I was around 10 when my mommy was going through the critical stages of her cancer of the respiratory something. I remember the regular trips to Makati Medical Center; the consultations, chemo therapy sessions, and all the other cancer sessions she had to undergo, she went through them like a really brave person. I don’t dislike yet hospitals then the way I sort of do now so Makati Med was still a fine place to 9-year old me. I knew she was sick but because I was young, I was certain that Makati Med is the answer to all her ailments, that each visit guarantees a cure, a cutting down of the killer cells.
I don’t remember being told by her or daddy that the cancer will be a big deal and that it will be life-changing, mostly because our family was too stoic for words like ‘life-changing’ or serious conversations that would begin with something like, ‘We have very serious news and you have to brace yourselves’ to ever come out of our mouths. Stuff like these I only ever got to experience from TV. My faith in her recovery was so strong and I may have even thought God or Jesus or Mary are crazy if any of them refuses to heal her. This is of course just a dramatic way of saying I was a child who hoped.
If any of the clear-headed adults had told us that there will be a great, big drama caused by a serious illness, I certainly don’t remember it because it was a fairly unremarkable period; 1992-1994 was neither depressing nor a joy-filled time. Whatever joy I derived from that period was from having a mother. Looking forward to her coming home at exactly around 5:30 was a moment to every day celebrate. Mostly I think, this is due to her being a great pasalubong-bearer. Mercury Drug, where she was Supervisor, was junk food heaven, actually, and it kind of makes sense that the very institution that sells medicines is also an agent of obesity, though nothing she ever brought ever threatened to cause us malnutrition. Among the junk she would regularly bring home are Valda Pastilles, Pik-nik, Chips Ahoy, Mentos, Twix and Flintstones.
She was getting weaker in 1994 because of the chemo and all the sessions that were supposed to be bringing her health back. Hair falling out, face getting gaunter, body getting more prone to colds and easy diseases – she was going through them all, and I was spared of being emotionally impacted by this unfolding tragedy. She was looking frail every day but thanks to whoever decided that we, my brother and I, be sent to Nueva Ecija for school, we were spared the emotional toll, but not our much younger sisters. Our transfer also meant less time with her which in retrospect sucked.
We were going through lifestyle changes and I was indifferently sailing through them the way a 10 year old is supposed to do. The house in the South was well under way in becoming habitable thanks to an architect uncle who, it took us quite a while to figure out, did a botched job out of our aesthetic-deficient bungalow. But we were going to have a home and that was all that seemed to matter, and our mother in heaven lived long enough to see her most important investment resided by the people she all her life suffered/loved.
Eventually, brother and I returned to Pasay from Nueva Ecija because things were presumably looking worse, or maybe because it was my birthday and I needed to be treated with some filth, I can’t be sure. So I prayed to Jesus, etc. to make her well. I don’t think I begged or promised anything in return like corny children do because children are just not supposed to be without a mother although obviously I’m not entirely uncorny.
We went home and were asked about our whereabouts. From the looks of the faces of some lolas, some titos and titas, we knew that bad news is forthcoming. Horrible, tragic, ugly, unbelievable, depressing, bad news. Bad news being delivered, we were hugged, consoled, and told the body will be delivered at around six. Being young people, we were told to dress up in some version of a funeral-wear. Having wept buckets, we went upstairs and changed in only the best.