Aegean Room, Waterfront Hotel, Lahug, Cebu City
Speaker : Dr. Honey Carandang
Topic : Parenting During Cancer
Host : Maricel Laxa
Dr. Honey Carandang: Good morning, magandang umaga, maayong buntag. I am supposed to anoint the great and these two wonderful speakers we had earlier, I think were so inspiring. I am here as a Clinical Psychologist who has been working with families and all kinds of stresses in families and disasters, families with poverty, families with ailments, families with OFWs, and mothers with cancer.
Let us just go through it and try to integrate everything. First of all, the family is a system. We can’t avoid it. Any stress or joy experienced by one member is inevitably felt by everyone. Sa Tagalog nga, ang sakit ng kalingkingan, nararamdaman ng buong katawan. I remember when Jessica and I talked, you said that your brother was abroad but he was much more in an affected situation. He wanted to come home. So whether you are away or not, your family will feel that sick unit. That is very important. You have seen how the family is the main support and for families under stress, how the families help each other.
I would also want to make a statement that families go through different stages also. We also go through different stages as individuals. But the family as a whole goes through stages. Una, yung family without children you go together, young children, adolescent then empty nest. Sometimes the effect also is partly dependent on the cycle where the family is – kung adolescent na or young children. They might be different. Jessica highlighted it also by saying that when she was 3, she did not feel that affected compared to when she was 15.
Another important basic statement is that children and adults and all of us want to make sense of any experience that is happening to us. If there is an illness or disaster, we have to have an explanation in our life. We have to know what is going on. To make sense. Ano kaya? Bakit kaya nangyari iyon? To make meaning and that is one of the things that is so essential for healing a trauma. What is the meaning of this? How would I make it a part of my life? Would I embrace it but not deny it? To put meaning into it. A lot has been said to us and the meaning or how you make sense depends on your developmental stage. Jessica was saying that bad bukol would be removed and bad dede. That is very concrete for a 3 year old to hold on to. Naintindihan niya. It is different. When she was 15, it is already different because you know a little bit more. More impact. That meaning is important: Bakit kaya nangyari iyon? It does not come right away because we are limited in our human wisdom but it comes. Doing it together is the most important. I would like to say and highlight both Jessica and Carla were saying, don’t hide it from the children. Explain in the way that is appropriate to their stage because when you hide it you are not really hiding it. Children always know that there is something going on. Palagay mo, nag-away yung mother at father sa kuwarto, everything was sound proof, paglabas nila naka smile sila. The child knows. Children have very, very long and sharp antennae. They know when there is something going on and it’s worse when they are not told or it is not talked about. It’s important to them that they are always updated and deserve to know. We spare them but we really don’t spare them. We hide something from them. But before you know it, the child is already acting out…
Jessica was saying that, “Sometimes I cannot tell my parents, I did not tell them. I have not shown my mom that I cried because I wanted to spare her,” but she said, “Maybe if I look back, it’s okay to cry in front of your mom,” and be open so that everybody will be able to share their emotions, kung anumang emotions yun, it’s important to share it and go through it kasi pag hindi, the child becomes very worried and starts to imagine all kinds of things, ‘no, kasi hindi siya sinasabihan, baka she can imagine the worst things already.
So telling them in the way that they understand really is actually essential because first of all, they deserve to know and secondly, they always know, they always know. Believe me, that’s one of the things I learned working with children – their wisdom, they always know. They’re tuned in to you especially if you’re the mom.
So it’s important to make sure that you are not reinforcing so much the reversal of roles. Puedeng mag-alaga yung anak to the point na kaya niya. Because that kid, the four and a half kid who’s too young to die so that he can take care of his parents. Because what happened there was they’re always saying, “Ang hirap ng buhay. Life is difficult.” I said—but I said, “You know, we are feeling so helpless.” And then sabi nila, “But we cannot tell them life is okay if it’s not okay.” I said, “Yes, you can say, ‘Life is difficult,’ but don’t miss the second half of the statement.” The second half of the statement is, “Life is difficult but we will make it.” Don’t miss that part. Children need to hear that. “We have an illness in the family but we will make it.” Kailangan nila madinig yung second half of the statement. If they only hear the first half, this makes them very burdened and very worried. Okay.
So now, okay, that’s why, therefore, if children will be burdened and if you, because of the reverse of roles, the mother must take care of herself so the children don’t have to be burdened and make her ‘salo.’ Carla was saying that she was able to make their children expect less from the mother, certain things Mother can’t do now, you know. And you can focus on getting well. That’s so important.
“I have to handle myself first,” Kara said and then Jessica said also. It was Carla pala. “Make yourself okay first,” Carla said, “The goal is to live so you can parent your children.”
