Bibeth Orteza recounts the moment she was diagnosed with breast cancer

by Bibeth Orteza
Nov 12, 2019
Playing the the cancer-stricken mother of Sid Lucero in John Paul Su's Toto, I am fixed to look like I did while doing chemo.
PHOTO/S: courtesy of Bibeth Orteza

Hello po. Welcome ulit to Labandera Chronicles.

Please check the picture above. Playing the the cancer-stricken mother of Sid Lucero in John Paul Su's Toto, I am fixed to look like I did while doing chemo.

Every time I see this, I go into flashback mode, remembering each and every breast friend lost to the dreaded disease, recalling my own diagnosis, 15 years ago, on November 11.

I’d been having low-grade fever, almost every night of the campaign period of the 2004 presidential elections. My appetite would come and go. Soon after the ballots were counted inexplicably in favor of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, I just went lethargic, almost without energy. I thought it had to do with my anger over electoral fraud winning over the truth.

I quit smoking, through acupuncture. My appetite somewhat improved. I took up boxing, felt better, but, at the same time, instinctively knew something was wrong. My right breast was slow-moving; it wouldn’t follow the rest of my body when I’d shift positions in bed.

So I went to several hospitals, kept on having sonograms, until finally, an eagle-eyed technician in a small diagnostic clinic on Jupiter Street in Makati spotted “suspicious shadows in the right armpit.”

Dealing with this made me realize whatever was on hand I couldn’t handle on my own. On my way to Makati Medical Center, I prayed: “Dear God. I can’t handle this alone. I uplift this to you. Please help me, please keep me company, please be with me. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

My cellphone rang. My friend Kitchie Benedicto Paulino was on the line, on another matter. I told her my situation, that I really didn’t know where I was going, who I was going to see. I hadn’t told Carlitos yet of what I was going through, I wanted to be sure before making announcements. I only had my sister Eunice with me.

Kitchie was still for a beat, then she went: “Manawag ‘ko sa imo balik.” (I’ll call you back quickly). And she did. “You go see my nephew-in-law, Dr. Miguel Fores. He is married to my niece-in-law, Dr. Lucy Fores. Miggs will head your medical team, choose everyone else on your team.”

Clasping hands, my sister and I continued to pray. “Lord, please show me signs that you are with me. Be with me, Lord. Be with us.”

In the hospital, Dr. Miggs said my surgeon was going to be Dr. Jennifer Ang. “She knows your mother-in-law, and has also met you personally. She’s a surgeon at the San Juan City Medical Center, a friend of the Ejercito-Estradas.”

Dr. Miggs didn’t stop there. “Your oncologist is going to be Dr. Barbara Marquez-Domingo. She says she was your husband’s classmate in one subject, at the Ateneo.”

I clearly wasn’t alone. My medical team was going to be made up of people who knew me; I wasn’t just a patient number to them, but a real person. Laugh if you wish, and think this corny. But when you’re about to go under the knife, these things matter. You strongly feel God is with you, that you are not alone.

Continue reading below ↓

Evening of that day, then Makati Mayor Jejomar S. Binay was to have a birthday dinner at the Makati City Park. I had to back out from accompanying my mother-in-law Armida to the affair, tried not to tell her why so, but she kept on badgering me, until I blurted out: “Mommy, I have a lump on my right breast.”

She immediately fell silent, and kept that silence until later when Fernando Poe Jr. and Marichu Maceda asked her why I wasn’t with her in the Binay dinner. She told them. “Si Bibeth? Si Bibeth natin?” FPJ incredulously asked.

(More next time.)
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Playing the the cancer-stricken mother of Sid Lucero in John Paul Su's Toto, I am fixed to look like I did while doing chemo.
PHOTO/S: courtesy of Bibeth Orteza
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