THE HALFWAY POINT … ALMOST

Today, I was going to submit the entire first draft of my website with my completed stories and photographs to my project advisor. By Wednesday I was on my 8th story out of my total 10. I was feeling good, had worked really hard for months on my project and was confident that I’d get it all done before today’s deadline.

And then late that night my computer wouldn’t go past the log in screen.

I had been converting a pdf into a jpeg when my computer kept on freezing on me. Because I  wanted to go to bed soon, I decided to force quit my laptop. Big mistake. Despite many attempts to reload my computer, nothing worked. The following day I went to my computer’s provider to see if I could get it fixed. Three hours later my computer was working again, but I had to get a new hard drive. Luckily, I had backed up most of my files so it wasn’t the end of the world, but it meant losing a chunk of time that I could’ve been using to finish up my project and having to reinstall a bunch of stuff.

My new desktop . . . oh so empty

So at this point I’ve finished 7 stories (with photographs) completely. The other three are written, but need to get the photography portion done. So when does everyone get to see all of this? Well, that’s the second half of my project. In early February I’ll be doing a website launch so now I’ll be focusing on that.

I may not be where I wanted to be with my project at this point because of the minor set back, but if there’s anything that I’ve learned from this project it’s that life happens when you’re busy making plans.

REMEMBERING REMEMBRANCE DAY BY REMEMBERING MY GRANDPA

Before last year I never had a personal connection to Remembrance Day because I wasn’t born in Canada and I didn’t have anyone in my family that was affected by war.

Or so I thought.

For a journalism assignment for my program we had to write a Remembrance Day story. I decided to talk to my Lolo (Lolo means Grandpa in Tagalog, my native language) about his perspective of the war. Little did I know that if the war hadn’t happened, he might not have become a doctor. Shortly after I did that assignment my Lolo passed away.

Remembrance Day was kind of hard this year because it made me think of him, but it also reminded me of how amazing of a person he was. My Lolo was a very humble man and never spoke about how generous he was. This included paying for my hospital bills when I had my burn injury. So during Remembrance Day, I remembered my Lolo who helped saved my life.

A photo of me and my Grandpa when I was four

If you’re interested here’s the article I wrote, which I also read out during my eulogy for him:

How my Grandpa Accidentally Became a Doctor

For my grandpa, Dominador Navarro, he said becoming a doctor was “accidental.” Instead, all he could think about growing up was surviving.

“If you’re lucky and you survive, you can go to school – if you’re not a casualty of war,” he said.

My grandpa, who I call “Lolo Doming,” was too young to fight in the Second World War. Lolo Doming was 14-years-old when the Japanese invaded and occupied the Philippines in 1941.

As I sit and listen to my Lolo’s words, I hear the history of conflict of the Philippines. As he speaks Tagalog, the Filipino language, and rolls his “r’s,” I think of the influence of the Spanish who conquered the Philippines for over 300 years. And when he switches to almost-perfect English, it reminds me of the legacy of the Americans who freed the Philippines from the Japanese occupation.

Before the war, my Lolo’s sister, who was a nurse, joked he should be a doctor so they could be coworkers. Instead, my Lolo had dreams of becoming an engineer.

“There weren’t very many of them at the time and I thought the construction of buildings was interesting,” he said.

But the war shut down that dream along with everything else.

“Everything stopped functioning . . . factories . . . schools,” said my Lolo, “There wasn’t even any of that,” as he points at the paper I’m writing on.

Because there weren’t any schools, many teachers went looking for other jobs. For the last three years of the war my Lolo couldn’t continue his studies. With nothing to do, at 16-years-old he worked as a conductor taking tickets for the Japanese-operated buses.

“It was the only open job – all I could think of was to just get a job. I just wanted to pass by the time,” he said.

For two years my Lolo worked there until the Americans gave the Philippines independence in 1946. With the Japanese-operated buses shut down and everything being rebuilt, my Lolo was able to return to his studies. But even with peacetime, there were very few schools open.

“They had to repair the buildings, the tables, the chairs . . . everything,” he said.

Remembering his sister’s suggestion, he applied for medical school because it was one of the few colleges open.

“I thought I’d just give it a try and see if I’d make it.”

My Lolo’s career included working as a municipal physician and then having his own private practice. In the 1980s he worked for the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines and became a pioneer in reproductive rights in a highly conservative Catholic country.

