Posted in Careers, Nursing

Blood is thicker than water: things I learned from mentoring my sister

18 months ago, my sister moved to London to work at the same hospital as I do and I could not have been more chuffed. In the months before she arrived, all I could talk about was my sister and how excited I was for her to join us. And when she did arrive, I went around introducing Arlene to anyone and everyone. For weeks every time I see someone the first words out of my mouth would be “have you met my sister?” Now that would be fine if Arlene loved being the center of attention (like her big sister lol) but she’s not: she’s a bit shy and reserved when it comes to people she doesn’t know well and she doesn’t let people in easily (unlike me, who’s Ms Congeniality). Although we share the same interests, we are as different as two people could be.

I’ve been teaching my sister as far back as when she was still studying at uni. I started my teaching career as a clinical instructor in the Philippines and my sister was one of my students. It was awkward as hell, but also a lot of fun. Of course I had to be careful to be professional and impartial, and for the most part I achieved that. It was also good that my sister was not a problem student; in fact I think that while academically I got better grades, skills-wise and clinical-wise my sister is the better nurse. 

But that was school, where I had authority and she HAD to listen to me. Things are not quite the same when you’re colleagues. 

A couple of months ago, we were so short of practitioners for my speciality that it became imperative for me to train and develop a couple of people who had potential, my sister included. Arlene didn’t think she could do orthopaedics and left to her own devices I don’t think she would have made that choice voluntarily. However, I was always of the opinion that my sister doesn’t give herself enough credit; she is capable of anything if she puts her mind to it, all she needs is confidence. And practice. And perhaps someone to nudge her (some people would say I push but WHATEVER). And so started her career in orthopaedics, which, as everyone knows is my second all-consuming passion (career-wise anyway).

Its been an experience mentoring Arlene in orthopaedics. It felt a lot like supporting a child through a piano recital or something. There’s a reason why they call the operating room a “theatre” because it has all the elements of a performance. The surgeons and the scrub nurses put on gowns, gloves and mask (costumes!), there’s music in the background, and for me even after all these years I find it so exciting. I’m lucky enough to be in a speciality that I genuinely love. And I want my sister to love it as much as I do so I guess sometimes I get a little bit overeager. Here are some of the things that I’ve realised over the past couple of weeks working with Arlene.

There will be arguments.

This is unavoidable. Arlene is the quieter of the two of us but don’t let that deceive you. She’s strong willed and she’s got a mind of her own. So when two really strong personalities come together, clashes are inevitable. Yesterday just in the amount of time it takes to prepare for the surgery, at least three arguments and one semi-shouting match may or may not have occured in the prep room. 

I will become a stage mother.

Like I said, its like watching your kid do a piano recital. You get so anxious, and every time they miss something you feel it. You take criticisms against them personally. I have to watch myself constantly from putting too much pressure on my sister. I constantly have to readjust my expectations so that I don’t get too frustrated. Or you know, try to leave her training to someone else and not get too involved because there is NO WAY I can be detached or impartial if its a combination of Arlene and orthopaedics.

Teaching requires commitment. And you gotta love it. 

This is true of anyone I teach, regardless of whether I’m related to them or not. People don’t realise how much of myself I give when I decide to teach or train someone. Sometimes during my free time I find myself thinking of creative ways to get people to learn, or when I see something on the telly or read something from a book I immediately think about whether its something I can apply as an educator. You spend two hours every day on a one-to-one basis with these people trying to support them, giving them feedback and encouragement, helping them improve…it takes a lot out of you. But I can’t really see myself doing anything else. I’ve always loved to teach. That lightbulb moment when someone finally gets it is worth everything to me.

It will be worth it.

This week my sister scrubbed for a total hip replacement on her own for the first time, and she did marvelously. One month ago she was struggling to even understand the concept; as recently as two weeks ago she could barely muster up enthusiasm for the speciality. Last night she was enthusiastic and excited about it; it was the most animated I’ve seen her since we started this. It felt great to be sharing something that I love doing with someone I love.

At the end of the day, we will still be sisters.


There is something to be said for having a colleague who’s also family. You can always rely on unconditional love from a family member, they’re obligated to love you even when you annoy them to death. Blood is always thicker than water. 

To Arlene, I am so proud of everything you’ve achieved and everything you’re still trying to achieve. Love you shob, please continue to cook me dinner. Lol 

Posted in Fundraising, Medical, Nursing

Raising Money For Prostate Cancer Research: A Personal Story

A few months ago, I found out that one of the most important person (if not the most important) in my life had elevated prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels. Being a nurse, my mind immediately leapt to the worst possible conclusion. For those of you who are non-medical, this antigen is usually elevated in people with an enlarged prostate. And the reason for such an enlargement may be benign or it may be indicative of prostate cancer.

I still remember that sinking feeling in my stomach when I found out. I felt like the edges of the world had suddenly gone grey. I could not wrap my head around the idea that this person, who always seemed infallible to me, could be afflicted with the dreaded C word. Yep, 4 years of studying nursing and nearly 10 years of experience and I can’t even bring myself to say the word out loud in relation to someone I love.

The worst thing is being so far away and not being able to be personally involved in caring for him. I wanted to go to every medical check-up (to make sure he actually goes, as he is stubbornly resistant to the idea), to oversee each medication dose and to just know for sure, one way or another, so that we can deal with it. Rationally, I know that it could well be harmless; I mean elevated PSA levels are normal as a man advances in age. But I have always been something of a hypochondriac. Whenever I have a stomachache, I immediately think I’m having appendicitis. My mind just goes there. So I am now living with a certain level of anxiety until someone can tell me for sure that it is not cancer.

Look, I know that things happen. Things change. Nothing lasts forever, everyone has to go some time. But I am not ashamed to say that I’m not ready to live without this person yet okay? We don’t see each other all the time, but knowing he’s there for me to come home to, it keeps me going. Its the reason why I’m able to explore the world, go on adventures, reach for my dreams, because I know that anytime I want I have that to come home to.

This is why when my friend Dengei asked me to help him raise money for his Berlin marathon, I immediately thought of sharing my story. Its deeply personal, and I’m getting emotional writing it. But I also know that I’m able to reach more people if I write from the heart. So, here it is. My friend Dengei is running in Berlin to raise money for Prostate Cancer Research. And knowing that there are people out there who are making strides in looking for a cure, its what keeps me going. The thought that maybe, by raising enough money for research, I could be potentially helping someone I love dearly…its everything.

I wish I could run for it myself, but I’ll probably expire before I get to the finish line. But I’ll hopefully be there to cheer him on when he gets to the finish line. Thank you for doing this denj. I don’t tell you enough how proud I am of the things you do, but I know you know that I am.

If you guys want to help, follow this link. Every little bit helps. Together, we can beat this.