Contributed by a cancer victim's relative, Ms Norlinda B. Agustin living in Philippines.
Opening Notes :
Please find attached article I wrote about our sufferings during our fight against my son's leukaemia. He succumbed to this dreaded disease three years ago but the pain still remains. This was published in two local magazines here in the Philippines and my thoughts are with those encountering similar trials. My wish would be that readers may find consolation in knowing that they are not alone, and for those lucky ones to appreciate life even more. I read about your website in the Reader's Digest March 2002 issue and I am one with you. Your site could really provide healing to those in pain. More power!
Norlinda B. Agustin
Kawit, Cavite, Philippines
LIFE IS WHAT MATTERS MOST
It was March 2000, I was the guest speaker in the graduation rites of my alma mater in high school. There were more than 800 graduating students with their parents and the faculty already lined up on the quadrangle as we joined the end of the graduation march. I was flanked by the principal and the PTA president while we were walking towards the stage. At that instance I felt like I had to run away, my heart was pounding, my knees were shaking and I wanted to cry and scream so loud. I felt so weak and thought it was probably wrong to have accepted the invitation to speak to these graduates. I just wanted to disappear. It was not because of stage fright, I saw my only son, Patrick Norman in the faces of all those graduates and I cold not bear the sight. My dear Norman also graduated from high school three years back. The memories were still very fresh in my mind.
As a working mother, I raised Patrick Norman alone. I had in Norman much to live for. He was my inspiration. He was a precocious, obedient and thoughtful son. He didn't give me much problem. He breezed though elementary and high school.
In 1997 he started his first year in college at the San Sebastian College Recolletos. Towards the end of the summer break I noticed he was losing appetite to eat. He was getting pale and complained of getting tired and weak easily when he used to be always energetic especially during basketball games which he was usually proud of.
In early June he ran a fever which did not subside despite medication and visits to the doctor. So I brought him to the hospital for check up. At first we thought he was just suffering from dengue. But the doctor had the worst diagnosis. Norman had leukemia, the cancer of the blood.
I was, to say the least, devastated. He was the only one I had. The thought of losing my only son seemed so unfair. Every parent expects to die before their children. How can my child die before me? I could never ever bear the sight - - no, not even the thought - - of my son dead. My heart pounded, my body trembled as I realize that my son, my firstborn and only child could be taken away from me so soon. The doctor, trying to show compassion was saying she understood how I felt because her own mother was to be operated on fighting breast cancer. I had to be polite and controlled myself but I wanted to scream "But Doctor, your mother is over 60 years old, my son is just seventeen and much too young to face this." He had not even begun to live. I didn't have the heart to tell my son he had leukemia. All I told him was the doctors were making further tests and were giving him blood transfusion and medicines to make him feel better while he remained confined in the hospital for the next two weeks.
All this time I was trying to comprehend why this had to happen to us. I kept things to myself for a while as if my denial would reverse the situation. I tried getting second opinion by bringing the test results to an expert, but my world was crumbling when the diagnosis was also confirmed by him.
Each day since he was in the hospital, I shuttle from the hospital to the office. I kept watch during the night while my mother and sister stayed with him during the day. In time he started to feel better, thus the doctor allowed him to go home while I think of the medical options. I instructed my brother to fetch us early. When he arrived with my mother, I decided to go out with him to the bank. I thought I needed extra money to arrange for Norman's release, without knowing that I really did not have to because I had enough cash in my bag to settle the balance.
It was a bright, clear day and we were cruising on a steady pace on the road going back to the hospital. Then a bus on the opposite lane overtook a line of vehicles ahead of it. Suddenly, the bus was on our lane, coming on a head on collision with our car!
It all happened in a blur. All I remembered was shouting "the Bus!" then I passed out. My brother was also injured though not as bad as I was. He and I were taken to the same hospital where my son was confined. Poor Norman, he was waiting for me at his room on the sixth floor of the hospital, not knowing I was at the emergency room fighting for my own life.
With a son suffering leukemia, I surely did not deserve to figure in such a serious accident as I did. But on hindsight, I have come to realize that the accident was made to happen and was really a blessing in disguise. As I said, after I learned about Norman's illness, I could not quite understand, much less accept death visiting my family. Day and night I cried to God asking why - - why could He have allowed this tragedy to happen to my son.
Then the car accident happened. Then and only then did it dawn on me that life is transitory. Earthly life is not ours to have forever. It could end anytime, suddenly. Death could come at the most unexpected time. There I was, fearing, grappling with the sordid thought that my son would die before me. Yet, with the accident, I could have died ahead of him after all!
