She was the strongest woman I know and for years I have stood in her shadow. She was my authority on do’s and dont’s, should’s and should not’s and many momentous decisions in my life went through her.
She did not live an easy life. Her first years can only be described as days of struggle. There were 8 of them, 4 brothers and 4 sisters and she was in the middle. She received education from elementary until high school but she almost did not go to college because of difficult finances. She was able to persuade her parents that she would be a working student and pay for her own education if they would agree to send her to Manila and live with some relatives.She took up Accounting, but she told me years later that she actually wanted to study Nursing (she liked the notion of being in a white uniform) but Accounting was so much cheaper to study.
She worked in the day as a cashier or a clerk or a waitress and she would go to school at night. It must have been a spartan life. She lived in a dingy boarding house in Dimasalang with her sister and 2 cousins. Every month, one of their brothers (who worked as a soldier) would send them money and that would go to their living expenses but her school fees, she would have to handle on her own.
I only knew of those days vaguely. She rarely talked about them. The one time I realized that those days must have put a huge mark on her was when I told her I was not really inclined to go into a competitive college course in a prestigious institution because I was not sure that I liked the degree I would be taking. She broke down and, in tears, she told me how lucky I was because, in her case, she almost did not finish college and did not take the board exam because of lack of money. I am so lucky, she said, because the lack of money is not an issue for me and the only thing I would have to do is study, unlike her who had to study and work at the same time. And that was why I ended up taking up Medicine.
Looking back, I realize that it was all for the best that I heeded her advice (and listened to her frustrations).
I finished my course and in the first year of my first real job, she had cancer.
There was nobody else in her family with cancer and it had seemed like a cruel joke that she had to be afflicted with it. She was diagnosed when she had decided to retire from a very tiring high-pressured business. Her plan was to tend to her little vegetable garden and raise native chickens (I always knew she wanted to go back to the farm-life of her childhood) and take care of her children (who at that time were already grown up and needed very minimal attention).
She had her surgery and then chemotherapy. All the while, she maintained this strong, optimistic façade that had even me believing that everything was fine and that she would still live to a very old age before she died. Of course, I should have known better.
After one year, her cancer spread to her lungs and bone and she had another course of chemo. She survived that but she was never the same. She was more religious, more hopelessly optimistic and I began to wonder if she really believed all those Bible verses she’d quote to me. She had a newly-rediscovered faith and it must have brought her a lot of comfort as the end drew near.
She knew she was dying. When one of her daughters asked for permission to leave home to live near her work with her friends, she broke down again and asked her daughter if she really wanted to leave now when they had so little time left together. The next month after that, she had to go back to the hospital. Her cancer had spread to her liver, and the tumor in her lungs had recurred. She had another surgery, another chemotherapy.
She never woke up after that last chemo.
She was stuporous and in so much agony the last 7 days of her life. She was alternately praying and crying out in pain. There was a big storm raging and the hospital was flooded. Her husband and children were there huddled beside her bed, worried and afraid and hurting for her.
She died the morning of October 3. With the sun shining outside, the rain has stopped for sometime.
I pronounced her death, signed her death certificate and said goodbye to my mother for the last time.
I couldn’t help wondering if this was why she insisted I become a doctor. I’ll never know now.