Monthly Archives: May 2015

Why a mother’s strength continues to amaze me

When the doctor informed us that my mom has cancer, I didn’t cry. Around my younger brothers, I simply couldn’t. I remember it was a bright and sunny day. The TV inside my mom’s room is switched on for the daily noontime show. The train passed through the window like a silver snake whose windows gave off a glint of the sun, like golden scales.

My mom was in the operating room, sleeping and unaware of the serious discussion on the floor above her. The whole breast needs to be removed. It’s a procedural thing. They informed us not because we have to make a choice. It’s a statement; If the cyst is benign, we will only remove the mass. If it’s cancerous, we will remove the whole thing. My mom’s cyst is far from benign.

When the doctors left, I pretended I need to pee. There I sat there, glaring at the roll of tissue paper as hot tears streamed across my face. It’s just a breast, I reminded myself. I don’t know why I’m crying over that damn little thing. None of my brothers nor my father in that room would understand and that only made the tears worse.

I forgot to pretend to flush but they pretended they haven’t noticed.

When my mom woke up around dinnertime, she doesn’t need to touch her chest to feel it’s gone. The bandage and the sore sensation of stitches told her as much. She looked at us with shining little eyes and touched my younger brother’s head: “Wala nang dede si mommy.”

My rational, clueless brother replied she still had one more but I looked away from her, as if distracted by the passage of the train in our window for the thousandth time already.

Our family has no history of cancer. When my mom felt a small bump at her left breast, she dismissed it as a common occurrence when you’re about to have your period. She never really like hospitals and needles and a check-up is the furthest thing in her mind. When the bump didn’t go away as it normally should, she confided it to her bestfriend who, in turn, almost pushed her inside a clinic for a check-up.

After a series of CT-scans and biopsy, the doctors revealed that the mass found in my mother’s breast is no ordinary mass. It’s quite big, and even if it’s benign, which they had no way to prove unless they cut open my mother’s breast and take a sample of it, they have to remove it. Immediately. My mom took this news as calmly as she could but I know she’s rattled inside. Before now, cancer seemed to be a foreign idea for all of us. We all know it’s there, it’s happening (or happened) to other people we knew, and we have watched countless shows and dramas about it. We know it’s out there but we thought it couldn’t touch us. We thought a history with no cancer is our shield and we can live in our perfect, little world relaxed and happy, cancer-free. Oh, how we were wrong.

After rounds of chemo, my mom has to undergo 30-day session of radiation. On Christmas morning, she was at the radiation ward, eagerly collecting stickers (passes for hospital guests) and stamping them on the orange file organizer she would carry around as the days go on. Inside the orange organizer are thick files of hospital bills she need to clear up for each day. I have no idea how we got through this, financially-speaking. I’m thankful that God had been with us throughout her treatment. While my mother bore the ordeal, He took care of the rest.

I often accompanied her during her last days of radiation and there I witnessed how my mother handled her illness with exuberant grace. She likes to listen and chat with other people, even strangers she met only a minute before. Everyone in the cancer ward knew her, from the patients to the nurses and med-techs. She even gave presents to them on Christmas and had even shed a tear on the last day of her radiation while bidding goodbye to the friends she made. I have no idea where her energy comes from but it’s certainly not from that shadow of a malignant cyst threatening to take over her body. My mom doesn’t like us to worry and so, she tries to be herself despite all of it. She hates it if I stumbled upon her crying one night even though I kept saying tears are natural and it’s okay to cry every now and then. I wanted to comfort her but more than a few times, I hid myself in my room, buried in books and loud music, to get away from it all.

A source of a mother’s strength, even at the face of cancer, is something you can never grasp until you become a mother yourself. My mom would often say she had to get better for the three of us, but I admit I couldn’t imagine how three “ungrateful” kids helped her got through with this. I guess it’s something my mother cannot explain, but only feel. A feeling I will never know until I had kids and I had to plow against the tides of uncertainty and fear in life and just to understand this special form of love.

Until then, it will remain as that unbelievable and powerful magic I will never understand.

We celebrated her cancer-free MRI result in Boracay.

We celebrated her cancer-free MRI result in Boracay.

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Experiencing the Boracay Algae Gloom

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On a homecoming trip to Romblon, I surprised my mother with a stopover to an island known far and wide, inside and beyond the country: one you can categorically love or categorically hate. An island so mainstream in the local Philippine tourism industry that my inner antisocial self hates with passion but one I couldn’t get enough off since my feet got the feel of its world-famous carpet of sand: Boracay

My last Boracay trip was in January 2015 and I initially thought that the beachfront would be littered with dirty beer cans, lost slippers and other traces of debauchery after years of steady growth of commercialism. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised to find it as pristine and iridescent as ever and so I thought of bringing my mom here so she can relax before we continue our trip to an island nearby.

