Like everyone else, Fr. Jerry M. Orbos, SVD, was surprised when he was diagnosed with stage 2 lung cancer early last year. Orbos didn’t have a family history of the disease.
Not that he had never acquired bad habits all these years. Orbos admitted he smoked, a habit that started in the early years of his vocation and went on for 30 years. “But I was a light smoker, smoking only two or three sticks a day,” he said.
Orbos believes that his cancer was triggered by his overworked lifestyle (“I never gave myself a break”) and his healthy appetite for sweets. “I was on a diet high in sweets. Paborito pala ng cancer ang sweets.”
But even throughout this ordeal—his last chemo was last November—Orbos never once questioned why, and his faith never wavered. He did not spend his time complaining.
Instead, he used this time off from work to become closer to God.
Early last February, Orbos, with three other priests, figured in a vehicular accident and he suffered whiplash injuries.
He asked God: “Why?”
“I had a concussion,” he recalled. “I asked God, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ I needed to have a CT scan. So I told my doctor to include my lungs during the scan. And there it was, a nodule about 1 1/2 cm was discovered. Then I thought, okay, now I know.”
Had he not been in that accident, his cancer would have remained unknown to him. The biopsy showed a left upper lobe malignancy, so his doctors at St. Luke’s Medical Center Global City decided he needed surgery to remove the entire lobe.
His treatment was a combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
“You know, chemotherapy saps you of energy. I went from 220 pounds to 180 pounds. I thought, finally, I found my ideal weight! I’d like to keep it,” he said, laughing. “I know that a cancer diagnosis for others feels like a death sentence, but I always say, focus on the humor, not the tumor.”
Cancer has been a blessing, he said. Cancer has made him a better person. Orbos is happy it renewed his relationship with God.
“We are mortals. You don’t die of cancer, you live with cancer, and you’ll live until you die. I realized a lot of things because of this cancer. I discovered the goodness in people,” he said.
There are three things he is grateful for: God (“Without God how do we survive?”), family and friends.
“Real friends,” he pointed out. “You don’t need fans, followers and admirers. You need only a few good friends. Some people spend their whole life making statements about who they are, but who cares? I am a someone to God, and that is good enough.”
Now Orbos has a new mission. On a deeper level, he said he wants to live longer so he can be kind to more people and become an instrument of kindness.
“That’s something I learned from Mama and Papa,” he explained. “They were kind people. You know, in my experience, even priests can be so unkind.”
The four months he spent away from work were the best months of his life, he said. “I don’t want to spend my time with people who drag me down. I’m not hanging out with those guys anymore. My goal is to be at peace with myself and with people and with my God.”
Forget complaining, he said. “If only all of us have an attitude of forgiveness—ang gaan ng buhay! I’m in a hurry now. My life is short. I want to embrace life and forgive more. We have two lives, and you begin the second life when you know you have only one life.”
He said he rediscovered patience. “Prayer is the best time because you’re talking to the one who loves you the most. Anyone who has gone through chemotherapy deretso na sa langit, kasi they went to purgatory already,” he said, laughing.
Orbos ruminated, quoting the Bible: “What does it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? Our most important journey is not financial, career, beauty, or popularity. It is our journey to God. If your sickness brings you closer to God, okay na ’yun.
“If your poverty brings you closer to God, okay na ’yun. When you lose someone and your heart breaks, and it brings you closer to God, okay na ’yun.”