Balance After Cancer - Is it Even Possible? (Part 1 of 2)

Maria Carmina Joyce Alferez, MD

My sister is a walking miracle.

A survivor of stage 4 lung cancer for 6 years. Survived liver mets, brain mets, bone mets. On the 10th line of treatment, 35 years old, walking.

My dad is a walking miracle.

On the 5th year post lung surgery for stage 3 cancer, controlled hypertensive, pre-diabetic. Now with only one lung, breathing normally. In remission.

Oh, did I forget to mention? Prostate cancer x 2 years. Asymptomatic. 72 years old, walking. In remission.

When I pledged my life to medicine and took the oath, I knew this was my calling. The career that I wanted to have and will never feel like a job. One of the noblest professions. There is an inexplicable joy when I am able to help someone in need, to physically bring healing. A solution is almost always found, a treatment is almost always available. Fast-moving research made the odds of recovering from and prognosis for surviving a disease so much better today that it was 10, 20, 30 years ago.

And the internet...oh, the internet! What a tool it has been to stay connected with specialists and studies from across the globe!

In short, I love medicine. It is the answer to the faults and gaps and intricacies and betrayals of the human body.

Our cancer story is special in its own way but definitely not unique. In the cancer world, some may say we're at the better end of the spectrum, having benefited from targeted therapies, connections and what-have-you. We drew the longer stick. However, I wish it was just that. I wish that we could even try our luck, to not have cancer at all. But no, we were dealt very bad cards and the best we could do is remain poker-faced.

As a doctor, I needed to be sensible in my clinical judgment and practical in my decision making. I have learned how to detach myself from investing too much emotion in my patients and their conditions and stay grounded for their sake. They have their families or Significant Others to help them process their emotions, I have always said to myself. There's another patient waiting outside for my scientific help, and she deserves my time too. It's not as if I rush through a consult or rounds. I take time with every single one of them, reasonably and appropriately. It has to be just right. Otherwise, it'll be too much of a cardiac and a mental exercise for me to be doing it every single day.

So I managed to balance my work and life as efficiently as I could because I have other roles too: wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend. Routine makes me fulfill all these roles on top of a full time career. I breeze through every day like a well-oiled machine, happily monotonous and safe.

And then, cancer comes barging through the door, like an unwanted visitor in the middle of the night. The nerve! It disrupts the very stable core of our family's routine. Without warning, it comes and decides to stay! The Big C rears its constant, choleric, chafing head in our existence and never wants to leave.

So suddenly, the balanced scales are now tipped unfairly to one side. Has Lady Justice been sleeping? How do I go back to my happy monotony?

Maria Carmina Joyce AlferezCarmina Alferez is an OBGYN. She lives in Cebu City, Philippines with her husband Zigy and their two children.

Blog category: 
Awareness & advocacy
Young adults


I worked with your dad in Cebu. I’m the sister of your ninang, Dr Salud Bagalso.

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