In late 2017, 34-year-old Joy Anojales was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer and needed to undergo mastectomy. While the operation was a success, her troubles didn’t end there. Her doctor advised six cycles of chemotherapy to suppress any future malignant growths.
“I was scared because I was pregnant with my [second] child. I didn’t even know until my first checkup, my baby was already five months old,” Anojales reveals.
Chemotherapy has a long-standing reputation of being a double-edged sword, as the drugs affect both bad and good cells. This would put her baby at risk of abnormalities. As much as she wanted to give birth prior to chemotherapy, her gynecologist Dr. Leslie Sosuan explained that Anojales can’t. So she proceeded with the treatment, with the baby in her belly.
“The patient’s determination is strong. She was eight months pregnant and was undergoing chemotherapy. She wants to survive for the sake of her children. She tries not to cry and does everything for her newborn to come out healthy,” Tzu Chi volunteer Ting Ting Pua explains.
“The beneficiary is a cancer patient and pregnant at the same time. We’re trying to save two lives.” adds Pua.
With Tzu Chi shouldering the cost of her treatment (Php10,000 per cycle), Anojales relied on her faith in God for her second child to come out normal. Her only source of income is her job of crafting effigies of saints and deities. Her family resides at her employer’s store in downtown Manila. Surrounded by such blessed figures, she prayed and prayed.
Then, on December 9, 2017, she gave birth to Crisanto with a clean bill of health. She named him after the doctor who performed the mastectomy. “I’m happy that my baby was born normal. Nothing bad happened to him,” Anojales says.
The story reminds the volunteer of one of Master Cheng Yen’s eye-opening experiences.
It was spring in 1966. On one visit to a local clinic, Dharma Master Cheng Yen saw a pool of blood on the floor. Upon asking around, she learned that it belonged to an indigenous pregnant woman. Her family had brought her from their mountain village—an eight-hour journey on foot—to seek medical attention.
But the clinic’s staff turned them away. The family was unable to pay NT$8,000 (over US$2,000 in today’s market) as deposit. In a community far from bustling metros, such an amount was difficult to come by. They were forced to bring her home untreated. One can only know the woman’s fate that followed.
Master Cheng Yen was overwhelmed with sorrow. She asked herself what a simple monastic like her can do to alleviate the suffering of people like the woman.
The story has been shared countless times with the growing family of Tzu Chi volunteers around the world. The fateful encounter had become the impetus to establish the Buddhist organization later that year. Among the volunteers, she echoes the words imparted to her by her mentor, Venerable Master Yin Shun: “Always work for Buddhism and for all living beings.”
Tzu Chi treated her case with the utmost urgency. Due in no small part of love and care on part of the volunteers, two lives would be able to face tomorrow filled with hope.
At this point in Tzu Chi’s life, the story that saddened Master Cheng Yen in 1966 shouldn’t happen to anyone ever again.
#HelpTzuChiHelpOthers: If you wish to extend medical or any form of assistance to those in need, you may log on to http://tzuchi.org.ph/how-to-help/donation/
This religious articles store along Tayuman St., Manila is both Joy’s workplace and home. She earns Php3,500 a month making embroidery for effigies of saints and deities. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Tzu Chi volunteers on November 4, 2017 pay a visit to Joy’s residence in Manila, They bear gifts such as grocery items and clothes for her upcoming baby boy.【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
With delicate handiwork, Joy works on several embroidery pieces. Her two-year-old daughter Alona makes herself comfortable while the mother makes a living.【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Joy spent hours working on the embroidery of these statues. Each statue costs more than what she makes monthly.【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
A medical worker at Metropolitan Medical Center checks Joy’s blood pressure. Her doctor advised undergoing six cycles of chemotherapy to eliminate any remaining traces of her breast cancer, most of which removed by mastectomy several months ago.【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Chemotherapy involves a steady stream of anti-cancer drugs into Joy’s bloodstream. While it can eliminate cancer cells, chemotherapy also affects healthy cells. This became Joy’s concern, given that she was eight months pregnant by the time of this treatment.【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Tzu Chi volunteers visit Joy again, elated to see newborn Crisanto sleeping like a log but fit as a fiddle.【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Joy takes her newborn into her arms, glad that her chemotherapy didn’t end her son’s life prematurely. Her loss of hair due to the treatment is a small price to pay to live long enough to see her children grow.【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】