On Facing Childhood Cancer
Meet Myla and Sophia, two young ladies who were once strangers but were brought together by faith. 17-year-old Myla from the San Francisco Bay Area was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia at the age of 10 and has survived having a bone marrow transplant, heart failure and recently, a kidney transplant. When 12-year-old Sophia from New York was diagnosed in 2018 with a brain tumor, her mom had heard about Myla, and reached out to Myla’s mom for support after seeing her story on incmedia.org. Today, with God’s help, both girls are cancer free and are living their best lives. We’ll hear their stories of survival and the changes they made in their perspectives while battling cancer and they share some insight on how they stayed positive during such a difficult period in their childhood.
On Facing Childhood Cancer
Sophia Espiritu: So I wanted to ask you, what do you think is the funniest thing that you did at the hospital that kept you busy and let time pass by?
Myla Cunanan: When I was in the ICU, I was always making slime. So I opened up a slime shop where nurses and doctors would stop by and get slime from me.
Aliw Garcia Pablo: Meet Sophia and Myla, perhaps the two most amazing young ladies I’ve had the privilege of knowing.
Sophia: Well, there is a lot of boring time spent in the hospital. I did have a lot of hobbies at the time, I used those adult coloring books. And I would make lions with vibrant manes.
Aliw: They are childhood cancer survivors, philanthropists, and just overall inspiring young people. But on second thought, I don’t think the word inspiring will do justice in describing them.
Myla: So, we did have a band aid drive, where I donated different kinds of band aids to the hospital. I also had a book drive, where I collected a lot of books and donated it to the school in the hospital.
Sophia: Well, in 2018, the same year I got diagnosed, I felt like for my 10th birthday, I want to give back to the community. So then I was trying to think of something unique, like, okay, a lot of people give out candies, and they do give out quite a few things at the cancer center. So I wanted to not repeat that same thing.
Aliw: Whatever it is you’re going through in life right now and maybe you need a pick-me- up. Make the time to get to know these two faithful young souls and I guarantee you, they will give you the kind of change in perspective that we all need to be reminded of during those tough days. And, oh, these girls, they’ve had their share of tough days.
I’m Aliw, and you’re listening to Making Changes. Today’s episode is a pretty special one. Because it’s not often that we get to meet people like Myla and Sophia. I’ve known Myla for many years now, and Sophia, I’ve yet to meet in person. They’ve never met each other in person either. But they’ve led such parallel lives that when Sophia’s mom heard of Myla’s story, after Myla was in remission from her cancer, Sophia had just been diagnosed. And so their families have been a support system for one another.
Today, you won’t just meet two young ladies, but they’ll give us insight on how to help a loved one or friend who may be going through a sudden life changing ordeal. They’re going to give us tips on what to say, what not to say, and what love language to use during such a difficult test in someone’s life. You will surely laugh and cry. So get your tissues ready. Let’s listen in.
Sophia: Hi, Ate Myla, I’m so glad to be talking with you today. Do you remember the time that we first met? I remember when my mom told me about you and we watched your story.
Myla: Yeah, I remember the first time we FaceTimed. I felt very happy that you reached out to us. And I was glad that I was able to connect with you and just was able to help you.
Sophia: When we did, I just felt glad to connect with you. And glad that I could talk to another family that had such a similar experience in the hospital. I’m so glad we’re both happy and. healthy. And we both beat cancer and congratulations on the kidney transplant that you got.
Myla: Thank you!
Sophia: So altogether, how long do you think you spent in the hospital?
Myla: Well, I’ve been in and out of the hospital since 2014, until I had my kidney transplant, but probably about two to three years altogether.
Sophia: So how do you think cancer changed you?
Myla: How did cancer change me? It made me more positive. Also, it made me grateful for a lot of things, like you. And most of all, I trust more in God now. And yeah.
Sophia: Yeah, I think cancer definitely changed me. I feel like I don’t think it made me braver. This is a hot take, but I think it just showed me how brave I actually am. Not to flex or anything. And I feel like after that, I just realized how grateful I am for everything. Like, the day before I was supposed to start chemo, I just remember like, “Wait, I’m not gonna be able to go to a buffet again” because you know, like, there are a lot of germs at buffets. And I mean, everyone at my church, they always had celebrations at buffets. So just after that, I definitely wen to more buffets. So I, it definitely changed my perspective on the world, but for the better. Well, I’m glad we got to talking. And hopefully after this pandemic, I can come over to California, and just give you a big hug.
Myla: Me too. I hope we can see each other in person soon.
Aliw: Hi, guys. Hi, Myla. Hi, Sophia. How are you?
Myla and Sophia: I’m good. I’m good.
Aliw: And as I’m listening to you guys, I I feel like I’m listening to two very wise, young women. You don’t even speak like your age, because you’ve been through, you know, you’ve been through more than most adults, you know, two, three times your age would have gone through. But you know, I just wanted to ask Myla you were 10 right? When you were diagnosed with Sophia, you were 9- 10 or so? You’re nine. Okay.
