University of the Philippines Los Baños

Alyssa’s family came in full force that night of her graduation on April 26 at UP Los Banos. They sat at the back rows onstage – the only family guests seated with the University officials - overlooking the 1,760 graduates at the sprawling DL Umali Freedom Park.

Aling Elisa, Alyssa’s petite mother, whispered to me to about the intricate designs of some ecru gowns worn by the girls claiming their diplomas onstage. After all, she is a seamtress. Her father, who finished elementary grade, is a tailor. And to support his only daughter to pursue the Doctor in Veterinary Medicine at UP Los Banos, he left for a U.S. island territory to sew gentlemen’s coats.

Her widowed aunt, Mrs. Estela Asilo-Darlington, traveled all the way from Kansas, U.S.A., to see her ‘adopted’ daughter. She sent funds to Alyssa for ‘baon,’ books, and other resources needed in class. And Alyssa’s adopted older sister said without rancor that she temporarily stopped going to a computer vocational school – so that her ‘bunsong kapatid’ could finish the six-year vetmed course.

Alyssa’s diploma in Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine symbolized the fulfilment of her family’s hopes and sacrifices. So, when her parents marched onstage to receive the diploma from UPLB Chancellor Rex Victor O. Cruz and keynote speaker GMA7 CEO Atty. Felipe Gozun, they felt a bittersweet emotion.

For 20 days before graduation, Alyssa died of cancer on April 6, 2013. Her parents received her degree for her posthumously – a first in the history of UPLB. Alyssa Asilo was 23.

CVM: Her Other Family

Alyssa had just re-enrolled in June 2012 after she went on leave of absence for a year to be healed because of acute leukemia. Her mother thanks the College of Veterinary Medicine for being Alyssa’s second family in Los Banos.

“Her teachers and classmates helped her cope with academic requirements. They texted her updates about the oral exam. And those with cars brought us home to Manila from Los Banos. She was so thin and weak, hence a ride home helped conserve her strength and health,” Mrs. Asilo shared.

Her father, turned Christian and radio preacher while abroad, said that he “wrestled with God’s word and promises” when he learned of Ally’s diagnosis of acute leukemia. When he came home, he and Ally had bonding times together, and he gave her books on faith.

Misty-eyes but smiling serenely, he said: “Ally is with the Lord now. People have known of her death; but more importantly, they have witnessed her life.”


A Journey of Faith

By Alyssa Asilo (Her Journal)

“The Big Day January 2012.

Only three months to go before the big day, that special day when I would officially be Doc. Ally. ‘Couldn’t wait. From the start, I’ve had many plans laid out, neat and clean, to achieve my childhood dream. But in the meantime, I had to juggle clinic duties, writing papers, and completing thesis manuscripts.

Since day 1 of the year, I’ve been having on-and-off flu. It was weird. The usual meds weren’t having any effects. Probably stress. Anyway, Feb was nearing. Only two months to go. But on the last week of January, my condition was getting worse. My tonsilitis became so bad that I decided to check with a doctor.

At that time, I could barely utter a word, was feverish, having hyperacidity attack, and PhP10 short for the Complete Blood Count (CBC). Good thing a prof took pity on me and gave me PhP20.

While waiting for the results of the CBC, they told me to get confined due to severe tonsilitis.

Later, I heard them whispering about a certain 330,400 white blood cell count (normal is 5,000-10,000/uL). I knew then that they were talking about me.After all, I have a medical background.

Whirlwind

What happened next is a whirlwind. I was transferred to the Philippine General Hospital [in UP Manila] and had my first bone marrow aspiration.

Initially it was excitement that I felt as if the whole thing was more grand adventure.

My second bone marrow aspiration came, and I felt like I was an expert already.

He (the doctor) straightforwardly told me that this second life might be my last chance. I have Philadelphia chromosome, which is a kind of mutation occuring in the genes that rendered me not totally free of leukemia.

The maintaining drugs were the only thing that would prolong my life. So I must try to go back to my normal life and relish it to the fullest.

Despite its grave implications…I never thought of it as giving up my dreams nor the end. I never even asked why I had to hold on and keep fighting. Armed with support from family, relatives, friends, sisses, I prepared for a whole week of chemotherapy.

Due to the illness’ acute phase, I had to go chemo 24/7. All was well until the side effects kicked in. I was always nauseated even when I took anti-emetics. The smell of any meat was unbearable, while milk was tolerable. Eating became a loathsome duty. Then my platelet dropped to a total of five. Blood was everywhere whenever the catheter site was changed.

My hemoglobin level dropped next, and I could barely stand. I needed seven bags of concentrated platelets and three bags of packed red blood cells. It was like seeing but not feeling.

I could very much feel how life was slowly seeping out of me. In addition to that, mouth sores appeared. Only oatmeal, milk, and orange juice were tolerable for me to take in. I hardly ate and slept most of the day since my nights were sleepless.

My time may be going tick tock tick tock. But I know that I’ll enjoy every second of it. For those of you who are more fortunate to live a normal and healthy life, may you realize the beauty of your life and appreciate everything you have.

In the end, we all want happiness, but I’m telling you, at this young age, I have found mine. I have found love and friendship amidst this storm, and no wealth could amount to that.

I understood that in the end, though I am a woman of science, I am still and always will be faithful to my Creator. Only He knows the length of my time.

Every day and every night I prayed, but when the fight seemed near its end, I prayed a special prayer: I accepted everything.

Let my loved ones accept too. I have loved and have been loved. I’m very thankful for this wonderful life, and if, after 22 years, I am to leave it early, I have no regrets. Father, grace upon me your peace.”

For those of you who are more fortunate to live a normal and healthy life, may you realize the beauty of your life and appreciate everything you have. - Alyssa Asilo