The one about being thankful.

I believe that I have to put a disclaimer in this entry before I begin.

I am 22 years old, a first year medical student, and is 100% (plus or minus 10%) Filipino.

With that said, here we go.

Yesterday (November 26, 2009), a holiday which I consider to be very important was celebrated by the other half of the world. It isn't a holiday which we Filipinos celebrate, because it just isn't part of our history. Although this is so, on some level, it is as important to me as it is to the Americans.

Yes, I'm talking about the holiday that's celebrated during the last Thursday of November...


It all started when I was 7 years old, an airplane virgin who was about to embark on her first family trip which entailed more than 4 hours of flying time. I remember how much I dreamt about that day because my boring life was sure to be filled with fun activities that a normal 7 year old would love. There was Disneyworld and Universal Studios in Orlando, the FAO Schwartz in New York, Golden gate in San Francisco, random fun hotels in Las Vagas (sadly, no slot machine yet)... etc. etc. I'm sure you get the picture.

But out of all these activities, one of the most memorable ones happened in a place called Philadelphia.

Believe me when I say that I expected Philly to be the most boring stopover in our agenda. All we were going to do there was visit my Lola's sister (Tita Doya) and her American Husband (Uncle Charlie) whom I both adore deeply. We were going to stay there for a good week, and they had already arranged my 7 day stay. It included the words Apple picking, pumpkin carving, and national parks. Sounds interesting right? Not really if you put yourself in my situation (7 years old and all). You would absolutely dread the very thought of this part of the vacation because you could actually die of boredom. Just imagine, no roller coasters to ride, no caramel covered apple candies, no autograph signing from Mickey and the gang! Just plain old picking fruits and vegetables.

So the first day in Philly came and went.

So did the second, and so did the third.

On the fourth day (the apple picking and pumpkin carving day), by late afternoon I was already tired from choosing apples and placing them in barrels, and carving sad faces on pumpkins. I swore to myself that I would never eat another piece of apple, or pumpkin till the day I died. I was dead set on crawling into bed and sleeping till it was time to leave for the next state. But as I was formulating my "escape" plan in my head, Tita Doya told me that she had prepared something special for me during dinner. All I kept thinking was, please don't let it it be apple strudel or pumpkin pie. I mean, what else would she have done with all those fruits and vegetables?

We were finally called from our room for dinner, and I was dragging my feet half expecting to see at least 3 kinds of apple dishes and 4 kinds of pumpkin pies. But as I entered their dining room, I was absolutely overwhelmed with what I saw.

Their dining table was filled with all sorts of Thanksgiving-y food! There were candied yams which were golden brown and slightly burnt. It was topped off with marshmallows that turned gooey and slid down the sides of the serving dish (just the way I like it). There were mashed potatoes with a hint of garlic and loads of butter which was served in a big bow. Right beside it was the stuffing made out of bread soaked in the turkey base, dried fruit, seasonings, and bread crumbs. Bread pudding made from scratch was already served on our plates individually. Soft rolls fresh out of the oven were placed in a weaved basket. Of course there was cranberry sauce which smelled heavenly, gravy and rice pilaf. And right smack in the center of it all... there was laying in all it's glory...a turkey that looked as if it weighed 10 pounds, oven baked to perfection.

It was beautiful.

And so my family explained how they wanted me to experience a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. They even told me about the Pilgrims and the Indinas, and yes...the famous rock, and how both exchanged a little bit about their culture.

Now I don't really remember the events which lead to this holiday. I don't even know if both parties had ended well. But I was sure, that from that day family would be celebrating this holiday annually.

It was a nice feeling, seeing everyone laugh over good food and great company. We were all there exchanging stories, and memories. Each of us even gave a small speech about what we were thankful for. On that day, I was thankful for family and for my parents who were bent on taking me to Philadelphia. It ended up to be one of the best states in my own version of America's map.

I know you're thinking that it's not common to find a child experiencing a strong connection with her family at such a young age. But there I was, thinking about an escape plan 2 hours ago without knowing that the Thanksgiving dinner we were having would make me who I am today: A person who despite all the chaos in the world, does not forget to be thankful for what she has.

I think it's wonderful to have a holiday which will remind us to be grateful every now and then. It's so difficult now a days to find a single thing to be thankful for. With the busy lives that we lead (may it be with work or school or MEDSCHOOL!) and the problems we encounter, we find that it is so much easier to point out the mistakes and difficulties that we are faced with, rather than to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sometimes we forget that there is beauty in the breakdown, that life has so much to offer, that we are loved, that we deserve to be loved, and that you're doing okay, because despite all the crappy things thrown at are alive and is capable of doing good.

My name is Trina, I am 22 years old, a medical student and 100% (plus or minus 10%) Filipino.

I am thankful for:

1. My family
2. My friends
3. being able to follow my passion
4. For music
5. For life.

So, what're you thankful for?

P.S. Our desserts during dinner were pumpkin pie and apple strudel. No kidding. :)

-Trina Lorenzana

There's always gonna be another mountain
I'm always gonna wanna make it move
Always gonna be a uphill battle
Sometimes I'm gonna have to lose
Ain't about how fast I get there
Ain't about what's waiting on the other side
It's the climb

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Keep On Moving: The Story of a Cancer Patient

This is a dedication to all those who have fought, are fighting, and will fight the battle I currently face, so that they might see my story and fight a little longer, cry a little less, and laugh a little more.

