Between June and November 2013 is what I unflinchingly dub my inferno year.
This was when I was diagnosed by my chemotherapy specialist-cousin Pauline So-Kaw with Burkitt’s-like lymphoma, a rare type of non-Hodgkin’s that is far difficult to temper and annihilate.
But before that—thanks to the intercession of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina through the twin Hearts of Jesus and Mary, I have the temerity to jot down this journal of sorts on a wee Sunday as my chronic insomnia hounds me, at it always does.
I’m thankful, though, that at least it’s not a Monday, when I would need to grapple for my early morning class at De La Salle University (DLSU), not to mention the punishingly purgatorial traffic from New Manila down to Taft Avenue.
A new lease on life
It was in May 2014 when my poet-friend, DLSU Literature chair Dinah Roma, upon the gentle prodding of another poet-friend, Ronald Baytan, consoled me with a six-unit Humanities load so I could get by with my quarterly chemotheraphy maintenance needs.
Thankfully, my doctor reduced my Rituximab dose from 700 mg to 300 mg, which reduced the cost from P80,000 to P45,000.
I am now handling a nine-unit load, still mentoring on Arts Appreciation and on Henrik Ibsen’s vision through his social realist masterpiece “Enemy of the People,” as the third installment to a Great Works course.
And as I write this journal, my sobriety keeps me wide-eyed, though with a certain kind of on-and-off persistent sullenness which I can’t simply resist, because humanly frail as we are, even after humbly surrendering myself to my Creator, I would still worriedly feel the bony lump in my chest and the irritable lymph nodes in my armpits and pelvis each time I get affected by stress due to either heavy traffic or a sleepless night.
As I look back, I realize that it is my mentoring to students that has kept me going. I marvel at their reactions every time I debunk, say, the traditional notion that the first cave paintings were in Europe or Africa; they were in Asia, specifically in Sulawesi, Indonesia. This, to me, should be a cause for celebration because we, after all, are Asians, and primal art was pioneered in the very continent where we evolved.
Not to mention, the Sulawesi paintings were brush-stroked, as opposed to those found in Europe which were palm- and finger-painted, proof that we more creative and innovative.
I used to experience similar epiphanies with my students at La Consolacion College Manila, where I handled theater, film and television production classes and workshops. Quite sadly, though, the school would now prefer to listen to some other voices that speak only of the business side of running an educational institution rather than focusing more on its learning-centered concerns.
My only consolation in continuing to celebrate this new lease on my life are my students. I am always in awe at their relentless pursuit to learn, to discover, create, probe and criticize. It is in their giving and learning that I continue to ceaselessly learn as well.
I must admit that I am just as mad about my mentoring as my persistence to live. It’s the one thing that’s keeping me sane and alive, at least for now.
About a month and a half ago, I wobbled and penguin-walked along the sprawling DLSU campus under the sweltering summer heat, as I rushed to my next class—“Introduction to Literature” before a class of eager-beaver sophomores.
It was almost 4:15 p.m., and I felt fidgety and weak. My torso wouldn’t seem to carry my weight, and a general sense of foreboding and malaise came over me.
It was barely a week after I had my first in a four-cycle series of chemotherapy protocols, after a new 2-inch central nervous system lymphoma tumor was located on the temporal-parietal side of my brain. Another trial.
I am currently in my 10th radiation therapy procedure. A 13-radiation therapy treatment is required by my radiation oncologist, Dr. Domingo Ganzon, in order to allow my 2.8-cm brain tumor to eventually shrink, hopefully in its entirety, within a month. After which I will undergo another brain CT scan to validate the extent of the tumor’s favorable reaction to the treatment.
I feel so much uncertainty and anxiety with all these protocols and procedures. But I have realized one thing: In the critical moments of our lives, it is only with fervent and unwavering faith, hope and love in our Divine Creator’s wisdom that we are able to fully surrender our borrowed lives to Him. And so I humbly do.
Playwright, director and screenwriter Lito Casaje is cofounder (with the late Bienvenido Noriega) and current president/artistic director of Dramatis Personae. He may be reached at [email protected]