Arzaga Blog


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Permalink 07:37:09 pm, by joseph Email , 1134 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [B]

A Husband’s Musings on His Wife’s Battle with Breast Cancer

As a parent volunteer at my boys’ elementary school, I frequently have children laugh at me and ask why I'm wearing a pink bracket or shirt. For them pink isn't a boy’s color. Perhaps when they are older they will understand I wear it not as a fashion statement or because I look good in pink, but rather to show support for my wife who battles breast cancer.

In all likelihood, I will never endure the pain of being treated for breast cancer. The fear you have when you discover that lump is indescribable. The sickening feeling that overwhelms you when your doctor discusses the results, and options, is equally horrible. I will never endure the pain and suffering, both physical and mental, of having a double mastectomy and subsequent recovery. What I can do is stand proudly with my wife every step of the way, hold her hand to comfort her, and assure her that she is not alone in this life-changing battle.

I recall the countless trips we have made to doctors for exams, treatments, surgeries and follow-ups. There have been endless overnight stays at the hospital, dashes to the pharmacy for refills, and lost hours of sleep as I did all I could to make life more bearable for my little warrior. And I’ve done this without one complaint, because that is what a husband does; this is what is expected of you when the person you love suffers.

I am in awe of how brave my wife has been throughout the ordeal. From day one she took charge and faced it head on, fearlessly. Researching options, talking to professionals, and acting like a general, she prepared for battle. She knew what she wanted, even when some doctors tried to sway her. In the end even the doctors who had doubted her choices admitted she made the right decisions.

When it came down to it, there were two simple choices for her: try to save her breasts or try to save her life. It was an easy choice and once her decision was made, there was no altering her convictions.

For me, the term double mastectomy is very negative and graphic. It is the removal of not only your breasts, but part of your body that gave your children the nourishment and life early in their lives. These are the twin girls that have been with you since grade school, and you’ve watched them grow and blossom into motherhood.

As I watched my wife undergo this devastating procedure, I learned that while it is brutal in the physical sense, there was an emotional victory afterwards. Never again will she battle breast cancer. Never again will she worry, grow anxious, or lose sleep over the fear of the disease’s return. For the rest of her life she will never live in terror of breast cancer or let it control her life. She has battled and defeated this evil disease. She has survived and will continue to survive every day so that her children will have a mother and I will have my partner in life. Who else will laugh at all my jokes and childish antics?

So yes, I have no problem wearing pink shirts, nor do I have any reservations about wearing a pink bracelet. It is the least I can do to show my support to my wife and the millions of women fighting this disease. This is my way as a man, a son, a father and a husband to say to those battling cancer that you are not alone in this fight – and that having cancer is nothing to be ashamed of or a death sentence.

Now, as I’m writing this in the wee hours of the morning, I sit awake in my wife’s hospital room for the last time, listening the electronic BP cuff checking her vitals, hearing the sounds of the nurses outside, I admire my wife as she quietly sleeps. The Norco pill she took for the temporary pain is doing its job. As I watch my partner sleep, I thank her for making the brave choices for not only herself but her whole family.

It has been a hard bumpy road to recovery since the mastectomy. From the constant pain of tissue expanders, to being forced to sleep on her back at a sixty-degree angle every night, she has been uncomfortable for much of this ordeal. Limited mobility and constant anxiety attacks were par for the course. Simple things like putting on socks, combing hair, showering, going to the bathroom or hugging our children were nearly impossible, but she battled through. Absent now is the fear of remission, the abatement of uncertainty that comes from asking ‘what if’. There is no need for chemotherapy or radiation. No need for wigs. No more mammograms!! And there is no shame and denial of being diagnosed with breast cancer. My wife has encountered many other breast cancer survivors, developed relationships, and discovered a strong network of supporters. We have seen how those who have survived cancer before us are eager to support others just beginning the battle.

