LAUGHTER HEALS: FUNNY MEMORIES OF MICHELLE'S CANCER JOURNEY
[PHOTO - On their way to the Bollywood-themed chemo party are Michelle Soliven (rightmost) with (from left) her sister Jaqui Boncan, niece Christel Boncan, sisters Christine Dayrit and Yvonne Romualdez.]
MANILA, OCTOBER 22, 2012 (PHILSTAR) NEW BEGINNINGS By Bum D. Tenorio, Jr. - They say laughter heals.
This couldn’t be more evident than when my “sister” Michelle Dayrit-Soliven (photo) turned her funny side into a virtual capsule and, with Darna attitude, ingested it to make it part of her daily sustenance to combat her cancer. Believe me, her sunny disposition weakened her cancer. Michelle is now on total remission!
In January this year, Michelle was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage 3. With resolute faith in God, she surrendered everything to Him and in the process found strength to hold on. “Thank you, Lord, it’s me and not anybody from my family. I have absolutely no doubt that I will be well. I am not afraid. I can handle it,” was her prayer when her doctors confirmed she had the Big C. Everybody in the family cried but Michelle did not shed a tear. In her mind, she was thinking: “It’s party time!” And what a party it was!
In our family — yes, the Dayrit orphans have been my surrogate family in Manila for almost 18 years now ever since their late parents Ting and Mila Dayrit “adopted” me — we combine faith and laughter to carry us through life’s many challenges. Among us, joys are multiplied and sorrows are divided before they get washed away by our own brand of humor. Every blessing is celebrated, even each pain.
So, with Michelle’s bout with cancer, we all donned our eclectic outfits and our happy and infectious disposition as we cheered Michelle on while she wore her boxing gloves, so to speak, to make sure she won each round of her chemo therapy with flying colors.
Michelle personally turned her chemo sessions into parties. She was supposed to be treated in a cubicle at the cancer center of the Makati Medical Center but the room was too small to accommodate our whole entourage and our “baon” and paraphernalia. Yes, along with baskets of food lovingly prepared by Ate Jaqui, we also brought a collection of funky wigs and headgear, all treasured gifts to Michelle from family and friends. Each of the six chemo parties had a theme and a matching menu. To accommodate all of us, we, all adults, found ourselves occupying the whole pediatric ward of the cancer center and turned it into a party venue.
The first time we entered the hospital wearing wigs — from lilac Afro hair to long, velvety pink locks — people stared at us while a few secretly took our photos. Michelle was unfazed by being beautifully bald and found the most colorful and creative ways of making it fun. In all her six chemo cycles and other treatments at the hospital, she made everyone, including her nurses and doctors, wear a wig or a headgear so people had to guess who the patient was. To the uninitiated ones, their guess would always be wrong.
On her last chemo party, she thought of a Bollywood theme. So the women in her entourage — including her sisters Jaqui, Christine and Yvonne — gamely wore colorful saris to the hospital. Even Fr. Gerard Deveza joined the fun wearing kurta and maharaja hat. When we alighted the car, the people at the lobby of Makati Med were treated to an early morning burst of color and an unexpected spectacle. The guards clapped and smiled as Bollywood found Michelle dancing on the hallways en route to the cancer center. There, we feasted on Ate Jaqui’s yummy curry.
Christine, my BFF, was the most affected watching Michelle undergo chemo and radiation therapy. Michelle, in between her treatments, even had to accompany Christine to The Farm in San Benito. Christine decided to have her detox and medical-wellness vacation. The doctors at The Farm wanted to see Michelle, who was enjoying the lovely villas and garden landscape, but she said, “I am not the patient today” and sheepishly pointed to Christine.
[PHOTO -Michelle at the cancer center of Makati Medical Center with siblings Mark Dayrit, Christine and Jaqui. Photos by Benny Soliven]
With all her treatments, not even once did Michelle show a dampened spirit. She never complained. She never cried. Well, the only time I saw her cry was in my room at The Orphanage (that’s how we call our home) when she was reading the column article of our friend and editor Joanne Ramirez, who wrote about Michelle’s strength of character and faith in God. “I cry because of the kindness of people.”
