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Survivor Interview – Maricar T.

Maricar is a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor. She talks about infertility, getting involved in the cancer community, and managing out-of-pocket expenses.

A woman wearing a patterned shirt looks into the distance.

I was diagnosed on February 13, 2004, with Stage 2, large diffused B-cell lymphoma. I started chemotherapy in March or April. The chemotherapy regimen was R-CHOP. I finished chemotherapy almost a year ago. And then I started radiation therapy. I had to have maybe three weeks to a month of radiation therapy. Since then, I’ve been getting CT scans every three months, which have been clear, thank God.

Part of me felt like during the time when I was getting treatment, I should have been working out and focusing on taking care of my body. But I just didn’t care. My friends and I all like to party and go out. That’s definitely a part of the element in New York. But I always felt like I was probably one of the healthiest people I knew and led a relatively healthy lifestyle. So when something like this happens, you’re like, “All that work that I’ve done, I guess it didn’t really matter.” So during the treatment, I really didn’t care. I’d eat whatever I wanted. I didn’t go out of my way to have a healthy diet.

When something like that ends, you think, “What do I do now going forward?” So I read a lot of books. I read the Cancer Battle Plan. I read stuff from Dr. Andrew Weill. I also take vitamin supplements now. I’ve pretty much given up white meat, like chicken. I tried to give up red meat, but I couldn’t. I try to eat healthier.

I’ve struggled a lot with my body image because after I went through the treatment and lost my hair, I definitely feel less attractive. I’m much more aware of my body, but I feel like I’ve let certain things go with respect to how I look. I don’t work out as much as I used to, partly because I find that I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to look a certain way. I’m grappling with how much concern I should give it, and a feeling that I should work out more, but I don’t.

The whole issue of fertility came up because one of the side effects of chemotherapy is the possibility that a woman may not be able to have children. My oncologist put me in touch with a reproductive endocrinologist. He was awesome and extremely empathetic. He laid out my options. I could do nothing. I could harvest my eggs. I could do IVF. And then there was the possibility of having an egg donated, so I could have my sister donate eggs in the future if I’m infertile. That process was very upsetting. I was very, very emotional during the whole doctor’s appointment.

I realized I definitely want to have children. So to go through the process of dealing with the possibility that you may not be able to have children, and then realizing that that’s something I really wanted was very difficult.

I had a lack of support. I was thinking about myself and wanting to get through the treatment, and I was also dealing with the certainty of not being able to have children. And then my family and friends are telling me, “This is obvious. You have to start chemo. Don’t worry about the fertility.” It was hard going through what I felt were people being very unsupportive because I had to make the decision about what to do. I’m rushed enough about having to go through chemotherapy. I don’t want to be stressed by making a fertility decision. I was so stressed out. Finally, I was like, “If I’m not meant to have children, I am not meant to have children. I will adopt. Or I’ll have someone donate an egg to me.”

I definitely felt a lot of sadness. I’m being much more honest with people about how sad that period was. You try to put on a good face for people, and it’s really not my style to talk for three or four hours about my problems. During that time, I think I was very strong, because you have to be. I definitely cried a lot, and there was a lot of sadness that I handled privately. Even though a lot of my friends were here for me, there were only two to four people that I really leaned on. Even then, I don’t necessarily think I leaned on them very much. I handled a lot of the emotional turmoil privately.

Even though there can be so many people around you, there was definitely a feeling of loneliness. Thank God that we have the Internet, and I have my support group. But you can’t help but feel that you’re still going through it alone. I don’t necessarily think anybody can really understand unless they’ve been through it. There is definitely a lot of sadness. I was 31 when this happened. That’s still relatively young. I thought those kinds of things only happen to people when they’re older. There is a certain loss of innocence about life. You realize that we are mortal. Dealing with the issue at a young age is hard. You feel as though something has been taken away from you. I think that’s a lot of where some of the sadness stemmed from.

I got involved in The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. When you get through cancer, you feel as though life has just begun in a lot of ways. In that respect, I have that involvement with the community and consciously try to volunteer more. I feel like I could always be doing more. I’m much more conscious about donating to other causes and being involved in other charities because I think we are all impacted by tragedy in general, not just cancer. I like making people more aware and connect with other survivors. I’m still in touch with people from my support groups. I’ve tried to maintain those types of community ties.

Cancer treatment is costly. I look at my bills, and I think every chemo treatment was at least $15,000. During the time, I wanted to take medical leave. I probably could have worked through it, but I was like, “No. I’m absolutely not working through this.”

First of all, I’m in a commission-only job, and I wasn’t able to make any money. I was too preoccupied with this. So during the time, I had to think about payment of treatment. I had to find out how much coverage I would have, how much out of pocket. I wasn’t even making that much money at the time. I was very stressed about money.

When you go through something like this, you just change your whole attitude about money. I talked about this in my support group because we were all stressed about money. Some people hadn’t even paid bills to the treatment center. One of the people in my group said, “Whenever I get an envelope from them, I just put it aside.” And I did that too. I put the bills aside and ignored it. Now, my attitude about money is, it’s just money. If you give it all of this importance, it can really stress you out. I’m doing okay now and work is going well. I’m making money, but I have to think about my future and paying off a lot of the debt that I accrued during that time period.

For me, cancer’s definitely been more of an emotional illness. But I do think good things have come out of it. I really do believe life is better after cancer because you go forward with a much better understanding and much more clarity. I think that’s the good thing that’s come out of it for me. Life is much better being a survivor, now that it’s over.

I think it’s always important for other people to know that there are others who are going through it. It’s also very therapeutic for me to be honest and share it. I’m a pretty open person, generally. It’s important for people to know that cancer is not what it used to be. The rates of survivors are astonishing, and people have to understand that it’s not a death sentence anymore. There are people that live through it, and I think it’s important for other survivors to know that. Now, there are many of us who move on and live to tell the story of cancer.

My name is Maricar Tinio. I am a one-year, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor.

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