Finally, I must state how appreciative I am for my community, our friends and family who rallied around us during this whole ordeal. Thank you to the teachers and staff at Olympic View Elementary for their support. To my Angels in the OPTC who picked up my children and brought them home after school, brought us dinners, and checked up weekly, I must express my deepest gratitude. I am thankful for the family members who came by and helped take care of our boys and brought flowers to the hospital. I would be remiss if I didn’t say a special thanks to Nurse Janelle who sat side-by-side with my wife from day one, going to all her appointments with her, researching all medical options, and asking the doctors all the important questions. Oh, and for putting up with me and my sense of humor. And perhaps most of all, thank you to the nurses at Sharp Memorial Hospital who took extra special care of my wife and had to endure my constant knock-knock jokes, one of which I will share with you.

Knock. Knock.
Who’s there?
Cancer who?
Cancer see she’s trying to get some sleep in here?

I wanted to end this with a quote from a passage from The Fiery Cross in the Outlander series by my wife’s favorite author, Diana Gabaldon. It is between Jamie, the sexy redheaded Scottish kilt-wearing hunk (my wife’s words), and Claire, the woman he loves: “When the day shall come that we do part,” he said softly, and turned to look at me, “if my last words are not ‘I love you’-ye’ll ken it was because I didna have time.”


Permalink 04:27:32 am, by joseph Email , 1621 words   English (US)
Categories: Cultural

Spain - Day 6

Today we leave Fatima, Portugal and head to Salamonca, Spain which is about a 4 hour drive.  We had to take the same toll road back and this time the toll only cost me €2.50, talk about the difference a ticket in hand can make.  Pretty smooth drive all the way to the next hotel.  We made a quick stop at the Portugal-Spain border for some photo opps. Thanks to Rick Steves, I now know that once you are in Europe, crossing the borders are now the same as crossing state lines.  The only time you are asked for your passport is when you arrive from outside one of the 27 participating nations... or when you are checking into a hotel.

Met some wonderful folks from The UK while eating dinner around 10 pm.  They convinced us to head over to Mayor Square and check out the sites.  I was pleased to discover that in Spain, things don't start up until 9 pm and last well into the morning.  We left mom at the hotel, grabbed the kids, found a taxi and headed over to Mayor Square.  The man I spoke with earlier was spot on.  This place was packed with people everywhere.  Most of them were college age as there is a university nearby.

I had two goals while in Salamonca, #1 to find the astronaut and #2 to find the frog on the skull.  With 2 guidebooks in hand and three kids trying to keep up, we went off in search of these two items.  Along the way we seen some impressive buildings but being they were so close to each other I couldn't get a good photo of a whole building.  After striking out at finding the frog and astronaut, I heard a familiar language coming down the street.  As luck would have it, we met two travel abroad students from the US.  They knew where I wanted to go and gave us a personal tour to the two items.  With out them, I highy doubt I would have ever found the astronaut or the frog, despite standing smack dab in front of the astronaut earlier in our trip. They also showed us a rabbit that supposedly gives you good luck if you rub it, so I did, but as you will find out later, it didn't work.  

Around 1 in the morning, things started to die down so we headed back to our room to get a couple hours of sleep before we headed onto Bilou, which is on Spain's northern coast.   We found a taxi, but when we got ready to go, the driver discovered that his battery was dead.  I offered to give him a push, but as luck would have it, we found to only taxi driver in Salamanca with an automatic, so we hopped out and grabbed another taxi.

The next morning, we got ready to head out, but mom wanted to see the old cathedral that we saw last night. So we packed our gear up into the van and headed over to see the sites.  As I mentioned earlier, parking is scarce, especially in the older parts of the towns, and today was no exception.  We found a couple of places to park for handicapped but they were already occupied so we settled for a parking garage.  We made it inside the garage just fine.  There was an attendant who directed us back to a spot to park our vehicle.  It was, like most parking lots, a tight fit in-between support pillars. I mention this because the parking attendant steered me smack dab into one causing damage to the right side of the van.  I'm pretty sure the words that came out of my mouth were suitable for adults only and would have made George Carlin raise up out of his grave and say "job well done".  I finally got the van parked with the help of my wife because for some reason, the aforementioned dipshit who was supposedly helping me park, had left the area. In fact everyone who was working in the garage was not to be found.  I guess siesta time  comes a bit earlier in Salamanca.