Even though becoming a doctor was not my Lolo’s original plan, he’s happy with his decision. This influenced six of his nine children and my brother to become nurses. After 40 years as a doctor he retired in 1992 in Winnipeg, where most of his children were able to easily immigrate to because of the high demand for nurses.

“If you’re interested in the job, you’re happy. It [being a doctor] was interesting and adventurous. I went to different areas and you get to meet all kinds of people and encounter many sides of life: rich and poor,” he said.

“You have to work in order to live.”

BLOOD DONATION

***Please note: this post is neither to advocate for or against blood donation or any type of bodily donation. These opinions are mine alone.

For an upcoming school project, we’re doing a radiothon for Canadian Blood Services. When we were discussing this project in class, the question of whether anyone has donated blood, or if anyone has been a recipient of a blood donation, came up. Although I’m a recipient of a blood donation, I was hesitant to put my hand up. This is because I don’t remember receiving the donation, which I got because of my burn injury.

Part of the reason why I did this project in the first place was because there’s so much mystery behind my burn injury. Since I was so young (nine-months-old), and because all I’ve ever really known is being a burn survivor, I didn’t really question the details behind my burn injury. But since so much time has past, a lot of those details are lost and most of the evidence that’s left behind are my scars. These include the scars from my blood transfusions.

One of my blood transfusion scars

Because I was so little, they had to use the veins on my ankles to do the procedure and on both my ankles I still have scars from my attempted and successful transfusions. I say attempted because my first two blood transfusions failed. This is because my body rejected them so badly that I got allergic reactions from them. Luckily, the last attempt was successful.

When I think of the basics of donation, I think about how selfless it can be. I don’t know who was the person/people that gave me my blood donations and I’m guessing most people don’t. Another thing I think about is how doing this project has given me a greater appreciation for the health care professionals and other support systems.

So with that said, I’d like to put it out in the universe and thank those who gave me my blood donations that saved my life and also to all the medical staff that attended to me.

If you have a donation story related to your burn injury I’m interested to hear it. Leave a comment on this blog, on the official Facebook page or Tweet me.

MAMINGWEY BURN SURVIVORS CONFERENCE 2012

This past weekend was pretty hectic for me.

Not only did I attend the Mamingwey Burn Survivors Conference, but I accepted a scholarship, spoke about this project, was on a panel and was in their fashion show. Yup, it was definitely a busy day.

Because of everything I was doing, I wasn’t able to take too many of my own photos. Luckily, I had the help of multiple people including my good friend/talented photographer Stephen Burton (he also took the photos of me for my project).

Here are some of the photos from the conference:

Keynote speaker and burn survivor James Bosch led us through a finger painting exercise and here’s what I came up with

[Photo credit: Stephen Burton] Speaking about my project

[Photo credit: Stephen Burton]

[Photo credit: Stephen Burton] Speaking on the conference panel (Adults burned as children)

I’m so grateful for all the other burn survivor support organizations I’ve come across, but Mamingwey is particularly near and dear to my heart. Not only are they in my home province, but they have been incredibly supportive of my project and I hope to keep my connection to them even after the project.

To learn more about Mamingwey or to donate to the organization here are their links:
Website
Facebook

TRIAL BY FIRE: LIVES RE-FORGED (A DOCUMENTARY)

“Scars are like tattoos, but with better stories”

During the 2012 Canadian Burn Survivors Conference this summer in Calgary I was able to see a screening of Trial by Fire: Lives Re-Forged, a documentary telling the stories of numerous burn survivors.

The creators of Trial by Fire, Bill Harris and Megan Smith-Harris, did an amazing job of showing such a sensitive subject with beauty and integrity and I have to say that watching the documentary was definitely one of the highlights and one of the low points of the conference for me.

Screening at the conference

How could it be both?

Well, seeing the documentary was similar to when I was conducting my interviews with the participants of my project. I felt so honoured to be hearing these powerful stories, yet they brought up so many emotions about my own burn recovery. It was definitely a cathartic experience.

I highly recommend this documentary for anyone to see whether or not you’re a burn survivor because it shows the power of the human spirit.

Here’s a preview of the documentary if you’re interested:


For more information about Trial by Fire you can also visit their Facebook page or follow them on Twitter.

