running out of funds.

Jhungien went through the ordeal with a positive spirit, helping rally her family even as they share her pain.

The daily blood checks were done. The platelets and red blood cell transfusion were required. From there, we were advised that she has to undergo chemotherapy as soon as possible. Knowing she was pregnant made us hesitant, as we feared it would have an adverse impact on the baby.

It was a difficult decision to do. We went home to our sister’s house in Maite, Hermosa Bataan to reflect on our emotional, physical and most especially, spiritual condition. We also tried to assess our financial capacity to go through the medical requirements.

Her blood levels were consistently monitored and in the process, she was admitted twice in Bataan Peninsula Medical Center. Due to frequent blood transfusion, Jhungien and I finally decided for her to undergo the chemotherapy.

A meeting was set with the doctors in UST and they instructed us about the preparations. They also organized another meeting with the hospital ethics committee since she wasby then 10 weeks pregnant. We waited for another week and she went through another transfusion of platelets and red blood cell.

AML is rare in her age but is thankfully treatable. All Jhngien needs is your kindness and generosity to be able to continue the treatment.

The cancer cells were found very aggressive in her case and lowered the blood cells count rapidly in few days. We met with the ethics committee and agreed that we have to wait for another week until she entered the second trimester for a greater chance of our baby’s survival to the effect of chemotheraphy.

We are now financially drained – to the last drop. More treatment processes need to be done. It was hard but I told her I need to go back to work in Oman. It was a very emotional decision to make but I have to be strong for my family. Without work, how can I sustain the required treatment for her? On July 9, 2018, I flew back to Oman.

As soon as I opened my phone upon landing, I received the news that she was admitted in the hospital for severe abdominal pain and blood spotting.

The ultrasound test revealed that we ultimately lost our baby and Jhungien has to undergo dilation and curettage procedure. We definitely lost an angel. Looking at the positive side, this brought us new hope that this time the chemotherapy can proceed with ease.

Jhungien recovered well from miscarriage. We decided to proceed with the induction phase of the chemotherapy. On July 23, 2018 she went through a series of medical tests and was cleared to receive the first dose of chemo medicines from July 30 and finished on August 5, 2018. It was her 34th birthday. She is very strong more than all of us combined, always confident she will overcome whatever side effects the chemotherapy will have.

Even for the initial medical assessments, tests and treatment, Jhungien and Mario have to sell whatever property they have invested on to pay for the bills. “We are now financially drained. There are times I do not know what to think,” Mario said helplessly.

Her immune system was down. Antibiotics were administered to fight infections and doses of morphine for pain relief. The blood counts are still low that is why frequent transfusion of apheresis platelets and red blood cell packs were required almost daily.

As soon as she recovers from the induction phase, they will proceed with the consolidation phase, which will have five cycles. Each cycle will be for three days of chemotherapy requiring her to stay in the hospital to recover before proceeding with the succeeding cycles.

Every cycle requires at least Php300,000. We have already exhausted all our savings, taken salary advances, took loans from relatives and sold most of the valuable properties we worked hard for together to be able raise what we need for the medical bills. I made her feel assured that these materials things are not important.

Her recovery is our priority. We know her case has very high chances of getting treated. This process will take at least one year depending on how fast she will recover after each cycle. At this time, we need not only for financial support but also for your prayers. It will be a long, painful journey. With your help we can continue to fight and eventually win this battle.

Mario reflects how this journey taught them about humility to ask for support because they have reached the end of the rope. Both of them also held on to their faith in God above all.

She was the one who tells me all the time to be strong and to pray always. Yes, we both believe this too shall pass. She reminds me to seek God in our hearts and we will find peace. Jhugien’s strength in faith brings positive energy to all of us. She firmly believes everything that happens for a reason and we should hold on to our faith.

This ongoing, and very painful, challenge for my family taught me humility and courage. I have always worked hard and did my best to be a responsible person and family man. Humility because I have to go beyond my own capacity for Jhungien’s sake and courage because this is what it will take for us to rise through this.

It is not easy to ask for help. But I am reminded by Matthew 7:7 – “Ask and you will receive; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you.”

For Jhungien I can do it all.