The hospital notified my parents and my office. My sister came to attend to my needs and as soon as I was out of danger, they brought Norman home. He had to know about the accident the following day yet. I stayed in the hospital for the next 12 days.
As morbid as it seemed, my sudden brush with death ironically helped me to live through the ordeal of losing my son. As I lay on the hospital bed recuperating from my wounds, not seeing anything for three days due to the bandage of my heavily damaged eyes, I realized there is a Great Power in control of our lives. It is God - He who created us and gave us our lives. God giveth and God taketh away- - in His perfect time. Realizing this, I felt an inexplicable peace in my heart, as I gained faith to entrust my son's life in God's hands. After the denial now came acceptance.
Even the doctors were amazed at my condition. Although my face was heavily damaged and my eyelid was severely cut prompting the eye surgeon to operate on them twice in three days, not a single spec of splinted glass entered my eyes. They initially said I could be blind when I was brought to the emergency room for treatment. During my own confinement in the hospital we never let Norman visit me, I spoke to him over the phone not to worry. I hired a private nurse to look after him while I was recuperating. Not a day passed by without visits from friends, relatives, present and previous officemates and staff. Looking back, this was another grace which strengthened me somehow, knowing they are there for comfort and support. My physical healing process became faster than normal.
The day I was to check out of the hospital, Norman had to be brought to another hospital. He was starting to feel bad again. Thus we had to resort to the next best treatment recommended by the doctor, chemotherapy. This would have frustrated me, but with my renewed faith, I was able to face this new challenge squarely. From my hospital room, I called up the hospital where he was to be confined, coordinating his transfer, arranging for his room and all. I joined him in the hospital one day after I got out of my own hospital bed, wearing dark shades to hide my damaged eyes. (I had to wear those shades for the next three months even as I returned to work)
As any cancer patient would attest, chemotherapy crushes even the staunchest of men. He would later explain how it felt, the burning sensation and the pain as the poison drug run into his veins. It tore my heart seeing Norman underwent the ordeal, yet we both hang on, holding steadfastly on our faith that God has a reason for our suffering.
The chemotherapy and the expensive medication seemed to work. Norman soon became an outpatient. By the time Norman went out of the hospital after that treatment, he knew from himself what his illness was, but his spirit was strong. Perhaps even stronger than mine. When confronted with the next cycle of chemotherapy, he steadfastly refused to go back to the hospital. He said if he was going anyway, then why should I not let him live like a normal human being? With tears and the realization that he is no longer a child but an adult wanting to make his own decision for his life, I had to painfully relent to his wishes.
Though I had surrendered Norman to God's will, I still hope against hope that I could find a cure for my son. Name it, we tried it - faith healing, herbal medicines, Oriental prescriptions, miracle healing. I made a personal research and readings and was trying to consider even bone marrow transplant. Most of all I prayed and asked for intercessions of the saints, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In the succeeding months, it seemed Norman was well on his recovery. He came back to his old weight and appetite for food. He planned to go back to school and even found himself a girlfriend. His close friends were always there for him.
On December 7, 1998, he was strong enough to travel to as far as Cebu. We stood sponsors for the wedding of a very close friend. We visited the Shrine of our Lady of Fatima in Cebu where he spent his 18th birthday on December 9 with Brother Cicero and the young men devoted to Our Lady. Brother Cicero from Brazil brought the traveling image of the Fatima to the house and prayed for Norman earlier in July.
We came back from Cebu energized from that trip. Norman was his old jolly self, feeling well enough for the party I organized for him at Island Cove on December 13. All his friends and our relatives came for the party and he had a grand time.
But toward the summer of 1999, he again started feeling weak. Again he had to be confined to the hospital. He became partly paralyzed and couldn't walk. We learned from the tests that leukaemic cells invaded his spinal cord and was blocking a part of it. At this point, I have but exhausted my finances but I went on mustering the resources available to save my son's life. We went back and forth to the hospital, even daily in an ambulance for his cobalt of the spine, hoping to arrest the cancer cells since operation was out of the question under his condition. Unlike the first time when we kept things from him, Norman was now involved in everything the doctor said and did. He wanted it that way because it was his body and he wanted to know what exactly was going on. He was always hopeful he would get better. I had to hide my tears and be brave in front of him. I could not let him down.
