Surviving the Big C

Some unexpected circumstances gave me the privilege of attending a book launch today, and when I got there, I was surprised to find the book was about a topic that (unfortunately) hits close to home: cancer.

As my friends would know, my dad passed away of colon cancer more than thirteen years ago (right before I turned eleven), and that part of my life went by in a blur because I didn’t really understand what was happening; I didn’t want to believe my dad was sick. Cancer was a like a death sentence then, and every night I made a prayerful bargain with God that I’d be a very good girl if only He wouldn’t take Papa away.

We spent so much time in different hospitals that I developed a phobia for them, and I got so traumatized by the whole ordeal that I began developing psychosomatic symptoms, like running a continuous fever every so often, for no particular reason.

Anyway, I meant to browse through the book Surviving Cancer: Stories of Hope by Singaporean oncologist Ang Peng Tiam (published locally by Anvil), but I ended up reading from start to finish even before the meal was completely served.

Dr. Ang Peng Tiam (who was present at the press conference — sorry, did not have a cam so no photos), is a senior consultant and medical doctor at the Parkway Cancer Centre at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore. Surviving Cancer is a collection of anecdotal cases that Dr. Tiam has handled, touching on different cancer cases and how he treated them.

According to Dr. Tiam, “Cancer is not about death, but about living. I want to spread a message of hope, for patients to believe that they can get well, and to seek treatment.”

Surviving Cancer
(book #68 for 2009 — bumped up the review because the book was lauched today, will get back to books 63-67 later; also book 12 for diversity challenge – science), while not exactly Chicken Soup for the Soul, is very interesting and candid (for a serious subject) without being unrealistic, and very readable despite the detailed discussion of various medical conditions and treatment options. There are also very graphic photos that made me lose my appetite but were very good in illustrating how effective cancer treatment can be.

I like Dr. Tiam’s psychosocial approach to treating cancer: giving the best possible support for cancer patients so they can have a good life, no matter how long or short the duration would be.

I also liked the chapter devoted to alternative treatments, because Filipinos are so fond of alternative medicine. He states that while patients should first and foremost seek conventional medical treatment, alternative medicine can be used to supplement the treatment as long as it does not pose harmful side effects. He cautions against alternative treatments that discourage all forms of medical procedures, e.g. an alarming case of a “wellness spa” that locks you in for a month and feeds you 150 tablets a day and tells you your cancer will grow/worsen before disappearing completely.

At the end of the book, there is a very useful checklist of signs and symptoms revised from the American Cancer Society, which may not be cancer but should be brought to your doctor’s attention: sores that don’t heal, a lump in the breast or other parts of the body, unusual bleeding, change in bowel habits or bladder functions, recent change in a wart or mole, indigestion or difficulty in swallowing, nagging cough or hoarseness, and problems with hearing.

It’s very good reading for cancer patients and their families, and even local oncologists I think, who can pick up a thing or two from Dr. Tiam’s methodology. I’m actually passing the book on to a friend who will have great use for this right now, and I hope this helps the family get through this trying time.

The book is available at National Book Store branches nationwide, approx. P360 (?).

My copy: trade paperback, to be passed on

My rating: 5/5 stars

Reading in TagLish

The fourth book I read during the 24-hour read-a-thon is Para Kay B by Filipino scriptwriter Ricky Lee (book 63 of 2009, book 11 of diversity challenge- FFP book discussion selection), the assigned reading for April for my book club Flips Flipping Pages, which will hold the discussion tomorrow (which prevents me from attending Dianne’s graduation party, but I’m really looking forward to the discussion).

Even before this book was chosen for discussion, I was meaning to get a copy because all the storefronts of National Book Store (to my international readers, NBS is the biggest book store chain in the Philippines) had a poster of the book and I was really intrigued by the full title, which reads: Para Kay B (O, kung paano dinedevastate ng pag-ibig ang 4 out of 5 sa atin) which roughly translated is: For B (Or how love devastates 4 out of 5 of us).

The novel, written in TagLish, a combination of Tagalog (a dialect which is the basis for the national language Filipino) and English, is comprised of five different love stories: a) Irene and Jordan (who made a childhood promise to marry her and then disappeared from her life); b) Sandra and Lupe (who happens to be her brother); c) Erica (who is from the love-less island of Maldiaga) and Jake (the son of the woman who takes Erica under her wing); d) the widow Ester and her maid Sara; and e) the voluptuous Bessie and the young, naive Lucas. The stories appear to be unrelated until the last few chapters, which reveal the link that binds them all.