If you’ve already seen Trial by Fire, I’m interested to know what you thought about it – you can leave a blog comment, Facebook comment, Tweet or email me.

BULLYING

Recently I heard about the tragic story of Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old girl who was bullied so much that it led her to commit suicide.

Amanda Todd sharing her story via YouTube before taking her own life


Now that I’m getting older, and I’m getting to a certain place in my life, I think about things like whether or not I want to have kids one day, and these types of events shake me to the core. As I’ve mentioned in my project, I was burned as an infant and have had my scars most of my life. When I was growing up and my scars were a lot more visible, I made a personal decision to hide them. I did this because I was scared of what would happen if people found out I was different.

Although I was able to hide my scars because they’re all located on my upper body, and are easily hidden with clothes, not everyone has that option. I sometimes wonder how it would’ve been like if I had more visible scars, such as facial burns. Even though I’m not as badly burned as other people, I remember feeling insecure and different and that my scars used to really effect my self-esteem when I was growing up. One of my more visible burns is right below my jaw line on the left side of my neck and almost touches my face. I’m able to cover these burns with my hair. How would my story be different if I couldn’t hide my scars? Would I have been bullied?

Since hearing Amanda’s story I’ve had numerous conversations with people about how bullying is like these days with kids. I feel like it’s kind of a catch-22: there’s more awareness in regards to anti-bullying, but the Internet has made it easier and more severe to bully.

What are your thoughts on Amanda’s story and bullying? If you’re a burn survivor did you have experiences being bullied because of your appearance? I’m interested in knowing what you think about this: either post a comment on this blog or the Facebook page or tweet me.

MAKE-UP AND SCARS

Last weekend I went to a wedding and wore a sleeveless dress that showed my scars.

Although I don’t usually feel uncomfortable showing my scars anymore I still have my moments where they bother me.

Growing up it was definitely more of an issue because they were a lot more prominent and I would always try to cover up my scars (usually with clothes). However, this wasn’t always possible. For example, during my 18th birthday I had to wear numerous dresses, which partially showed my scars. Even though we tried putting on make-up to cover them up they still showed up and I remember feeling upset after seeing the photos.

Recently, at the Canadian Burn Survivors Conference I found out that there was special make-up for scars and there were booths set up to give it a try.

The lighting wasn’t so great in the room so my scars don’t show up so well, but it gives you an idea of how effective special make-up can hide scars.

Some befores and afters


It was amazing how much my scars disappeared afterwards.

Please note that by no means am I saying that people should use make-up to cover their scars, but I thought I’d share this resource to those who may not know about it.

If you’re interested in knowing what make-up was used on me, it’s called Cinema Secrets (please note I have not been endorsed to mention this organization).

I’m interested in knowing if other people use make-up to cover-up their scars and what their opinions are about it. Either post a comment on this blog or the Facebook page or Tweet me.

Happy weekend everyone!

WORLD BURN CONGRESS

Before learning about the burn community this year I didn’t know there was a local conference (Mamingwey) or a national conference (Canadian Burn Survivors Community).

But what surprised me the most is that there is an annual international conference for burn survivors – the World Burn Congress – through an American organization called the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors.

I first heard about this event through my burn support group and I immediately wanted to go. However, it was during school, and because I’m a student I didn’t really have the finances to go.

And then I got a call from the Phoenix Society.

I was awarded a George Pessotti Scholarship, which funded my attendence to the conference this year in Milwaukee. It seemed so surreal that this was actually happened and I can’t believe that it has already come and gone.

The conference ran from September 12-16 and in those few short days so many things happened.

However, the conference didn’t have a great start for me: I was sick and spent the night sneaking off and throwing up whenever I could (wonderful visual, I know). But there was a couple silver linings to this day.

First was that there were so many wonderful people at the conference who were so caring and watched out for me, which included constantly providing me with water.

During the launch of the conference, which included bagpipe players

But the bigger silver lining was later on in the evening.

Because I wasn’t feeling so great I also wasn’t in a great mood to mingle. So what did I do? I sat beside two of the the three other people from Winnipeg, but they were already into a conversation and I didn’t want to interrupt. However, there was also a lady sitting beside my seat and we started talking and I told her about my project, which she seemed very interested in. After I finished telling her my story she told me who she was: Sarah Bazey, Vice President for the Phoenix Society’s National Board of Trustees and Mrs. International 2012.