During his last confinement, I felt I could no longer leave him for work. I stayed the whole week with him in the hospital. Then I was told we had to transfer him to ICU. By this time his kidney had already failed. He asked "Why, am I already dying?" I had to say it was to be done to give him better care. Down at the ICU for only a few hours, he said he couldn't stand it there and even requested his doctor to have him transferred back to a room. We had to relent to his wishes.
The transfer I was told could be done after signing a waiver and getting a clearance from the Credit & Collection Department. I was asked to first settle my bill which was close to P150,000. I couldn't believe what I heard. For the past weeks and year that my son was in and out of the hospital, I had paid my bills regularly which had escalated to a staggering amount. But this hospital had the insensitivity to collect from me a measly P150,000 at a time when my son was in the throes of death!
One of the effects of my ordeal is that today, I am able to empathize with people, especially those who rightly or wrongly commit grave errors. Before, when I heard someone committed suicide, I was quick to comment how stupid the person was for taking his own life. Though I probably would never do the same, I must admit, at one point, in my darkest hour of this ordeal, I thought there was no more point in living. This much now I can say, a suicide case has to be looked at with compassion rather than condemnation. I would say the same too for those who commit crimes of passion.
For I a woman known for her gentleness and quiet reserve, could have turned into a criminal that day when the hospital insisted I paid my bills as my son was gasping for his last breath. As soon as I was told I was to pay my bills before they could transfer my son to his private room, I dashed to the Credit & Collection office. I tell you, had someone as much as crossed my path or argued against me at that moment, I could have dealt with him violently.
Fortunately, the people at the Collection department retracted their demand and quickly arranged for my son's transfer. Looking back I am the most surprised that I could turn into such a monster. Indeed life's cruelties can bring out the worst in a human being - that much I know now, and I can only empathize with those who suffer such tragedy.
But a tragedy can also bring out the best in us and the people around us. All throughout, I received love, caring and comforting from people - - relatives, friends, even strangers who all reached out to us in time of need. Norman was transferred to his room which was converted into a mini ICU. I watched in agony as his right arm was cut to find the vein connected to his heart to insert a tube to monitor the fluid inside. The following day he was operated on the abdomen for dialysis. All these he watched silently, bravely. He was then hooked to a respirator to support his breathing.
He was sedated and unconscious. I knew he was still fighting for his life, he did not want to go and leave me behind. Up until the last moment I simply just wanted him to live. I was still praying for a miracle. But seeing his emaciated body hooked into the life support system, I knew I had to let him go. I whispered my last goodbye and told him to always remember I love him and that he will always be with me, in my heart. I also asked him to forgive his father who was never by his side. From his dilated eyes fell a single teardrop and then I knew he heard and understood. He remained hooked to the machine for a few more hours until the final hour came, the flat line on the monitor. Doctors and nurses rushed to pump his chest and revived the line but on the second attempt, I motioned them to stop. My son wants to go home and have eternal rest. The time has come. It was May 6, 1999.
I have lost my best, the most treasured possession I've ever had-my firstborn, my one and only son. It's an irreparable loss. The pain is here deep within me and it will never go away until I die. But as long as I live, I will be comforted by the lesson I've gained through it all. Life is a gift. We should cherish it as long as we have it-until it is time to give it back to the Giver who knows what's best for us. It is not how long I held Norman in my arms, what matters is how sweet the years we spent together. It's not how long we held each others' hands, what matters is how well we loved each other. What matters most is that we loved at all.
As I sat on stage, waiting for my introduction as the commencement speaker, remembering Norman's fight gave me strength to go on. The thought that by sharing his story to the parents and these young graduates could probably inspire them made me confident to speak. Even if there is just one poor soul whose life's direction would be moved by the inspiration that life is too short to waste and the realization of how fortunate they are to be alive to follow their dreams, then Norman's short stay on earth would not have been for naught. As I held back my tears and saw the captive audience all ears to what I was saying, I felt a surge of relief, joy and appreciation of life itself. I felt proud of having Norman as a good son, a gift who could only stay for a while. It was therefore with passion that I delivered this quotation which ended my speech:
This life is yours
Take the power
To choose what you want to do
and do it well
Take the power
to love what you want in life
and love it honestly
Take the power
to walk in the forest
and be a part of nature
Take the power
control your own life
No one else can do it for you
Nothing is too good for you
You deserve the best
Take the power
to make your life
healthy, exciting, worthwhile and happy
Take the power
to follow your dreams.