|Posted on April 19, 2011 at 7:05 AM|
Fritzy Cañete was only nine when she passed away on the morning of October 30 last year, after losing a ten-month battle with cancer. She had acute Myolegenous Leukaemia (AML), a malignant disease of the bone marrow. We first met her in June 2010 when her mother Maribel came to us for help. We responded by funding all the costs of Fritzy’s blood transfusions and prescriptions, but her illness was too severe, and she died four months later.
Fritzy spent the last months of her life in the isolation ward of the paediatrics section of the Bacolod Regional Hospital. I constantly visited her there and I witnessed how her illness destroyed her body and distorted her physical appearance day by day. Weeks before she died, a big portion of her face was literally rotting. On the other hand, I also witnessed that cancer was not able to destroy her courageous spirit, sense of humor, wisdom, delightful kind of brattishness, and faith in God.
On her most critical days, she would still have the strength to ‘get even’ by pinching her attending nurse secretly, while the nurse was injecting her something. She was young but mature in her response to her illness, telling her parents many times that all people die in their appointed time. When she wanted to go home to be with her siblings, even the doctors could not stop her. And in the midst of intolerable pain, she turned to her faith and believed that Jesus loved her.
On one of my visits to Fritzy in September 2010, she invited me to come to her house in E.B. Magalona the following month to attend her birthday party. “Don’t forget to bring my dress and sandals, Tita Glitter.” I did not forget to bring the presents, with colors tailored to her specific preferences, but I brought the presents to the hospital not to her home. Her birthday was on the 6th of October and although she was able to go home a few days before that, she had to be rushed back to the hospital after two nights in E.B. Magalona as she was bleeding terribly. Fritzy was very critical on her birthday but the atmosphere in the ward was at least happy. She briefly talked with me and I promised her that I would visit her home one day to meet her playmates. (To know more about Fritzy's story please click here.)
That 'one day' happened on April 7th, two weeks ago. Richard and I came home to E.B. Magalona for Fritzy.
The Cañete family, composed of Francisco (36), Maribel (34) and their two remaining daughters Frincess (3) and Frecious (1) live in a small native house in the farming village of Alacaegan in the town of E. B. Magalona. To get there, various modes of transportation are required. First you need to take a bus from Bacolod to Silay city (40 minutes), then take a tricycle ride from Silay up to the town of E. B. Magalona (40 minutes), third is to cross a river (5 minutes) on a small raft, and finally, a walk or a ride on a carabao from the river bank to the village of Alacaegan (30 minutes).
With Maribel as our guide, Richard and I reach the river at half past eleven in the morning. To make our crossing, we take the only raft in the area, owned and operated by Bador and Amalia, a couple in their 70's. The fee per person is 5 pesos but if someone has a heavy load like a motorcycle, they need to pay an extra 10 pesos. On the other side of the river, Francisco and his carabao, the same carabao that Fritzy rode on her homecomings before, are waiting for us. Attached to the carabao is a cart and inside the cart is a narrow wooden bench for me and Richard to sit on. The ride is very bumpy however and is aggravating to my rather poor health that morning, so I get off and walk; Maribel joins me.
Everywhere you look there are sugarcane and sugarcane and sugarcane fields. Could the chemicals used on those sugarcane fields have been the cause of Fritzy's cancer? Our convoy is attracting attention from everyone who sees us. People stop in their tracks, look long and try to get a slight understanding. Richard standing tall in the cart and Maribel and I ceremoniously walking behind. "Hail to the king. People should have prepared palms outside their houses to welcome us." I jokingly tell Maribel.
We arrive at the Canete's home thirty minutes later. The house is very small but orderly. The bigger part which serves as the bedroom is on stilts, and the rest is dirt-floored. There is a hammock in the front yard, and there are bamboo benches right outside the doorway of the house. There, we meet Fritzy's playmates, sisters and grandparents. Richard and I tarry there for a long while and we greatly enjoy our time with them. Fritzy came up a number of times in our conversations, but remarkably enough, I personally feel that there is no longer heaviness in the air at the mention of Fritzy's name. Maribel and Francisco refer to happy and funny memories in the past without feeling hurt when answering some of our questions regarding Fritzy.
To get to know Fritzy's playmates/neighbors better we decide to go around and meet the children's families. We begin our tour in the house of Robello and Mercidita, Maribel's parents. Their house is smaller than Maribel's and is made up of very light materials; it must be difficult for the couple during heavy rains. We also meet Imang, one of the couple's dogs, which was named after Jenny's nickname. Jenny was one of the leukemia patients in the Isolation Ward and she died before Fritzy. Mercidita received the dog as a gift from a neighbour on the day Jenny died, hence the honors.
Our feet bring us next to the village square where most of Fritzy's friends live. There we meet Rommel Montero. He got sick in 1999 and his illness crippled both his feet. Now, he is the village barber. However we realize that his scissors are not even the proper kind for cutting hair so we promise to buy him a new pair. (Just this morning, April 20th, we sent Rommel the promised scissors, two barber combs and a big supply of baby powder through Maribel.)
From Rommel, we visit three more houses. The concerned families accept us warmly.
At a quarter past one, we say goodbye to everybody except for Maribel and Francisco who will see us off to the river. This time, we detach the cart from the carabao and do it the 'Fritzy way' -- carabao backriding. Richard takes the reins, and maybe we look silly because we draw so much laughter from the people in the square. "Just be the one to hold the rope!" one man shouts to Francisco, seeing that Richard is having difficulty with it. "Stay closer!" Maribel reprimands Francisco when the carabao is beginning to tense up. "Pssst sst sst" Richard commands the carabao after picking it up from Francisco. The carabao moves faster everytime he says that. "Stop psst ssst ssting" I gently say, greatly fearing for our life.
After a few meters, Richard gets down and Francisco takes over. We have two important stops before the river; to visit the twelve-year old boy Razel Villegas who has severe anemia and to drop by Frizy's school to take a photo. Word spread out in the village about Razel and that was how Maribel learned about his illness. Razel is looking very pale when we see him and we all think that it is best for him to see a doctor the following day. We ask his mother to bring him to the office the next day so we can give them funds for check up and blood transfusions.
Then finally the visit to Fritzy's school is a most fitting way to conclude our visit. Maribel points out Fritzy's classroom. The school is beautifully adorned by flowers and the playground is very clean. Fritzy was an honor student in this school.
Maribel and Francisco cross the river with us and walk us to the tricycle that will take us back to Silay. We thank them for their hospitality and bid them farewell. On the tricycle, I am feeling so much peace and closure. Perhaps it is the comprehensive glimpse of Fritzy's world before she got sick. I am suddenly assured that life had not been all pain to her. Indeed in her nine short years, she spent most of it chasing dragonflies on his grandparents' ricefields with her friends, enjoying school, riding carabaos, receiving unconditional love from the people who surrounded her. Knowing more about these happy care-free days in Fritzy's life is helping Richard and me to move on.
And before my thoughts wander to 'to eat or not to eat halo-halo' when I get back in Bacolod, I pray that my presence and Richard's on that particular time and day, will also bring about healing and comfort to Fritzy's friends and family.
To see our photos please click here.