My mother passed away a month ago. I thought I’d be ready after six years of dealing with her condition. I was wrong.
In 2012, doctors diagnosed her with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (a blood cancer). She went into remission, but four years later, the cancer returned, this time with a companion: chronic lymphocytic leukemia. The lymph nodes on the side of her neck grew to the size of tennis balls. Things suddenly felt “real.” I had a dream in which I was looking for her but she was nowhere to be found. When I awoke, I came face-to-face with the finality of it all. It was a feeling so difficult to bear. I didn’t know how to cope. (There were times I tried to cope in unhealthy ways.)
At the time, I was already with Jared, my partner with hemophilia. We were living together and happy. Yet I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried — for my mom and for Jared and me. I wanted to be there for my mom while doing the same for Jared. Two very important people needed help, support, and love. I wasn’t sure how to balance caring for them both. Sacrifices were necessary and overwhelming at times. Sometimes the thought that both of them had blood conditions led to overthinking on my part, but I strove to brush it aside.
Thankfully, Jared understood my mom’s situation. We made it a point to visit my parents as often as possible. Unfortunately, whenever Jared would have a bleed, we sometimes couldn’t go. Sometimes I went alone.
My mom was a brave fighter, from the first diagnosis to that second, difficult round of chemotherapy, to when she took an alternative approach to healing. Throughout cancer’s third recurrence, she continually fulfilled her work duties, even taking on assignments abroad. She constantly reassured me she’d be OK. So, I carried on. I focused on what I needed to do. At the time, I thought the best gift I could give her was graduating from university. I was taking a while, and my mom encouraged Jared to nudge me on with some “tough love.” With his help, my mom’s guidance, and lots of input from the hemophilia community (my undergraduate thesis correspondents), we did it. On June 26, 2017, I walked among sunflowers (a University of the Philippines tradition) and donned the sablay (a sash-like graduation garment).
Little did I know that my mom would be around only one more year. I hoped to do so much more with her. In February 2017, she took me along on a trip to Bali. Then she proposed that we go to Japan. That trip would’ve been in August this year — my wedding month. I wanted my mom to witness our wedding. I hoped she would meet her grandchildren.
Two months ago, I found out I was pregnant. I planned to tell my mom the moment I was free to visit her.
But that’s not how things turned out.
In January 2018, her condition declined. Deciding chemotherapy was no longer an option, she returned to her home province and sought a traditional healer’s help. My uncle took her into his family home.
The last time I visited her was three months ago. She was bedridden, needing constant oxygen. She told me she wanted to give up. On my birthday, she was rushed to the hospital. Before that, she prepared a birthday present for me — a jewelry-making set. How she had managed to give me such a thoughtful present, despite her condition at the time, is beyond my comprehension. Perhaps it was the extent of a mother’s love — even severe illness could not tarnish her love.
When my uncle broke the news, my world stopped. The only words I could say were: “So, that’s that.”
I couldn’t say I loved her one last time. There she was, miles away, looking for me while chasing her last breath.
It haunted me for days. My mom loved me very much. She did everything possible to make me happy. She took me on trips, and when she couldn’t, she brought home stuff she knew I’d treasure. She loved the people I loved. When Jared had an accident last year and bled extensively, she ensured he would be treated properly. She knew how much early intervention meant to those with hemophilia.
I wished I could have done at least one thing differently to pay her back.
I guess the next best thing I can do is pay it forward. Strive to be the best carer I can be. Always be patient and understanding. Be a good mom. I don’t know how I would cope if I were to see another loved one go through a similar ordeal. I’m taking things one day at a time, one challenge after another. I’m happy I’ve got Jared, and our little kid on the way, who seems to be all right so far. I’ll bear my mom’s memory in mind as I raise our family. She was a brave chronic illness fighter. I’m remembering her that way.
In memory of Melannie R. Guerra (February 19, 1962 – June 2, 2018).
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