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Mommy J. AT SAN VICENTE WARD

Alice M. Sun-Cua

it must be that I want life to go on living

- Robert Frost

I clutched the small stuffed teddy bear and walked briskly along the hospital
corridors. I had just done my morning rounds, discharging two patients who delivered
normally two days ago, and looked in on another that was operated on for a ruptured
ectopic pregnancy the night before. I was on my way to Room 314 at the San Vicente
Ward in our hospital, to pay Mrs. J. a social visit. It was Valentines Day.

Mrs. J, a 58-year-old teacher, was diagnosed to have advanced ovarian cancer


two months ago, and was referred to me by a physician friend from a southern city
because of abdominal enlargement. She was operated on in the province with
removal of all pelvic organs when the ovarian malignancy was discovered, but the
disease had already involved other parts of her body, causing ascites (edema fluid) in
the abdominal cavity to accumulate faster that it could be drained.

The first time I saw her, she had extreme difficulty of breathing. She looked young
to be 58, her thick lustrous hair secured at the nape by a clip surrounded by fresh
sampaguita flowers. I later learned that she always had someone to pick fresh
sampaguitas in the morning then fashion these flowers into a fragrant bunch to be
attached to her hair clip. In spite of her breathlessness, she managed to smile and greet
me when I introduced myself, her Tagalog bearing an unmistakable, lilting Hiligaynon
accent. Taking salient points of her history, I realized that she had full knowledge of
what was happening. Two of her children, Rowena and Roberto, both in their twenties,
updated me with lab work-ups and medications from the previous hospital. Their father
will be flying in tomorrow, as the family business needed his close supervision.

After a formal referral to Dr. M., a gynecologic oncologist, (a gynecology


specialist who deals with cancer of the pelvic organs) I became a frequent visitor at
Room 314, not so much as an attending physician, for I had transferred Mrs J. to the
service of Dr. M., but as a friend.

She was sitting up on bed when I went in, holding what looked like a card. It was
sent by a friend from Iloilo City, she said, greeting her on Valentines Day. Looking
around, I discovered that the room was festooned with red balloons, and a large
computer printout tacked on the wall opposite her bed with the words Happy
Valentines Day, Mommy! strewn across it. There were numerous cards taped on the
wall, too, under the streamer, colorful patches they were, which obviously made Mrs.
J. very happy.

When I gave her the teddy bear she giggled, not unlike a teenager, and said I
was indeed spoiling her. Mommy J., as we learned to call her, had her long hair freed
from the casual clips she wore, and her hair was framing her beaming face in a dark
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brown halo. She scrutinized the stuffed toy and giggled some more when she saw the
cross-stitched message I sewed on the apron: For A Beautiful Lady. She held out her
right hand and I caught it, as she pointed out the cards on the wall. One was from a
school friend in high school, another from a neighbor, and still another from a close
friend who was also a member of the Catholic Womens League. All around the room
were tangible proofs of love for this woman whose spirit was untouched by the disease
that was ravaging her. She found time to write to relatives and friends, and one day I
found her on her wheelchair looking at a newborn babies through the huge visitors
viewing glass in the Nursery. She was talking to one of the new mothers, apparently a
first timer, as I heard her talk about, of all things, breastfeeding. I could almost see her
now, talking animatedly with that younger woman, relating her experiences when she
was a mother herself.

But it was not all smiles and laughter for Mommy J. One morning while doing my
usual call on her, I opened the door to her room and found it in half-darkness. The only
halo of light was found in the patients bed, focusing on Mommy Js pallid face, now
heaving in spurts. The hiss of the oxygen valve seemed unduly loud, it was the only thing
one heard. It was not large room, and the shadowy outlines of the small bedside table
and settee seemed to have made it look smaller. Rowena stood in the shadows, her
face burrowed in a white handkerchief, her shoulders heaving with suppressed