My Vitamin B complex
Twink Macaraig (The Philippine Star) - July 5, 2016 - 12:00am

Being measured and weighed in preparation for chemotherapy forced me to confront some harsh truths.

Five days of radiation to my abdomen did not melt away any belly fat.

Throwing up constantly during those five days of radiation to the abdomen did not result in any weight loss.

And the most unkind cut of all, probably due to the bone mets, I’d lost half an inch in height.

“I’ve been 5’3” since I was 14 years old. There has to be some mistake!” I complained to the nurse/receptionist. I insisted the shrinkage was probably due to the fact that I’d scraped the calluses off the soles of my feet that morning, but she wouldn’t give a centimeter.

“160 cm talaga, ma’am,” she said, after the third try and despite all my efforts to channel the carriage of Iman. 

I protested no further, understanding that my onco needed accurate data to determine the precise dosage of gamma rays to belt me with. And God forbid anyone should try to slip inaccurate data past Dr. Marina Chua-Tan.

Dr. Marina’s diplomas could wallpaper a good-sized powder room. Yet she has the unlined face of a 30-year-old and wears her hair in the fashion of a second grader. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly.  Rather, she fixes on them a blank stare while the fools talk themselves out until their own foolishness sinks in. For however long that process takes, Dr. Marina waits, patiently, impassively, until you’re both on the same page, before proceeding.


Dr. Marina: I’m going to prescribe for you Neurobion.

Me: What’s Neurobion?

Dr. Marina: It’s a Vitamin B complex to boost your overall red blood cell count, reduce symptoms of   chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy, and restore cognitive function lost to chemo brain.

Me: Why can’t I just take the generic B complex vitamins I bought in bulk from S&R? I have a whole half a bottle left. They’re just two months expired. They look the same naman, just a little sticky.

Dr. Marina: *blank stare*

But then came the real tricky part. Dr. Marina asked, “So what supplements are you taking?”

We cancer warriors know that that’s a loaded question. We’re acutely aware of the mild hostilities between Western and Eastern meds, traditional vs. non, Angelina Jolie vs. Suzanne Somers.  While no one actually forces you to take sides, they all secretly wish that you did, and treat any deviations from the preferred protocol with the polite disdain a host might regard an uninvited plus-one.  

But, the very act of agreeing to undergo chemo was, for me, already a declaration of sorts for House Science.  I had to reject an offer from my yaya to instead bring my metastatic cancer to an arbularyo — the same one who’d performed an exorcism on a former maid allegedly possessed by a kapre.  The demon was begone-d although the maid is no longer with us (and I don’t mean that she’s no longer of this earth; she ran off to Samar with a part-time construction worker she met on FB).

 I put off accepting my boss’ urging to see her Chinese doctor in Binondo who, she said, simply examines the underside of your tongue and can pinpoint what’s wrong with you. In her case, she was told that it looked like she could develop lupus. She was then made to drink a vile tea of his concoction for two weeks, after which she was told that lupus had been held at bay. When your boss is Luchi Cruz-Valdes, and she tells you that a guy running a ramshackle operation in the world’s biggest firetrap cured her of a disease that she may not actually have had, of course you believe her. But I’ve loved words longer than I’ve loved Luchi.  The semantics Nazi in me prevents me from going with the alternative until I’ve considered fully the obvious first choice — I can’t not do chemo.  Both LCV my boss and Luchi, my friend, say they understand.

Cancer-wise, Kara Magsanoc- Alikpala has heard it all, lived it all.  Having headed ICan Serve for over 20 years, each member’s individual journey has become part of that waif-like frame by osmosis. Kara’s from a family of physicians but is magnanimous about all options. She casually relates that her own bone mets was eliminated by a healing priest (since banished to Canada for spurious fundraising activities) but she doesn’t get all Oral Roberts on you.  Kara’s advice: Do what feels right but be honest with your doctor.

So I confessed to Dr. Marina that I was taking various pills —  calcium, magnesium, turmeric, mushrooms, ampalaya, lagundi, milk thistle, pond scum, oil from fish caught sustainably from Quebec streams.

I came clean about a bottle of herbs whose ingredients were in Chinese but claimed in English that it was from a “famous proved recipe of Song Dynasty” The packaging further touted that it could replenish yin and hide yang, nourish the kidneys, address “flaring up of fire of deficiency type,” and as an added bonus, treat deafness and “giddy.”

I told her about a food supplement given me that supposedly could reduce the 300 sextillion free radicals wreaking havoc in my body by 40%. I could not tell her how many free radicals that would leave me with because such computations were beyond my Math 11 prowess. (Besides, I couldn’t even tell for sure that sextillion was really a number.)

I revealed that while experts frowned on eating food grilled on charcoal, at a charming spa in Tagaytay, I was soaked in it, wrapped in it, my bowel purged with it. Heck, I even bought a canister of that soot to drink.

I disclosed that in a day I also drank two gallons of alkaline water, a fizzy Vitamin C tablet dissolved in non-alkaline water, three glasses of carrot juice (enough to turn you as orange as Donald Trump, my bro-in-law recommended) a tablespoon of honey, a tablespoon of coco nectar, a tablespoon of Virgin Coconut Oil, and two drops of a homeopathic remedy called Caladium Seguinum (even though my research showed that it worked mainly to increase the density of sperm).  In case of emergency, I carry around a little bottle of Holy Water that my sister got from a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Lipa (it seemed heretical to ask if it was potable).

I showed Dr. Marina how my bracelet was a collection of stones selected not only for visual appeal but also for therapeutic value. I brought out the two plastic cards I had tucked in my underwear that could not only dissolve tumors, positioned strategically they could reduce electricity consumption and improve a car’s gas mileage.

 I opened up about how a dear nephew, who I see only rarely now that he’s grown up, enigmatic and leading a revolutionary movement, sent me a poignant message when he heard the news: Tita, I just want you to know that I’m here for you. I’m just a text away. Was also wondering if you’d be open to marijuana for pain relief. It’s one of the few things I can offer as well.

 Would you believe, in this profusion of potions, placebos and palliatives, the only ones Dr. Marina nixed outright were the mushroom pills (they caused liver trouble in 25% of my patients), and the carrot juice (don’t take root crops raw)?   

“What about my nephew’s offer of pot?” I asked.

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that story.”

I thanked Dr. Marina for the one hour+ that she spent with me on this consultation. I also thanked God that doctors like her exist and thanked the stars that she was mine. They generously dispense the fruits of their hard-earned scholarship yet withhold judgment on the harmless foibles that give patients hope. They indulge the little fantasies that keep our fears from overwhelming us. They listen to our stories.

Please never stop listening to our stories.     

Me: One last thing, Doc. Is it ok if I take Cherifer?  I don’t expect to grow as tall as Benjie Paras, but in those really cutely-done ads, he does suggest na may pag-asa pa pati full-grown adults. I just want to regain that lost half inch. I was always  the tallest of my sisters and I don’t know what change in the family dynamic will result if we’re all the same height. Naabutan ko naman si Benjie sa UP that one time we won the UAAP championship. Siguro naman he wouldn’t endorse a product unless he really believed people of his general age group could still grow.  UP naman siya, diba?

Dr. Marina: *blank stare*

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