September 14, 2012

When blood is thicker than water

Roland and his sister Christina, a breast cancer survivor. Photo courtesy

ONE of my favorite TV series has always been Brothers & Sisters. It’s been discontinued after five seasons but at the height of its popularity, it was always such a joy to watch episodes roll out week after week showing how the members of the large Walker family worked out their individual insecurities or celebrated their important life events with their siblings and their irrepressible mother Nora (Sally Field).

Of course, it was not a peaceful co-existence all the time—there were many huge disagreements among them, just like in ordinary families you and I belong to. But these were never too enormous to prevent an eventual reconciliation of hearts. (See “Brothers, sisters, children”, Dec. 29, 2007.)

Over the years, we’ve come across news items about how some siblings—usually scions of rich folk—battle it out in court in a bid to wrestle control over their late parents’ estate. Even some high-profile businessmen disinherit their own siblings over disputes stemming from very minor issues. Like there are two brothers I know, both successful businessmen, who have stopped speaking to each other because they quarreled over one’s sibling purchase of a car!!!

It’s a chilling reminder of how it is easy to forget the familial ties that bind when money becomes the focus of one’s existence. Also, there is too much ego and pride. The old folk always say that no matter how enormous the discord may be in one’s family, one must always strive to make peace. Blood is always thicker than water, and in the end, it is your relatives who will step up when you need help the most.

Yoga instructor Roland de la Cruz is one such fellow who had gone all out in supporting his sister Christina de la Cruz-Sablan when she really needed someone to count on at a most trying time in her life.

“My only sister Christina was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. She was only 30 years old at the time. I distinctly remember sitting across from her when she was told of her exam results on the phone. We were in an office setting, so I wasn’t sure if I should stay strong or cry with her. In any case, she gathered all her belongings that day knowing that she had to act quickly especially in the interest of her then-six-year-old daughter Veronica,” says Roland.

Not too long after receiving the news, Christina flew to Los Angeles where she had a lumpectomy. The doctor advised her that she still needed chemotherapy and radiation. With Los Angeles being so far away from home in Guam, the family chose to complete her treatment protocol in Manila. Being closer to the island, where her other siblings and parents are based, Manila made traveling for the family easier.

“I was with Christina during her first round of chemotherapy. I saw the toll it took on her body and the pain she had to endure. I recall calling my mom in Guam that day, crying and telling her that I wasn’t sure I could do it. Watching someone you love so much slowly deteriorate in order to heal was heart-wrenching, and the constant fear of losing her to this dreaded disease was a dark cloud that hovered in the horizon. It was as painful for the loved ones as it was for the one enduring and trying to survive the ordeal,” he recalls.

Today, Christina is in remission and continues to work in the airline industry. Her daughter is now 11 years old.

“Roland and I grew up very close, and you could say he is a protective brother who always made sure I was okay,” Christina writes in an e-mail. “After being diagnosed with cancer, this was proven all the more as he ensured that I got the best medical care along with all the family support needed. Opting to do my treatments in the Philippines, my brother went far and beyond by allowing me to stay in his Makati condo. I distinctly remember the day I left home—I was so depressed and scared. But when I arrived at the condo, Roland had furnished the place with family photos so that it felt like home, and to remind me to stay strong. To this day, whenever I return to Manila for follow-up appointments, Roland always welcomes me at his place, and assists me with whatever I need.”

There is a mantra often recited in the practice of yoga, “Lokah Samastha Sukinoh Bhavantu,” which means, “May all beings be happy and free, may they be free of pain and suffering.” That is what Roland wishes for all breast-cancer survivors like his sister.

“Going through that life trial, Christina was instrumental in me further discovering that raw and vulnerable side which I believe has made me a more effective yoga teacher to my students. I was able to draw the strength to do those poses not just from my muscles but from the inner well of truth inside me, a place where our spirit and mortal body are so intertwined that it is beyond understanding, just acceptance.”

A full-time yoga instructor, Roland put up Bliss Yoga ( in Makati with partner Glenn Biscoe in 2009. He was introduced to Hatha Yoga in 2001 at a time when he says “I found myself at a real crossroads in my life.”

He trained under Baron Baptiste of the Baron Baptiste Power Yoga Institute in Tulum, Mexico, before opening his own yoga studio in his home island of Guam. He subsequently trained under Power Yoga founder Bryan Kest and Bhakti Urban Flow founder Rusty Wells.

Because of his experience with his sister, Roland has decided to take a 50-day break from teaching yoga to raise funds for breast cancer charities.

Roland is funding the trip out of his own pocket and hopes people will support his beneficiaries, ICanServe Foundation in the Philippines and the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) in the US. Supporters can donate directly to the said organizations.

ICanServe Foundation teaches barangay health workers how to do proper clinical breast examinations to aid in the early detection of the disease.

Women 30 years and older are advised to undergo an annual clinical breast exam conducted by a physician or other trained health worker. In the Philippines where diagnostic equipment such as mammography machines are available only in urban centers, clinical breast exams are an important way for underserved communities to check for breast cancer.

Texas-based NBCF, meanwhile, provides mammograms to those who cannot afford it in the US.

On September 17, Roland will begin his journey in the Philippines, going to Japan, the US, Central America, Central and Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, India, and Asia, before making his way back to Manila. He intends to visit historical landmarks, traveling with no more than the bag on his back, a yoga mat and a camera.

The historical landmarks he will be visiting are Intramuros in Manila; Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto, Japan; Chichen Itza, Yucatan, Mexico; Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.; Ground Zero in New York; Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England; Eiffel Tower, Paris; Jungfrau, Switzerland; Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy; The Colosseum/Vatican City, Rome, Italy; Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy; Ann Frank’s House, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; The Berlin Wall, Berlin, Germany; Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, Krakow, Poland; Acropolis, Athens, Greece; Dead Sea, Israel; Petra, Jordan; Taj Mahal, Agra, India; Forbidden City/Great Wall of China, Beijing, China; Ngong Ping 360, Hong Kong; Wat Pho, Bangkok, Thailand; Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia; and Tanah Lot Temple, Bali, Indonesia.

“Through this journey, which I dedicate to my sister and to all women stricken with this disease, I pray they find the courage and strength to overcome this obstacle in their lives, and ultimately be free of all the pain and suffering. Fifty days seems like a short time to cover so much but this journey is meant to be my seva [selfless service],” says Roland.

(Serious yoga practitioners will often do seva, or “service for others” with no thought of recognition or reward. For instance, you can volunteer your services or donate your funds to benefit a cause, with no expectation of a specific result. Seva removes the ego’s attachment for results. Whatever service is rendered will be to help uplift the community.)

Let’s follow Roland’s journey through Better yet, if we believe in his cause, let’s donate to his chosen charities.

As they say at the close of each yoga practice, namaste. The divine in me recognizes the divine in you. Touch me, touch others, and let peace and love flow.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. This piece was originally published on Sept. 7, 2012. Photo courtesy icanserve foundation.)

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