What happens when life forces you to face death?

This is Part. 2 of the Surviving Mini-Series.

With lots of strength to face his truth, grit to ride it out, and a bit of self-deprecation, this guest tells us about his battle against osteosarcoma in the distal ulna (bone cancer for us commoners) as a child, and the lessons death can teach about life.

Did you know that?

  • Over 90% of developed countries have cancer treatment services that are generally available
  • But less than 30% of low-income countries do
  • Every day in the Philippines, there are 11 new cancer cases.
  • And 8 children dying of this disease.
  • Ever hour, 7 adults die.

The following text is the transcript from this episode.

I tried my best not to look sick to the point that when I got, well, it carried on: people wouldn’t know I survived something horrible.

WHEN THEY LAID  CANCER ON THE TABLE, THAT WAS LIKE, WAIT A MINUTE, WHAT?  CANCER WAS THE LAST THING I WOULD  THINK OF, BECAUSE NUMBER ONE, I WAS FUCKING 16. NUMBER TWO, ONLY OLD PEOPLE GET CANCER, ONLY PEOPLE WHO SMOKE,  WHO DRINK, WHO DON’T TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES, WHO DON’T EAT PROPERLY…

WHEN THE THINGS YOU LOVE TURN FATAL…

When I was 14, I was  trying out to be a professional race car driver, and I had a really bad accident. 

I was turning right, before I hit the apex, my car went crazy. I hit the barrier. But since carts are not closed bodied, I stopped the impact with my left arm… It hurt like a motherfucker. 

We have this theory that I had a hairline fracture, if my arm was completely broken, I would have been in better shape. So my arm healed wrong, and that’s when things got really, really weird.

During that time, I kept on training. I was racing. I was playing basketball. I was  also boxing and exploring new ways of training. 

There was this day, we were training in my friend’s living room, and he threw a kick and it landed on my wrist, and it was really, really painful.  I thought it was just normal pain from all the hitting and punching. Everything healed, but it didn’t go away. It went from a mosquito bite into a golf ball… It looked fucked up 

Between my third year and  senior year in high school, the pain was unbearable. It was blinding.  It was around the size of a small orange 

Turns out  it’s a highly malignant type of bone cancer, called osteosarcoma. I was diagnosed when I was 16. It’s the same cancer that Augustus Waters had, and we all know how that turned out for him. It’s very aggressive. 

THINGS MIGHT METASTASIZE IN YOUR LUNGS, THROUGH YOUR KIDNEYS, EVERYTHING. IT MIGHT SPREAD TO ANOTHER BODY PART. CANCER IS A WEIRD FUCKER BECAUSE IT SHOWS UP WHEN THERE’S TRAUMA.

The time that I got it, only three people had it in the medical history of the Philippines. The first one didn’t make it. The second guy got his   arm amputated, and I’m the third guy.

So pretty much, I’m on death row.

Since I had a very rare case of osteosarcoma, a lot of doctors were interested in my case. They wanted to be the first set of doctors to save a patient from amputation.

Step one was to make the cancer smaller, after three sessions, they needed to take out a section of the bone without hurting any of the nerves, but at the same time, with  zero option of putting in a metal plate or another foreign object in my body that would trigger another wave of cancer. The second three sessions would eliminate all cancer traces in my body.

Chemo days are the worst  because you’re  not even human anymore. The drugs  they gave me were experimental, I forgot what it’s called, but they were super strong, so thick that when it hit my veins, I would start vomiting right away nonstop. You’re a vegetable. Even the smallest of doses would feel like hell already. 

ACCEPTANCE AND SELF-DEPRECATION LEAD TO GRATITUDE.

So, funny story with my surgery, I woke up in the middle of my operation.

I woke up because I was being shaken. I felt this sewing motion. When you’re trying to cut wood? That motion woke me up because my entire body was shaking and there was this really, really heavy feeling on my chest. I fell back asleep. 

