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‘Ohana > More Ohana2/4/98 IS Online

The Biggest Story of Her Life

Sandra Sagisi faces cancer with the help of family, friends and faith.

By Sally-Jo Bowman

The town house living room furnishings include a toy piano, a well-used kiddy couch, and an army of teddy bears and dolls. Four-year-old Ashley scampers across the room.

"How are you, Mama?" her exuberant little-girl voice chimes out.

Sandra Sagisi, 33, catches her daughter in her arms. "I'm fine! Just fine!" The words are not mere ritual, but a ringing declaration of health.

One day in June 1992, she called her office and said, "I have cancer. I can't come to work."

She was 28, and a nursing mother, when she was diagnosed with "Stage 3A" breast cancer--basically a red alert. She went so quickly into surgery she had no time to panic or to be positive. Sagisi had a modified radical mastectomy, followed by six months of chemotherapy and two months of radiation treatment. Today, the cancer, which once rendered her so weak she couldn't hold her baby, takes a back seat to her life as conscientious mother, wife and KGMB-TV health reporter and weekend anchor. She also writes "Healthline," a column for the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle.

Sagisi, born in the Philippines and raised on Kaua'i, had joined KGMB in 1990 as a general assignment news reporter.

Although she began covering health for KGMB after her cancer surgery, the assignment is just coincidental. But her 1993 Emmy nomination for her documentary, "Living with Cancer," has everything to do with her own confrontation with life-threatening illness.

Sagisi videotaped the early, awful days, beginning with the surgery, only because a television friend insisted she might want the footage later. When she first reviewed the tape a year later to craft her documentary, she broke down.

"The disgusting taste of chemotherapy came right back to me," she says. "I relived the whole trauma, losing all my hair, even my eyebrows. Losing the breast wasn't so bad--I wanted to be rid of it. But seeing the scar, like a crescent-moon jacket pocket, that was the worst. It took me 12 hours to write the script, I cried so much. Any other comparable story I could write in an hour."

After the mastectomy, Dave Carlin, now her co-anchor on the weekend news, often volunteered to take her to chemotherapy if her husband, Kendall Moser, was unable to do it.

"Every day someone from work called," Sagisi remembers. "They came by to visit, they wrote, they sent me money." Their enduring attention was one of the expressions of care that got her through chemo. "I had the body of an old woman. It drove me crazy, being home with Kendall at work and Ashley at the baby sitter's. I wanted to get on with my life."

After a chemotherapy session she'd be bedridden for two weeks, then go back to work for a week before the next round. But one day, right after an interview, she collapsed. Her cameraman called an ambulance. Her doctor told her to choose between her career and her life. She needed rest.

But she felt "robbed of time with Ashley. I'd pick her up from the baby sitter and she'd cry. When she called the baby sitter 'Mama,' I cried. But every day I focused on little Ashley. I carried her picture with me always."

Sagisi believes a focus is necessary to cope with cancer. She concentrates on her family whenever her mind crawls with dark thoughts of death.

"I know they call it 'denial,' but it makes me feel better to block those thoughts," she says.

She's changed her diet--more vegetables and less junk food. And she and Kendall plan "Family Home Evening" (a Mormon Church custom) each Monday, her day off. She and Ashley prepare a treat in the afternoon, such as cookies or homemade yogurt. When Kendall gets home from his law office, the telephone is tended by the answering machine. They begin the evening with a prayer, and Ashley sings a church song.

Later, things get zany.

"Kendall can't sing," Sagisi says. "But he does an opera version of 'My Way' to make Ashley laugh."

She pauses. "He makes me laugh, too. And that's important."

She counts humor among her blessings, along with family, work and church. She says she doesn't belong to a cancer support group or go to counseling. Technically, that's true.

But through "Visiting Teaching," a part of the church's Relief Society program, she benefits from holistic support--and gives it to others in her turn. She also has given many talks about her cancer, and annually contributes to the Hawai'i segment of the American Cancer Society's televised "Profiles in Survival."

She advises women to monitor their own health, being sure to do monthly breast self-exams and undergo mammograms and other diagnostic tests at the proper intervals. For women recovering from surgery and therapy, counseling may be valuable. Sagisi tried it, but hit upon an alternative that works better for her.

"When we're riding in the car, I tell Ashley my problems," she says. "Her attention span is about a minute, so I can't dwell on anything too long. And she gives good advice. She says, 'Mommy, I don't like it when you're sad.' You know, that social worker I had for counseling wasn't as good as Ashley."

"The disgusting taste of chemotherapy came right back to me," she says. "I relived the whole trauma, losing all my hair, even my eyebrows. Losing the breast wasn't so bad--I wanted to be rid of it. But seeing the scar, like a crescent-moon jacket pocket, that was the worst. It took me 12 hours to write the script, I cried so much. Any other comparable story I could write in an hour."

 
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