Life and death in every moment

Survivor's Tale

By Rhodora E.

(The author is a teacher who lives in Davao. Her identity is not fully disclosed to protect her.)

“Every day, we have a chance to practice the small deaths, for each moment is a small death leading to a new life”, says Bob Edelstein.

My physical “deaths” were the diagnosis of ovarian cancer and chronic kidney disease.

I was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD), in December 2017. My kidneys were traced to have congenital anomalies. My not-so-healthy right kidney was discovered to be ectopic. It settled at my right lower abdomen instead of below the right rib cage at the side of my spine. While the ureter of my left kidney was narrowing due to a continuous spike of uric acid.

However, these conditions weren’t addressed immediately because the blood work and ultrasound results incidentally found my ovaries and my ureter in a serious condition. My blood was tested twice for CA 125 and the results showed a high level of a cancer antigen.

An urgent surgery was done in 2018. I bade goodbye to my ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and cervix after 43 years. But thanks to God the biopsy results were benign and I was declared cancer-free in the same year.

In January 2019, less than a year after I was declared free from ovarian cancer, my second surgery failed. So, I proceeded with a radioactive blood test called GFR, to test the functionality of my kidneys. Results showed that my left kidney was non-visualizing and non-functioning.

Over time, it developed into a condition called “severe hydronephrosis.” It already caused me excruciating and immobilizing pain attacks and started to endanger my right kidney as it developed mild hydronephrosis. The pain killers would ease the pain but endangered my surviving ectopic right kidney.

To avoid further damage, dialysis, or complications that may lead to death, I had to go through an eight-hour laparoscopic operation for nephrectomy (left kidney) while cystoscopy retrograde pyelogram (right kidney), in August 2021.

My spiritual “deaths” were verbal, physical, and psychological abuse.

I never desired to be a lesbian and for a long time, I hated being one. I was treated like a curse - a scourge. It was hell-like when my brothers and sister would gang up on me and place me in an empty rice sack under the thundering voice of my mother, “Throw away that damned plague!” A battered youth, a broken, wounded soul, was I. The beating I bore, but the rejection ruined me. I became hateful and unforgiving. I lived in spite and wrath. The saddest thing was — my only ally, my father, died when I was 16.

Thankfully, fate brought me to an institution run by the Hijas de Jesus Sisters. They embraced, sheltered, loved, and offered me a home, and a family.

But it wasn't long until the ghost of my past attacked me again. A few colleagues alienated me and treated me like a curse. The “ganging up” was replayed.

Still, God continued to send angels. He never abandoned me, as St. Candida Maria de Jesus and Blessed Antonia Bandres believed. In my torn physical body and tortured spirit, Blessed Antonia’s words lingered: “I am still good for something.” I held on to my faith, dedicated every struggle to forgiveness, and offered every pain to God’s greater glory. Strangely, it gave me peace and joy.

“Where the brokenness is, the light comes in,” was a thought I carried from one of the homilies of a favorite priest.

Honestly, I thank God, not because my kidneys have congenital anomalies; not because of a suspected cancer in my ovaries; not because I was a battered youth. No! I thank God because all beautiful and joyful things happened after each storm in my life.

Today, I live with a solitary ectopic and not-so-healthy right kidney. But, in spirit, I am so alive. I have a job; I have a bigger family. I can still walk, talk, and sing. “Blessed be God who loves us so dearly.” If I am to relive my life and be given a chance to live with a perfectly healthy body, I would not trade it for the life I have now. I am praying that God will keep me in His embrace whatever happens in my physical life. Eternity has no end, I am more inclined to hope for it and work it out.

Again I turn to one of my favorite verses which I can’t recall where I read it: “Life is a small gap between birth and death. So, in this gap, Be happy and make others happy. Enjoy every moment of life.”