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My brother’s battle with Leukemia

April 3 is the 16th death anniversary of my younger brother, Oscar. He died from a failed stem cell transplant. He was only 40 years old. Oscar was diagnosed with Acute myeloid leukemia (AML-M4) on September 1, 1996. Getting sick of leukemia is a logistical nightmare especially if one is looking for blood type AB donors.

A caricature of my brother in 1982 when he managed our bakeshop, Sally's Home Bake Shop

A caricature of my brother in 1982 when he managed our bakeshop, Sally’s Home Bake Shop

Our family worked diligently to support Oscar in his search for a cure, spanning hours and hours of research and inquiries through the internet and electronic mail. Research revealed that Oscar needed a stem cell transplant upon remission but unfortunately, he relapsed before we found a hospital within our budget. Cost of stem cell transplant ranged from 7 to 20 million pesos in 1998. The cheapest transplant was in Israel. To raise funds for his transplant, we put one of our properties for sale.

Fortunately, Oscar was eligible to participate in a Clinical trial at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in Bethesda, Maryland. My sister’s friend who worked in that institute informed us of the clinical trial which was already in Phase 3. This phase is the second to the last step prior to making it a protocol among doctors. The stem cell transplant , medicines and hospitalization were free. Luck was also on our side because my sibling-doctor was an exact tissue match. The hospital required us to raise money for his board and lodging outside the hospital. Total budget for the 6 month stay was estimated to reach only 600 thousand pesos. Everything seemed perfect.

Oscar made the brave choice to undergo a stem cell transplant, knowing that there was a 50-50 chance he would survive, and that he had to take that risk. (View videotape of his reflections after the transplant )

The stem cells never had a chance to grow because of sepsis. After 6 months in NHLBI, the doctors sadly announced that he had to return to the Philippines. I guess the doctors decided they couldn’t do anything for him so they sent him home. Oscar, thin and black from the radiation treatment arrived on March 29, 1999. I held his frail hand and prayed quietly that God deliver him from his pain.

He smiled at me ” At least, we did not have to spend our inheritance to pay for my treatment

We talked until he was tired. Knowing his days were numbered, I slept beside him that night .

Oscar held on to the hope that there was a chance to recover . Inspite of his optimism, he prepared for his death. He videotaped instructions for his two sons on how to run his lechon business, deposited college funds , dictated his last will and testament and discussed other matters.

On April 3, 1999, Oscar suffered a brain hemorrhage and died a few hours later.

When a sibling dies, all future special occasions will be forever changed. There will be no more shared birthday celebrations, anniversaries, or holidays. There will be no telephone calls telling of the milestones of a nephew or niece. The sharing of life’s unique and special events will never again take place.

In tribute to the memory of my brother, I created a memorial site which includes midi files of his compositions and some photos and legacies. I can just hear him playing his award-winning musical piece, Pangarap ng Musmos which is now a church song. Oscar is having a blast playing the piano with my son, my mom, dad and Ruben, another brother in heaven.

13 thoughts on “My brother’s battle with Leukemia”

  1. I am suddenly filled with grief as I suddenly remembered my own loss from my mom’s death. The healing process is still on going though its been 12 yrs ago.

    I envy your family, as you were given time to really appreciate each other before he was taken away. We were not prepared when she was taken away. My father took this loss very hard. My sister and I had no one to find comfort ’cause everybody is grieving.

    Anyway, I am sure also that my mom already met your family in heaven. 🙂

  2. Abbie: we never stop grieving but we grieve well. Triggers like death anniversaries make us miss our loved ones and we feel sadness and longing. IT’s just that the pain is not as raw on the day our loved one died. It’s true, sometimes we grieve alone because each one of us a had a different relationship with our loved one.

  3. Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
    Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
    Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
    I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

    –Edna St. Vincent Millay–

  4. touching post..hope everyone in your family is doing okay now, especially your brother’s family. can’t help but think how it must have been for the kids. hope they’re well.

  5. i’m so sorry to know that you lost someone to cancer… and I appreciate the grace that you bring in other people’s lives when you comfort them… us… who are dealing with possible losses and pain…

  6. I have recently fallen inlove with a girl that has been diagnosed with leukemia when she was eight, she is now 16 and i’m 18… I was confused and didn’t understand anything about the sickness…but most of all is that i feel the pain that you feeling because i too lost two of my cousins this year… They were both brother and sister…the brother passed away on the 5th of july at the age of 15 and his sister on the 8th of september at the age of 22… They death still has an impact on me because i find it hard to except…as for you i really hope god shines a light apon you and thanks a thousand times for sharing your story with us

  7. i enjoyed your story and i deeply touched…i had that same situation,,right now my girlfriend is suffering from anemia…she undergoes blood trasfussion twice and recently she undergoes bone marrow aspiration…i love her very much and it’s so hard for me seeing her suffering from the pain brought by her illness…but i’m not losing hope that one day she could overcome from that situation…

  8. i’ve met this old friend whom i’ve didnt seen for more than a decade. We had a small talk and i’ve learned that her youngest son, her third has leukemia. The moment I’ve heard that, I felt the pain she’s goin thru. But u can’t see the sadness in her face. But as we went on, I’ve seen the tears hiding behind her eyes. I dont know how to help her. But I wish my prayers and symphaty can at least lessen her burdens. I wish for the boy’s gud health, which I forgot to ask for the name. And for my friend…dont quit…there is alwys hope…I’ll always be here for u…

  9. im just wondering if anyone could help us on what we should do to cure our 10 month old niece. she was just diagnosed with a type of AML, we need suggestions and recommendations.

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