And don’t forget this. In the airplane, the steward always says, “If there is a turbulence and then you have an infant beside you, put on your mask first before you help anyone.” Just remember that airplane and you will always remember that you have to take care of yourself. This is a very important reminder to women in our country, especially mothers because we are always, always told or made to really put ourselves last all the time and that is always seen as a virtue.
That’s why one time I’m giving a parenting talk and I told the mothers, “Okay, what’s your favorite part of the chicken?”
Mother: The leg.
Dr. Honey Carandang: The leg, okay. So what do you get all the time? “The neck.” “Why do you always get the neck?” Tonight, when you go home, you tell your family, “Today, the chicken I will have—Mama will have the leg because that’s my favorite part.” And that’s good because children have to know that you deserve it.
You’re worth it, they look up—they value you more because you value yourself and that’s a very important thing for Filipino mothers because we always want to have the worst part of the chicken.
So, next time, get the best part of the chicken. And you know what that will do? That will make your children look up to you more and say, “Mama deserves the best part.” And it’s true. So don’t put yourself down because they will do that also to you.
The other thing you’re doing when you do that to them like say, you know, “I’m tired now and you can do it,” or “Mama’s going to rest.” It’s so important because you’re giving them a chance to do something for you. You’re empowering them to give to you something from themselves because we always want to give to our children, to protect them, to feed them, to do everything for them.
But once in a while, as they grow older, it’s also so important for them to know that they can do something for us. It feels good that they can do something for us, it empowers them. It builds their self-esteem and makes them happy that they contribute something to the family. They always want to know that they contribute to the family.
And then in terms of the taking care, Carla was very, very clear about this. Ask for help. Maricel also said that, ask for help. Don’t think that asking for help puts you down. It’s a real—first of all, it is true, it’s being authentic. Authenticity I think has been mentioned but it’s one of the most important things in a family that you are true to who you are. If you’re feeling sad, you’re feeling sad and you can also be happy after you’re sad.
But hiding our feelings from our children is one of the things we do a lot. But from my 30 years of experience with families and children talking to me, they’d rather, you know, you told in the way they understand because they get very afraid of what it is or what it might be if nobody’s talking to them.
So it’s not easy but it’s much better than hiding.
I just want to give a basic framework that I put together in my 30 years of doing my work. It’s a framework called “Basic Psychological Needs” which we all have, whether you’re ill, you’re—wherever you are, you might be the best person in the world but you still have all these needs. It’s a framework that I’ve used in all situations very general. Wherever you are, you are in a company or an organization or in a family, you’re in school, we all have these basic psychological needs.
One of them is personal significance. Everyone must know that “I matter,” “I make a difference.” For example, children will act out, ‘no, mapa-punish sila, act out-punish, act out-punish. Why? Do they want to be punished? No—I don’t think so. I think maybe that’s their only way of knowing that they matter; they make a difference. When they do something, it’s important to the parents. The parents are affected, they are not indifferent.
The worst thing we can do to another human being is to treat that person as a non-entity. If you hate someone, he matters. But if you don’t give a damn, I mean that nothing matters, then that’s the most painful thing you can do to anyone, especially the children. I’ve seen children. The end of it is “I don’t matter anyway, I might as well not exist.” This is another talk but right now, there’s a lot of increase—there’s an increase in the incidence of suicides among young people but that’s another story because when you think that you don’t matter and you’re trapped and there’s no way out, people think of that. I’m handling a lot of those cases now at present. That’s why I have to go home already.
The second, but it’s not in order, but one of the other basic—it can be any order—is a sense of competence which was mentioned—which was already implied—I can versus I can’t. The epitome of saying “I can” is I Can Serve. Exactly these people here that women and some men will support them. This is a message – “I can” versus “I can’t”. And how do you start making a person feel that “I can” versus “I can’t” or “How do I make myself feel that” – yourself.
One is to identify an area of competence. Ano’ng kaya mong gawin and you’re confident about that. I have many stories about this, just tell you one.
I met a woman who was editor of a magazine. She’s about 20-something years old. And she came to me because she was very, very vulnerable. Parang isang criticism lang, she’ll break down. So she cannot—she couldn’t have existed—continued to be editor. Anyway, so I asked her, “Why do you think you feel this way?” because she also recalled that her mother, by the way who has a PhD, was always putting her down.
Unfortunately, a PhD doesn’t guarantee that you’re a good person, unfortunately. Or an M.D. or attorney thing because maybe our curriculum doesn’t get—take that into account but that’s another story.
