Dubai: We are often told to cut out smoking, avoid drinks, work out, have healthy food choices if we intend to reduce the risk of breast cancer.
But what do you do when you are a non-smoker, teetotaller, health-conscious young person with no history of any chronic disease or medication and yet diagnosed with the dreaded disease? Ask this Filipina expatriate from Abu Dhabi and her answer is: Have the courage to fight back.
On New Year’s Eve in 2017, when the entire world was in a celebratory mode, Eliza Aurelia Tubil, 38, a devoted wife and mother of three school-going children, received a spine-chilling diagnosis for what she thought was a lymph node swelling in her right armpit. It was Stage 4 breast cancer that had spread right to her bones, liver and later even the brain. She was shell-shocked, but decided to fight back of her life.
In January 2018, at NMC Specialty Hospital, under the care of Dr Mohannad Diab, consultant medical oncologist, who drew up an elaborate multi-pronged strategy, Tubil commenced her battle. She received several cycles of therapy for four years, which was a combination of hormone, radio and chemotherapies and was under active screening every second month. Based on her blood test results and PET scan, Dr Diab would recalibrate the strategy and Tubil would get ready bravely for yet another round of the battle. This continued until the summer of 2020. On June 21, 2021, Tubil had to undergo a five-hour surgery for a right breast mastectomy under Dr Balaji Balasubramanian, surgical oncologist. Simultaneously, Dr Brij Naithani Panchal, aesthetic, reconstructive and plastic surgeon, conducted an Latissimus Dorsi (LD) flap reconstruction surgery to cover the gap and create a pocket for breast implant.
Michael Brenden Davis, CEO, NMC Healthcare, who was closely following the case, was very happy with the outcome and Tubil’s spirited journey in these four years.
He commented: “Battling cancer is a journey that patients don’t have to walk alone. Treatment is difficult, but there is always hope. I was so glad to learn the story of Eliza and her formidable fight to defeat cancer with the support of our doctors and other caregivers. God bless Eliza and the clinical staff.”
The medical team at the hospital put the patient on a special targeted anti-bodies treatment and Tubil responded very well. Her tumour markers are now normal, her CT scan report is good and it appears that four years after being diagnosed with cancer, Tubil has finally defeated the demon. Dr Diab told Gulf News: “We think that with the current treatment, the prognosis for this patient looks very good and we are happy for her.”
In her own words
Tubil shared an inspiring first-person account of her courageous journey for four years to boost the morale of women undergoing a similar ordeal.
“My name is Eliza Tubil. I am now 38, happily married to Joseph A Tubil, a mother of three kids and a full-time homemaker. On the afternoon of December 31, 2017, my life turned upside down, when the doctor I had consulted a week before told me that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer with a metastasis to my bone and liver.
I thought it was the end of everything. After a few sentences, I never quite registered what my doctor said that afternoon. It was as though I was deaf. I just called my husband to inform him about the diagnosis and instructed him to rush immediately to the hospital. First, I told him to take care of our children as they were still young. I felt like I was almost saying goodbye to my family.
However, my husband told me that we would go ahead and celebrate New Year’s Eve, despite what had happened, as he was very optimistic that everything would ultimately work out fine. But for me, the joyful New Year celebrations had turned incredibly sad.
My life was worth fighting for
When my family and relatives in the Philippines heard that I had Stage 4 cancer, they imagined me lying in bed, very weak, requiring assistance, waiting hopelessly for a miracle. However, all of them were wrong because that was not true. I have always been a very healthy and strong person, leading a perfectly normal life.
However, there is no denying the fact that when I heard for the first time that I had cancer, I felt it was the end of the road for me. Then, it was my husband who encouraged me to be stronger. Throughout these four years, Joseph was always there to support me. It was he who made me realise that fighting back was the only way to beat the disease. He always told me: ‘You can recover from this and you will be healed as it is just a normal disease’. Those words helped me to be strong and, most importantly, made me fall in love with life all over again. The belief that life is worth fighting for grew stronger in me and in all my sufferings I always used to tell myself that if so many others could beat the disease and survive, why can’t I?
I began my research on cancer
I began researching and reading articles about cancer treatments, including blogs written by cancer survivors and personal interviews of some cancer patients in order to get some idea about they all did and what was their line of treatment. This helped me augment my knowledge about breast cancer. Soon, I was convinced that cancer was a treatable disease and that one had to work on it one day at a time. I followed my oncologist’s instructions during my chemotherapy cycles and took all my medications without fail. At the same time, I drank natural juices extracted from fruit and vegetables to boost my immune system during chemotherapy, which I think was very effective.
Joseph served as my dietician, drawing up my menu. He was very strict and soon I was able to change my lifestyle and began stepping out in the open to breathe fresh air.
Inspiring hope in others
Finally, on June 21, 2021, I underwent an operation to excise my right breast as advised by the doctors. After weeks of treatment, I felt very comfortable and almost fully recovered from cancer, as evident from my PET SCAN report.
I want people to realise that when they hear the word ‘cancer’, it should not be considered as a death sentence. Rather, it should be seen as any other disease that can be treated. Fighting cancer requires a strong will, resistance, love, care, optimism, hope and most importantly — an unwavering faith in God.
I believe that my ability and willingness to think outside the box and conducting my own research on the subject helped me beat cancer.
You can overcome this
To other cancer patients and cancer survivors out there, I would like to say that do not be ashamed of what you have. Just think that you are normal and always remember that you are a survivor and a hero to everybody.
We must show to other people that we have overcome the hardest challenge in our life. To the family and friends of those suffering from cancer right now, I request you to provide your family member all the moral support a patient needs. He or she is special and let them feel that you care and love for them. Those who survive this battle are the heroes for other cancer patients, Yes, we are the symbol of hope for them.
I would like to thank the medical team at NMC Specialty Hospital, Abu Dhabi, for my recovery, namely Dr Mohannad Diab, Dr Balaji Balasubramanian and Dr Brij Naithani Panchal. Thank you for giving me a second life to live with my family in this wonderful world. I want to express my profound thanks and appreciation for the services provided by the medical staff during my chemotherapy sessions, the surgery and for other medical services.
I thank God for his healing power
Indeed, I found trust and confidence in the entire process of my treatment — right from the operation and until I was discharged on June 24. I would like to thank my family, friends, relatives and other people who always supported and prayed for me. Lastly, I bow my head in gratitude to Almighty God for the healing power and the miracle that He has granted me. We need to pray always, in sickness and in happiness. Thank you so much for allowing me to share my story with all of you. God bless us all.”