To say the rest of the day was ruined was an understatement.  Mom wanted to just go on to the next city, but I was in no mood to just get up and leave.  Heck I just wrecked the van while parking so she could go and see the churches, so the least she could do is go and see the churches.  Besides, I needed some time by myself to vent and get all those cuss words out of my mouth.  I was so pissed off that I was cussing in English, Spanish and Tagalog.  I would have cussed in French too, had I known any French cuss words.

We finally arrived at the church and went inside to do the touristy thing.  For a building that took 200 years to build, this was a pretty impressive building.  They don't allow flash photography so I had my camera on no-flash which still took decent pictures if you don't move the camera while the shutter is open.  The place was filled with rooms that were on the outside and contained pews and various statues depicting various saints.  One in particular had a small glass case which looked like it contained a piece of drift wood.  Yeah, I thought that was strange too.  Later, when mom was viewing the room she asked me what is was, so I went closer to get a better view.  Only then did I discover it was the hand and arm of some saint that was mummified.  Perhaps when I view the photos I took, I can translate the inscription on the box to find out why they decided to display the hand and and arm of some dead guy.

Since no one had really eaten, mom wanted to go and find a chinese restaurant, I suppose it was because she knew they would have rice.  We found one and headed in.  What I found funny is that while the restaurant was Chinese, the people working inside were Vietnamese who spoke Spanish.  I ordered steak with fried potatoes only to discover that in Spain fried potatoes means French Fries.... At least the boys were happy when they saw the fries.  

With tummies full of rice, French fries and Fanta, we headed back to the parking garage.  Of course when we got back there was no attendant around, I guess since they had an automated parking system, it allowed them to take an extra long siesta.  Of course, if I were a betting man, I would say they were all in the room with the monitors watching us on camera and waiting for us to leave.

With our address in to GPS, we headed off to our next stop, Bilbo, which started as a nice drive and ending up in another parking fiasco.  The drive itself was not all that memorable, with the exception of the occasional updated road that the GPS didn't recognize and my obligatory 5 hour power drink.  As we neared the Northern Coast we entered the area known as the Bask region.  This is the area that the Arzaga name has been traced back to.  From the best of my understanding, when the Philippines was occupied by Spain, Bask priests came over to the northern part of the Philippines and engaged in some unchurchified behaviors which ended up with some of the local females having babies. The babies took the names of their fathers in hopes that it would elevate them in the caste system they found themselves living in at the time.

So this part of the trip was special for me because it gave me a sense of homecoming, a place where my roots have been traced back too which probably explains why I blended in with everyone.  Of course being full Filipina, my wife kinda stuck out which illicit a lot of staring whenever we went out.  I guess folks in the area have never see a beautiful Pinay in their lives and have become accustomed to their own chain smoking pasty looking woman who lack in basic hygiene skills.

We found the hotel/apartment which required we take 2 separate elevators to get to our room which was designed by the folks at Ikea.  I guess Ikea is big in northern Spain.  For those not familiar with Ikea, It is a store that sells furniture.  Loosely translated, Ikea means "crapy furniture that even Wal-Mart won't sell".

