A Cancer Survivor's Tale: Tatler's Managing Editor, Chit Lijauco, on Battling the Big C
“Cancer survivors have a better view of death,” Chit Lijauco’s son once observed. “[And it’s] because they’ve already faced it.”
Almost ten years ago, Chit Lijauco, Managing Editor of Tatler Philippines was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was 2014 at the time and oncologists around the Philippines were facing dire statistics: the country had the highest prevalence of breast cancer in Asia. “[Before 2014], I would go for a mammogram exam every year,” recounts Lijauco. “Then my OB-GYN asked me, ‘Why are you going every year? You should go only every three years because you’re not high risk anymore.’ So I followed her advice but lo and behold, on the third year, there was a finding.”
The first word to come to mind? Cancer. The disease, which happens when cells grow or spread uncontrollably to other parts of the body, can start almost anywhere, though the most common types include breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, colon and rectum cancer, and skin cancer. In 2018, there were 18.1 million reported cases worldwide, about half of which resulted in death. By 2040, the number of new cases is expected to rise to 29.5 million.
Sometimes, cancer can start as a tumour, which are lumps of tissue formed by the abnormal growth of damaged cells. However, not all cancers start as tumours; those that begin in the blood (such as leukaemia) are often characterised by seemingly harmless symptoms such as fatigue or bruising.
Though cancer is (understandably) a frightening experience, there is hope. Not all kinds of cancers are terminal, and there have been plenty of miracles here and there that have attested to the power of the human spirit. For Stand Up To Cancer Day, Tatler Philippines speaks to its Managing Editor, Chit Lijuaco, on her journey as a breast cancer survivor.
After the initial finding, Lijauco had to undergo a biopsy. “You get clammy and you get cold all over,” says Lijauco of her experience. “I just wanted to have [the tissue] taken out of my body. I think I lost a couple of pounds just from the worrying.”
Fortunately, Lijauco had a good team of doctors by her side, all of whom explained the situation in detail to her. While it may sound upsetting to receive—and further expound on—bad news, it gave Lijauco comfort to know what the details were. “Knowledge about the situation is very good, and will give you a positive outlook,” she said. Knowing that she had stage one cancer and that none of her lymph nodes was affected, was positive news for the then-60-year-old, who continued on with her everyday routine after diagnosis. “I still worked during that time. It helped me because if I were idle, I don’t know if I will be able to cope. I’ll just be worrying and worrying.”
After her operation, Lijauco underwent multiple cycles of chemotherapy and 16 rounds of Herceptin treatment. While all of them helped to alleviate her illness, they didn't come without side effects. Cancer treatments are notorious for lowering one's immune system, and also for possibly devastating hair loss, both of which Lijauco had had to manage. "During that time, I conducted my life like a normal [person]. That's the advice of my doctors, my friends, and my co-cancer survivors." She not only came and went to work, but she also held a talk for her fellow Rotary members.
"[I was] talking about public image," she recounts. She'd gone to the Malolos Convention Centre as a speaker in between her treatments. At this point in time, Lijauco had lost her hair and was wearing a bandana and a hat. "I was fashionably dressed," she chuckles. She went up to the stage and asked her audience: "An image will give you a message about what you're looking at. What image am I giving you [when] I'm wearing a hat? You might think I am so fashionista or I am not well dressed for the occasion. Some of you may also think that I may have no hair."
Needless to say, Lijauco's message was well-received by her audience. "I didn't bare my head but I showed a picture of myself without the hair. So that was the image and if you see that image, you get the message that I have cancer. But a better image is when you are prone to act."
It's been close to ten years now since Lijauco was first diagnosed with cancer. While she is thankfully in remission, she has not discontinued treatment. After chemotherapy and Herceptin, Lijauco must now also take medication for ten years. "I don't know [what it does]," she laughs. "It's supposed to prevent the cancer. See, I got cured, I'm over that. But cancer is very notorious and it might metastasise; it might appear again as a different cancer this time." Now, Lijauco has to take annual check-ups to ensure her brain, breasts, abdomen, bones, and chest are healthy and cancer-free.
“[I've learned] that are so many things in life that really do not matter," Lijauco says of her ordeal. "What really matters are relationships with people. [And to] connect with the Lord. [Back then, I thought to myself], if I really have to go, [Lord], don’t make it hurt so much. [God is] the only one who has control over everything."