So, anyway, so I said, “In spite of that put down, you became the editor of a magazine. That’s a big thing. How do you think that happened?” So she said, “You know, when I was in grade four, there was a teacher who believed in me and who believed in my writing ability.” So that was her block to stand on, her anchor, her sense of competence. This is the self, a door to the competence and she stood on that to get to where she was.
So that’s—there are—in the research that they’ve done a long time ago on what makes children or people survive when they have had trauma, abuse, et cetera, while others don’t survive. What’s the difference? What makes the difference?
Many, many things there but two things they mentioned – why did these children—these people survive in spite of all the difficulties and the others have the same, almost the same situation. Two things were mentioned in that research. One was that these people who survived found a sense of competence in something. They knew they were good at something, and that started to build the confidence inside. They could anchor, I mean.
And the other is, which we can all do, and some of us are doing already, they met what they call an inspirational person in their lives who believed in them, who believed in their competence.
And that made the difference between those who survived, who made it and those who didn’t.
Now, another very important need which I Can Serve also really serves is the sense, the need to belong. In technical terms, in psychology is called ‘In Affiliation” meaning we need to connect with others. We need to know that we belong. We need to know that we have friends. We’re not alone. And we have a support group which is essentially what we’re here again for. We’re celebrating the support group of empowered and very beautiful women with I Can Serve to connect deeply with someone who understands. As Kara was saying in her talk earlier, when they meet and they just talk, it’s as if they have known each other for such a long time because their connection’s very deep, it’s very instant and it’s very real. So it’s a different group because they have gone through a very special experience together and now, they’re really helping other people together.
And then Carla said also that she emailed her friends and that the children also met the other children of survivors, et cetera, ‘no, so they know that they’re not alone, they’re not different, they belong. It’s a basic human need. As was said again earlier was that the key – no man is an island; no woman is an island. So we need to connect with people who understand us; who support us and who—to who we feel we belong together.
And the primary group that we belong together, really, the most powerful group we can ever belong to, still is, family. There is family.
And I’ll just make a diversion here. I’ve done a lot of work with street children, children who are abused, sexually abused, children in conflict with the law and children who are substance abusing - very interesting because these children are out in the streets because of the family problem. Hostilities, abuse. And yet, when we ask them the deepest question, “What do you crave for? What’s your deepest wish?” It’s very sad because at the same time that they are—have been brought to the streets by family, what they really wish for deep—their deepest wishes, all three of them, they’re very different in many ways. Intervention is different, dynamics nila iba, pero in one sense, the deepest wish they have the same. “To go back to my families and to be cared for by my family.” These are their words so still very, very important.
Next. Affection, of course, we know, love. But love translates to many things. When a child is two, you embrace and show your love. And when your child is 16 and you’re a mom and you have a 16-year-old boy, you don’t embrace him in the middle of the room or the street because he feels embarrassed. But how do you show him? While adolescents for example. Maybe Jessica will tell me if I’m right. Adolescents also need affirmation, we all need affirmation. No matter how much you have achieved, how well known or unknown you are, you still need affirmation from people who matter to you or are important to you. It feeds us, it makes us do what we’re doing, it inspires us and we also just really need it.
Again, unconditional acceptance is there—have you—do you know of any person, I hope there’s at least one, who accepts you as you are. You don’t have to pretend, you don’t have to be bright or whatever or pretty or whatever, just, you know that the person accepts you as you are and that’s so deeply, deeply reassuring and not very easy to do. It’s not easy to accept unconditionally because we’re always met, we’re always taught to judge, judge others. I mean that’s what our training, our education teaches us that but there’s a saying nga in psychotherapy, one older great therapist says that psychotherapy is the search for authenticity when you are accepted unconditionally. And it is in that one artificial hour when you can be most real. We all need to be most real and affirm and accept that for who we really are. And that’s an important need we have.
Then the next one we need to have, this is so important, we need to have creative channels of self-expression – music; art; dance; whatever; move your body; say it; if you cannot say it, draw it; color it; et cetera and express your feelings. This was mentioned by both speakers earlier, that don’t hide their feelings, express them but know that you can handle them, you know. And you can cry and maybe it’s okay because the child can say, “Mom can cry but she’s still okay after she cries. And she’s not, you know, she’s not trying not to be who she is.” So it’s that creative channel.
Last semester I taught a course in the doctoral program in U.P. called “Creative, Expressive Therapies.” Especially in abuse and trauma and when you cannot talk about it in words, you can draw it and it can be children in disaster have drawn their experience and it’s more eloquent than when they’re saying it. If that experience is very deep and deeply emotional, it’s very hard to put it into words. So we use drawings, the arts, sometimes we dance. When I did a workshop with children in prostitution, the stress and the pain stored in the body, so we started with movement and then art before they were able to say what was going on with them. And so let’s use these arts. Art is a very, very powerful way to express.
