Finding her bliss

PROLOGUE: Stitching Dr. Nina S. Custodio's story, I bantered with her that after writing this I will submit her story to "Maalaala Mo Kaya" so I can make more money from it. But then she segued into the spiritual part of her story, and I said, scrap the "Maalaala" go for "Chicken Soup"! Bottomline, this is more than just a one-woman painting exhibit opening story.


IT TOOK her quite a long way to get where she long wanted to be -- an artist.

Dr. Nina S. Custodio is an opthalmologist, a proud product of the Davao Medical School Foundation Inc., and a columnist of SunStar Davao since 2010. I invited her to write a column after following her blogs on multiply about the travails and trials of colon cancer.

She's a survivor.

But before even knowing she had colon cancer she was tipping the scale at 300 pounds, meaning, she already had major health problems that became even more complicated.

Her pre-med course already hinted at her artistic streak. She took up Bachelor of Arts in Art Studies at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. But she had to be a doctor because both her parents are highly-respected doctors in Davao City: Dr. Romeo A. Custodio, who was into family medicine, and Dr. Joyce S. Custodio, an Ob-Gyne specialist.

So she became an opthalmologist, but there was a restlessness in her, add to that her battle with extreme obesity.

Came a time in 2008 when she decided to undergo surgery to manage her weight but as she was checked, a tumor was found.

The diagnosis was colon cancer stage 3a (most cancers have four stages). Thus, a colectomy had to be done before weight management. The doctors removed almost half of her large intestines plus all affected by lymph nodes.

But complications from diabetes made her more sick after the cancer, thus the bariatric surgery, specifically a sleeve gastrectony where the body of her stomach was removed and the remaining part was folded in.

"Technically, the only stomach left is the connection between my small and large intestine, yung pouch is gone," she said.

She was prepared to undergo the procedure, she said, but only after some spiritual encounter as she prayed for discernment after being diagnosed.

Receiving the news about her Stage 3a cancer, she went to St. Jude Parish Church along Malvar Street to pray, but it was closed at that time. She went instead to the Adoration Chapel at the back.

"Soon as I went in, there was this voice that said, 'O Nina, this is why'," she said.

She admitted being plagued with lamentations on why she had to go through many trials and hurts all throughout her life, and that voice told her why: She was being prepared for a bigger battle.

"So by the time I sat down to pray, I knew I was prepared for cancer. As in. No doubt, I knew He had my back," she said.

It wasn't an easy trial. With her immune system compromised and her obesity already placing her at high risk, she experienced just about every kind of disease.

"Pain, etc, etc, ipinakita talaga sa akin ni God, short of dying," she said.

This included four months of not being able to walk and being in the intensive care unit for one week, and having to have morphine drips for pain management.

"The chemotherapy was actually the easy part," she added. For those who have undergone chemotherapy, they know it's not easy.

Nina said that she always had this desire to paint, but she didn't know how to draw, and so she just shelved that desire.

"Tapos I got sick and sabi ko sa sarili ko if I survive, I will do the things I've always wanted to do at least once. Painting was on top of that list," she said. "It made me realize that you cannot really plan your life and expect it to always turn out the way you want. So appreciate every moment good or bad."

She survived cancer.

That was in 2012. At that time, a group of artists led by Rey Mudjahid P. Millan were setting up exhibits almost every quarter to encourage artists to keep a body of works. That was around the time when Nina started dabbling with paints, and she got obsessed.

Her first group exhibit was at the Liwanag World Festival held at the RSM Events Center of the Philippines Women's College of Davao on January 29 to February 2, 2013. She has been painting non-stop, bringing along her brushes and paints wherever she went and joining the local group exhibits.

She gained even greater confidence just this year when one of her paintings, an acrylic on canvas board entitled "flowers" was accepted in the "Art by MoMA's Online Learning Community" exhibit of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City last January 9, 2018.

The doctor who have always wanted to paint but claimed not knowing how to draw thus stages her one-woman exhibit entitled "Thanksgiving" at the Art Portal Gallery for Contemporary at Paseo de Legaspi (formerly Legaspi Suites now Bondi&Bourke), which opened last Friday night, April 6, 2018. Exhibit runts until April 22.

With friends and family cheering her on, it was indeed a Thanksgiving for finding her bliss after all the trials and pain. She has shed a total of 154 pounds, by the way. Surviving cancer, shedding over a hundred pounds, and now a certified artist with a body of works and a solo exhibit to her name.

"(It) Felt like an out of body experience which will probably last for a week or two. Overwhelmed by the fact that lots of people came," she said of the exhibit opening. "(The) Realization is that it feels really good to go after your hopes and dreams rather than just wishing and dreaming about them!"


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