Joey & the Big C (as in Courage)
Joey & the Big C (as in Courage)
- Ricky Lo () - April 18, 2004 - 12:00am
Though doubt and dismay should enfold you

And hope and relief become dim.

Remember that Someone has told you

To cast all your cares upon Him.– A verse from Lifter Lines, a collection of "Messages of Hope, Love, Joy and Consolation" by Maribi M. Garcia

Eight years after recovering from cervical cancer, Vancouver-based Joey Albert was diagnosed middle of last year with colon cancer. This is the story of how she’s facing her new battle with faith and courage.

Way back in 1995 when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, Joey Albert, who’s deeply spiritual, closed her eyes and whispered, "Thy will be done!"

She has recovered.

The surgery was done three months before she and her family – husband Vicente "Ting" Pacis and their daughters Trixie and Margarita, then aged 5 and 2 – were to migrate to Vancouver where they have been leading a simple and quiet life, still pursuing her singing career on a "part-time" basis while devoting full time to being wife and mother, and coming home in August every year for her annual reunion with family and friends.

In July last year, while packing her things for her homecoming, Joey felt a terrible pain in her stomach. She drove to the hospital and was told that she had "a growth" in her colon.

"When the doctor told me to ask my husband to come over," recalled Joey, "I knew something was terribly wrong."

Her fears were confirmed: She had colon cancer.

On that day in August she was supposed to fly to the Philippines, Joey went under the knife. Word soon spread that Joey was "seriously ill," especially after friends back home launched a texting campaign asking for prayer and for Joey’s recovery. Everybody thought Joey was dying.

"I thought so, too," confirmed Joey. "I was more scared of this colon cancer than I was with the cervical cancer; it’s a rare type which has become known in the medical field as Albert’s Colon because it’s common only among the Alberts. My father and sister died of it."

Through it all (and like the first time), Joey’s faith never waivered, just like Rio Diaz-Cojuangco who has been bravely waging her own battle with the Big C these past six years, surviving a 10-day coma in May last year while family members kept vigil over her at a San Francisco hospital where Rio is being treated.

The following Conversation with Joey was done last April 3 in San Francisco where Joey flew from Vancouver to perform at the ABS-CBN Global Limited’s The Filipino Channel’s 10th-anniversary show at the Cow Palace (see related story on Page D-2).

When I learned that Joey was around, I sought her out at the Maxwell Hotel where some of the ABS-CBN entourage were billetted. Although she said she just had her last chemotherapy last February, Joey looked as if she was the healthiest woman on earth, cheerful as ever, her cheeks turning pinkish in the cool Sanfo spring sun.

Here’s Joey and how she’s battling the Big C with faith, hope and courage, refusing to let her illness get her down.

"I know that God has a reason for this," said Joey. "I trust Him."

You look so healthy. Nobody would believe that you’re, well, that you’ve just had chemotherapy.

"My last treatment was last week of February, so I’ve had a month of recuperation already. So I’m pretty much recovered."

A lot of people prayed for you when news came out middle of last year that you were going to undergo surgery.

"That was on July 28, 2003 when I was diagnosed with this cancer – of the colon. I’ll never forget that date."

When was the first one?

"In February 1995 – of the cervix. That one was totally reversed by the hysterectomy. So that was fine."

Is this the one that is widely-known as Albert’s Colon (common only among the Alberts, for reasons nobody knows)?

"Yeah. It’s the one. This one really scared me. A lot of women get cervical cancer and it can be corrected by hysterectomy – instantly."

Why did "this one" scare you more than the "first one"?

"You know, with the colon cancer, all the traumas that I experienced suddenly manifested themselves. You see, my Papa (Tetong Albert) and my sister Ana both died of colon cancer. It’s so funny because I thought that since it happened to my father and my sister, I would be kind of conditioned to it. Pero hindi, e. I thought all the while that I had already gotten over the trauma; ’yon pala, hindi. When the doctor told me I had colon cancer, lahat ng trauma biglang bumalik sa akin. I was scared to death."

I could imagine...

"...the minute the doctor told me, ‘You have a growth in your colon,’ I immediately thought of Papa and Ana. Parang... ‘Oh, no, not again!’ Not me!"

Were you depressed?

"Not really. I was startled than depressed – more startled this time than I was when I was diagnosed to have cervical cancer. Kasi, it was this cancer that killed my father and my sister. Imagine, colon!?! You know, the reproductive system can be removed, you can live without it; it can be taken out and you’re still whole. You know, buo ka pa rin. But the colon..."

How many treatments have you had until last February?

"Six chemotherapy sessions."

So now, you’re on remission.

"Oh, yes, yes! I should be cured. But I still have more check-ups. I should have another blood test and colonoscopy within the next few months. I should be okay."

I understand you were supposed to go home (to the Philippines) last year.

"You know, the funny thing was that I was operated on on the same date my airline booked me for the flight home – Aug. 5. I was going to Manila for a vacation; I usually do so every August."

Your touching story was dramatized on Maalaala Mo Kaya (with Vina Morales playing Joey Albert) only recently.

"A lot of people saw it, not only in the Philippines but in other places, thanks to TFC (The Filipino Channel). When they approached me nga, they wanted to include controversies daw in my career. But I told them, ‘You know, there are no controversies in my career.’ My life is so dull; walang controversy! I told them, ‘If you’re looking for a controversial artist, you’re talking to the wrong person.’ But I like the way they did the story."