AND THEN I WOKE UP THAT SAME HEAVY FEELING WAS STILL ON MY CHEST. AND THEY WERE PLAYING LIVING ON A PRAYER IN THE OPERATING ROOM. THE ROOM WAS BRIGHT WHITE. I THOUGHT I WAS IN HEAVEN AND THEY WERE PLAYING, LIVING ON A PRAYER LIKE, OH MY GOD, THEY REALLY FUCKED IT UP. I DIED.

So I was there  laying like a fucking piece of pork in the middle of the operating table that was buck naked I was still high. Every single medical personnel there looked like an angel. That’s why it was a mind fuck that anything else.

They were  playing, Living On A Prayer because they were celebrating and then they said, “Yeah, your arm’s on your chest Congratulations. You made it.!”

FACING YOUR TRUTH IS NOT EASY, BUT IT IS LIBERATING.

I sort of felt everything that everyone is feeling during this pandemic when I was on chemo.  I was pretty much on  quarantined slash social distancing. No one was allowed to talk to me without covering their face because if I catch the flu,  cancer cells would run through my lungs and it’s like, boom, instant lung cancer.

I had to wear a mask, which I didn’t. I had to be driven to school, I didn’t because I drove myself to school every day because once again, I didn’t want to feel sick.

THAT WAS MY LAST YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL. I WAS GRADUATING. THAT WAS THE LAST TIME I WAS EVER GOING TO BE A HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT. SO I DIDN’T WANT THIS FUCKING THING TO TAKE THAT AWAY FROM ME. I DIDN’T WANT TO MISS OUT ON  JUST, UH, SIMPLE PLEASURE OF GRADUATING WITH MY FRIENDS.

I really tried my best not to look the part of a dying person, not to look like a sad story. I didn’t want to have that stigma. Of  the guy who has cancer, poor kid, he’s going to die. 

 You know how when this artist dies, and then, “oh my gosh… RIP… I’ll post a tribute to that person on Instagram”?

 I was surrounded with fake friends, a lot of people trying to distort their reality through positivity.

You can live in that bubble of positivity but you need to face the ugly truth too. As much as you dive into that pool of rainbows and unicorns, you have to get in the cage with that negative tiger because that’s how things are.

Things are getting romanticized now with books and Netflix and series about cancer and kids and love stories.  

The truth of the matter is the world is as good as it is bad. There’s a duality to living life. 

The truth is ugly and pretty at the same time. It’s not how you perceive the truth to be. It can be very, very beautiful one moment and very, very ugly the next, but you have to embrace both. 

When you’re faced with that fact that you don’t have a choice but to defeat this thing in your body and there’s nothing romantic about it.

WHEN SOMETHING HITS YOUR REALITY SO HARD AND IT SHAKES IT, AND TO SOME EXTENT IT BREAKS IT. THAT’S WHEN YOUR EGO GETS HURT. 

That’s why getting your heartbroken hurts You’re faced with the truth that it’s over.

It was just, okay, I need to wake up. I need to grind it out, and hopefully when I get back home, I’m still okay. Everything else in the middle, you just. Take it as it comes.

I chose to be normal given the fact that things will be difficult. The only thing that was difficult for me that I didn’t anticipate was “shit, I’m not normal and this cancer thing followed me to my classroom”, I didn’t leave it at home. It’s following me wherever I am, in the middle of the night, it would wake me up: “Yo dude, we gotta throw up”. 

One of the many things that I learned is that being normal cost a lot. Being a normal kid, a normal teenager with a healthy set of lungs, with arms that don’t hurt, a normal kid that can run, we take those things for granted. That cost a lot. 

Existing should be that way… in a non nihilistic way. You should work hard for the air that’s in your lungs. you should work hard for a career that is fulfilling.

You should give your best to people around you. It’s not easy. If it were easy, the world would be such a beautiful place, but it isn’t. 

I guess in the context of cancer, it highlighted that all of us, we have very limited time. What I realized was that you get to live a new life each day. And you don’t live it once you, live it every day. There are a lot of people who die every day, every hour.