Jhungien and Mario with daughter Marien.

o0o

For those who want to help Jhugien and Mario, you may contact them at this email: M.Talosig@omn.tcmbranch.com or call her sister Jelly Bernardino Malsi at # +63 9565860437

For donations, please deposit at Jhugien’s account: Jhungien B. Talosig

  • BPI Savings Account #1239199131, Swift Code for international transfers is BOPIPHMM (Cauayan City, Isabela, Philippines
  • Banco De Oro Account #003420038806, Swift Code for international transfers BNORPHMM (Cauayan City, Isabela, Philippines

Note: Please do not give to any one asking in behalf of Jhungien or our family except on these contacts and accounts. We thank you for the prayers and the support.

About the author

Mario Talosig works as a materials control assistant in an engineering, procurement and construction company. He is based in Sohar, Oman.

Fab at 63: Jo finds the fountain of youth via common sense and discipline

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you do not mind, it does not matter.” – Mark Twain

There is no secret at all. The fountain of youth is right in our hands. 63-year old Jo proved it works with discipline.

Take a look again. Does she look like one? I mean, is she 63 years old and now is eligible for that senior citizen’s card plus benefits. No way, you’d see. Some will say, it is unfair or it is in her genes. Ok, we can list a lot of excuses and never ran out of them.

I have known Jocelyn Suelo, or Jo, to us her friends and her family, for probably over 20 years since our all-women Venture Club of Koronadal days. She is one of those friends who, when you need anything urgent, all you need is call. But I cannot for the life of me, imagine she past 60!

Then in our of our annual impromptu get-togethers, this time at our farm house, she shared her unforgettable climb at Mount Sinai in Egypt. Yes, all the glorious 3,500 steps on foot from 12 midnight to 7:30 in the morning.  That’s 7 and half hours of uphill walk. “I did it and was never tired at all when I reached the top. I even wanted to shout at the top of my lungs but I got concerned other people around might get annoyed at me”, Jo recalls.

“I wanted to shout but I might annoy tourists around us.” Scaling the 3,500 steps of Mt. Sinai was a major victory for her.

While the rest of the entourage was slumped with exhaustion and lack of sleep, Jo was almost starting her day and ready for more adventure. Any secret? She reveals, “During the steep climb that felt like an eternity, I was focused in praying. In every step after completing 15 Holy Rosary Mysteries, I prayed Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. It made me very strong and full of energy.”

Jo’s consistency in watching her diet and doing her daily physical exercise is paying off beautifully. Take that literally. Imagine how storekeepers’ eyes get wide with surprise at her when she hands over her senior citizen’s card like she was making a joke.

Jo did the incredible at her age together with friends Fr. Louie, Mary Ann and Susan.

“I maintained a healthy lifestyle from the very beginning. I seldom drink soda, hardly eat pork and beef. My food always consisted of veggies, fruits, fish, seafood and milk. I love sleeping and would always complete my 6-8 hours and still take a nap after lunch. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I drink 2 tall glasses of warm water. I don’t drink any cold water at all. Yes, I laugh and smile a lot”, she says smiling.

The eldest of 6 sibling, Jo is the only girl. When her father died, she was 26 years old and became the head of the family taking care of everyone including her youngest brother who was 5 years old at that time. “My father did not leave us anything like a farm to support all of us, not even a spoon of property”, she wryly recalls.

There is no secret. Maintain a healthy diet, exercise, sleep for 6-8 hours, pray when you are troubled and smile a lot!

Jo became a working student at the South Cotabato Integrated Provincial Health Office since 1974 to sustain her education. She eventually was hired when she finished college and still works there until now. Despite the tough life she went through, Jo said she maintained a very positive outlook at life.

“Everyday I thank God for my blessings. If any problem comes, I resort to prayers and ask God for help and guidance. He has never failed me. God never ignored my prayers”, she says adding as a reminder, “Keep on smiling. There are so many reasons to smile.”

After standing by her 6 brothers, one of whom is now a ship captain, Jo lives her life to the full. Her daily routine? She shares what all of us can do daily, “I do zumba and always find an excuse to stand up and walk when at work. I love sweeping dried leaves in the backyard of our ancestral home that never failed to get my sweat pouring out.”

No rocket science involved here, right? Jo just exercised dear old common sense to practice and got very good at it through the years. Despite all the banquets, endless parties and celebrations she attended, she never went beyond her 50-53kg. weight.

Jo got us all thinking and it is not too late. If she can do it — then we too can!

