Alice Dueñas - The Cheer Leader
73-year-old Alice Dueñas is one of the most vibrant people you could ever meet. This retired businesswoman and mother of nine talks about anything with passion—smiling, cracking jokes, highlighting the positive at all times. You would never think that such a sunny character could have gone through a staggering share of tragedy, but the truth is that Alice has survived quite a few grave trials in her life. The key word is survive—no matter what daunting task lay before her, Alice overcame it with spunk and self-belief.
Her latest and greatest challenge was being diagnosed with liver cancer in 2008. The cancer was actually discovered while Alice was being examined for another health problem—a diseased, clogged-up colon—at The Medical City (TMC). She had originally sought surgeon Dr. Cenon Alfonso, a cousin of her son-in-law, to perform a biopsy on her colon, and she was made to undergo a series of tests that included a CT-scan; it was this scan that revealed the menacing spots on her liver.
True to TMC’s multidisciplinary approach to health care, a team of specialists was formed in order to treat Alice thoroughly, with oncologist Dr. Beatrice Tiangco, colon and rectal surgeon Dr. Ramy Roxas, cardiologist Dr. Adriel Guerrero and endocrinologist Dr. Michael Villa merging their skills with Dr. Alfonso’s. They recommended a PET-scan for Alice and, once the scan confirmed five spots, Alice and her medical team agreed to remove the colon mass first before treating the liver.
“The doctors here are very careful,” says Alice. “They’re very thorough and will examine every part of your body. They want to make sure they’re not taking risks with their patients.”
“After Dr. Roxas removed Alice’s colon mass,” recounts Dr. Tiangco. “I gave her two cycles of chemotherapy to shrink her liver mass. Then, after it had shrunk, she underwent surgery by Dr. Alfonso to remove the liver metastasis.”
Alice underwent these procedures successfully and, as of this writing, has chosen to visit TMC for additional chemotherapy. While there is no more evidence of disease in her, these sets of chemo will prevent any of it from coming back, and the ever-optimistic Alice was adamant with her doctors that she would strive for the best results.
“This typifies TMC’s personalized approach to health care,” Dr. Tiangco adds. “Because some women Alice’s age may not be as aggressive as she decided to be. But if you want to be cured, you have to aggressive, so she went through all the different modalities.”
This personalized approach is a key facet of TMC’s unique patient partnership philosophy, wherein patients and doctors communicate and collaborate on equal footing, thus resulting in highly customized treatment. With Alice speaking her mind and asking questions, and her doctors keeping her informed and involved at all times, positive results were better assured.
“I have only praise for all of my doctors,” Alice says. “I didn’t want them to keep anything from me, and they were very accommodating. Unlike other doctors who seem so robotic and don’t bother to explain things, the doctors at TMC explain everything in detail. The nurses here are also very kind, unlike the ones who always seem to be rushing you. I find the staff here attentive and caring.”
She also recalls an afternoon during her confinement, when Alice introduced Dr. Tiangco to her daughter in Canada via instant messenger.
“When my daughter thanked Dr. Tiangco for taking care of me, the doctor said that it was alright, because I wasn’t hard to take care of!” Alice continues, chuckling. “This is because of my will to cooperate. I trusted that the one thing on my doctors’ minds is getting a better life for me.”
Similarly, Alice’s doctors think highly of their light-hearted patient, delighted that, despite the grueling treatments that she had had to undergo, she had always taken her meals and maintained an upbeat disposition.
“All my doctors keep telling me that I’m a very strong person, that I haven’t gotten depressed about this cancer, but why should I get depressed?” Alice shrugs casually. “My hair was getting thinner, but that was okay. If I felt nauseous from the chemo, I’d just take a piece of candy—but not too much, since I’m diabetic and the doctors told me to go easy on the sweets,” she adds with a wink. “Basically, I’m a happy person. I accept whatever comes my way.”
Alice had earned this incredible strength deservedly. When she was only 34, her own husband, a senior military officer, died of liver cancer brought on by his physically tasking occupation. There was still no proper cure for liver cancer back in the 70’s, and Alice was left to take care of the family alone. Her youngest child was only 12 days old when his father died. The tragedy almost broke her, and she sank into depression for a time.
Her sorrow, however, didn’t last long. Tired of brooding and moping, Alice decided to turn herself around and adopt the buoyant, come-what-may attitude she is now known for. She realized that she could still have a great life ahead of her, decided to make the most of her opportunities, and started her own business. Over time, her children grew up and had families of their own, and Alice had never felt more fortunate or more loved. Thus, when she was first told about her liver cancer 38 years later, she took the bad news calmly and bravely, and immediately asked what she could do to overcome it.
Alice may extol her doctors over and over for improving her quality of life, but the fact remains that her life was also very much in her hands, and that she did a wonderful job caring for it. She is honest, obliging and, most importantly, highly respectful of her health—fiercely embracing how important life is, willing to fight for it, to make sure that she savors every single second granted her. Alice is an outstanding example of what a patient-partner should be, and proves that happiness is truly what you make of it.