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One More Day: How Self-Care Played An Essential Role In This Cancer Thriver's Journey To Finding Joy – Lifestyle Asia

When I look back at my story, I see my life divided into two parts. There was the world as I knew it before my diagnosis and the one that turned upside down when I was told I had stage four cancer. 

It wasn’t until I faced my mortality that I truly began to love myself and intentionally started to live a more purposeful life. During the most grueling of challenges, I allowed myself grace and strengthened my vocation to help others. Self-care played an essential role in my journey from being a cancer warrior to discovering my calling as a life doula, and it all started with faith over fear.

In January 2016, I found myself bargaining with God. In that small cubicle of a hospital washroom, sobbing in fear, waiting for my turn to hear my prognosis, I was no longer asking for it not to be cancer. Somehow, the body just knows; I knew it was severe, so instead of negotiating for a lower stage, I prayed for faith. That was my first ask and the first of many answered prayers.

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I replaced my fear with faith because I knew there were going to be crossroads and decisions that had to be made, and I wouldn’t be able to handle any of them if I was scared. That led me to my journey’s mantra, “faith over fear” because instantly, as if cold water had washed over me, I left that cubicle completely stripped of trepidation. Something inside me just clicked.

Padre Pio was my refuge. Every Friday before treatment, I would spend an hour in Padre Pio to get my bearings and shift my fear to faith. 

I spent the next three days calling doctors to make preparations and purposely going home late to avoid telling my children. Before I could talk about it, I needed to steer myself to a place where I was genuinely okay and ready. I recall my eldest looking at me when I finally told them as he asked, “Are you okay?” I responded, “Yes. I can do this.” When I said that, I felt it deep in my heart.

With Dr. Gia Sison, also a cancer survivor

My self-care went beyond pampering. Much deeper than surface-level, short-term gratification, I dove into the emotional and mental aspects of efficiently caring for myself. Filling your time with the things you enjoy and what gives your life meaning significantly contributes to your state of being. I became intentional in looking and feeling good, seeing the silver lining in dark clouds because I felt it was mandatory to my healing. More than physical, I had to heal the mind and the soul along with the body. Needless to say, I couldn’t afford a single negative thought. This mindset wasmy foundation. I believed—regardless of what my body felt—that I was being healed.

With my children

The side effects were highly unpleasant in the few cycles where I would dread chemotherapy. So, I adjusted my inclination towards my treatment and began viewing it as an opportunity to heal. Turning to gratitude, I looked forward to Healing Fridays. I was thankful that my blood stats were good enough to receive treatment and that my body could accept it, no matter how poisonous those drugs could be. I was probably the only patient with a pep in my step, practically running to my room, excited to welcome chemo because, to me, every treatment meant I was one step closer to getting better.

With best friends from elementary school

When I was told there was no way I could save my hair, I imagined what my life would be like. Knowing there was no end date to my chemotherapy, I had to ask myself, “How do you want to go through this journey?” In that pivotal moment, I again chose to make the most of it. Visualizing the state I wanted to be in, I only saw images of myself being happy. I saw myself busy with work, doing everyday things with my kids, and continuing with charity work—that was my vision. It was from the perspective that life goes on.

With therapy dog, Casper

I decided against wearing wigs because they didn’t appeal to me; instead, I adorned myself with lovely earrings, carefully chose the vibrant colors of my outfits, and picked out beautiful hats and headscarves. It was important to me not to get “those” stares—the pitiful looks from strangers. Part of my self-care was refusing to tolerate the energy of pity or despair and ensuring happiness surrounded me. Mindful of my space, I only immersed myself in uplifting and inspirational things. I even went so far as to ask people to leave my room when they began to cry.

My staff would put on different headdresses at work for solidarity with my chemo. They did this every week for an entire year. 

