Why did your first marriage fail?
Is that even a question? Incompatibility. Better to run away.
Why did the second marriage fail?
It didn’t fail. We were happily married for 25 years. We separated in 2007, but he moved only 500 meters away from my house. You know why? In 2006, when he retired and finally stopped working after all those years, he realized that he had no walls to put his collection of paintings on. The whole house was filled with mine. All he had was a tiny bureau.
So he went for a walk and saw a house for sale. He went in the house and bought it, there and then, no broker. Now he can do everything he couldn’t do while he was still working. It’s a great arrangement. We’re still very great friends.
You had a kidney transplant 11 months ago.
Yes, but now there’s less pain. After the operation you revert to life. Before I couldn’t even talk like this. My vasculitis comes and goes, too. My legs were dark blue and as big as kalabasa. Before also, I had no nutrients, I was wood-colored and ashen. All the toxins were in my body, I couldn’t even pee because of my kidney problem! And now, I get so hassled because banyo nang banyo ako. So I don’t drink anymore after 5 p.m.
Can you still have hard drinks? Alcohol?
I can still drink, yes. And now, guess what, I’m smoking, too. I actually texted my nephrologist: “I have something to confess to you.” I told her, “Doc, since I’ve been having pain from vasculitis, I started to smoke.” My doctor said, “One stick a day lang?” Sabi ko, “Four, eh.” Sabi nya, “Problema mo na yan.”
I never smoked cigarettes before in my life. I just picked it up now cause it helps me. I’m a bundle of nerves. Also, I take steroids.
I visited you once in the ICU more than a year ago. I thought you were going to die. Do you think your quality of life has been diminished?
No! Now I take less drugs pa nga eh. If you think about all my substance abuse when I was younger, my quality of life has improved.
Do you think substance abuse had anything to do with your kidney failure?
No. Maybe just my genes. Substance abuse was always a part of my life, whether here or living abroad. Do you remember the movie “Valley of the Dolls”? I used to get my Seconals at different drugstores across the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) without any prescriptions. Drugstores were not strict then.
What advice would you give the younger ones now?
Do not take any of them! I went all the way, starting with marijuana, then downers, and so on and so forth, but I’m a survivor. We’re all survivors, because the way we did it, we really did it. We never did it halfway. Drugs entertained me. I never saw it as bad.
Let’s go back to your liver transplant. How difficult was that? Tell us about it.
I was getting edema. If I sat down for a long time, my feet would grow big. If I ate a lot of salt, my face would swell. In 2007, my kidney failed. One doctor said I had to be dialyzed every day of my life. I fired him. I asked him, “Who do you think I am? Cardinal Sin, 75 years old?” Dialysis is only maintenance. It’s for life. Instead I did a treatment using a dialysis kit three times a week. I’ve been insured since I was married, so that takes care of all my expenses. Luging lugi sila sakin, ’day. (laughter)
When did you start shopping for a kidney?
That term is the exact reason I didn’t want a live donor! My nephrologist also wanted a live donor, but I wanted a cadaver. I didn’t want to go around as if I was shopping, asking people, “Can I buy your kidney?” In one hospital parking lot, people actually sell organs on the street. They call out to people getting out of their cars, “Creatinine! Creatinine!”
So did you find yours in a morgue?
I found my kidney from a foundation called Human Organ Preservation Effort (HOPE). Then I transferred to National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI), because if I stayed in my old hospital I would never get the transplant done and would forever be on the waiting list. NKTI is a great hospital. Everyone there is so efficient and professional. They have a good supply of kidneys: They do about six to nine transplants a day.
Who is the owner of your kidney?
It’s from a 24-year-old woman from Bicol. She was brain dead from an accident when she arrived at the hospital.
How was the operation? Did you ever want to give up?
On the third day, nagsisi na ako sa kidney transplant. Ang sakit pala. And kuripot pa ang pain management nila! They did not give me enough painkillers. Now I’m okay. I’m having problems because of UTI, but it’s fine. I just need to be very careful with infections, bacteria and viruses. I need to wear a mask always.
You are also a cancer survivor. You had cancer before you had problems with your kidney?
Yes, I found out I had breast cancer in March 1998. I was 44. It was the first mammogram I ever took. Hindi pa malaki. I couldn’t feel it yet and that was good, because once you feel it that’s too late.
What did you do when you found out?
I freaked out. I got home, called the husband of a classmate who was an OB-gyne and asked him if I should go for a second opinion. He told me no! That’s the reason cancers get worse: waiting for a second opinion. Ang cancer kailangan habulin mo. If the doctor says remove it, then remove it. So the next day I was at Makati Med.
I remember you shaved your head that time. You didn’t even bother to cover your head with a bandana.
Yes! I loved it! I shaved my head for the chemotherapy and wore long earrings. I remember being at parties with my shaved head, drinking vodka. I used to ask my helper to buy wine every day at
11 a.m. White wine helped me survive cancer.
How did you survive everything else?
My doctors. And my faith. I have great faith in my doctors. I have to have great confidence in them. One is Dr. Vicente Arguelles. I will kneel before him. I was supposed to have treatment in France. But I backed out at the last minute, thinking, “What if I don’t like the way my doctor smells?” I embrace treatments. I’m very unlucky with health, but I’m lucky with treatments.
I am the type who will freak out if my doctor told me something I don’t like to hear. I’ll just stay in a corner and cry. I’m even afraid of experiencing the pain of childbirth, although I’d like to experience it at least once.
Were you ever afraid of dying?
No. I never worried about it. I’m still not afraid of it.
What’s your definition of the afterlife?
I don’t know. I think when you’re buried, that’s it, you’re buried na.
Are you afraid of getting old?
No. But I don’t want to get too old, like 80.
Is there still anything on your bucket list?
None. None at all.
A third husband, perhaps?
No! I’m tired na. Sarap-sarap na ng buhay ko!
Don’t you get lonely in this big house?
I don’t get lonely. It’s not in my vocabulary. My eldest son, who is 38 years old, came back to take care of me. Also, my daughters from my second marriage come and visit. I don’t want to travel anymore. Also, I realized that once they get older, children like spending for their parents. See, I get Louis Vuitton to death as pasalubong from them!