When I went to an obstetrician to check out what I thought were typical pregnancy-related pains, it was the last word I had expected to hear: “carcinoma.”  “Do you mean, cancer?” I replied, as anxiety began to build in my chest and my eyes welled up with tears because I knew full well what that word meant.

That moment, in December 2014 when I was six-months pregnant, set off a whirlwind of tests and frantic hospital visits. And in the end, the worst fears of my doctors and family and friends were confirmed: I had advanced colorectal cancer.   2015 was an incredibly arduous year one that, as a new mother, should have been the most amazing time of my life.

I had a scheduled early C-section in January 2015 to deliver our teeny-tiny Olivia at 32 weeks. As soon as it was possible, I started radiation therapy in March, followed by surgery in July and chemotherapy in December.  I made it through the ordeal, somehow, thanks to my amazing, resourceful and dedicated husband Dave, my parents and mother-in-law, the support of family and friends who knew what I was going through, the stellar doctors and nurses at Sunnybrook Hospital, CCRAN and countless others.   And of course, Olivia. She saved me, literally.  

If it wasn’t for her growing little body in my belly, slowly pushing up against a growing mass I might never have discovered, I might not be here right now.  Her delightful giggles, tiny hands grasping my cheeks, sloppy kisses and overall joy she brings was a much-needed bright light in a dark place.

Now, I am happy to say I am cancer free and that she is now a healthy, happy preschooler.  I have been deeply private about this traumatic experience, but I’m sharing my story now in the hopes that some good can come out of it all.  To raise awareness for other young people, who like me, thought colon cancer was an old person’s disease. 

In fact, colon cancer is being diagnosed in younger people at an increasing rate. Sadly, that it happened to someone like me is not an anomaly. And in the time since I completed my treatment, I have learned of too many others I know or are connected to those close to me who have been diagnosed as well. 

I hope that my story can help get the message out to those who don’t realize they are at risk. 

Olivia saved me hopefully I can do the same for someone else.

Armina Ligaya