ENERGY GOES WHERE INTENTION FLOWS



Over time, I was driven by the impulse to help others. I made it a point to pass by the outpatient department to write down names so I could pray for particular individuals. My treatment took about eight hours—more than enough time to include them in my prayers. Hours of solitude also brought awareness to a gap in the healthcare system, where I noticed that hospitals were very disease-centric. Nobody went up to patients to ask: “What are you scared of? What are you thinking about? How are you coping?” So, I took it upon myself to start the dialogue. I would sit with cancer patients, make rounds with my doctors, and ask: “How do you feel now?” or “Why are you afraid to die?” It was crucial for me to have these difficult conversations. 

Sharing my experience at Fr. Orbos Palm Sunday Retreat, 2016

I realized I had the appetite for listening to the stories of others despite my own hardships, which ultimately led me to consider that I was there for a reason. My cancer was not a random act of God, and I was convinced that it was no longer about me but more about what I needed to do for others. Armed with an overflow of optimism, I felt strong enough to take it on.

Showing up for work was a huge part of my self-care. I liked my job and it helped keep me busy. 


I understood that there was no telling what was to come. Even doctors couldn’t say for sure, so why force it? If it’s not within your control, your mind has to let go of it. Building a community kept me grounded, reminding me that I needed to continuously inspire people and encourage them to have faith the way I did. In battling cancer, you can be fearful or scared, but you cannot lose hope, not even for a day.

IN A WORLD WHERE YOU CAN BE ANYTHING, BE KIND

Before having cancer, I was very fond of branded watches and luxury bags. But having a magnetized port in my chest meant I could no longer wear watches, and the large tumor on my breast kept me from using bags. It dawned on me that these material possessions were pointless. Meanwhile, I met people at the hospital who couldn’t afford a simple blood test. So, I sold all of it and dedicated the proceeds to those who needed help. The propelling idea was if I could make someone feel good today, “ they could show up tomorrow. The next day would be the same goal—if they feel good today, they will show up again the day after. Every day is a decision to fight or to give up, and I wanted to be the person that could say, “One more day. Just one more day, and tomorrow we’ll try again.”

Being a life doula and an extreme empath isn’t a bad combination, but it can be very difficult. I can anticipate what patients need because I’ve been down that path, but I had to further equip myself with the proper tools and skills, just as any professional would to do their work well. Holding space without worry or distress is necessary and something I had to improve along the way. Quietly being present and doing nothing can be surprisingly frustrating, but I’ve recognized that the right words come at the right time, and simply honoring the silence can speak volumes.

LIFE IS BEST LIVED BY DESIGN, NOT BY DEFAULT

I’ve seen friends and patients pass away and was told that many of them had passed without anyone by their side. I saw patients being persuaded to continue chemo even if their bodies could not handle it. This showed me another side of the system— an absolute lack of dignity in dying. It gave me a stronger resolve to elevate the experience of dying. As much as the hospital had helped me, I felt it was not the place for someone to die.

Essential oils was an important part of my self-care routine

Now, I am an advocate of curating the end-of-life experience. It need not be something sad nor so clinical to the point that a person should die alone within four glass panels of the ICU and the humming and beeping of machines. I’m a staunch believer that the dying should be with family and where they want to be. They can take charge and be adamant that there is also a time to stop and say, “I will just let life play out.” To me, that is still part of self-care. It’s defining your total experience of dying because it is a monumental event.

Dying on your own terms is very much a part of self-care. Define how you want to be cared for. I encourage everyone to make the hard decisions— now that you can still talk —how do you want to be cared for when the time comes that you can longer take medication? Do you want to be by the beach or rent a home with a view of the mountains?

Whatever serves you, that’s how you should go. Unfortunately, not everyone is ready, but I know now that this will be my work until I grow old. I take it all in stride, one step at a time. Life keeps teaching me, and I have learned to utilize these lessons to share them with those who need them. This is how I choose to live with joy.

Connect with the author Charity Marohombsar on Instagram @lifedoula.ph.

Photos courtesy of Charity Marohombsar.

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