Through that interaction Sarah offered me an amazing opportunity: hiring me to photograph her with other burn survivors during the conference. It was a great experience and I got to meet a lot of other conference participants doing this.

Working with Sarah

Sarah at her meet and greet

Me and the lovely Sarah

Here are some more highlights from the conference:

J.R. Martinez speaking at the conference

For those who don’t know how who J.R. is he’s an American soldier who was burned after being deployed in the Middle East. After recovering from his burn injuries he became a motivational speaker, actor, winner of Dancing with the Stars and a huge activist in the burn community. It was definitely inspiring to hear him and meet him at the conference.

Another big highlight for me was seeing Martin Johnson, Chairman of the Manitoba Firefighters Burn Fund win the Joe Hickey Service Award at the conference.

I’ve gotten to know Martin, who’s a retired fire fighter, through my project and felt he was very deserving of the award.

Other highlights included going into specialized workshops, including one for adult burned as children and another one for hidden burns. It was great to speak to other burn survivors who have gone through similar experiences.

Altogether, I had an amazing experience and got to meet a lot of wonderful people. I highly recommend any burn survivor to try to attend the conference at some point.

If you would like to know more specific information about my experience, feel free to contact me.

2012 CANADIAN BURN SURVIVORS CONFERENCE – CALGARY

Often when I talk to other burn survivors they say that even with everything they went through with their burn injury, they wouldn’t change what had happened. A common reason is because of the people they meet, particularly other burn survivors.

I experienced this feeling during the last Canadian Burn Survivors Community conference this summer in Calgary.


I started this project last year when I was 24 and before contacting the Canadian Burn Survivors Community I had never met another burn survivor.

How was this possible to go my entire life without meeting another burn survivor?

Well, usually when you’re burned you’re treated at the closest burn unit, which is what happened with me – except it wasn’t in Canada. I was born in the Philippines where I had my accident and didn’t move to Canada until I was four.  Because of this, I flew under the burn community’s radar that entire time growing up.

Although I had met some burn survivors through my local burn survivors support group the months leading up to the conference, you could only imagine how meeting so many burn survivors at the national conference must have felt like.

The conference had over 100 attendees, including burn survivors, their loved ones, health care professionals and volunteers (I apologize if I missed anyone). Along with doing my interviews and photography for my project I was able to meet a lot of amazing people, attend different panels and workshops and so much more. It was truly a great experience where I felt like I really got to connect with the burn community and was a great catalyst for the start of my project.

Part of the closing ceremony for the 2012 conference

Since there was so much that happened in such a short amount of time I will be doing future blog posts related to the conference shortly.

Stay tuned!

CREATING AFTER THE COCOON

It’s hard to believe that it has already been almost been a year since the seed for the idea of this project started.

It all began last December when I was on my break from work and was going to buy my regular monthly magazines, but they weren’t there. Instead I found a magazine with its yearly photography issue. There were many beautiful photographs in this magazine, but one in particular grabbed my attention.

It was a picture of a burn survivor.

For years I had struggled with issues of being a burn survivor alone. Luckily, I had a great support system of family and friends who have helped me throughout the years. However, I always wished that someone could actually relate to what I was going through. These feelings led me to a conversation with a good friend of mine who suggested an organization called the Canadian Burn Survivors Community. I decided to check it out. The website gave me my first look at the burn community and had a lot of great information and resources. However, what I was most interested in was learning about other burn survivors and finding out how they went through their recovery process.

Where it all began – my proposal for this project

And this is where my idea grew from – to create a platform where burn survivors could tell their stories as a means to help other burn survivors and their support systems. At the same time I had to choose my Independent Professional Project (equivalent to a thesis) for my final year of my studies in the Creative Communications program so it made sense to focus on this.

With the incredible support of the Canadian Burn Survivors Community and the Mamingwey Burn Survivors Society I have interviewed and photographed other Canadian burn survivors for my project and am currently in the editing process.

It’s my hope that this website will help other burn survivors, especially those who don’t know of existing resources, with their recovery process. I look forward to sharing this journey with you, hearing your feedback about this project and launching my website with these stories and photographs in early February 2013.