And metaphors. Ang galing ng Pilipino sa metaphors. The street children – one street child who was abused said, “Ito,” draw yourself, “Ito po ay isang puno. Yung puno ay unti-unti nang nalalagas ang kanyang dahon. Unti-unti nang nabubulok ang kanyang mga sanga kasi malapit na siyang mawalan ng dahon kasi ‘tong punong ‘to, pag hindi siya diniligan, mamamatay na siya.” I don’t have to tell you but there is a very important message. Sino kaya ang didilig sa punong ito?
In disaster, just to tell you how metaphors are so powerful in disaster, we went to the community, the killer earthquake in Karanglan and then we were doing like telling the community, marami sila dun sa tent, sabi namin, “Kukuwentuhan namin kayo. Merong maraming langgam. Yung langgam, naglalaro sila dito tapos tuwang-tuwa sila kasi nakita nila may ensaymada dun sa malapit—malayu-layo doon tapos ang daming butter, may asukal, sarap. Favorite nila ensaymada. Kaya lang nung pupunta na sila sa ensaymada, may nagbuhos ng maraming tubig. Ganon. Pa’no pa sila pupunta dun sa ensaymada?” Then I paused. A man from the community said, “Ah, kami, may gagawin kaming paraan. Iikot kami, hahanap kami ng daan para makapunta kami sa ensaymada.” I was talking about langgam. That’s the power of metaphor in the Filipino language. It hit straight to the heart; we don’t how to say the literal thing but it’s more powerful in expressing what people really feel so it’s a metaphor. Marami pang examples niyan, in the way you talk about illness can be a metaphor.
In fact, parang metaphor na yung bad bukol, eh. Parang ganon, ‘no, so, alisin bad dede, et cetera. Okay.
Anyway, different ways of expressing yourself – my favorite way aside from trying to sing which inflicts pain on others but parang releases me, and moving on my own in a way that, you know, nobody should see, is also journaling. I have been journaling since I was 15 when I had my first heartache. So up to now, I have my journal in my bag right now because when you express—sometimes, I just draw in my journal when I cannot say it in words, when you put it out there from within you to the outside, it is the very act that is empowering, it’s the very essence of empowering, it’s to put your inner feelings, your whatever that is inside you into the outside world rather than the events overpowering you. In fact, depression is when events, people overpower you, they’re more powerful than you are and to help people under depression is to empower them that they are more powerful than the events or that they can do something and events are not totally overpowering them.
So, the arts, it’s one way that we do that. As a culture, as an individual, in the U.S., the Blacks—Maya Angelou, the mentor of Oprah said something. “How did we as blacks survive in all the cruelty?” I mean you cannot imagine the cruelty of the prejudice, she said, “Because of our arts – the music, the poetry, et cetera,” which might be something you might think about in our country today, okay, to give us hope, to give us empowerment, to symbolize what you want to say and communicate it with our world. To be understood in the deeper level.
Then the last but not the least, it has been mentioned as Jessica, Carla, Maricel, Kara and everybody that has talked is the need for transcendence, the need to transcend, to know that there is something beyond the darkness, the Silver Linings behind the clouds. To have trust is what you (Carla) said also and then Jessica said also to have trust, hope and faith that something will happen after this that we can go through it. There’s a light beyond that tunnel, at the end of the tunnel.
That hope is what we’re feeding with the energy of the people here. If you were there outside listening to even the song of Pinky and the talks and everything, parang the hope is so strong and it’s shared and multiplied, magnified because it is shared by everyone. And the spirit—I love to go to women’s groups, support groups like that because it’s something I get so much out of it actually. I’m energized myself and that hopefulness is reaffirmed, shared and really magnified so many times. And this is what I Can Serve also is doing.
Now, go down so I don’t get too much time.
Just another reminder which we all know already but to put it together, another framework. Always look at yourself and the other person as a total human being.
First, the physical. Where is she now, the reality, what’s needed – medication, whatever, nutrition, et cetera.
And then intellectually. The understanding helps. Information, education is essential to transcend, to be able to cope and to do—to survive and to help others. That’s what I Can Serve also is doing.
And then the social – the support group. Again, family, friends, peer groups so if you have all that.
Then, emotional. Sadness, joy, fear, anger – express, allow expression. In many different forms, not just words. Touching, in the arts, et cetera. So emotion that is not expressed is depressed and it’s there. It will not go away. Cover it up, it’s still there. So let it out, let it out. And you will feel lighter and everybody will also be able to understand you better and help you more.
