September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. While not many people personally know a child with cancer, it is a very real struggle that is a parent’s worst nightmare. Jacqui Salonga, Managing Editor of Preview Magazine shares her story- the miracle that is baby Maddie.
Maddie was diagnosed with Hepatoblastoma, which is one of two types of pediatric liver cancers. She had an 11cm tumor in her liver which was thankfully encapsulated, which means it hasn’t seemed to have spread to other parts or organs in her body. We found out about this on May 25, 2016, when our pediatrician confirmed that there was a mass in her abdomen.
I felt extremely sad and essentially blamed myself. Why? Because I felt that I was complacent about it since she seemed unaffected and her usual self. I’m not one of those moms who bring their kids to the doctor for every little thing and would normally just text our doctors beforehand. I was out of the country for a work trip, and it was my husband who was more concerned to bring her to the doctor instead of waiting for our monthly checkup which was scheduled the week after. Our nanny actually mentioned this to me already before but I didn’t think any of it.
I couldn’t believe that our little baby had cancer. And I felt helpless… guilty even.
At the time she was diagnosed, I was out for work. I thought about getting on the next flight home, but my family reassured me that they were there to help my husband while I was away. Thankfully, after all the interviews, the marketing manager and the PR executive I was with for the trip were so kind to book me on an earlier flight to be home with my family. When I arrived in Manila, I went straight to the hospital to be with my husband and Maddie. I took an indefinite leave until it felt right to go back to work. I am extremely fortunate to have bosses who understood my situation and who gave their unconditional support at a very stressful and trying time.
Now that I’ve been back at work, I try to focus my energies on the fact that Maddie’s recovering well and continues to maintain not only a happy disposition, but levels that we continue to pray stay within the normal range. Having reliable help also makes it easier, my nannies have nothing but love for my kids, so I know that they are well taken cared of while I’m at work.
About spotting it early, I think it’s about being aware about your kids’ health. If you know something’s not right, it’s best to avoid being complacent. I’ve learned to not overlook certain things and be more mindful when something isn’t normal. The fact there seemed to have been a growth, I should have brought her in earlier. I kept asking myself if it would have made a world of difference when my nanny told me that she felt something hard on her stomach, which I actually messaged him about prior. Maddie always had a protruding tummy and he said it was quite normal for kids her age. You can’t really tell if your kids have cancer unless it manifests itself—in our case, it was merely a protruding tummy, for others, it’s much worse. Something as minor as a rash can already be a symptom for Hepatoblastoma, but in worse cases, babies who constantly get sick, throw up blood or poop blood are huge red flags.
Bottom line, always have your kids checked if you notice anything out of the norm.
My husband has been very supportive of our kids. He can sometimes actually be more hands-on than I am when it comes to our kids. He constantly researches on tips on how to raise our kids the best way possible. In Maddie’s case, he was there with her from the very start (even without me beside him), and was able to work through the devastating news when our doctor told him about it. He has been the one who would endlessly consult with Maddie’s doctors and is in touch with other people who can help. Even at the hospital, he would keep a notebook to list down whatever the doctors would tell us so he doesn’t miss out on any detail.
Advice for other parents:
The most I can say to other parents going through the same thing is to never underestimate the power of prayer and having a strong faith in God. Not for anything, but something like this awakens your spirituality. A good support system is also important, having family and friends who help you through it. Some would be hesitant to talk about it, but for me, it’s a good way of coping—knowing that you’re not alone. While reading up online makes it easier to look at your child’s condition, it’s also good to keep asking your doctors as much questions so you have the answers. I know people who have been afraid to ask questions at the risk of looking or sounding uninformed, but your doctors are there to help you in every single way possible. There’s nothing wrong in asking for help or sharing your story, because for all you know, there’s someone out there who can help.
Why people aren’t so aware:
I think not a lot of people are aware about childhood cancer because we always seem to think that it’s the adults who go through cancer more than the children. Given that we know that more adults fall victim to this disease, we also aren’t that informed that kids can get it too. Maybe because people might not personally know anyone whose kids have cancer, or some are just afraid to talk about their sick child at the risk of others not being able to treat their kids normally. We belong to a society where being different is something to be feared and I think we should step out of that bubble and embrace these differences instead.
Best thing that has happened so far:
The best thing is really that Maddie’s tumor was a candidate for resection as others don’t get such a good prognosis. Our options were either to have the tumor surgically removed then have Maddie undergo chemotherapy afterwards to wipe away any potential microscopic cancer cells or to have her undergo chemotherapy first to shrink the tumor and then resect it after. We were lucky that the doctors agreed that she could do the former, as it is the first and best option in a situation like this.
Another is that while the news of her cancer took a toll on us, emotionally, physically, and even financially, we learned to value our lives more which has also awakened our spirituality in the process.
The best prayer we got for her:
The answered prayer is that in spite of what Maddie has gone through, she remains to be the happy baby that she is. Everyone who has come across Maddie during her diagnosis, even before and after her surgery say that she doesn’t look like a child who is sick, or even has cancer. She had to endure a lot of needles and tests, yet she never complained, doing all of this without any tears or screams whatsoever. Believe it or not, we all feel that she is a strong little girl who has had to take a lot. We’re extremely happy about that. We believe that we were in the best possible position in a really awful situation. We are truly lucky.
Doctors you recommend?
Maddie’s team was composed of Dr. Ome Nuguid, who is our pediatrician and who’s helped us gather all the other doctors to work on Maddie’s case and have been so since the beginning—Dr. Allan Racho is her pediatric oncologist, Dr. Karen Calixto-Mercado was her Gastroenterologist, and Dra. Catherine Teh, Maddie’s liver surgeon and specialist, was the one who successfully resected her tumor.
We’re also fortunate to have these other physicians supporting us by answering the numerous questions and giving their sound advice: Dra. Theresa G. Henson, who delivered Maddie and her older siblings, Dr. Colleen Carlos-Viray, a close family friend, as well as Dr. Edmundo Ferreol, a pathologist based in the United States and another close family friend helping us get more opinions from other doctors with Maddie’s case.
How has your job helped in all of this?
Having a good support system at work has helped immensely. When Maddie was diagnosed, I received nothing but support from my Summit family. Not only would they continuously check up on me, but they also were helping me plan a possible leave of absence in case I needed it. They knew I had to be with my daughter and were very much open to giving the support that I need. Even during my trip to Japan, the PR manager as well as the brand manager I was with helped me re-book everything so I could be with my family.
Maddie had her tumor resected (removed) and has recovered well. She still undergoes tests to make sure the cancer has not spread anywhere and that there is no evidence of disease (NED).
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