By Estrella L. Biton
MANILA–It’s difficult to say when it really all started, because we didn’t know the signs; but after a while we knew something was wrong. My friend was always known to have fibroids so when she mentioned abdominal pain and abnormal bleeding, we automatically assumed it was her fibroids, and unfortunately so did the doctors.
My friend was 45, working on building her career in government and like hundreds in the public sector, she, unfortunately didn’t opt to have other medical insurance other than the one provided by PhilHealth.
One day after going out with friends she said her hip was hurting. From that day on she began to walk with a bit of a limp. As her symptoms worsened friends and family took her to various hospitals and clinics around Metro Manila for treatment.
Every time she was just told her fibroids were causing the issues. Most times she went she was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection as well. Almost every time all the doctors did was send her home with antibiotics and pain medication. On one occasion a doctor even accused her of seeking pain medication and never took her complaints seriously.
For those of us unfamiliar with fibroids, these are common, benign tumors of smooth muscle in the uterus (womb). Fibroids do not produce symptoms in all women, but may lead to prolonged or heavy menstrual bleeding.
One evening, she went to a general hospital in Manila to a specialist doctor whom I referred.
Finally, during a pelvic exam the doctor took one look at her and knew something was terribly wrong.
After conducting a battery of tests, the doctor immediately admitted her to the hospital where she was found to be in kidney failure; soon after, he also found out—and to everyone’s horror afterwards—that she had terminal Stage 4b cervical cancer that had most likely been growing for about a decade or so.
The cancer had already metastasized to her left hip bone and lungs and she was given six months to live.
Now the pain in her hip and all her other symptoms made sense. Shortly after, she began treatment at a private hospital in Manila.
Because my friend’s disease had progressed so far, the tumors were now cutting off the flow of urine from her kidneys, so shortly after admission she had to have a nephrostomy—a procedure in which a catheter is inserted through the skin in the back and into the kidney to drain it of urine.
Once she knew she had cancer she chose not to learn about the progression of her disease. I even remember her saying, “Knowing I have cancer is all I need to know.”
She underwent radiation treatment on her left hip to alleviate the pain and increase her mobility.
After radiation was complete she had a series of chemotherapy aimed at reducing only the pain; with the doctors offering no cure for her.
A small pamphlet given to the office recently about cervical cancer said that every woman is at risk with the deadly but preventable disease.
As I was reading it, I was surprised to see that up to 80 percent of women will get the Human Papiloma Virus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer in a woman’s lifetime.
Likewise, it said that everyday some 12 Filipino women die of cervical cancer and within five years of diagnosis, more than half of the women with cervical cancer won’t survive.
Relatively, factors identified to increase the likelihood of HPV infection and subsequent development of cervical cancer include young age at first intercourse, low socioeconomic status, smoking, use of oral contraception and risky sexual behaviors.
Fortunately, disease detection is not hard to find as cancer screening programs presently available in the Philippines include Pap smears, single visit approach utilizing visual inspection with acetic acid followed by “cryotherapy,” as well as “colposcopy.”
Even more beneficial to us women is the fact that there exists a vaccine today against the HPV. The vaccine induces antibody levels that stay high throughout the years giving women protection that’s destined to last. All we need to do is ask our doctors about it.
Though my friend suffered from some complications, she never let her prognosis slow her down.
My friend fought with all her strength and will she can muster until, finally, she was taken on December 25, 2000 at about 6:45 a.m.
Looking back to what happened to her, I can say that her only consolation was that she was blessed to have a large network of dedicated friends and family members willing to stand by her during the entire ordeal.
More importantly, she was given the chance to prepare herself spiritually to meet the Creator.
Although the painful experience left a deep void in our hearts, we were all made aware of a cancer that is the second most common malignancy and is the most common cause of cancer-related mortality among Filipino women.
Cervical cancer should never have happened to my friend or to anyone for that matter.