Monday, August 5, 2013

KCAT CAN: Surviving life's battle

Surviving life’s battles

When my mom was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) in 2000, her rheumatologist, Dr. Ester Penserga encouraged her to join the support group Lupus Club (PGH Chapter).

SLE is a chronic auto-immune connective tissue disorder that can affect various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, blood, nervous system, kidney, heart and some other internal organs. When my mom joined the Lupus Club she wasn’t only enlightened about the disease, she also made friends with patients whom she can easily identify with. While getting to know Lupus patients with different manifestations of the disease, she realized that she was still lucky and blessed that her case is a lot milder than the others.

After every Lupus Club gathering, my mom often talked about how she admired their then club president Jennifer “Jennie” San Andres. She became my mom’s inspiration with her battle with SLE because after everything that Jennie went through including cheating death thrice, she remained strong and brave. And that was because of her strong faith in God.

Jennie had a sad childhood. She was a sickly child from the day she was born and would often hear people say, “Kawawa naman itong batang ito, parang walang mararating.” Those words stayed on her mind and left her young and tender heart wounded. She began to develop an inferiority complex and insecurities because she was often compared to her siblings who seemed above her in everything. She used to take words of praises as an insult rather than a compliment. She started to have a preconceived notion that everyone disliked her; everyone except for God. She grew up in a very religious family, thus, she considered God as the only true and faithful friend she had.

This went on until she got older. She was always concerned with what people may think of her actions and was very much cautious with what she said and did. “Nobody knew that I was hurting inside, no one dared to ask, and no one cared except God to whom I poured out my heart constantly,” Jennie recalled. Her desire to be accepted and loved motivated her to prove herself and give her best in everything she did.

In college, where she took up Physical Therapy, she was once assigned to do a report about Arthritis. Just like what a student would do, she researched, studied and memorized it before presenting it to class. But in the middle of her presentation, she suddenly lost her concentration and couldn’t recall what she studied. Her speech stuttered and she struggled to finish what she prepared but she couldn’t. She excused herself and told the professor about her predicament and said, “I think I’m having the symptoms of Lupus.”

Jennie became ill and even though she was already on her fourth year, she decided to quit school. She became bed-ridden, had recurring fever, arthritis on her knees, malaise, thrush in her mouth, facial rashes, alopecia on her hair and sudden weight loss. She became anorexic, listless, and hopeless. Jennie was suffering from an unknown disease until they finally identified the culprit. It was in 1993 when she was diagnosed with Lupus.

“I already had a hunch that I had Lupus even before the doctor finally declared it. And I was ready to face it!” Jennie shared. The diagnosis was more of a confirmation for her rather than a shock.

Because of SLE, she was finally able to feel her family’s love and concern for her. They willingly took care of her and attended to her every need. Jennie was astounded and relieved. She was finally set free from all her sorrows.

In no time, she was back on her toes again. She got active in volunteer work and decided to go back to school by taking up a two-year course in Fine Arts. Everything was smoothly going her way.

But in 1995, she suddenly lost consciousness and when she opened her eyes, she was already confined at the Philippine General Hospital. She had a Lupus flare-up, a stroke and heart enlargement. The doctors said that the only thing that can save Jennie’s life was a miracle because she was already on the brink of death. Her family, friends and relatives all came to visit because her days were already numbered.

Jennie’s mom pleaded for everyone to pray for her daughter’s healing, and they did pray sincerely and separately. Amazingly, more than being in a stable condition, Jennie got much better. She was healed! But her dilemma happened when she started to speak in an unknown language that seemed to be English with a twang – she was speaking in tongues. She spoke words that were unbelievable to everyone and they thought she was going insane. She was then declared to suffer from bipolar disorder and was prescribed to take psychiatric drugs.

Everyone was in bliss when Jennie was discharged from the hospital and was able to welcome the next chapter in her life with positivity, faith and hope. She even reunited with her ex-boyfriend and eventually married him. But it wasn’t a happy ending.

Sometime in 2006, while Jennie was fervently praying to God, she suddenly started wailing and groaning – she was speaking in tongues again. She was admitted at PGH’s Ward 7 where patients with psychological problems were brought. According to the psychiatrist, Jennie was suffering from neolalia, defined as the speech of a psychotic containing new combination of unknown words. But deep in her heart, she believed that it was glossolalia, a gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit. In 2003, when she attended a church service, Jennie suddenly spoke in tongues for almost 30 minutes and a certain lady said that she was speaking Cantonese and interpreted it.

“I was so astonished and overwhelmed because the interpretations were the very words I often say in my prayers,” she said.

So far, her last Lupus flare-up was in 2008 but steroids took its toll on her in 2011. She acquired avascular necrosis of both hips and had a hip replacement in the following year.

“I’ve been through a lot of heartaches, humiliation, affliction, diseases, weeping, betrayal, rejections, abuse and cheated death thrice but none of these things can move me anymore because I know my God is stronger than my problems,” Jennie said.

Today, she is living as a stronger person, full of love, hope and a bigger faith in God. She is into a lot of things — taking care of her nephews, working as a graphic artist, organizing parties, cooking and baking for a living and painting once in a while. She has learned to understand, accept, forgive and love people unconditionally because she can now see God in them.

“Like always, I still put my heart in everything I do. Before, the reason is to prove myself to everyone. But now, what matters most are to get heaven’s applause and God’s approval,” Jennie concluded, “I was once a self-righteous person. But now, my righteousness is from Christ.”

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