So do you think your friends treated you guys any differently? Once you got sick? You know, because you guys weren’t able to hang out with your friends as much as you used to before especially with having to be careful, having the need to be careful, right with germs and things like that, that you guys mentioned. How was it like? How did your friends treat you differently if they did while you were sick?
Sophia: For me, I feel like I just remember that first day after I was in the hospital. And I was diagnosed and I came into the classroom. And everyone shouted my name like “You’re back!” And actually someone at my hospital comes to the school and can talk to your class or your grade about this thing. Like they were able to find a way for us to connect. And I feel like my friends–they were able to understand they were third graders but they were able to understand enough. I’m glad they still treated me basically the same except for that little being more careful. Other than that, we just still had fun together.
Aliw: What about you Myla? I know you were in the hospital much longer in and out but how did your friend stay connected with you?
Myla: My friends and classmates were definitely very supportive and understanding with my cancer. Some of them will actually come to the hospital and visit me which is really nice.
Aliw: Oh, nice.
Myla: Yeah, some would send cards or gifts and my class, my whole class, my fourth grade class, and my teacher, they actually took time–part of their class, just shopping for hats, different types of hats for me.
Aliw: Awww, that’s so sweet.
Myla: Because they knew that I was gonna lose hair, of course. So they chose different styles to see which one I would like.
Aliw: Oh, that’s really sweet. What would you, you know, if there were other kids who maybe they have a friend, or maybe they have someone close to them who’s battling an illness, whether it be cancer or anything else–What advice would you give to them on what they should say? Is there a right or wrong thing to say to someone?
Sophia: There’s nothing really wrong to say, because most people that have illnesses, and you’re saying something to them, you know, they know that you’re just trying to help them. But I do feel like there are some things that can be improved upon, like…
Aliw: Such as? I like how you said that can be improved upon, such as?
Sophia: You can talk to them about what’s happening, but you don’t have to smother them, you don’t have to be like, you don’t have to be their parent. In retrospect, you don’t have to come over like, oh, how are you? Oh, Here, take this, take this, take this. How…do you need me to call the nurse or something? Are you okay? You can ask them occasionally, like, “Oh, hey, how have you been?” Just like you normally would, they might talk about the illness or not. But don’t just be cool about it. Just be relaxed about it. Don’t be so upfront about the illness because again, they’re still just a, they’re still a regular person. And I don’t have any way to end that.
Aliw: Okay, just just be yourself basically.
Myla: Like, Sophia, you know, just be yourself. And just talk to them like you regularly would. Because, you know, just because we’re sick, it doesn’t mean we’re different. So just treat them regularly, and try to be positive.
Sophia: A lot of people tried to be very serious, like, especially the doctors and the nurses, they come in like, “Hey, how are you?” with those pity eyes, as we talked about the pity look, and they’re going to be very serious. Like, it’s almost as if they’re afraid to be happy. But then, I feel like on the other hand, you really need a good mix of those things. Because since that happens, it feels like it makes them feel like they’re sick. Really. It makes them think, “Oh, I’m sick. I’m not supposed to be happy and be laughing.” So if you can walk in to your friend’s hospital bed, say, and don’t walk into the hospital bed, walk into the hospital room.
Aliw: Wow, that’s deep. Don’t walk into the hospital bed. Walk into the hospital room. Okay, you’re gonna have to clarify that a little bit.
Sophia: No, that’s just don’t walk into bed.
Aliw: Oh, you mean like literally don’t want a bed.
Sophia: Don’t walk into the hospital bed, walk into the room.
Aliw: I thought you were being symbolical or something. Okay, got it. Got it.
Sophia: If you’re able to laugh with them. If you’re able to make jokes then it’s like, “Oh yeah” It’s like, “we’re friends.” We’re able to communicate. And that helps them think like, “Oh, yeah” I’m, as I said before, “I’m still a regular person.” I’m not labeled as that sick person. I’m labeled as a person, just a person.
Aliw: So we’ve done other stories of both of you before. Myla, we’ve done Stories of Faith on you and Sophia, you’ve done a Faith Speaks. And in your stories, you’ve both said that you never felt alone. You know, during your ordeal during your treatments when you were hospitalized. Can you tell us? How come you never felt alone? Like what was it that was going on inside you that you knew that you never felt alone? Who wants to go first?
Sophia: That feeling when God is with you, it’s just a feeling deep down in your soul. Like a 1000 teddy bears, the big ones from the carnival, the big ones that you need a lot of points for, but just 1000 of those wrapped around you. And I feel like that can be put in many different forms.
Like, sometimes it’s just by yourself when you’re having some of some thoughts like you’re thinking, and then you, all of a sudden you feel this, you get this wave of warmth and care. Sometimes, it’s when it’s with other members of the Church. Whenever I’d go into the worship service, when I had cancer. Everyone was checking up on me. And they were like, “Oh, hey, are you okay? Are you okay?” And I’d be talking to them. Like, they just care for me in so many different ways, actually, like, especially actually the anointing of oil, which I’d get. I think every week, the minister would have an anointing of oil with me. And again, just this feeling like these people are caring with me, what is caring for me, God is helping me and caring for me through this tough time.
Aliw: What about you, Myla? What were your prayers like?
