It has been a 10-year cancer journey for Pilar Bustamante Estrella, and 2016 has been the most challenging one.
Sometime in September, her Assumption College High School (ACHS) class gathered to give her an early Christmas gift. As they were exchanging ideas on their Viber group, one classmate and Pilar’s good friend, Rosanna Henares Angeles, thought of an idea. “Why don’t we make sure she receives a gift every day until Christmas? It can be anything—flowers, fruits, something she likes, pictures, a plant, anything. What’s important is that we don’t wait for Christmas. Let’s make it Christmas for Pilar every day!”
Several classmates immediately volunteered. Rosanna took on the task of managing the gift-giving schedules, and a few other classmates volunteered their time and their drivers to bring the gifts to Pilar’s home. But first, having come from a background in advertising, Rosanna said they needed a theme for the exercise.
Another classmate, Ana Perez, who had also worked in advertising, said: “Why not 82 days of Christmas, since we’re Batch ’82?” Thus, Pilar’s 82 Days of Christmas kicked off on Oct. 5, with the batch gift as her first surprise.
More important was the letter that came with each gift, lovingly written on a letterhead designed by another batchmate, Nico Mallari. An excerpt from the first letter read: “We all thank God for the gift of you. You, Pilar, have taught us the enduring power of courage, faith, perseverance, hope and love…”
Rosanna said that the gifts Pilar has been given these past few days and weeks have been as unique as each giver, and the letters full of love and hope. Classmates have written songs, sent choirs, and brought food and tokens.
A song for her
Because music was such a huge part of Pilar’s life, Ana Perez wrote a song for her which was sung by Ogie Alcasid, a good friend of Pilar’s brother Paolo. Part of it reads, “In the journey we have called life/ You taught me to live and to believe/ To celebrate each day with faith from above/ You taught me the bounty of love.”
Such love has indeed been overflowing for Pilar in these days leading to Christmas. It is a love that has inspired not only her and her family, but all those who have chosen to take part in this wonderful show of affection.
Batchmate Vivette Pacla said, “I wanted to give Pilar something ‘memorable.’ When the Pope came to visit, Pilar met me in my office in Pasay and we waited hours for the Pope’s motorcade to pass. I ordered the commemorative coin a month after and asked Pilar if she also wanted one. I had almost forgotten about the coins. I finally received my orders over a year later. Then the 82 Days came about, and I thought this would make a perfect gift.”
Zontie Magsino Diaz said, “When Rosanna told us of the idea behind 82 Days, it was a no-brainer for me to say yes. The concept was so simple and yet so right. Pilar always knew she could count on her batchmates to be there for her, but this was something concrete, tangible proof of how much we all care for her.
“My gifts for her centered on the theme ‘in the pink of health.’ I gave her a pink floral-print blouse, pink lipsticks and magenta-hued dragon fruit grown on our family farm. We could see that the gifts made Pilar happy, and that was the most important thing.”
Tinette Nisce, who has known Pilar since grade school, said: “I wanted to give a special lady an extra-special gift. With the help of another batchmate, I sent Pilar note cards of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Pilar is a devotee of Mama Mary.
“I also wanted Pilar to feel that she wasn’t alone in her battle. I asked two leukemia survivors very dear to me, Ann Lorraine and Carl Austin, to send their pictures with the sign ‘LABAN Tita Pilar.’ There is also a football team in Uson, Masbate, Rogie FC, whose players are inspired by their colleague, the late Rogie Maglinas. They sent their support as well.”
Techoy Lintag Tabujara said she barely spoke to Pilar in high school, and that they reconnected only five years ago, during their Pearl velada. “Two years ago, she sent me a 50th birthday gift out of the blue, and said she just felt close to me and wanted to send me a gift. That began our Viber and FB relationship.
“We started calling each other ‘Sunshine’ because we said we’d be each other’s sunshine when our days are gray. We grew even closer these last couple of months, especially during the 82 Days.
“I was in Divisoria when I saw a Santa hanging from a smiling Mr. Sun! I always wanted to give her a sun pendant, but couldn’t find one. Just when I needed one, my suki had it!”
In response to Techoy’s gift, Pilar wrote: “Every year for the past couple of years I add one Santa to my home. However, this year, I can no longer go shopping to add to my collection. My sunshine came to my rescue.”
82 Days of Christmas has not been just a gift for Pilar, but for everyone of her friends who has given of themselves.
“82 Days showed me how women can come together in sisterhood for love,” said Techoy. “We all wanted to make Pilar happy, to give her the will to wake up each day. But I also learned to appreciate my life more.”
Rica Concepcion Araneta was one of the very first to answer Rosanna’s call for 82 Days. She gave Pilar a Sto. Niño she bought in Prague. “I believe that the Sto. Niño would remind her that He is always watching over her.” The experience made Rica appreciate even more the bonds between her AC sisters. “It showed me how much I am willing to care for another person even if they are not my family by blood; at the end of the day they are still my family in my heart.”
On the second day of 82 Days, Rosanna sent Pilar her gift and her letter. “You have, against all odds, chosen the path of hope,” she wrote. “I realize it’s not an easy path, but once chosen, everything becomes possible.
“Was one year possible? Was five? How about 10? Was joining two veladas (late nights, endless meetings, stress) possible? Were all those family trips possible? Watching Nike shine? Seeing Red graduate? Attending another PTC for Gap? I believe they were possible because you chose hope over hopelessness, and faith over despair.”
When the batch graduated in 1982, their batch slogan was “Quid Retribuam Domino”— “What thanks can I render Thee?” In the love that Pilar and her sisters have given each other through these 82 Days of Christmas, that question has been answered.