But before we got to our room we had to park the van, which turned out to be another underground parking structure.  Sadly this time it wasn't the pillars that reached havoc in us but the ceiling or rather more specific the ventilation system they had installed with was a couple of inched shorter than the height of our van.  The reason I said havoc is that once we were parked, I discovered a 3 inch hole in the roof of the van where the ventilation gouged through it like a hot knife in butter.  It was at this point that my Aunt Dotty appeared, or rather her voice was in my head saying "this too shall pass".  I sure hope she is right.  On our rental agreement, we have Collision Damage Wavier (CDW) on there.  It says CWD1 so I'm not sure how much of the damage is covered.  Less than 24 hours earlier I was rubbing a rabbit for good luck.  Guess I didn't rub hard or long enough.  Oh, we still had to get the van out if the garage the next day which you will read about in the next journal entry. 

Permalink 04:23:39 am, by joseph Email , 1220 words   English (US)
Categories: Fun

Spain and Portugal - day 4 and 5

The good thing about a GPS is that it can get you to where you want to go.  The bad thing about a GPS is the it doesn't know when roads are blocked off and may not know how to find an alternate route.  What is worse is when you can see your hotel, but can't find a way to get there.  For those who haven't been to Spain or Portugal, here is another observation.  If you find flat land, I guarantee you will not find a city.  Cities here are always built on hill,  the better the city, the steeper the hill it is built on.

Fatima, in all its glory, is no different.  Hilly terrain with windy roads and no sense of pre-planning on the parts of the city engineers.  Much like a Russian astronaut with a hammer and a broken spaceship, I just kept hammering away until I achieved a desired route.  It only took me 15 minutes.  Most of which was spent waiting for people to cross the road or move their double parked car.  Man there are a lot of Spaniards over here today.

Got everyone settled in so we decided to do what all tourist do and go shopping.  Their was a store under the hotel and as I approached it I noticed a Filipino flag waving, so of course we went to check out the store.  Turns out the owner is Portuguese who is married to a Pinay.  They had one daughter who look to be around 18 months.  I think she enjoyed being able to talk to someone in Tagalog, which was a blessing to my mother-in-law.  There was a statues of Jesus hanging on the cross in the window that captured Jun's attention and he sat there most of the time while we shopped, just looking at the statue.  In fact the who time we were shopping when ever a store had a statues of Jesus, just would just stand there and look at them in awe.  Makes me wonder if he will be a priest one day.  He already has the vow of silence thing down pretty well.

The sanctuary was across the street from our hotel we decided to go and do some site seeing.  Since it was closer to evening, there were not a lot of people wandering around and getting in the way of my camera.  The boys and I went around taking photos while Tess and M-i-L took in a mass at the chapel outside. With the sun down, it was time to move on in search of some grub. 
We decided to eat at a nearby cafe because #1, it was open and #2, it was on the ground level.  While we did see a large number of restaurants, many of them were closed by 9 PM.  For the most part the restaurants were on the second floor with the first floors reserved for the dozens of shops who were selling pretty much the exact same thing.

To the delight of the M-i-L, they served rice, not quite what we are used to but at least it was rice, so she was happy.  For entertainment that night there was a communal cat that strayed into the cafe only to be wisked off by the cafe owners.  Since they had two entry ways, the cat would just go to the other door to sneak in.  The owners would try their darndest to get the cat out, but for the most part the cat ignored them and was alway two steps ahead.

After eating we headed back to the hotel to settle in for the night.  Earlier I stopped at a Best Buy type of store and go a new universal adapter so we could charge most of our equipment. So, by the time we got back to our hotel, the DVD player and phone were charged back up, a good thing for us because the channel selection was pretty dismal in our hotel... Probably that way for the whole country.

The next day I got up around 9 or 10, depending on whose iPhone you looked at.  My phone was updated for the time change but Tess's phone didn't update.  I was able to go downstairs and talk to one of the ladies at the buffet to see if I could take some of the food back to the room.  They insisted that they be allowed to bring the breakfast to us.  Oh how I love the service in this hotel!  45 minutes later they came up with a cart full of food and beverages.  Yeah I stuffed my self like a turkey on thanksgiving and loved every moment of it.

