COVID-19 and cancer: Cecile Guidote-Alvarez shares story as survivor
At a Malacañang press briefing last February 21, 2017, Cecile Guidote-Alvarez shows the book 'Memory of the World’ that included the Philippines’ EDSA People Power Revolution 1986 as among the world's most glorious moments.
PPD/Ace Morandante

COVID-19 and cancer: Cecile Guidote-Alvarez shares story as survivor

Maridol Ranoa-Bismark (Philstar.com) - June 8, 2020 - 10:37am

MANILA, Philippines — Novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and cancer are destinations you reach through different paths.  While a COVID-19 patient is isolated and lonesome, the cancer patient is usually not that alienated.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Artist for Peace Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, who survived both COVID-19 and cancer, knows this well.  
Her husband, former senator Heherson “Sonny” Alvarez, lost his battle with COVID-19 last April.

She triumphed, not only from COVID, but from stage three breast cancer. 

But it was far from easy. Throughout the time they had COVID-19, Cecile and husband were in isolation, without contact or means of communication. 

“The tragedy was the unavailability of mutual support, encouragement to stand strong and praying together for determination to battle the virus. Because of my very weakened condition, I was cut off from communication, but I was able to ask a nurse to read a healing prayer to Mama Mary to Sonny,” Cecile recalled in an exclusive interview with Philstar.com.

The couple’s loved ones were not allowed to visit them in the hospital to lend moral support. Cecile felt depressed because no family member can stay by her side just when she needed a hand to hold.  

As she found out for herself when her husband died, there were no last farewell and expressions of love and prayers via extreme unction for COVID-19 cases. The corpse goes straight to the crematorium. 

It was heart-rending for Cecile to see her son break down in tears because he could not  see his dad who was inside a cadaver pouch. There were no final hugs nor kisses. 

“It is so painful that one dies alone as a COVID patient,” lamented Cecile.

Cancer, for her, was easier to deal with. Time is one edge cancer patients have over those with COVID-19. The former has more time to give his or her final wishes to loved ones. He or she can complete important tasks.

For instance, when her physician Jose Sanchez told her she had cancer, Cecile begged him not to tell her husband. She wanted to fulfill her obligations as director of Earth Savers, a movement that raises environmental awareness via theater and multimedia.

“There is a protocol of chemotherapy or radiation plus medication. There is time to complement medicines with herbal juices. You lose hair with  chemo, but it grows again. There are other  effects of chemo, but at least you have   time   with family and friends as a  cheering squad,” shared Cecile.

Cancer, she said, is more treatable than COVID-19. Science has a treatment standard when the Big C is detected early. Recovery rate is better. 

Thus, Cecile stressed that COVID-19 is  more intense than cancer.

She hopes someone comes up with a COVID-19 support group the way breast cancer patients and their loved ones have ICanServe Foundation. 

The PETA (Philippine Educational Theater Association) founder and  Magsaysay Outstanding Asian Laureate  award recipient added that since coronavirus is a new strain with less research data,  the Department of Health should ask medical teams to share treatment menus  that can serve as information sources for other hospitals, especially those in the provinces.

But whether it is COVID-19 or cancer, Cecile has one lesson to share.  

“Life is precious. Time is gold. Do not think or presume life on earth is eternal. Take the moment to express love and appreciation since sudden deaths can occur.”

Most importantly, she reminded the value of prayer, which is “crucial for faith in recovery.”

Is COVID-19 worse than cancer, as other people say?  

Dr. Beatrice Tiangco, director of The Medical City’s Augusto P. Sarmiento Cancer  Institute, said the answer lies, not in the general public’s minds, but in the patients themselves. 

“It is only they who have experienced both illnesses, know which is worse. Even then, the answer of one person may be different from the next. Passage through any illness is a very personal thing.”

RELATED: COVID-19 vs Cancer: Which is worse?

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