OFW Fought Cancer Alone in Doha
Don’t let Honey’s sweet name and equally sweet demeanor fool you. Underneath is a fierce survivor with unbreakable spirit. October is breast cancer awareness month, and I feel honored that Honey Mangubat trusted me to tell her story. What’s unique about her case is that she fought breast cancer alone while working as an OFW for a five star hotel in Doha, Qatar.
In complete remission now, she still continues to fight breast cancer through her advocacy of awareness. She invites everyone to Pink Zumba: a dance-for-a-cause on October 15, Sunday 6AM at The Rodelsa Circle (Paseo del Rio, tickets at P150). Come in PINK to show support for those in treatment or to remember loved ones whose lives were lost to breast cancer.
Finding the Lump
Honey said that the best defense is early detection through breast self-exam. In fact, that’s how she discovered hers on February 2014. She narrated: “I was putting on my makeup, naked after showering, when I noticed the lump in my right breast. My left breast also looked normal; however, the right looked smaller, with the nipple slightly inverted. I was so scared!”
She called the hotel nurse, who advised to observe if it will go away after her period. When it did not, Honey went to the doctor. She recounted: “I was referred to a surgeon and had tests: ultrasound, mammogram, fine needle biopsy, core needle biopsy. I’ve been pricked a lot of times. One needle was really big, I wanted to faint. But the most harrowing part was the wait. The results came after two weeks.”
The surgeon read the report, mentioning malignant cells. He did not say the word cancer. She said: “So several times he heard me ask, ‘Are u telling me I have breast cancer?!’ I wanted him to tell me straight. Hearing it from his mouth would make it real.”
But he would not say cancer because he was just a surgeon. Instead, he ushered Honey to his car and drove her to an oncologist (cancer-specialist). Honey said: “She’s a Pakistani who looked like Nora Aunor (local celebrity). I felt right at home with her.”
It was there where she had a good cry. Her employer provided good health insurance so she could get treatment in a topnotch facility, but the drawback was no family support. On the flipside: if she went home, it would be a huge financial strain. She had no choice but to face challenges alone.
Cancer patients just don’t “physically” fight, but they also suffer mental anguish brought on by pain, anxiety, and uncertainty. Honey said: “I prayed hard so I’d be strong for my mom and kids. Initially, I was agonizing how to tell them. My mom’s already old; I don’t want her to worry. Same for my kids. They’re too young to lose a mom.”
On top of those, she feared losing her job. She explained: “I faced clients daily, but how could I if I’m sick with no hair? Luckily, a nurse emphasized I must not lose my job because I would be even more depressed. Management was convinced to retain me, moving me to a department with minimal client interaction.”
Moreover, Honey faced losing her breasts. She shared: “Both breasts were to be removed if I was positive for BRCA (an expensive genetic test). I was lucky a friend sponsored this, so I would feel safe and secure when all the treatments are done. It’s the same one Angelina Jolie had. Thankfully, I tested negative!”
Only her right breast was removed, and then she had six cycles of chemotherapy every 3 weeks; plus 33 days radiation therapy. She was alone for 3 days at the hospital after surgery and for chemo. She had a few work friends, but they also had responsibilities.
Honey narrated: “I had chemo in Hamad Medical Center, with mostly Filipino nurses. That was comforting somehow. After chemo, I had to take 2 -3 days off because the painful effects manifest at that time. I had nausea, dark nails, mouth sores, and stomach pain. They were unbearable, making me weak, but I had no choice. I endured because I promised my family I’d come home healthy.”
She added: “I cut my hair to my ears on the first day of chemo. By the second cycle, I was completely bald. I thought I was prepared for that, but my hair slowly falling off in the shower or on my pillow was depressing. Thank heavens for technology I could call family when I felt down.”
Honey’s treatment was from April to November. She was declared cancer-free early December. Unfortunately, by the end of the month, she had to fly home because her younger brother committed suicide. She said: “It was devastating because here I was fighting for my life, and he ended his. I fulfilled my promise to come home healthy, but I never imagined I would come home to his cold dead body. It felt like a sick twist of faith!”
Honey said cancer taught her to fight even if she felt sad and scared. And that’s what she did: “I promised I would live life to the fullest for both of us. I didn’t go back to Doha anymore so I could spend time with my aging mother. I’m supposed to go thru reconstruction as part of my treatment; however, I don’t want another surgery. I don’t need another boob to complete me. I feel good about myself!”
No one understands the fragility of life more than a cancer survivor—facing the possibility of imminent death, while still hoping for the best during treatment. Even in recovery, a dark cloud hangs over a survivor’s battered, scarred body and mind as she hopes that cancer doesn’t return.
“Yet life must never stop because we all have a purpose. And His will be done! The very reason God gave me a second chance is to spread love, hope, and happiness. Cancer and my brother’s death taught me we have to touch people’s lives and inspire others so even if we die we can leave our mark or traces of ourselves in this world,” she concluded. As Honey exemplifies, the best defense is to not merely survive but to thrive.
Honey with her fellow CDO survivors in one of their events for Pink October Breast Cancer Awareness Month. They’re all wearing pink Wonder Woman shirts and headgear…truly the perfect ensemble for these strong wonder women.
*this article also appears in my column at SunStar newspaper print and online editions.