With bellies full and the kids up and dressed we went off to do more shopping before the mass started. Our first stop was to Western Union to exchange more money.  They had a nice building full of shopping space, but only half of them filled. The Western Union store was hid in the back and was kind a hard to see.  With Euros in hand we made our way out to the shops which were all open and ready for business.

At one store I was buying a gift and keeping an eye on the boys who were outside looking a Chinese knockoff toys when some lady approached Jon Jon and was yelling at him.  I raced outside but the lady had already left. Jon Jon was crying as Jun stood watch over him.  Jun Jun was in his Wolverine mode with both hands clenched in fists and no doubt had he been the real Wolverine, bones would have been coming out his knuckles.  He even had the facial features, too.  He was in full "protect your brother at all cost" mode.  Well that was kind of a buzz kill to a wonderful day which could only be fixed by the application of ice cream and a trip to the playground.

After playing at the antiquated playground it was on to more shopping.  There has got to be a story behind these waxed body parts they are selling.  Almost every shop was selling waxed body parts, legs, hands, arms, feet.  Heck I even seen one of waxed boobies...and no, I didn't purchase any of them. 

 I took the boys to go to the bathroom which was kinda interesting.  The urinal was just a marble wall that you stand in front of and pee which the boys thought was so funny.  Oh, quick note to anyone who may be going to Portugal, bring a toilet seat.  For some reason there must have been a mass robbery in which all public toilet seats have been stolen.  Surprisingly, no one in Portugal has noticed it yet. 

We headed over to the Basilica for Mass and to burn candles near the Chapel of the Apparitions. The mass was on Portuguese but luckily for us Mass is Mass.  So even though you don't understand what is being said, at least you know the order of standing, kneeling, sitting and communion.  Oh, another suggestion you won't hear from Rick Steves, bring a fly swatter!  Luckily the flies over here follow the same customs as the rest of the country which makes it easier to kill them in the afternoon while they are enjoying siesta time.  


Permalink 05:17:14 pm, by joseph Email , 743 words   English (US)
Categories: Cultural

Spain & Portugal - Day 3

Last night we stayed in a KOA type of campground.  We had a two room bungalow that sleeps 8.  It came with a kitchen and utensils so we could cook our own food.  The place had a mini store so we bought the fixens for spaghetti and some lemon Fresca soda which I have found to be quite addicting.

We didn't check out the sites as I was still feeling the effects of the time change and the three hours of driving.  They had some awesome Wi-Fi so we depleted all the battery life out of two iPhones, one Netbook, one iPad and one portable DVD player.

A simple request to anyone reading this who is a part of the United Nations.  I know world peace is a pressing issues, but I think much could be achieved if you all could get together and decided on a common electrical system which would allow for only one type of outlet?  Is that too much to ask?  We did bring with us a universal adapter but for some reason, the adapter for Spain was not included which meant that we were unable to charge our equipment.  I did have my car charger for my iPhone so I am able to recharge it while driving from city to city.

With all the batteries depleted the t.v. mysteriously came on.  Not much to watch since every channel was in Spanish.  If you ever get a chance to watch Simpsons in Spanish, try it, it is hilarious.

Around 2 in the morning, everyone started drifting off to sleep which sounded like a good option to me.  I slept until 10 am and probably would have slept longer if someone hadn't been banging on the door.  Turns out it was my wife who had gotten up earlier to wash some clothes and locked her self out of the room.  Since I was awake I took that to mean it was time to pack everything up and move on to our next destination, Fatima Portugal.  Of course, before we headed out we needed to get refueled at the local Mac & Don's Potato and Steak House.

After a short trip to get the kids their happy meals, it was off to the gas station to get the van refueled.  Sounds easy, and in theory it should be a no brainer.  Oh, but one little problem, everything is in Spanish and the process of using your credit card to get gas in the US is not at all the same at in Spain.  After about 10 minutes of trying to figure how to access the pump, my wife was able to get it to work.  After a quick fill up we headed off to Portugal. Oh, crap more roundabouts!  These things are going to be the death of me.  I think I'm doing pretty well with the small ones that have 3 exits, but some of them have had as many as 6 exits which means I end up looking like the Griswalds driving in the movie European Vacation.

