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Death and acceptance

04:40 AM November 01, 2011

For me, she died approximately three weeks before her body finally expired.

She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer December 2010. What followed was by far the most difficult Christmas we had to endure. Everyone was handling her with kid gloves because of the cancer, even if she kept on telling everybody that she was fine and could manage things by herself. At one fleeting moment I actually hated her for destroying the holiday we all loved. But on Christmas morning I saw her in the kitchen, slicing up ham and quezo de bola for breakfast, and I almost cried. How could I even think that she wanted anyone to be miserable? I’ve never felt so guilty for thinking that I hated her for ruining our Christmas.

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If Christmastime was difficult, the next few months were pure hell. I felt like I was trapped in the blue-gray light of the hospital’s fluorescent bulbs, checking her into laboratories and taking her to consultations, waiting with eyes shut and fists clenched tight outside the MRI room, the chemo room, the X-ray room and blood laboratories. It seemed to me that everyone in the hospital wanted a slice of her but no one really found anything different: Stage 3 ovarian cancer that has metastasized to some tissues in her pelvis.

Metastasized. Metastasis. Doctors were saying them like they were so smart. If they were so smart, why couldn’t they cure her? It was here that my agitation started to rise and my bitterness started to creep in.

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If you were so smart, if your methods were so advanced, why is she still awfully sick? Why is cancer still chewing her insides? Don’t talk to me about metastasis, or peritoneal washings. All you have to tell me is that you’ll make her well.

But they didn’t.

Despite the chemo, radiation and various alternative medical approaches, Stage 3 eventually became Stage 4 and doctors told us that it was the beginning of the end. That we should get her affairs in order. In short, they were telling us that she was going to die, and we better prepare ourselves for it.

She was a smart woman, and I think that she knew her movie’s ending even before she started her first chemo session. She accepted gifts of scarves and wigs with a barrage of jokes, but she knew that she was slipping. Many times she assured me that it was going to be okay, but in hindsight I think she meant not that she was going to get well but that, eventually, I would accept her departure. She was, until the very end, a caring woman. A woman who cared especially for me.

During her last trip to the hospital, she was so exhausted after her treatment that she fell asleep even before I came back to the room. When I saw her, she looked bereft of her youth, vitality and smile. She was thin, frail and, under the harsh fluorescent lights she looked tired and fed up. It looked like sleep was her only reprieve. It was then that it dawned on me—I was going to lose her.

I have never cried all this time, but that night I did. That was also the night when I let go. That was the night she died in my eyes.

She was bedridden from then on to her death. I spent hours telling her all the things I’ve been up to, all the people I’ve known. I didn’t want her to die without knowing who I have become, but even I knew that there was simply not enough time. Death came suddenly—one day her heart just gave up and she stopped breathing. I just closed my eyes, signed the papers and prepared for her wake.

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It’s been just three months since she left, but I still miss her. I sometimes dial her number when I’m at the grocery and I don’t know what brand to substitute for the brand I’m used to. Then I realize, “Oh, I can’t do that anymore.”

But I’m holding on to her promise: It’s going to be okay.

Emillene Jean Torres, 24, is a copywriter at Ensogo Philippines (although she really defines herself as her mother’s daughter more than anything else).

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TAGS: chemotherapy, Ovarian cancer, radiation
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