But I don’t think there are as many people who live, you know? I get it. I get it. Life is hard, but you’re made of flesh and bones, and at some point you’re going to die. Biologically we only have one life. But mentally, emotionally, spiritually, you can live as many lives as you can. 

You’re not the success that you will be 10 years from now. If you don’t work hard for it, if you don’t embrace the bigger challenges to stay on top of that Hill, there are a lot of people who are chasing after you and running up that Hill. Go up that mountain, go down that Valley, but look back  the mountain  you’ve climbed is now a valley. 

It’s very tempting. You’re a success right now. Don’t fall into that high  that euphoria of you know, “I’m invincible”. Things can turn around as fast as you got that success.

A lot of people beat themselves up for making a mistake. But I learned from cancer that you know, you wake up and it’s a new day. You can either rectify that mistake that’s eating you up, or make things better make a difference.  

THE MOMENT YOU WAKE UP  YOU HAVE ANOTHER SHOT AT GETTING BETTER. 

Like in my case, I have another shot at making my tumor smaller cause I have to take another literal shot of chemo.  

The key is just not let yourself go.  Don’t go into that abyss. You’re entitled to those peaks and valleys, but you kind of have to keep on track. keep on walking. There’s no point in life if you just stay there.

You know, if I fucked up, that’s cool. I’ll work on it. 

 LOOK AT THE FACT THAT YOUR LIFE IS FINITE, BUT AT THE SAME TIME, IN THOSE FINITE SLOTS, FINITE MOMENTS OF LIFE, FILL IT WITH THE GOOD THINGS. FIND A WAY TO MAKE THOSE THINGS GOOD.

And that’s, I guess the struggle with a lot of people, not just with cancer, but they’re stuck in a reality they created. When you fail to look at the peripheral truths around you, you see life as shit it’s over. 

Or the other way around, when things are crumbling or their lives falling apart, aS long as they get  likes on Instagram.Everything is good. We live in this distorted reality. 

Especially for us now where everything is overstimulated. We forget that we are so much in control. It’s  the things that we choose to control us , whether that’s perception or as shallow as social media, or work,… 

your status diminishes your humanity to a level of submission. When I had cancer, you would think that you’re at the mercy of a disease that has killed millions and billions of people, but for me, it shined a light on the things that I can control and apparently, there are a lot.

I can choose to let go, just die. Live a good life with the limited time that I have. 

Time is not as important as the quality of moments that you put in them. And you have control over the quality of moments.  I’m lucky that I have a second lease on life. I’m living life again. But to be honest, the first life  I lived before cancer, if I had to call it a life, it was a good life also, even though it was short

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

I’m very thankful  my parents  were cerebral and strategic  with the entire  situation.  My mom was strong as fuck. My dad never left my side. 

I’m thankful for my friends; they were the ones who really whispered the grounding stuff.  They took care of me by not babying me but at the same time, being disciplined. 

I’m thankful to God, for the path that was revealed in front of me. until now I believe that my arm was saved because of a deeper, more important mission. And right now,  all arrows point to what I do architecture, which makes me really, really happy. 

A GOOD LIFE OF PURPOSE, CONTRIBUTION, AND FULFILMENT.

So I’m sure you know this, my obsession with Japanese denim in terms of their workmanship. they did it with so much pride making it feels like a prayer. I want a life like that. 

A GOOD LIFE FOR ME IS. A LIFE NOT DICTATED BY STATUS OR YOUR BANK ACCOUNT,  I DON’T WANT TO LIVE A LIFE THAT IS MEANT TO JUST MAKE MONEY. 

I want to live a life that is simple and purposeful and like those Japanese craftsmen, I want a life  that is fulfilled because of the things  they contribute back into the world. 

By the simple act of sharpening a sore or making the best jeans in the world, constructing a really nice building, simple hands that are humble, yet proud.

 I’d rather live that life of humble, yet proud contribution.


Thank you for hearing out Ting’s survival story, and we hope that it brought you some sense of peace or any gem.

Be brave, be kind,

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