Prior to that, the last time I saw Michelle cry, este, wail, was in 2007 in Singapore. That time, her doctors there cleared her of endometrial cancer, her first bout with the Big C, which was successfully treated at St. Luke’s Medical Center. Those who know Michelle are privy to her voracious appetite. In fact, she eats much more than her only brother Mark. While we were about to partake of a lauriat previously arranged by Christine at the Scarlet Hotel, Michelle got word that she needed to fast that night for one more test in a hospital in Singapore the following day. While the whole family was having a feast, Michelle broke into tears as she was served her consommé. From silent sobs, she wailed because she was not allowed to eat. And she never cried because of her cancer!
Here’s another proof of her insatiable appetite despite having cancer. On the eve of her second chemo treatment, the family spent the weekend at Sonya’s Bed & Breakfast in Tagaytay. Sonya Garcia prepared glorious food especially for Michelle. After salad and appetizers, when her sisters weren’t looking, she gobbled two whole catfish, lengua with rice, pasta with chipirones en su tinta, two bowls of pochero, caramelized sweet potatoes and a whole bandejado of plantain bananas with slices of Gruyere cheese drizzled with guava jelly. The next day she had fever and had to cancel a chemo party. When she texted friends about the postponement of her chemo party due to her fever, one friend humorously texted her back: “It’s not fever! It’s impatso!” And Michelle laughed the hardest.
When Michelle was to be operated on for her breast cancer, Jaqui and Yvonne turned her Makati Med room into a pink boudoir with pink foot rugs, pink beddings, pink bathroom accessories, pink towels, pink slippers, pink tablecloth. Even the lampshades and eating utensils were in pink. She even refused to wear the hospital gown as she insisted on wearing her pink robe and pink fuzzy socks as she snuggled on her pink bed with her pink furry hat.
On her first night in the hospital for her operation the following day, Michelle was visited by Karylle, now the celebrity endorser of Miladay, the jewelry company of the Dayrit siblings. Karylle’s mom, Zsa Zsa Padilla, was next door because she was the “bantay” of Dolphy when the Comedy King was in the ICU of Makati Med. Karylle asked if we wanted some food because Sen. Jinggoy Estrada sent yummy Chinese food. At first, it appeared that I was the only one who was hungry so Karylle brought me to her mom’s room to get food. When it was time for Karylle to go home, I brought her to the elevator. When I came back, Michelle was already almost finished eating my food. And she was still hungry for the same food. It was a good thing Michelle’s good friend Cynthia Gonzalez was around so she went next door to ask for food. Cynthia knocked at Zsa Zsa’s room and said: “Hi! Good evening. My name is Cynthia and Michelle said she is still hungry. Can we please have some more of your food?” Kindhearted Zsa Zsa willingly shared all her food to the delight of Michelle who slept soundly that night.
The following day, Michelle had a smile on her face, ready for the doctors’ knives at the operating room. After praying the rosary, we wheeled her in until the nurses gently told us that we were not needed in the operating room. When Michelle woke up in the recovery room still groggy from her eight-hour surgery — performed by cancer surgeon Dr. Victor Gozali, reconstructive surgeon Dr. Eric Arcilla and assisting surgeon Dr. Edwin “Boboy” del Rosario — her first question to Ate Jaqui was: “Hmm… What’s my food?” That’s Michelle, she loves to eat!
Two days after her surgery, Dr. Arcilla walked into her hospital room at 6 a.m. to do her dressings and check on her tubes. “The faster you get up and move, the sooner you will heal,” he told her. So, Michelle got up and, with tubes, IV line and all, started dancing to the tune of “Do the Hustle” and “Saturday Night Fever” with her husband Benny and their only son Vincent.
Oh, she really loves to dance that last Monday, during her Herceptin party at the hospital, her oncologist Gary Lorenzo walked in to see her learning Yvonne’s “Firework” dance steps for her velada — all this while she was hooked up to the machine.
Michelle is always so animated and cheerful. One can hardly believe she was affected by the cancer cells. In fact, as she always says, “Cancer colored my world!”
Faith, laughter, a grateful heart and glorious food are a deadly combination. They all helped Michelle in her healing. To this day, in that order, they still continue to heal Michelle as she serves as an inspiration to us all.
(For your new beginnings, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio. Have a blessed Sunday!)
Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi
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