You’re very much like Rio (Diaz-Cojuangco). You know, "never say die."

"Oh, no, no!"

So life is, well, back to normal for you and your family.

"Well, yes. Just a little different but as normal as possible."


it’s harder to get sick in a foreign country than it is in Manila. Back home, a lot of people take care of you – your family, etc. There are the maids helping, too. I had my surgery at the Surrey Memorial Hospital in Vancouver. My Mommy was not around; there were only Ting, Trixie and Margarita. The family is really forced to really support each other. Ting and the kids are awesome in their support for me. I relied on them for everything."

How’s life in Vancouver?

"Very simple. Vancouver is very ideal for family life."

How long did you stay in the hospital?

"For a week. When I went home, I couldn’t go up and down the stairs muna. You’re forced to rely on your spouse. That’s good because I think it helps the marriage work; it makes the marriage stronger."

You’ve been keeping a happy balance between your family and your singing. You do get all the chance to perform, like now on the TFC show in Cow Palace.

"I may not be as active as my contemporaries in Manila but, yes, I do get the chance to do shows. Isn’t it wonderful that it’s my contemporaries dominating the Manila music scene? Kuh (Ledesma), Zsa Zsa (Padilla), Pops (Fernandez), Martin (Nievera), Gary (Valenciano). My batchmates! I’m not as busy as they are because I have to raise my kids – in a foreign country at that! – but enough to keep me uplifted. You know, I feel that if I stop singing, I’ll die."

You have more shows scheduled here (in California)...

"...on April 30 and May 1, I’m guesting in the show of the La Salle Chorale here in San Francisco. And then in June, I’m joining the APO on some of their shows in their East Coast tour."

So it’s okay for you to be so active especially after your last treatment.

"Okay lang, according to my doctor."

What else did your doctor(s) tell you?

"I can start working out daw next month. But all of this month, they told me not to do so. You see, after the chemotherapy, your blood count dives; it goes very low. Your immune system becomes very weak. That’s the hardest part about the chemo – and the mouth sores, too! After the chemo treatment, lupaypay ka talaga. You become very weak."

Didn’t your hair fall?

"It thinned out but it didn’t fall."

What about your diet?

"I can eat anything but I have to avoid bad fats."

And, of course, prayer helps a lot (as it does in Rio’s case).

"Remember what I wrote you (For Funfare – RFL)? I said, it was as if I was riding on a boat floating on a sea of prayers. That was really how I felt the whole time. I’m really thankful to everybody who prayed and who continues to pray for me. I was really floating on their prayers. I felt that without them (prayers), I would sink, lulubog ako!"

Have you gotten in touch with Rio?

"Not really, but she has been a great inspiration not only to me but also to other cancer patients. When I heard that she had cancer, I tried to call her and I left a message for her. I’m just not sure if she got it. Rio and I are friends; we’ve been close since she was co-hosting Eat, Bulaga! At that time naman, I was the EP (Executive Producer) of ABS-CBN’s Bahay Kalinga. You know what...Every payday, Rio would rush to my office at Bahay Kalinga, at the motor pool, and she would always donate money for one child. Every payday ‘yan. Rio is really a kind-hearted person, very nice."

And with such courage, too.

"You know, my condition is nothing compared to what Rio is going through."

What’s a typical day in your life in Vancouver?

"I wake up early, make baon for my kids, drive them to school, come back, fix the house, do the laundry, run errands. Simple life. I cook but not on weekends when we eat out. That’s my ‘day off.’ We’ve been in Vancouver for nine years and we’ve gotten used to the lifestyle there. It’s a very laid-back kind of life."

Not hurried, I guess.

"I think I should be grateful that I have the best of both worlds. I have a little bit of my career – I can perform in the States and in the Philippines – and then we enjoy a happy family life. Our kids have learned to adjust to that kind of the two sides of their Mommy – the singer and the mother. It’s a simple lifestyle, as I’ve said. No frills. But there are a lot of trade-offs, like the little luxuries (having maids, etc.) of life in Manila."

Don’t you miss home?

"I do, I do! Even if I go back every year. I do miss home – very much! I really do. After nine years in Vancouver, I still consider Manila our home."

I admire people like you and Rio. You don’t let the Big C, you know, cramp your style.

"You know, when you believe that there’s a reason for everything then you won’t be afraid. If you believe that God is just using you for a bigger – bigger, bigger, bigger! – cause, then there’s no reason to be afraid. But it doesn’t mean that I have no complaints. More than the physical pain and discomfort, with cancer, I think what’s scary is the fear of the uncontrollable. That’s the most disturbing part because you have absolutely no control of the disease."

Has the Big C ("this one" especially) changed the way you look at life?

"From the very first one. Like I’ve said, I wasn’t the one who wanted to go to Vancouver; it was my husband. Three months before we left Manila, I had my (cervical cancer) surgery. My kids were aged five and two. I reassessed my life and my mortality. Doon ako nag-isip ng malalim. The pain and the suffering are secondary; it’s coming face-to-face with your mortality that’s frightening, that’s fearful. I thought, ‘My kids are only five and two. If I die of this disease...if it ever comes back and I die, my kids would never know me.’ That’s what pushed me to go to Vancouver. There, I would have to take care of my kids myself. When they grow up, at least they’d know that I was the one who gave them their daily bath, I was the one who fed them, that I took good care of them every step of the way."

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