“Everything has a reason. To find it, you have to look backwards, not forward.”
Michael “Mike” Magpantay finds the reason why he was diagnosed of Acute Myeloid Leukemia three months ago. There is a reason for it, he said. “It is for God to prove to me that I can bear the pain. As I suffer at physical level, inside me is a person very much willing to go through it. Mind over matter doesn’t work all the time because the mind is also physical and there are limits into how it can process, but inside me is a soul that says, I will never give up.”
I decided to fly to Singapore unprepared to empathize with the ordeal of a couple who were my high school classmates. I was not so close to Michael as I was to wife Amie, who was the elementary best friend of my wife. We have maintained connections through the social media. Some recent bothersome posts led me to make sure I will catch him in a shape that we can still engage in a worthwhile conversation, and that I can contribute to the burden of their experience.
Mike does not look well with his baldness and skin color all resulting from chemotherapy. One eye is covered to manage the double vision and speech and movements were difficult resulting from nervous system complications. He has loss weight since the last time I saw him in our reunion three years ago. Amie is still the bubbly lady who speaks in her signature low tone voice about anything and everything under the sun. The surprise of my visit may have incited the hyperactivity in them that her smile did not show trace of worry and fear – or maybe she is just coping well. As a health professional myself, I knew what they were facing – the big C, the most dreaded illness known to man.
Intentionally, I journeyed Mike through a process of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) so that he can perceive what is beautiful in his experience and so he can see his situation as half-full rather than half empty. I hoped that the process could connect the best of what was, to what is and what could be in his life story. AI never fails to amaze me on how it can generate that free flow of comfortable thoughts of what is positive. Indeed there are changes, choices and chances in the life of a person with cancer.
My conversation with Mike led to a stream of the positive that even spilled to Amie. Here are the lessons I have learned from Mike:
M -aster pain tolerance; it is temporary and soon, you will get over it.
I -nstill faith; you have gone this far and become this strong because of it.
K -eep dreaming; a sick bed is not strong enough to stop it.
E -xpectations frustrate; we are better of without it.
Master pain tolerance; it is temporary and soon, you will get over it. Mike blames not the cancer as the cause of discomfort. To him, it is the treatment and procedures that bring the worst nightmare in cancer. Enumerating to me the needle pricks on his skin, spine and veins makes me feel the excruciating trauma that challenges the peak of human threshold. He relates how he was talking to himself when a doctor and a nurse miss on attempts to access his spinal fluid or blood. He did not resort into blaming these professionals who he knows were also doing their best. He claims that the hospital is a quiet place but never is a place to rest as nurses and doctors will have to do routine activities invading even your access to your most needed sleep.
He never knew about his illness and how the treatment chemotherapy works. When he first learned about his diagnosis, he just regarded it as another chapter of his life story. He told himself then that these life adventure would not end this way. He knew that another chapter awaits. But there were more he never understood. Chemotherapy has become an infusion of death, not only for the cancer cells but also for the healthy cells as well making his entire body react. Its horrible complications seem to affect every organ and system that it is worst that the cancer he was fighting. But who could refuse the concoction, which is hoped to kill the cancer cells faster than it can kill the body? He endures with the end in mind that it will heal.
Whenever he experiences pain, his mindset – that it will soon be over – supports the morphine, which he knew affects his mind. In consolation, he will look back into the pains he had been through and survived. He choose to endure!
Instill faith; you have gone this far and become this strong because of it. He admits that his religious upbringing was dampened by his openness to some unorthodox spiritual belief when he was in college. But he claims that there has always been a God he looks up to who at the end of the day has been omnipotently present in all his struggles and survival. In his journey through the road less travelled by, he never doubts that God has always been there in every step of the way.
He looks back into his life and celebrates how tough he was in facing every challenge it brings. He celebrates over the peak moments of his life story where he emerged triumphant in many ways. He took pride enumerating the survival stories from his childhood to his current choice to be a migrant entrepreneur. He chose to survive!
He never questioned God why he has cancer. “Anything can happen to me and to anyone! What is important is how we go through it as a process and become victorious in the end,” he says. This attitude strengthens in him his life philosophy never to quit. He choose to persist!
Keep dreaming; a sick bed is not strong enough to stop it. He is a dreamer! And his cancer couldn’t be stronger than his dreams and couldn’t be bigger than his God. He celebrates the vision that as soon as he recovers, he will make health as his priority. He promises to catch up to the wasted time with his family. He has three young boys with Amie. He commits to the enrichment of his spiritual life after this. His ideal future is a miracle he expects forward that will enable him to continue the enterprise he started as his legacy to the family. “I will use my story to inspire others to go through the process and never to quit in the face of circumstance like this,” he expressed. Quitting is never in his option. He choose to hold on to faith.
Expectations frustrate; we are better off without it. The couple is thankful that Singapore has good healthcare insurance system that makes them worry less of the financial burden of the ordeal. He claims that this must be the reason why God sent them to Singapore. There are frustrations that initially beset their circumstances out of expectations of how people around them should have reacted. He realized and advised that indeed expectations frustrate. They are better off without them. His cancer has become the lens that focused on the real colors of the people around them but he holds no negative and ill feelings instead he celebrates over people who they never knew were there for him and his family.
He discourages Amie who expresses disappointment over other people. He is secured that with what he has been through, he is strong, as he has survived. The adversities that he has been through made him strong.
I have learned a lot from Mike. I derived an inspiration that I am blessed and I shall learn and apply his lessons.
In the end, I relate to him that his road could be bumpy now, but reminds him that he has survived similar winding roads, rough seas and cloudy skies that were even more challenging. It is just that this current health challenge manifests in the physical and threatens the very life he treasures. But the spirit within the body is strong that it exudes through a face that remains optimistic and body that is fighting and enduring. His faith with God has never grown this strong; as his relationship with Amie has never been this caring. If indeed miracle happens where it is expected, I have to expect miracle in Mike. The spirit in him deserves another chance to make this story indeed simply as a chapter.