Of course, the last but not the least, is the spiritual, which is our deepest core. In the spiritual realm, when we tune in to the higher being, we are not powerless. Jessica said this kanina very well. What did you say when you said—you said it very well, “Trust that all will be well; that God is in control and have that faith.” There’s a higher Being caring for me and all of us, the Spirit in us, which is so much felt in this group of people.
Not yet last. Next to the last. I’ve been working with abused children, I always want to quote this. After they have—because after a trauma, after undergoing a crisis and you survive it, you don’t deny it but you survive it, you go through the difficulty, the pain and you get out of it, there are what you call gifts from the rubble. Meaning you become actually people who undergo trauma, recover and heal, you will notice are more authentic, more genuine. You yourself, you’ve gone through a lot of difficult journey, you become more true to others and to yourself. Authenticity is one gift in the rubble; the other is compassion. People who have gone through pain have a more natural and deeper and almost automatic compassion for others who are going through it.
And of course, the other is generosity of heart, you want to give, you want to do something, you want to share what you have with other people because you know how it is also to feel the pain or to feel in the dark.
So the abused child said, and I can never forget it, “They may harm my body, they may trample upon my emotions but they cannot touch my spirit.” And in abuse, that’s what we connect to – the spirit underneath all the layers of pain, denial, anger – there is the spirit core that you connect with and you know what, that’s where healing will start and will happen.
And then the last one is that we know. There’s a deep, wise and unbreakable spirit within us that is connected to the Divine Source and it rises out of any crisis.
So together, let us keep that spirit alive in all of us.
Maricel Laxa: Thank you very much, Dr. Carandang. That was indeed inspiring as well. Ang dami niyo bang natutunan?
Maricel Laxa: I’m sure some of you would want to ask some questions and we will be open to a couple or maybe three questions before you actually have lunch. Mga gutom na ba kayo? Pero busog na busog sa kaalaman, ‘di ba? Any questions? Pag wala, ibig sabihin either alam na alam niyo na or wala kayong naintindihan.
This is your moment, you have to ask that nagging question na kanina niyo pa gustong tanungin. Nahihiya pa ba kayo? Gutom na?
Audience: Nag-iisip pa.
Maricel Laxa: O nag-iisip pa. Yes, Mommy? May itatanong kayo? Or kunyari gaganun, yun pala. Okay. So siguro dapat bago tayo magtapos dito, kailangan meron muna ‘ko sa inyong pabaon na mga reminders, ‘di ba? I-raise ulit natin yung right hand natin. Sabi ni Dr. Carandang we have to take care of ourselves, ‘di ba? Kaya tap the person to your right and say, “Mag-exercise ka na.”
Sabi niya you cannot give what you don’t have. Kailangan, ‘di ba sa eroplano, ikaw muna yung maglagay ng mask para maalagaan mo yung mga anak mo kaya raise your left hand naman. Tap the person to your left at sabihin mo, “Mag-diet ka na.”
Alam niyo, noon iniisip ko being a full time homemaker, kailangan talagang masigasig, taking care of my family, my husband, my home. Tapos minsan my friend asked me, “Maricel, saan ka naman diyan sa priority mo? Sa mga priorities mo?” Sabi ko, “Nandiyan na, sinisingit ko na lang diyan kung saan-saan.” Tapos sabi niya, “Mali ka. You have to give importance to yourself first because you cannot give what you don’t have.” At simula noon, nag-request na ako ng day off.
So meron pa akong ni-request sa asawa ko. Date night. Every Friday night, whether we like each other or not, we have a date. Dahil sabi ko sa asawa ko, “A happy wife will make you a very happy husband,” ‘di ba? And a happy mother will be kind to her children, ‘di ba po? So let’s love ourselves.
And I want to end with this also. When my son just finished his heart surgery, he saw his dad at 3 a.m. reading the Bible. Sabi ni Benjamin, “What are you doing, Dad?” Sabi ni Anthony, “I’m praying to God because I know He will touch people with what happened to you.” Sabi ni Benjamin, “No, Dad, He will touch many people because if they don’t know Him, how can they obey Him? If we don’t know Him, how can we obey Him?”
You know, the book I have written “Super Benj” has been shared to thousands of children in different hospitals through the help of my sponsors, Biogesic and it has touched many people’s lives. And indeed, the faith of a child can go and move many mountains. Your faith can move mountains.
I thank you very much for joining us today and remember your lunch tags—stubs. Kung wala po yan, ‘di kayo makakakain. Kaya remember your lunch stubs and as we leave today, remember that we have hope and we need—if we need help, we have help. You just ask.