Today was a normal day. Paolo and I went through our usual work hustle in between taking the kids to and from school. Mio has his last day of their CSIP, a weekly outreach his class does at a public school where they teach English to Grade School kids. He needed a haircut and asked to go to his regular barber nearby while we squeezed in a bit of grocery.
I checked on Roux and Mio in their rooms, kissed them good night before I laid in bed with my youngest son cradled beside me post-breastfeeding and as I wrap up my gadget-fix for th rainy evening, I recall the day’s events and think of what I’m most thankful for. A habit I had for the longest time now, as my way of praying. And then I remember that this date reverberates in me because it reminds me of our most humbling experience, way before I had the things I used to pray for.
On this day, 9 years ago, my eldest son was diagnosed of Acute Lymphocytic a Leukemia. He was 5 years old, a year or so shy of how young Roux is now. He was in the middle of Kindergarten and displayed an observant, meek and intelligent demeanour much like how Paco is now. I had no idea how painful his joint felt every time he played and shrugged it off as if he was just naturally a shy boy, not fond of rough games and even so far as thinking he was just too lazy to play. It’s himiliating how uninstinctive I was and it was my Mom who insisted he didn’t look well. I was a single Mom and worked a very demanding Merchandising and Marketing job then, and had to attend to work out of town. So I flew out and asked for my parents to have him checked. I was literally put on a plane back by my best friend who was by some sheer miracle also in the same city as I was and was driven from the airport by another best friend straight to the hospital where we were to stay for a month, with the same bag of clothes I packed for a week’s worth of work. That night, his bone marrow was checked and we were to embark on the hardest journey we would have as mother and son. This is what I wrote that night on a blog I called MioFightsCancer:
Cancer’s a bitch. And yes, so am I. But unlike my endless peril in finding love only to beat the shit out of the poor guy, I wouldn’t even wish cancer on my exes or my enemies.
It’s worse than dysmennorhea, worse than labor contractions, worse than any break up, pre-breakup meditated, any heartache and any disappointment mankind has known. It eats you up and your loved ones alive as if your heart is crushing and pounding on your vital organs all at the same time. From a single mother’s point of view, cancer leaves you helpless and paralyzed at the sight of your child’s growing pain.
Last night, Mio, my five year old son asked me to kiss his arthritic foot to make the owie (ouch-ie, pain) go away. I do this out of habit and with little faith that indeed, my kiss does comfort him somehow as it always does with the slightest scratch or bruise he used to get. You see, my son isn’t the most agile little boy there is. I always say that he didn’t inherit my social skills or activeness and instead manifested his idiotic father’s reclusion, technical fascination and diesel-likened personality only slightly infused with my wits and artistic flair.
This time however, he follows it up with another question. “Mom, when you kiss my owie will it make the enemies in my blood go away too?”
Jose Emilio has just been diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia or ALL.
Little faith there is no more. I am left with that alone.
ALL is the kind that’s rapidly developing and in the doctor’s way of explaining it to my son, the enemy is attacking his body fast. Invading would be the right term to use. An excess of white blood cells (which ironically is what I lack in thus my weird skin- evident blood disorder) is suffocating all the other healthy cells in his bone marrow and signals his anti-bodies otherwise.
That’s how I understood it but to be honest, I don’t get it; I don’t get it how my bouncing baby boy born with healthy bones, ten toes, ten fingers and grew up with twenty healthy teeth can have cancer; I don’t get it how my son who irks at paint or crayon stains on his hands, asks for alcohol after he pees or holds money, chose to be a vegetarian, hates softdrinks and candy (which I’ve been trying to shove down his throat, believe me) and takes his time with chocolates and ice cream would be so ill; I don’t get it how a child born and raised by hundreds of my friends, schoolmates and family—loved even by strangers, would have this disease.
I don’t get it.
But I am beyond understanding the mysterious ways of God. Regardless if this is a punishment for my shortcomings, my arrogance in thinking that I can brave the trials of single parenting by myself or the anger I harbour for those who have hurt us—this is yet the biggest battle I have to fight and my soldiers have raised their armors.
Fighting cancer is worse than war because no evil or goodness prevails in pursuit of life. And seriously, this isn’t about me anymore. It has never been and it is foolish of me to think that this has anything to do with my dedication as a mother or my capacity to love. It simply is a bitch tampering on my child’s future and I will not let that happen.
Mio, is not mine, in spite of the name my Student Council group and surveys have given him during my pregnancy. It is precisely for these simple reasons that he is ours. He is a bright boy with the longest lashes in the whole wide world who paints and draws in two dimensions—a far cry from a child’s usual flat sketches and stick figures. He is the shy boy who dances to the beat of the drums and wants to be an artist.
The past three days has been a field trip for Mio. When asked how he’s feeling or if he’s better, he’d candidly reply “I’m not sure... I’m fine now...” The fact that people bother and hover him actually delights him while massaging his ailing foot or scratching his wounds under the blanket if only to hide his discomfort from me and his visitors. He knows he’s sick and yet he remains thankful to God in our evening prayer for the toys he receives, for the nurses and the medicine that will help his owie go away. I have yet to give him the world I promised him.
I think you’ll all agree when I say that Mio deserves this army. His childhood is the war I wage. I’ve always thought I had forever with my little boy and I used to just want it to pass us by so he can be a grown man, the kind who is everything good, smart, healthy and handsome.
I’ll have to put that on hold and fight this battle NOW. And because he was born to a drama queen, I am torn between the honor of playing the hardest role I have yet encountered in my whole theatrical career or the anguish of putting up a strong face amidst this ultimate test in life.
I have nothing but your love and support although I hate being over-bearing. But like any parent, I will beg, borrow or steal. But we are good people with kind hearts. I can only ask for you to rally the gates of heaven so my son—and all the other children in the world unjustly suffering this illness to have a chance at a normal and yes, dramatic life.
I can only take it one day a time. And today, if I have to remain grateful and open to what tomorrow brings, I can only be sure that my son has turned into an instrument of love and prayer. He has always been, always will be yet here we are only realizing it now.
I plea that you continue fighting with me. Mio can teach us many things everyday and I vow to allow him to do that in his little ways. Help me help him. Please.
I had never — ever in my life, believed that I was so lucky until a flood of love and generosity had come our way until this day 9 years ago today. No day passes that I am not grateful for all that so many people have done, big or small, in their hearts and in kind, to help my son stay alive.
And tonight I pray that someday, in some way, I will find a way to repay or pay forward the kindness and love that we celebrate 9 years since and the evil that we conquer in many ways.