Wednesday, September 24, 2008

One Day in 1990

My sister Grace died on November 28, 1990. She was 23. I made an album for her shortly after we buried her – bits and pieces of her short life kept in laminated pages. The album is still with me. I bring it out to read every now and then. The handwritten notes on it and the pictures are almost faded. It makes me sad to think that no one else will ever get to know my sister. I would not want that. For my first blog entry, I’m rewriting a page from my 1990 diary which I had torn off and put in the album. At that time, my sister was in remission but she was showing signs that the cancer may have come back. She passed away 10 months after this diary entry was first written. She would have been 24 in three months.

My sister is worried. She’s been coughing again, the way she used to when she was sick. It’s been two years since she got well but it’s supposed to take another three years more before the doctors can say for sure that the cancer is gone.

My sister says she doesn’t want the cycle of treatments to begin all over again. You cannot imagine how distressing her chemo treatments were. She would get really sick and nauseated. She had to stop studying for a year. Her hair - one of her greater vanities - fell off.

My sister was very brave though. She didn’t fall to pieces the way I might have. She tried not to show that she was depressed or worried. On hindsight, I realize that this was for her family's sake.

Nobody ever mentioned the word “cancer”. We all acted as if her cancer was just a temporary inconvenience. My sister would even go around the house without her wig on making a joke about it. Our running gag was that if our famous relative Luis Taruc was HUKBALAHAP, she was HUKBO LAWA :-) (cause she had no hair). Or we would kid around about her neck having to be amputated. Our family has a really weird sense of humor.

If anyone of us had any doubts or fear, we just didn’t talk about it. Not to her. Not to each other. I don’t know if that was good or bad. But, that’s the way it was.

It was probably because taking about it would acknowledge the sickness. It was like dealing with the sickness beyond the necessary (like somebody had to take care of my sister when she was throwing up) would have made the sickness more real. To have acknowledged the possibilities would have been really, really difficult to deal with.

During that entire period – it was just my sister and I going through everything. Our mom had to work. Our dad had also just recently had a stroke leaving him partially paralyzed.

I accompanied Grace to all her treatments. We were living in Laguna. Her doctor was in Makati. We would take the two hour bus trip every month for her chemo. Even before we began the trip, my sister was already sick with trepidation. She hated her treatments. In the bus, she would hold on to me with cold, clammy fingers.

When her treatment was done, she would leave the doctor’s room looking like the blood had been sucked out of her. She’d rest for a few minutes and then we rode the bus back home again. One thing I remember from those trips is that we were worried that her wig would slip from her head exposing her baldness to everyone. Or – because we both had a flair for the dramatic – we imagined somebody pulling the wig off her hair and passing it around to all the passengers in the bus :-). Fortunately, that never happened.

But all that time, while I never heard my sister complain or pity herself out loud - I don’t think she ever got over hating the treatments even after she was declared in remission.

And now, this coughing all over again. Our friends from the church tell us we must have an expectant faith. So, I claim – even now – my sister’s complete and absolute recovery.The Lord only has to will it and it will happen.

There, that should make things alright.



pretty len said...

Thank you for answering so many questions I had about things you've shared with me in the past, which I never had the courage to ask.

Your sister's very pretty :)

Anonymous said...

... so moving... your sister Grace might be rejoicing with teeming pride with the angels in heaven. I will be if I am her.
I may say you are more courageous than anyone. Its quite difficult to show a bearing of fortitude when you are a witness to all these; when you want to do something but so incapable to change the situation.
During those times, you did make a difference for your family: in your face, you endured the anxiety everyone has that shielded them to confront what your sister is going through during treatments...

Ahhh.. this might have prepared you well. We become stronger and more undaunted after this kind of storm.

You are what you have become.