An oncology nurse who lost both her father and father-in-law to the same disease, Maluh Po is running to help find a cure.
Written by: Duncan Larkin
Maluh Po knows cancer. An oncology nurse for over 14 years, the Corona, California native has seen the disease up close. Throughout her long career, she’s nursed thousands of patients. She knows the symptoms and the treatments. She’s seen her fair share of triumph and tragedy.
But in 2002, the disease hit a lot closer to home.
That year, her father, Zosimo, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer—one of the deadliest forms of the disease and the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Nearly 80% of those diagnosed with it die during their first year with the disease. Maluh was devastated. “I have been around this disease for a long time and when I found out what type of cancer my father had, I knew what to expect,” she recalls. “It wasn’t good.”
Maluh’s nursing background immediately kicked in. Though her father was living far away in the city of Dagupan in the Philippines, Po assured him that she would care for him; she’d hold his hand, she’d to do whatever she could to ease his worry and pain. Zosimo had never seen Maluh’s children, Ashley (now 17) and Jeremy (now 13). Maluh wanted her father to live long enough to come to the United States and see them.
Besides leaving her full-time job and traveling to the Philippines, Maluh also needed to arrange treatment for her father. There is no robust health care system in the Philippines; cancer treatments require a lot of cash. Thanks to the support of Maluh’s husband of 18 years, Windell, the two were able to save enough money to make it happen. Maluh, the experienced cancer nurse, flew to be with her father. She was there for him for his CAT scans. She sat with him during his chemotherapy treatments. She held his hand.
Four months later, Zosimo passed away. He never made it to America.
Despondent, Maluh returned home. After losing her father, she found it extremely difficult returning to the cancer ward. But true to her persevering nature, she stayed on as a nurse. “At first, I thought it would be difficult for me to go back to work because I saw him in every one of my patients,” she recalls. “Every one of them reminded me of him. I cried almost every day, but time helped me heal, and eventually I realized what God planned for me. I had to experience the loss of my father to better understand and better empathize with my cancer patients, and to be an advocate for them.”
Eight years after the loss of her father, pancreatic cancer struck again. This time, Maluh’s father-in-law, Juanito, was given the same deadly diagnosis. Like Zosimo, he struggled and eventually succumbed.
Maluh was there for him, too.
In a tragic coincidence, both Zosimo and Juanito were born on the same day, December 18, and died in the same month, August.
Losing both her father and father-in-law to the same disease lit the activist fire within Maluh. It was at that point that she decided to take a stand and do something to promote pancreatic cancer awareness.
Always enjoying a good walk to clear her mind, Maluh recently decided to take up running. Both of her children, Jeremy and Ashley, run track at their schools and the three of them have started running together in local 5Ks and 10Ks. “Running is a way for me to meditate,” Maluh says. “It lets me focus on many things; to think about my dad and how much I miss him. I cry, but the running helps me a lot.”
Through the hospital she works at, Kaiser Permanente, Maluh found out about PanCAN, a pancreatic cancer action network, and from PanCAN, she joined Team Hope, a fundraising arm of the network geared towards runners and walkers.
As a member of Team Hope, Maluh receives e-mails from a coach who helps the team members train for local races. This Sunday’s Dodge Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles Half Marathon will be Maluh’s first attempt at completing 13.1 miles. She’s raised over $1,000 for PanCAN and has been running 8-10 miles a week to prepare for it. “I just want to finish it with as many people as possible seeing my purple PanCAN jersey,” Maluh says. “This race is my way of taking part in finding a cure, raising awareness, and raising funds for more research and studies. My family, my patients, and any others who are affected by this disease are my heroes. They are my inspiration, and my motivation to do something about it. They have inspired me to challenge myself.”
Duncan Larkin is a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first book, Oxygen Debt, was recently released.