Leukemia According to Carmella

Thursday, October 22, 2015 Stef dela Cruz 2 Comments

Edit: I’m reposting this article, originally published two years ago, as a tribute to Cecile (featured here). She was an awesome mom who fought a brave battle against cancer. Cecile may be gone, but her memory remains in our hearts. I am honored to have met her.

Below, I wrote about the story Cecile shared with me not so long ago, about her daughter’s own fight against cancer.

I always tell my friends that cancer is the next hypertension. In one of the magazines I contribute health articles to, I mentioned how cancer is literally next to hypertension and other cardiovascular disorders as the most common cause of death.

If death was a school, cancer would be the salutatorian.

I know, the analogy is morbid. But cancer is morbid. Despite that fact, many people would rather not think about it.

Hypertension is more relatable than cancer. We even make jokes about getting high blood pressure when we get mad. High blood pressure is so “in”.

Hypertension, on the other hand, is easier to relate to. Almost every adult I know has high blood pressure. My relatives have it. Your parents probably have it. And if you’re my age, you might have it, too. Everybody even talks about having high blood pressure. We even make jokes about getting high blood pressure when we get mad. Ah, high blood pressure is so “in”.

What about cancer? It’s definitely trending; the statistics don’t lie even if we try our best to deny it. But we can’t make jokes about cancer, can we? At least, not yet, not when it’s something people can’t imagine having, despite its being the second most common cause of death.

But I digress. I was talking about that article I wrote for a magazine. It was about childhood leukemia. As a health article writer, I’ve always had the pleasure of speaking with inspiring people – and the day I sat with Cecile Jaleco was no exception.

Battling Cancer: Carmella’s Story

Cecile was a mother in her early fifties whose only child was diagnosed with leukemia. “My ordeal started when my daughter, Carmella, was diagnosed with a benign tumor in the neck. She was three years old then,” revealed Cecile during our chat. Surgery wasn’t a safe option, she said, because the mass in her neck involved a lot of important nerves. Chemotherapy was suggested to shrink the tumor, so they gave it a try.

The tumor disappeared. It was a miracle! Everyone was happy. It was a medical rarity for such a tumor to respond to chemotherapy drugs. It was a happy ending… or was it?

Carmella Jaleco Battles Leukemia

Unfortunately, Carmella was diagnosed with leukemia – and it was most probably caused by the chemotherapy she received for her neck tumor.

It all started when one day, Carmella started getting feverish. She was given antibiotics but her fever persisted. Carmella’s mom was in shock when her daughter’s blood tests pointed to an initial diagnosis of leukemia.

Leukemia According To CarmellaCarmella, after recovering from a neck tumor, was diagnosed with leukemia.

Wait, didn’t Carmella just get well from a neck tumor? A non-malignant tumor? Sadly, it wasn’t the end of her journey.

Doctors guessed that Carmella’s exposure to 18 sessions of chemotherapy, coupled with a genetic predisposition to cancer, caused her leukemia. Yes, these things happen. The drugs that can heal cancer can cause cancer, too, in the same way that exposure to radiation can heal – and cause – cancer.

“God, why did You bother giving me a daughter if You’re just going to take her away from me?”

When Carmella turned six, she had to go to nursery school. She was partially bald from chemotherapy and she had to wear a cap. “Don’t take it off even when your classmates try to bully you into doing it, okay?” her mother, Cecile, would tell her.

Back then, Cecile tried to strike a bargain with God. You see, she got pregnant with Carmella when she was 38 years old. She knew Carmella was God’s gift to her. If that was the case, then why was God taking Carmella back? Couldn’t she just stay with her mom?

What would happen to Carmella? Do check back in a few days if you want to continue reading about Carmella and her mom’s battle against cancer!

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!