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Filipina creatively and productively battles with life-threatening disease

Samantha Ashley Zaballero De Castro. (Photo: Samantha De Castro)

An autoimmune disease (Takayasu Arteritis) forced twenty-four-year-old Samantha Ashley Zaballero De Castro to leave the convent and pursue her dream of becoming a nun. She chooses to hold on to the resurrected Christ in her health and financial battles, relying on her talents and passion.

 “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and de Castro quotes Jeremiah 29:11 as her anchor for what she calls a “roller coaster.”

“It has been my dream to serve the kids, the youth, the elders, and the native people by evangelizing Christ in any way I can, and that dream brought me to the desire of being religious,” she said.

About 10 years ago, she told herself, “I will be a nun.” She then joined various look-ins and searched for congregations that matched her charism.

After graduating college and passing the Board for Psychometricians, she thought the convent was next.  But her family requested that she experience working first.

She did this while serving her community, parish, and missionary families in Christ's Youth Ministries. After spending a couple of years as a college psychometrician, she became a pre-postulant in the Daughters of St. Paul.

 “Those had been the best days of my life, being able to be in a community of sisters praying together, celebrating life, doing apostolate, and serving the church through social communications,” she said.

 After 10 months, she said she realized her heart was yearning to serve the youth, the kids, the natives, the poor and the mentally challenged. In March 2023, she applied for further discernment.

Before going out of the convent, she experienced several health issues.  “It started when I collapsed on January 30 while in the prayer room of our formation house. Right then and there, my hemoglobin count started to lower, and my right hand turned pulseless, so I had to have an electrocardiogram (ECG)," she said. 

When she returned home to Calapan City in March last year, she started several medical tests and had to seek financial assistance from government agencies since her family was just starting to recover from a million pesos in expenses for her cousin's open-heart surgery.

Her service record and competencies led to her immediate appointment as parish secretary a month later. However, two months later, she received a diagnosis of Takayasu Arteritis, a rare auto-immune vasculitis disease that causes inflammation of the medium and large arteries.

Her doctor calls it "a walking time bomb" because of the dangers of having a stroke, heart attack, aneurysm, hemorrhage, or dissection.

She said, "Then they asked for more tests to determine the affected areas and whether there were any underlying autoimmune diseases like lupus."

Financial challenges 

For the required new tests, she needed another P70,000 ($1,200) so she asked friends and family to help raise funds through social media and Gcash transactions.  She raised more than half of the target amount.

"But then someone scammed me, stealing about one-third of the amount," she said. "And so, I needed more money, and that's when Ash of All Trades began, where I capitalized on my passion to draw and create crafts," she said.

She started selling hand-painted products, beginning with tote bags, which she used to create as gifts to friends and nuns.

In July, it was confirmed that she has Takayasu arteritis and aortic dissection, in which a tear occurs in the inner layer of the body's main artery (aorta). 

“This disease has caused me headaches, numbness, and body weakness to the point that there are days when it's hard for me to get up.  I experienced tingling sensations, fatigue, difficulty breathing, chest pains, body and muscle pains, mood swings, and depression,” said de Castro. 

She lamented the restriction on her ability to engage in strenuous activities because it limited her ability to help the youth, children, and natives.

She said she had to take preventive medicines amounting to P15,000 ($260) a month.  They are not even for a cure, but only to lessen pain and control blood pressure, heart rate, and inflammation.

To raise more funds, she pushed through with her online Arts and Crafts store, dubbed “Ash of All Trades”.  She handles customization and personalization, commissions, collaborations, exhibits, and consignments.

Her products include hand-painted and handcrafted tote bags, wallets, pouches, framed and canvas arts, art prints, bookmarks, notepads, stickers, planners, calendars, refrigerator magnets, key chains, vinyl on mugs, tumblers and shirts, and beaded bracelets. They are good as gifts, souvenirs, or giveaways.

As her shop grew, she had to balance her time as a full-time parish worker with her visits to local and Manila-based hospitals, including the Philippine Heart Center.  

Since her Takayasu causes a pulseless right arm, which is the one she uses in painting and drawing, she takes pauses and rests, and sometimes it takes her a little while to finish an order.

"But thank God, a lot of people are supporting my little shop, as I've already received orders from all over the country and abroad, including Malaysia. I also experienced local exhibits,” she said. 

Samantha Ashley Zaballero De Castro creatively and productively battles with the life-threatening disease with her shop, "Ash of All Trades." (Photo: Samantha De Castro)

Ash of All Trades

“Ash of All Trades helped me a lot, both financially, mentally and emotionally.  Aside from earning additional funds for my medication, it has also been my therapy in moments of depression and anxiety attacks,” said de Castro. 

Since her Takayasu is active with its worst effects, which cause her dizziness, nausea most of the time, and the blockage of an artery in her right neck, she recently resigned from her parish work to rest.

“To support my financial and medical needs, I will pursue Ash of All Trades full-time and then work as a part-time financial advisor (a qualification she also recently completed),” she said.

She is restarting making online content, as “arts, crafts, and writing help her to calm down physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually”.  

“I am still hoping and praying for a miraculous healing of this rare autoimmune disease, that if God-willing, someday soon, I can re-enter the convent and be a professed religious sister, doing the missions in God's vineyard,” she said. 

“My journey might have been a little tough, especially now that my illness is getting worse.  Still, I am grateful that even in sickness, I can do mission through offering my pains and sufferings in prayers for my target mission people,” she said. 

“More than that, I always believe that all that is happening—both the sickness and healing, the loss and gain, the lacking and the providence—is grace.  All is part of His great plan, and all has its purpose, which answers my prayers of purification, sanctification, and my heart's greatest desire that Christ live in me,” she said.

“It is quite difficult, but there is joy and peace because God never abandoned me; He never leaves me. He always provides, and His grace is sufficient—more than enough. I was, I am, and I will never be alone in this battle; we will never be,” said de Castro.  

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