LAST SUNDAY in the Manila Bulletin I read about the Brave Kids Foundation, and the story of a brave boy named Seve Perez, a 3-year old boy who vowed to fight his leukemia. His courage inspired his father, Paul, and gave his parents the strength to overcome their sadness and helplessness of seeing their child suffer, and inspired them to put up the Brave Kids foundation. They want to help other kids and parents deal with the physical psycho-emotional and financial challenges of cancer.

The story is so close to home, and reading it opened some emotional scars.

I lost an aunt, to whom I was very close, to brain cancer in 1993. And in 1994, a few months before graduation, I was face-to-face with cancer, working as a research assistant (with my friend Haidee) on a doctoral dissertation, doing the rounds of the UP-PGH cancer ward on almost a daily basis.

Our task was to each interview at least 3 patients a day and ask them about what they do to cope with the disease. The task seems simple in principle, but in practice, all we learned about social research just flew out of the window.

We had to be humane and considerate, setting aside briskness and efficiency. We couldn't just barge in and ask, "Well, how do you cope with your disease?" and thank them and leave when we're done. We immersed and involved ourselves deeper than expected, talking and asking beyond the scope of the study. We found ourselves revealing more about ourselves, and spending more time and attention, as we grew close to the patients and their families. We emphatized and found ourselves wanting to be able to do more for them.

First-hand we saw how painful cancer is. One patient, whose breast cancer metastesized, blocked the nerves of her left arm and left that arm swollen, cried and shouted like she was dying each time her pain killers wore off. Another was bedridden and couldn't move because of immense pain.

But apart from physical pain, the cancer patients suffered greater from seeing their families torn apart by the demands of the disease. Some family members had to stop working to attend to the patient at the ward; some had to work doubly hard to sustain medicines and therapy. Some patients cried over broken marriages, those whose husbands left them in the midst of distress.

One time, while interviewing at the out-patient department, we met a 30-year old woman named Gina, who interrupted my interview with another patient, to ask if I knew how to get to ABS-CBN. She said she wanted to ask help for her treatment from Mel Tiangco's Bisig Bayan.
I later learned she had uterine cancer, and that she travelled all the way from Bicol for the treatment. She and her 3-year-old son were staying with a friend in Tondo, while her husband was left in Bicol to look after their newborn. As the friend was hard-up herself and couldn't be counted on even for food, Gina and her son subsisted on tap water, which they carried with them in small Coleman-like jug. Gina's 3-year-old was also her physical support on times when she has difficulty walking. My heart melted.

Haidee and I told Gina to wait for us while we went to call ABS-CBN. We wanted to make sure she'd be accommodated. We didn't want her to waste money, time and energy getting there only to be sent away as the program has reached its accommodation capacity for the day. We scurried around in search of a payphone, called directory assistance to get the station's number, then scurried around some more for coins to make the call to ABS-CBN. We hurried back afterwards to Gina to tell her to come to the station early the following day to make it to the 100 people to be accommodated, only to find her gone, perhaps on her way to take a chance. Our hearts broke thinking of mother and son, hungry and tired, meeting closed gates at the ABS-CBN, leaving desolate.

On some days, I saw children and my heart broke many times seeing them lining up for Chemotherapy or Cobalt therapy. I even met some in the hallways, their bodies marked for where Cobalt will be fired. And there was Bamba, only 4 years old, bright and cheerful, who sang along to Eraserhead songs, despite the brain cancer that was ravaging her.

The cancer ward of the Andres Soriano Cancer Institute does not admit patients other than those who are in Stage 4 (or those terminally ill). On some visits, we begin work with a heavy heart, sad with the news that some of the patients whom we have just chatted the day before have passed on. One time I had a reunion with an old classmate from Grade 2-- Amor, who I recalled left Sta. Catalina when her family moved to Bicol. She was attending to her mother who was in the ward due to cervical cancer. I was on the brink of tears talking to her, hearing her optimism about her mother's recovery, yet knowing the losing battle they were waging, as all the patients in the ward have advanced cancer. I put on a brave front, reassuring her and praying with her, with my heart crying over the thought that it could have been me in her shoes, and it could easily have been my own mother who was dying on that hospital bed.

On that day and for most of those days we headed home from work in the cancer ward, Haidee and I were physically and emotionally drained. Those three months were some of the saddest moments of my life.

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beng rivera said...

bumaha dito anne while reading this entry... sad..very sad...

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Why AnneThology?

Anthology means a collection of poems, short stories, plays, songs, or excerpts. My name is Anne, and this blog contains a collection of my thoughts, musings and writings (poems, short stories), some songs I like, plus a sprinkling of excerpts I find worth sharing --hence, AnneThology.

Did you know?

Anthology derives from the Greek word ἀνθολογία (anthologia; literally “flower-gathering”) for garland — or bouquet of flowers — which was the title of the earliest surviving anthology, assembled by Meleager of Gadara.

Look, what I have -- these are all for you.