This mother of five recalls how breast cancer nearly tore her family apart

IMAGE FM Ganal

Franz Tolentino, 57, has been a breast cancer survivor for 15 years. She shared her story with PEP.ph during the Pink Minute event of Avon Philippines at the Quezon City Memorial Circle last October 20.


Breast cancer "is by far the most common cancer in women worldwide," according to World Health Organization.

In the Philippines, Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that it is "the leading cause of death among women."

It also cites a study by the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, which says "one out of 13 Filipino women is expected to develop breast cancer in her lifetime."

That's why breast cancer has been included in Department of Health's Philippine Cancer Control Program.

Last October 20, Avon Philippines held a special lighting ceremony for breast cancer awareness at the Quezon City Memorial Circle.

The event was part of their Pink Minute campaign, which advocates regular breast self-examination.

Here, PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) met Franz Tolentino, a breast cancer survivor for 15 years.

Franz is 57, a mother of five, and a grandmother of four.

Franz Tolentino, a breast cancer survivor, shares her story at Avon Philippines' Pink Minute lighting ceremony at Quezon City Memorial Circle last October 20.
 IMAGE FM Ganal

She found out about her cancer back in 2003.

Franz began, "Nalaman ko [na may] bukol nung naliligo ako. Nakapa ko yung bukol, kasing laki lang siya ng kalamansi.

"Nagpa-check up ako kaagad. Pina-biopsy ko sa PGH [Philippine General Hospital], and then nakita na invasive ductal carcinoma stage 3B."

Invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC) is the most common type of the cancer. It starts "growing in a milk duct and invades the fibrous or fatty tissue of the breast outside of the duct."

According to BreastCancer.org, "about 80% of all breast cancers are invasive ductal carcinoma."

When Franz heard the news, the thought of death immediately consumed her.

She continued, "Kapag may cancer ka, ang unang papasok sa isip mo is ang kamatayan. Parang, 'Hanggang dito na lang ba ang buhay mo?'"

Her doctor then revealed that she had to undergo operation.

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The news immediately brought heartache to Franz as she knew what was at stake for her family.

Before she got diagnosed with breast cancer, she revealed that she already underwent surgery to remove one of her kidneys in 1999.

In fact, as part of her self-introduction at the start our interview, Franz described herself as a "chop-chop lady."

On top of her cancer, she already lost one of her kidneys, her gallbladder, both of her ovaries, and her right breast.

And with every operation that Franz underwent, one of her five children offered up their tuition fees to finance it.

It crushed Franz to think, "Sino naman ang titigil?"

She added, "Masakit sa akin ang ganun, na ako ang nagiging dahilan para tumigil sa pag-aaral mga anak ko... Maliliit pa sila nangangarap kami kung ano yung magiging sila paglaki nila.

"And then ito na, abot-kamay na, ako yung nagiging dahilan para hindi nila maabutan yun..."

But Franz knew that she couldn't keep her breast cancer a secret from them.

After speaking with her doctor, she told her family.

"Sinabi ko sa family ko, asawa ko, mga anak ko. Sabi ko, 'Okay lang. Binigay ito ng Diyos ito sa akin. Kaya natin.'

"Kinabukasan, akala ko okay [sila], hindi pala. Paggising ko, akala ko pumasok sa trabaho asawa ko, akala ko pumasok sa school mga anak ko. Wala pala. Nandun lang sila na parang, feeling ko, tumigil ang mundo nila.

"Parang mas affected sila kaysa sa akin, so ang sakit para sa akin na makita ko nahihirapan sila dahil sa akin.

"Ako yung burden ng family, ako nagpapahirap sa kanila.

"Nagalit ako. Nagbasag ako kung anong binagsak ko para magising sila.

"Sabi ko, 'Buhay pa ako. Hindi pa ako patay. Huwag niyo ipakita sa akin na ganyan kayo kasi mas masakit sa akin. Alam ko na ako yung dahilan kung bakit tayo nagkakaganito at nakikita ko pa na ganyan kayo, so lalong mas masakit para sa akin.'

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"So ayun, nagkasundo kami na hindi nila ako pakikitaan ng lungkot. Gusto ko masaya and suporta sa isa’t isa..."

Even Franz promised herself not to show her sadness to her family.

"Kapag nararamdaman ko nade-depress, hindi ako nagpapakita sa kanila.

"Minsan, lumalabas ako ng bahay, umiiyak ako. Walang dahilan, lalakad ako sa mall.

"Wala akong pakialam na lumuluha ako, huwag lang makita ng family ko..."

THE GOOD FIGHT

As the day of Franz's operation approached, the mother of five felt hesitant to proceed as she was aware of the consequences it had on her family.

One of her kids asked, "'Ma, kailan ka magpapa-opera?'

"Sabi ko, 'Hayaan mo. Saka na.'

"Sabi niya, 'Ma, opera ka na. Hindi na ako mag-eenroll ng second sem. Yung pang-enroll ko, pampa-opera mo.'

"It gives me more pain than my breast cancer na makitang ganun nangyayari sa mga anak ko, so parang ako yung tinik ng pamilya.

"Sabi ng anak ko naman, 'Hindi bale Mama na hindi kami makatapos. Ang mahalaga buhay ka, kapiling ka namin.'"

That had kept Franz motivated to live.

"Yun yung tumulak sa akin para lalo akong lumaban. Pati ang husband ko, 'Lumaban ka. Hindi ko kaya kung mawawala ka.'

"So, yun yung talagang naging dahilan ko para lalo lumaban kasi parang titigil ang mundo nila kung wala na ako, e.

"Parang isa ako sa dahilan kung bakit mabubuhay sila nang maayos, so yun ang ginawa namin. Suporta sa isa't isa... Nakita ko yung pagmamahal sa akin ng pamilya."

As the years went by, Franz was able to give back to her family.

As an Avon representative, she was able to help her husband bring their children back to school. 

"Parang ginawa ng Panginoon na bigyan ako ng cancer para makita ko yung earning opportunities na makakatulong pa sa amin… nakapagpatapos na rin ako ng pag-aaral ng mga anak ko."

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Franz was proud to say that her youngest, who was four years old when she was diagnosed with cancer, is now close to finishing college.

"Hindi dahilan ang sakit para hindi ka mabuhay nang normal. Nasa atin lang kung paano natin dadalhin...

"Nagbigay ng pagsubok ang Diyos kasi kaya natin, at may ibang gusto ipakita sa 'yo kung ano yun.

"Dapat maging positive lang… Naging positive ako sa bawat pagsubok na dumarating sa akin kasi yung natanggap ko nang maayos yung cancer ko. Isa na yun sa blessings ko…

"Basta nandiyan yung Diyos at huwag mawawala ang faith.

"Kahit kulang-kulang ang parte ng katawan ko, buong-buo pa rin ang loob ko na harapin ang buhay kasi may dahilan kung bakit nangyari ang lahat."


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