Remember what Maya Angelou said? “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.” Sum them up simply as ageing gracefully. Yes, with a smile!

Surrounded by friends and her loving family, Jo lives a full life despite being single.

Bohol Adventure: Lamanok’s Mystical Island Tour & Tips

The small banca glides effortlessly in the island’s dockyard. It’s a marvelous feeling to have the island by yourself. No jostling crowd and noise.

Going to Lamanok? Prepare yourself for a trip back on ancient history. The mystical island is said to be Bohol’s “cradle of civilisation”.

It is located in Badiang, one of the 16 barangays (or villages) of Anda municipality in Bohol province. One can take a 30-minute pedicab ride from Anda town to Badiang. Along the way, you’ll enjoy the lush green environment and cool breeze from the ocean.

After the registration, we went few steps down and crossed a bamboo bridge to get to the hut where our small banca was waiting. We have heard of the mysterious stories in the island so we decided to be obedient and avoid getting into trouble.

A Filipino balikbayan was said to have visited and took a small twig from a tree without the guide knowing. He went back to the US and felt pain in his stomach. After several trips to the doctor, it was never diagnosed. They were told that nothing was wrong with him.

Helpless, he went back to Badiang and consulted a babaylan (traditional healer) who told him the twig he took could be a body part and he got cursed taking it away. We were warned: “Whatever you see in this island isn’t what you think. So be careful”.

Would you dare?

When visiting a local spot, it is best to respect local traditions and follow the rules. Better safe than sorry.

The walk in this bamboo bridge is a nice, refreshing experience.

The island’s mysterious stories makes it all the more inviting. It is an adventure to the unknown.

As Fortunato “Forting” Simbajon, 61 years old, steered the boat towards the island, he started telling us about his life and what his dreams are for the island. He had been the island’s caretaker for 14 years along with the members of Badiang Fishermen’s Association that also manages the tour activities.

Several organisations supported them in conservation work, including tour management. He said, “I did not finish high school. When they asked me to join the training for tour guides, I told them they better get those who have gone to school and can speak English. How can I explain all these spots in the island properly for tourists to understand me?”

But having seen his skills, the group insisted and eventually got recognised as one of the best tour guides in Bohol. He also learned English in the process. “When I went through the test, the trainer said I was ‘amazing’. I have to run to a teacher and ask in local dialect what that means”, he shared laughing.

You can never be too old to learn anything and be good at it. If you badly want something to happen in your life, you can do it.

61-year old Fortunato Simbahon has been taking care of the island and sharing its stories for 14 years.

He knows his craft by heart. Manong Forting proudly shares the island’s treasures.

Expertly, Manong Forting guides you through the island, identifying all the important sites, from the red limestones to centuries-old scripts written by ancestors and the different caves with strange rock formations.

He tried to convince us to get inside the cave where the babaylans burn their offerings but we were not too brave to step in. It looked dark and musty. Outside of the cave, one can still see traces of the burnt animal bones.

One cave was said to have housed a woman unfortunately accused as an aswang (witch) by villagers years back. She died in the cave where her bones were recovered by relatives after several years of search.

Her story has become a scary legend in the area but Manong Forting believes she was unjustly labeled as a witch and she hid away from the world’s cruelty.

Those who possess a “third-eye” should be careful. A woman who was said to have one allegedly saw a hand waving for her to come inside the cave. Troubled, she told the guide who advised her to politely ignore what she saw.

Have you been unfairly accused? Sometimes stories we do not verify as true spreads and destroys lives. Be careful sharing what you heard from others.

These pre-historic limestones offer us a glimpse of our ancestors lives and traditions.

The cave where the babaylans and shammans do their offerings.

What I love the most are dangling limestones and pre-historic graffiti. It reminds us how far we have gone and the lives of our ancestors of long ago. They are living proof that centuries ago, people lived way ahead of us.

The secluded white-sand beaches were very inviting. If you have time, you can take the swim and enjoy the cool waters and the view. A cool thatched-roof hut was also constructed in the island and visitors can request for food and spend time. But leftovers and trash are strictly prohibited.

Manong Forting’s hope is that the island will be preserved as it is for future generations to enjoy and learn from. For years, he was aware of many bounty hunters who tried prying into fortunes said to be buried in the island, even the famed ‘Yamashita treasures’.

