My Mother’s Day thorny existence

Published May 9, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng


Philip Cu Unjieng

Happy Mother’s Day! And for you out there who have your moms still alive and healthy, count that as one of your grandest blessings. My mother passed away in 1996, and that’s 25 years ago this year. But as many of you will discover (or have discovered), even a quarter of a century will not erase the pain and empty void that comes from no longer having your mom in your life. A week doesn’t pass that some situation or instance will have me thinking of her, wondering how she would react, or handle some incident – and have me wistfully wishing she was still around.

So sure, time does do some healing, but the dull ache never goes away for good. And I’m actually happy it doesn’t – because it’s testament to just how much we still miss our moms. During this COVID-pandemic, I’ve often chuckled to myself, as she was the original bulk buyer, the hoarder-in-extremis. And she was a stickler for hygiene and making sure surfaces at home were germ, bacteria and virus-free. She even loved referring to her dog-eared PIMS (Pharmaceutical Information Management System), and would prescribe with abandon whenever anyone in the family was down with any ailment.

It may be a weird thing to say, but from how I’ve described her, you can glean that she was built for this community quarantine! Last mid-March of 2020, we would not have gone panic-buying or stocked up on essentials; she’d have just turned to us with a smug, “I told you so” face, and led us to her bodega, where everything we needed was in sealed cartons. Months after she passed away, we’d find boxes of expired anti-bacterial soaps and alcohol wipes, up in the attic. And I’m so sure that with her “faux”-doctor mentality, she’d have discovered possible panaceas like Ivermectin months before anyone else did.

My mom passed away from cancer of the uterine wall, so it was a left-handed tribute to her, and to the indomitable courage shown by my elder sister, Libet C. Virata, when she had her own bout with breast cancer, that had me finding ways to help my sister when she chaired the fund-raising committee of I Can Serve. For three fruitful years, I played a small part in their recurring fashion can serve activity.

MOM — My mom, Helen Torres Cu Unjieng, who passed away in 1996.

And I’m happy to look back and recognize the friendships created from associating with the women of ICS. That holds especially true for ICS Founder Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, who just last week, was texting me to check how I was doing after my own encounter with Mr. C – in my case, prostate cancer, and the Brachytherapy I underwent in late March.

In 2019, my sister and her friends set up a new foundation. While ICS was all about early detection and Breast Cancer Awareness – very worthy causes, Libet and her band of sisters wanted to also recognize how the Philippines was already leading the ASEAN region in terms of breast cancer cases, and sought to find realistic ways to ameliorate the situation of those who were already suffering. As a result, HWAO (Helping Women and Others) was set up, and along with Libet, cancer survivors Bettina Osmeña, Tang Singson, Camille Samson, and friends Elena Coyiuto, Gina Aboitiz, and her daughter Marga A. Zobel, I was “drafted” to be the sole thorn sitting on the rose-bed Board of Directors.

HWAO — The only thorn among the Mommy Roses of the HWAO (Helping Women And Others) Foundation; bottom row, from left: Libet C. Virata, Gina Aboitiz, Marga A. Zobel, Tang Singson, and Bettina Osmeña; top row, from left: Elena Coyiuto, myself, and Camille Samson (photo from pre-pandemic days).

A successful movie premiere in late 2019 was HWAO’s first major activity, and then, as we all know, COVID struck. To be responsive to the dire predicament we all found ourselves in, HWAO did their own “pivot” – donating PPE’s to PGH, San Juan Medical Center, RITM, and BCDA We Heal As One; and partnering with Temasek Foundation for the importing and donating of High Flow Nasal Cannulas to a hospital in Cavite.

But of course, the breast cancer advocacy was never far. Thanks to the generosity of Estée Lauder, HWAO and ICS have embarked on a project this year to build an expanded IV Chemo Prep room at the PGH, which entails constructing the room and bringing in two BioHoods – the BioHood units cost P2.3 million each. They’re used to safely prepare the chemo “cocktails” the breast cancer patients are given as part of their treatment.

And to help continuously raise important funds, we’ve partnered with León Gallery, with Security Bank; and just last month, a Filipino Charity Dinner in Maryland of renowned Chefs Tom Cunanan and Paolo Dungca had HWAO as the sole beneficiary.

So if you’d like to help HWAO in their efforts, and I do recognize this may not be the best of times to expect generosity, do drop a line at [email protected]. Your readiness to help, your charity and contribution, will always be welcome.

And please, as I close today’s column, do yourselves a favor; if your mom is still around, hug her like there’s no tomorrow later today, and tell her you love her. Thinking it’s not cool, or that being overly demonstrative is sappy, aren’t worth much when she’s gone. Embrace her until she starts looking at you like you’ve lost your marbles. I can’t begin to count the number of times I wish I could still do that over the last quarter of a century.