Filipino was one of my better subjects in school (even in college when Filipino class was quite difficult), but reading this was harder for me than I anticipated because I haven’t read anything with this much Tagalog in a long time. To my non-Filipino readers, Tagalog (and Filipino) and the rest of the local dialects in the Philippines are read phonetically (sounded out syllable per syllable), as opposed to English, where words can be recognized on sight.

The second part I had difficulty with is the structure of the novel — no quotation marks. Quotes are mostly narrative, although there are some dialogues that read as a script. I have always had trouble reading novels that are straight narration (or with little dialogue) because I get bored, and when my concentration slips the text tends to meld together in my mind and I get lost reading. Perhaps it’s his background as a scriptwriter, or an intention to defy the conventional structure of the novel, but it took awhile before I got used to it.

During the readathon, the infernal heat was also driving me crazy so I had to haul my patootie to the McDonalds a few blocks away so I could concentrate.

The voice was also an acquired taste for me. When I read, I usually hear the narrator’s voice in my head (which I used to think was strange, but my Flipper friends tell me they do it too), and I hear a different pacing of the words for every book, and the voice and accent vary with the narrator (yes, Harry Potter in a British accent). I found Para Kay B too talkative, like the narrator was trying to get out so many words all at once, and I sensed a shrillness to it that grated on my nerves at some points in the book.

I liked the statistics proposed by the title, hahaha, because so far I’ve always been in the 4 out of 5 (loooooong story, and never mind) and I think a lot of people will agree with the statistic. In his end note, Ricky Lee states how (paraphrased) he wants to be read by everyone — the people riding the mrt, those watching over loved ones at the hospital, parents putting their kids to sleep — and not just his fellow writers or literature students. Love (or the absence of love) is a universal theme that most anyone can relate to, and Lee’s use of TagLish makes it more accessible to the average Filipino.

*Spoiler alert: do not read beyond this point if you plan on reading the book. Am writing about the resolution because a lot of my readers probably won’t get to read the book, seeing as it’s written in TagLish. I was contemplating writing this entry in TagLish like some of my Flipper friends but checking my stats, I found that only 41% of my readership is located in the Philippines, and I didn’t want to deprive them from reading this entry*

I did perk up later in the book when one of the characters (not Ricky Lee) turns out to be the writer of the five stories mentioned above. The stories are not resolved in their respective chapters, and are left hanging because of the writer’s (the character who is the writer, and not Ricky Lee) belief that 4 out of 5 love stories do not get a happy ending.

As the writer looks over his first draft, the 5 female characters suddenly appear in front of him, and they are disgruntled about the lack of resolution in their stories. They question his integrity and skill as a writer, fight among themselves, and even present the writer with a demand letter because they don’t want to be part of the 4 out of 5 statistic.

The character-talking-to-author ruse is a popular for stories about authors or illustrators, but I still found this to be the most enjoyable part of the novel because it was so funny in TagLish.

Finally, the writer issues his own demands — that the characters not pop up from out of the blue, that he write the story that he wants to tell, that he has the right to edit or revise as he chooses, and that the final say is his.

But he does change his mind about the story, and revises his draft to a conclusion that would satisfy both himself and his characters. He also realizes the difference between writing and real life, (paraphrased) how the writer has the power to change everything even after he’s written the story down — the bad changed to good and the tragic ending made happy — while in real life, that’s it, no revisions (I like this passage a lot).

Towards the end of the novel, he brushes off his theory on love, stating that theories are for insecure people, but he backtracks, posing the question, who isn’t insecure when they’re in love?

Edit at 11:24 pm: Am clarifying why I like this last part (more than the rest of the novel) after reading Gege’s review because I realized I didn’t elaborate on this aspect to the story.

My reading of the novel is that it’s an attempt (albeit it comes off a bit contrived, very movie-ish) at postmodernism, defying the traditional structure of the novel: one of the characters turns out to be writing the story (but is not the author), the characters become self-aware (that they’re characters of the story), voice out exactly what they think of the story (and attempt to vote off the writer) and have a hand in manipulating the outcome.

As the Flippers well know, I like postmodernist techniques in books (whether it’s picture books or novels) and I was pleasantly surprised to find it in this book because I wasn’t sure I was going to like it.

Para Kay B wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, but in the end I enjoyed it, and I’m glad the discussi
on moved it up my reading list. I’m looking forward to discussing it tomorrow and meeting Ricky Lee in person.

One last, a drawing I made for the journal (token) we’re giving Ricky Lee at the discussion tomorrow. Will post some photos of the event in another entry this weekend :)

My copy: paperback, from NBS Bestsellers (10% discount from Anvil). Just a little rant: the binding is terrible, it’s glued at the edges and then stapled down, and the binding was giving way even before I read the book.

Oh, and props to INKie Ivan Reverente for the great illustrations, and I’m glad he joined us at INK this year.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars