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Laughter keeps his cancer at bay

April 21, 2008 06:06:00
Juliet Labog-Javellana
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Julian Roseus has kidney cancer, but it hasn't stopped him from living – or laughing.

Diagnosed in July 2005 with renal cell carcinoma, Roseus has amazed family, friends and doctors by how he has been handling his condition.

Roseus and his friends like to joke that he is now on "overtime," having outlived the life expectancy for people with this rare type of kidney cancer.

Roseus' wife Des says it is a miracle that her husband is still alive after almost three years since being diagnosed with late-stage cancer.

"For me, it's a miracle that he is still alive. It's also a miracle how we are surviving," she says.

Roseus adds that people with his condition have only a 5-percent chance of living over five years.

Dr. Efren Capistrano, his surgeon and classmate from grade school to high school, says Roseus' irrepressible sense of humor is a major factor in keeping his cancer at bay.

"He carries his cross very well and he carries it with a smile," Capistrano says. "He has the uncanny ability to crack jokes about his condition."

With his easy smile and cheery disposition, one wouldn't think Roseus had cancer. "I was prepared for retirement, not [cancer]," he often quips.

His condition, however, is serious. His right kidney removed, Roseus is currently taking a drug which has so far reduced the size of tumors that have metastasized in his lungs. But the medication produces a side effect which requires him to undergo minor surgery on a delicate part of his body once or twice a week.

Between regular trips to the hospital, Roseus does financial and investment consultancy for overseas Filipino workers, helps out at home, meets with friends and even drives on weekend trips from his house in Capitol Homes in Quezon City to his ancestral home in Cavite.

Roseus, with his typical irreverent humor, says he wants a gathering where he can be a participant.

"Sa lamay mo, lugi ka. Sila ang enjoy, sila ang nagre-reunion. Ikaw, hindi kasali. So sabi ko, ngayon na mag-celebrate para kasama ako (A wake is fun because it's like a reunion. But the departed cannot attend. So I said, we should celebrate now so I can participate)," he quips.

Eugene Gonzales, another classmate at Lourdes School of Mandaluyong, says even in this critical time, Roseus has not lost his funny bone which has endeared him to his classmates. "He is always taking it in stride," he says.

Capistrano, the doctor, says Roseus has been an "inspiration and a living example" for other cancer patients. While waiting his turn at the clinic, Roseus would talk to the other patients, making them laugh with his infectious humor and optimism.

"If someone with late-stage cancer can have this positive an attitude, how could others, who are in less advanced stages, not have a good disposition?" Capistrano says.

The disease also opened Roseus' life to a deeper spirituality. "Recognizing my mortality made it easier for me to accept my fate. Giving me the time to ponder over life made this (disease) a gift," he says.

"I have come to realize the temporariness of life ... and that there must be heaven where I can find lasting happiness. And I have come to accept death as a necessary part to attain eternal life."

Capistrano says Roseus' faith in God makes the difference. "Sometimes, help is short and transient. So faith is the only way to go. Once we are properly disposed [toward faith], it becomes a source of grace."

Capistrano says renal cell carcinoma accounts for only 3 percent of all types of cancer.

Treatments for late-stage cancer patients are only palliative measures meant to enable them to improve the quality of their lives, he adds.

Capistrano describes Roseus as being "on God's time-borrowed time. The [medications] are meant for him to be functional, to be productive."

Dr. Rubi Li, a medical oncologist supervising a clinical trial for a kidney cancer drug under which Roseus is participating, confirms this, saying the extent of the treatment is only to improve the quality of his life.

Roseus has been "responding to treatment" since the size of the tumors was controlled, she says. "The cancer is still with him, but it's not growing."

Roseus believes that with acceptance comes miracles.

A day before the surgery, his family did not have enough money to pay for the expensive procedure and the initial treatment that would follow. "Then a sister came, a nephew called from Singapore and a very dear friend called from Bangkok," he narrates.

His wife Des also got a referral from a government agency. "There were dear friends and kin who simply slipped envelopes into Des' hand," Roseus recalls.

Then his high school batch at Lourdes School got together and raised funds, holding a screening of "Harry Potter" for his benefit. "We felt awkward accepting [money] but we needed help. The amounts [which came] were always what we needed at the time. And help came without us asking anyone for it. We only had to ask God," he says.

Never lose heart

Roseus says the clinical trial for the cancer drug is another blessing. At P300,000 a month, he received the medicines for free.

"Dr. Capistrano has been treating Jun for free, that's how he helps. I pray for him every night," Des says.

Financial and emotional support continue to pour in, thanks to Roseus' schoolmates from Lourdes and the University of the Philippines and other friends.

Des says it is important for families who find themselves in their same situation not to be immobilized by grief. "If you lose heart, you'll pull down everybody. They have to face it right away and then plan what to do."

She has asked her children – a son, 23, and a daughter, 17, to live "their lives as normal as possible."

50th anniversary

In January, the family celebrated Roseus' 50th birthday and the couple's 25th wedding anniversary. Roseus gave away 25-centavo coins he had secretly collected on their wedding day in 1983.

Des says Roseus not only collected 25-centavo coins, but also 50-centavo coins during their wedding. He plans to give the latter for their 50th wedding anniversary, a blessing Des is hoping for.

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