I was diagnosed with cancer 2 weeks before my 20th birthday. The funny thing about being diagnosed is that they don’t actually tell you what you have; instead, they give you a list of confusing adjectives and medical terms all pointing to one big bold word at the bottom of the page – Malignant. The doctor will say something comforting, your parents will cry, and whoever else is in the room will probably feel a discomfort unlike any other they have felt before. You, on the other hand, will only have one question on your mind: “will this kill me?” That’s a tough one, for anyone, especially a 19 year old who thought his chest pains were a result of an armbar gone wrong.

The answer, however, came months before I was diagnosed, in the strangest of places, at the strangest of moments: my first match in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Nationals. I remember it clearly with great regret. It would be my first of two losses in competition, and my opponent’s name still resounds clearly in my head. Christian Quismundo. I remember stepping onto the mat in my Gi, excited, scared, smiling like a retard. The match didn’t end in submission, although it almost did. It began with the regular feeling out process, until I sat down, grabbed a hold of his sleeves, and positioned myself in whats known as a spider guard. Once that happened I felt as if I was in control. I felt as if I could pull this mother off and look like a beast in front of my team.

Lord, how wrong I was. Quismundo was a strong guy, trained for about 2 years more than I did, in both Judo and Jiu-Jitsu, and had a game face that, to be honest, had me worried that urine would leak midway through the match. I felt as if I was in control until about halfway in, when he began passing my guard. I panicked and it wasn’t long before he had me in side mount. That’s when it began. A slow pounding in the upper left side of my chest. A thud thud thud. Not a heartbeat, but a pain that to this day can only be described as your heart humping your lungs. It was horrendous, but momentary. A few seconds later, I was back in the real world, where I was mounted by the Jiu Jitsuka midway through the BJJ nationals. I looked to the sidelines and heard four words from my coach that would define and inspire what was to come in so many ways.

“Angelo, keep on moving.”

At the time I had no idea what they meant, nor what they implied. Sad to say, I did the opposite. I froze, unable to think, trying to scan my brain for whatever escapes I had to side mount. In a few moments, Quismundo had transitioned to a more upright position, with a hold on my left arm. I knew what was coming but was too retarded to do much of anything. I squirmed like the fool I was trying frantically to look like less of an idiot then I already did, but it was too late. Quismundo won on points, and I lost looking like someone straight out of an anti-cocaine infomercial. After the match, my coach, Ali Sulit, looked me in the eyes and said “You should have kept on moving.”

I would remember those words avidly. Especially through out my first few sessions of chemotherapy. Right after the needle leaves your hand. The effects will kick in. I’m sure there have been enough tear-evoking cancer movies to paint an ugly picture. The truth is, it’s not always like the movies. Everyone should know that cancer is not a walk in the park, just like it isnt a death sentence.

However, the hardships one endures throughout the disease require a special strength to be mustered. A strength I was happy to find in the memory of a coach shouting at me whilst a stronger man mounted me. “Keep on moving”. I was happy to do so. I can remember to this day, being in the fetal position, rosary in one hand, Biancas hand in another, slowly whipsering those four words. “Angelo, keep on moving”. Those words became a solemn mantra, after every session, after every blood test, after every hardship that followed.

A few months after the tournament, I was a vague shadow of my former self. Bald, ten pounds lighter, and scared shitless in a sky blue medical gown. My close friends, parents and I were in the PET scan room in St. Luke’s. All of us were wondering what the extent of my cancer was, and whether or not it had spread since my last scan. Luckily it hadn’t, and the only new signs of it were two small specks dispersed on opposite sides of my upper body. Unfortunately, the PET scan also revealed that the tumor was a big one – about the size of my fist, right on top of my heart, and inbetween my lungs. The good news was, the doctors had finally determined what sort of cancer I had: Large B-Cell Lymphoma, which like most cancers these days is treatable and survivable. It also meant that I was a prime candidate for a study, which would not only pay for my treatments but give me the most advanced medicine the modern world was aware of.

It wasnt long before the blood tests, ct scans, injections, and even the chemotherapy became routine. The discomfort was easier to deal with, and the drama eventually subsided. Surprisngly, I started gaining weight, laughing more, even grappling a little in my living room when my brothers and friends were up to it. The CT scans began to show signs of shrinkage, and that feeling of relief slowly began to sit in. I was getting better.

Only then did I realize that the question I had asked myself all those months ago had an answer. However, it wasnt the one I was looking for, the reason being that no doctor will assure your survival nor will they resign you to your doom. The answer is: do not ask yourself whether or not you will live or die. Do not ask your self what your chances are. Ask yourself the purest question asked by every honorable human being who has seen what is to come and was frightened that it may take his life.

Will I keep on moving, no matter what the outcome?

You will always find that the most inspiring stories are not of men and women who have survived, but those who have passed, and had fought for their lives with the strength and passion that each life is worth fighting for. The individuals who stared the possibility of death in the eye and in the words of Edmond Dantes, said ‘Do your worst…for I will do mine’, because, unlike Quismundo, cancer cannot win on points. There is no bell to signal the end of the match. There is only you and that voice in the sidelines. Listen to it. Smile, and be brave. Keep on moving.

- Angelo Gayanelo

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