In probably one of the most uneventful portions of our trip, we passed from Spain into Portugal.  Uneventful because, well..... nothing happened.  It was like driving from California to Oregon - you get a sign welcoming you and that's it.

There was a portion of the drive that did provide for an interesting story.  Not sure whose ideas it was to put huge trees next to a small road, leaving barely enough room for two sub-compact cars to pass. But I assume it was the same person who vetoed the request for placing signs on either end of said road indicating how narrow the road was.  So, you can understand my wifes alarm when I brought the van to a quick halt.   She looks at me and wondered out loud why I stopped. In true Filipino fashion I pointed at the road with my lips to indicate that maybe she would like to see what was headed our way.  About 1/4 of a mile down the road was a bus, not just any bus, but a huge tour bus that took up the whole frickin' road.  Luckily I was able to find a small space in-between two trees and pull over before the bus passed us.

Another note to anyone who takes a toll road in Portugal, don't forget to get a ticket when you enter the toll road or it's gonna cost you $46 Euros on the other end.


Permalink 08:39:14 pm, by joseph Email , 579 words   English (US)
Categories: Cultural

Spain -Day 2

The boys had a hard time adjusting to the time change and was up until 3 a.m.  Jordan began spiking a temp so we gave him Motrin which brought it down.  Sometime in the early. Morning we fell asleep.  I was suddenly awaken at 11:30 a.m. when Jun fell off the bed with a loud thud. When I looked around everyone was fast asleep despite the fact that check out was in 1/2 hour.  The next 30 minutes was kind of a blur but I managed to get everyone woken up and with a little coaxing, the boys were up and ready to go.

When I parked the van upon arrival the night before there was quite a bit of space between me and the other cars around me, but somewhere during the night a bunch of midgets came and parked their cars on both sides of the van with about 3 inches on either side of me.  It is said that parking is at a premium in Spain and people will park anywhere.  To be honest, I am pretty sure I saw it written in stone and trust me, when it comes to parking a maximum number of cars in an allotted space, Spaniards have no equal.

Driving a big van I thought it would be easy to push the other cars out of the way, but these midgets think of everything and as such, they always apply their emergency brakes.

Thankfully for me, my co-pilot was still with me and I managed to do a three point turn and barely squeeze out of there with not damage done to the van.  I suppose  those ten years working in EMS and driving ambulances are finally paying off.

A note to anyone using a GPS to get around Spain, make sure you have it set for FASTEST route and not for SHORTEST route.  Just in case you haven't heard, I do not like these fricking roundabouts.  Oh, and the traffic lights they do have are impossible to see if you are the first car since they are literary right above you.  Thankfully, the people behind me were nice enough to honk their horns letting me know when it was safe to proceed.

Today's mission was to drive to Caceras Spain.  We made a short detour to check out a new McDonalds that was still under construction before proceeding to the current McDonalds at the mall just down the street.  The menu there is a bit different and the kids meals provide a better choice of foods.  For me, I tried a square sandwich which turned out to be a cross between a BLT and a chicken sandwich, it was pretty good, but at the time I was still feeling the effects of a Stacker 5 hour power taken on an empty stomach, so I had to force myself to eat it.

The three hour drive was nice and quite, we saw several castles, cathedrals and funky road signs.  The roads so far are very nice with the exception of the random, out of nowhere roundabouts. The kids slept most of the way which gave me a chance to listen to some of the songs on my iPhone.  Of course the boys sleeping now meant they would be wide awake as soon as we got to our next destination.  Spain is know for their bull whips, right?  'cuz I'm thinking I might find a good use for one before the trip is over.  I'm just saying.

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