Lamanok was historically said to have witnessed early ancestors battle against the entry of foreign invaders (probably the Spaniards) converting people to Christianity led by local warrior Kabel. Kabel was able to forestall the invasion for years until a much stronger force with ‘mysterious fighting gift’ defeated him.

Manong Forting believes Kabel and Dagohoy are one and the same person. Dagohoy led the longest rebellion against the Spanish colonial government from Bohol island.

Ang hindi lumilingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan (If you do not look back from where you came from, you can never reach wherever you want to go to).

The Badiang Fishermen’s Association takes care of the island and has also battled undue interests that endanger ecology and natural treasures.

The bamboo bridge and the hut where guests are picked up going to the island. A beautiful show of the Boholanos’ ingenuity.

Looking back at our past teaches us to be grateful what our ancestors (our grandparents or parents) did so we can enjoy what we have now. Our history draws us back where we came from. Often, we learn to understand ourselves and our family by our past.

When you visit Lamanok, enjoy the sights but most of all, learn from what the island stood for.

o0o

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The island is best visited with friends. We enjoyed the trek as well as burning calories for at least 2 hours.

A friendly reminder from the association. Most of these you can observe when visiting tour spots.

Siquijor Diaries: Lilibeth’s pan bisaya and why her bakeshop is a hit

By the time I met her in Siquijor, Lilibeth is already famous.

She was featured in GMA’s Byahe ni Drew, a travel show, in an Asian magazine, countless travel blogs and soon according to her on Kris Aquino’s social media channel. The last time Kris was supposed to come, a brewing storm prevented the trip to the frustration of her fans who crowded at Lilibeth’s bakeshop excited to see her.

My guide and pedicab driver Warren Omalza asked if I want to try a pan bisaya that’s been frequented by many tourists. Quite belatedly. By the time he mentioned, we were already past the bread shop. Good move we were already hungry so we decided to go back.

Every day is a busy day but its touching Lilibeth is generous with her time to curious customers like me.

The bakeshop in Barangay Binoongan (or widely known as Talingting), a part of Enrique Villanueva municipality is modest, nothing unusual from the small shops that dot the roadsides of Siquijor, even the whole country. But it changes when you meet the woman who made it possible.

It is made of bamboo and wood with some wooden tables and chairs thrown in for those who want to sit down and eat snacks or lunch.

The presidential son Baste Duterte sat on same tables with his friends. He promised to go back.

Lilibeth Viernes Alce, 49, has been baking for four years after a local micro-finance Paglaum trained her and provided support for her to start her own small business.

A mother of three (one died a baby), she established the business to send her youngest child to school. Her eldest stopped studying because she is sickly and is happier helping her in the shop.

Today, Lilibeth’s bakeshop consumes two sacks of flour for the rising demand which is even higher on holidays, during town fiestas and at summertime. Customers would often buy in dozens for pasalubong to families and friends.

I ate her freshly baked salvaro, cheese bread and bucayo torta and was blown away. Soft, delicious and tasted just like how your grandma can do it at home. There are more mouth-watering choices: ensaymada, tinalay, pan de leche and mongo bread.

As we talked, Lilibeth was preparing mounds of newly-prepared doughs ready to be baked inside her makeshift oven made of stone. It looked like a busy day as more bread are taken out and put in the display shelves.

“It is best eaten hot coming straight from the oven”, Lilibeth quips with a smile.

Baking is a passion. Lilibeth’s joy can be tasted in the bread she bakes with her family.

It was not very hard to figure out why her bakeshop is a hit. Lilibeth’s passion and love for what she does can be tasted in every bread she bakes. Her eyes light up as she talks about baking, the appreciation of her customers and the attention her bakeshop was getting.

She dreams of making the business bigger and build a house for her family. Lilibeth says, “Our house had been there even before I was born so it must be over 50 years old. My mother is also sick and I want to make sure she is provided with the medicines she need.

Tourists and local visitors are fast helping her make this happen, even her own fellow islanders who advise tourists not to miss the bake shop. Everyone loves someone who wins over poverty. One social media post got shared and the rest is history.

Simple and unpretentious, this bakeshop symbolized the hardworking spirit of the islanders like Lilibeth.

I am proud to have met and talked to Lilibeth. She is a shining example to all women that hardwork pays and nothing is impossible if you aim high for it.

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. 

o0o

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.