I kind of expected it would be the same beautiful (crowded) paradise as it was in January . Alas, my hopes are dashed with our personal encounter of the infamous Boracay Algae Bloom (and an even larger crowd – the remnants of LaBoracay Party 2015)

The so-called Boracay lumot

The so-called Boracay lumot

Lumot lumot everywhere as far as the eye can see

Lumot lumot everywhere as far as the eye can see

Growing up, I used to hear praises and accolades about this tiny beautiful island. Boracay is the country’s answer to the beautiful Hawaii – our own own paradise island. Aside from boasting one of the greatest beach sands in the Philippines, it is also home to extreme water sports activities and outdoor thrills. Of course, I don’t need to mention how it turns into a mega-crazy place where you can party all night and not ever recall a single thing the morning after. Along with the fame is also the imminent downfall, as they say. After a while, media has shown countless footage and documentaries of how dirty the place is turning to be, how businessmen and investors keep on building their facilities without slightest regard to the island’s natural beauty and how nature is supposedly fighting back by sending legions of green aliens to its shores.

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According to what I found in the internet, the Boracay Algae Bloom is more of a structural problem than an environmental one. The island’s underdeveloped sewage system simply can’t keep up with the wave of business and commercial investments coming in. Locals have been dumping their waste on the sea before it became a top-ranked Philippine destination. Imagine the situation now with onslaught of tourists coming in every year in the last twenty years (and counting)

Boracay nightlife

Boracay nightlife

Look at those babes - the ones standing on top of mountains. Are those windmills?

Look at those babes – the ones standing on top of mountains. Are those windmills?

Still, you can’t dismiss the environmental factors surrounding the issue. With great people comes great trash. It’s the sad, painful truth. Congestion, over-development and the island’s inner resources and facilities unable to cope up with the demand of the industry may spell its doom eventually.

The carpet of sand has an unwanted green layer

The carpet of sand has an unwanted green layer

I’m not saying anyone shouldn’t visit Boracay from now on. All I’m trying to say is that we should be at least aware of the island’s vulnerability. Most of us come to Boracay to enjoy, to relax, to party, to let loose and return to our normal lives refreshed with the sun’s kiss still warm in our skins. We’re like: “But moooooom, it’s hard to think about the environment when you’re having fun!!” Maybe that’s why the algae bloom is seasonally there to remind us of its vulnerability and violating it further wouldn’t do it (or your future trips) any good. Everything you do in the island is connected to how it will turn out to be. Follow the simple rules of not smoking or bringing any food/beverage to the beachfront. If an establishment is violating the rules in favor of profit than human decency, stop patronizing them. Leave nothing, take nothing. Or as I like to paraphrase it: Make love on the sand but don’t leave your condom behind. (this is an expression. Seriously, get a room). Enjoy the beauty, not abuse it. If you love Boracay and is deeply concerned for its future, join or support an NGO for its protection.

((And to the local government unit and tourism department, maybe we should move now from Promoting to Protecting? The success of tourism lies not on making it a worthy tourist destination now, but making it a worthy tourist destination for generations to come.))

Boracay - the face of tourism in this country

Boracay – the face of profit-driven tourism in this country

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“Turn it right! Turn it right!” Kuya Pat bellowed. I promptly turned the steering wheel to the left, the stick on reverse. It was only when the car turned to the wrong direction did I learn that my “right” is wrong.

“What are you doing? I said ‘right’, not ‘left'” he shrilled as if I’ve just run through his foot.

“Sorry” I smiled sheepishly. “I was so focused on stepping the clutch, I didn’t realize I was steering to my left.”

“Do it again.” He ordered.

Beads of sweat fell like pearls on my eyes before I can wipe them away. I was using the office car and I couldn’t waste anymore of its gas on aircon.

The engine sounded like an irritable bear just woken up as I slowly let go of the clutch and stepped on the accelerator. The car lurched hard. The engine didn’t die and I stared down at the steering wheel, forgetting which is right and which is left.

This is just another day for my pre-driver’s license training. After nearly a month, the greatest achievement I ever had is not killing the engine on first gear.

Getting a driver’s license is one of the goals I have to achieve for this year. For some countries, getting your driver’s license is like a battle you need to prepare yourself for. But here in the Philippines, all you need is a money and some guy your friend’s friend knew of and there you have it.

Kuya Pat taught us how to move the car forward and backward, then we’re done, he declared: “You can get your driver’s license now.”

In some cases, you don’t need to actually drive through a test run. I know this guy who was given a hand-out of the answers for the written exam. It doesn’t make sense that you will take an exam you already know the answers for. You might as well abolish the whole thing and save a lot of trees.

I promised to myself that I should basically know how to handle the steering wheel at least before I took the “test”, despite how easy it is to pass it. I don’t know why everything in this country, including the permission to handle vehicle that can potentially kill/hurt someone, is run by money.

Cars these days are automatic, some would say. You really don’t need everything there is to know about driving to get a license. I beg to differ. You should at least develop quick reflexes, learn to control your emotions on the road and know the traffic rules to spare the rest of the people the inconvenience of ramming your car the next post or the sidewalk or even to their own cars.

I’m not saying that driving should be serious. Unless you’re a car junkie or a professional driver, there are hardly any rewards for driving almost everyday in your life (give us better roads or less traffic and everyone would be happier). Driving should be enjoyable and you can do it by not inconveniencing someone on the road.

The car stopped a few inches from the plantbox. Kuya Pat made a twirl with his finger – clockwise. This time, I didn’t think. I steered the wheel to the right and pushed enough gas for the car to slowly ease into position.

And this time, I was right.

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