Myla: I’d ask for strength and for courage to help me overcome my sickness and my pain and to be healed. So that and so that I have strength to serve God.
Sophia: My prayers, just guidance, really guidance. Because before this, I was just like this lunatic who would be running around. It’s a much different feeling once I was diagnosed, and it’s like, okay, now we have like, next the next level of life, and now we need to just get past this part. Like, let’s just keep going.
Aliw: When you were diagnosed when you guys found, you know, heard the word cancer, and you’re you’re just a kid, you know. Myla you were 10, Sophia you were 9. Did you ever think, like, “God, I’m just a kid. I’m only 10 and I’m only nine. And I’ve got this big adult, you know illness?” Um, did you ever ask “Why me God because I’m just a kid. I’m just a little girl.” That ever cross your mind?
Sophia: Barely. Maybe if it did just a second or just a minute, until I realized that I was worshipping the true God. So this wasn’t for bad reasons. If anything, it was just a test, or just something physical that happened. It was just going to be a test. And I’m not the only one. Like, I know that Ate Myla went through this. So then I realized that it’s all going to be okay, we’re just gonna have to see how the road is going to be until we reach our destination, healed. You know?
Aliw: Destination healed? How about you, Myla? Did that thought ever cross your mind?
Myla: Not really, maybe for like a brief moment. But I just thought maybe this is God’s will. This is God’s purpose for me. And, and He just wants…and it’s just a trial in our life that He wants us to overcome.
Aliw: And when you, Sophia, when you met Myla, or when you saw Myla’s story, and you were going through your ordeal, and she had already, you know, had passed her treatments and everything. What did you think when you saw her look at her? She’s doing fine. What kind of hope did that give you?
Sophia: It made me think that again, I’m not the only one. And if I do get past all of this, I also won’t be the only one. But that’s because of God’s help. And again, seeing Ate Myla and all these other kids even. And I would hear, overhear them. I’m in the lobby, I overhear them. Like, “Okay, we’ll see you next year.” And it’s like, “Whoa, that kid, he’s already done. Like, he’s not going to be here for another year?” And just seeing a bunch of people and hearing all these stories about like, “Oh, all of these guys got past that. So why shouldn’t I and especially, I’m a servant of God.”
Aliw: What advice would you have for someone your age, that may be going through something tough?
Myla: To always be prayerful. Pray for strength and courage and always trust in God and what He could do for you.
Sophia: You know, when the movies, when it just pauses, it just freezes. Like, don’t just stay within like that one room and keep thinking thoughts to yourself, or you’re gonna go crazy. Get other people, talk to other people, even the nurses if you have to. Just go talk to the nurses and your doctors. I feel like since we had this experience that happened in our life, I want to become a doctor when I grow up. So I feel like that empathy will help with those patient encounters, like being diagnosed with cancer, it’s like, “Oh, you’ll be fine. I went through the same thing.”
Aliw: So Sophia said she wants to be a doctor because of her experience to help others. What about you Myla? Have you thought about what you want to be when you grow up?
Myla: I always wanted to do something that had to do with kids. So I thought about it back then, like before I was sick I always wanted to be a teacher. But after my experience, I want to be a child’s life specialist. They’re kind of like a mix between a social worker and the school teacher. I guess I mean, that’s how I could describe it. They stopped by and they will give you like, if you need… if you’re bored though, like give you stuff to do. If you need someone just like to stay with you in the room. They would stay with you. Or sometimes like when I would have like a big surgery coming up. They would call the child life specialist to explain things and just like to help you be calm about it.
Aliw: Now, in a way, if you never had cancer, do you think that you guys would have thought about these things? As are your future and what you wanted?
Myla: Not at all.
Sophia: No, I don’t think any…Well, maybe the doctor part, but not anything close to, like where I am now, none of the experience or the feelings or if I didn’t have the cancer, I wouldn’t be here right now on this podcast for the cancer episode, right? And I wouldn’t get to meet you, Ate Myla. I wouldn’t be all over. I wouldn’t have been on Channel 4. That was a good day. I left early from school.
Aliw: Well, I just want to thank you both. You know, I’m so excited to see what kind of life you both are going to live as adults because as young people, you’ve already done so much. And you’ve impacted so many lives. And I’m really, really excited to see what else God has in store for the both of you.
If you’ve already gone this far, and the courage and the faith and the bravery that you have. I feel like after listening to you, both people will feel like they can tackle anything. They can overcome anything with God by their side just by listening to your stories. So thank you. And I wish you guys the best in this school year and finishing up the school year. And good luck with the rest of your high school Myla. And Sophia, good luck with the rest of middle school. I know that you guys always make the best, right? You guys have taught us to always make the best of any and every situation. So thank you. Take care you guys. Bye.
Myla: Thank you.
Sophia: Thank you.
Aliw: Aren’t they great? Such wisdom and such young hearts. If you want to hear more from Sophia, you can watch her Faith Speaks episode as she talks about being brave. And you can learn more from Myla in previous Stories of Faith and Blessed Moments episodes all right here on INC media.org. Now if you want to see more of both their community service projects, check out INCGiving.org.
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