Prologue: This touching account of Irene’s brother Omar and his struggle with kidney cancer took place in the Philippines over six years ago. Shortly after his diagnosis, I was contacted by Irene and another sister Imee who lives in Singapore by e-mail; we remained in touch throughout the remainder of Omar’s life and occasionally thereafter. The family is still repaying loans for his treatment, and will be doing so for at least three more years. Michael B. Lawing
My brother, thirty-one-year-old Omar Sagud, was a husband and a father of three kids between the ages of four and one, who provided for his family by working as a technical support agent of a Business Process Outsourcing company in Manila, Philippines. His days off from work were spent hanging out with his family or playing basketball with friends. It was after one of his basketball games that he’d experienced the first sign that something was wrong—lower back pain. But being athletic all his life, he chucked it up to normal post-game discomfort and kept ignoring it, simply taking Ibuprofen as a quick solution. Months later, around July of 2011, he couldn’t tolerate the pain anymore and finally went to see a doctor. He was told that he had a mass in his kidney and would need an operation to remove it. ASAP.
Omar was just earning enough to feed his family and couldn’t afford an operation so he brought his wife and kids home to Baguio City where we (our parents, my other brother and I) lived to ask for help. Of course, we had his back. With the financial support of our parents and our sister who lives in Singapore, Omar sought another doctor for a second opinion. He was told the same thing, that there was a huge mass in his kidney which needed to be removed immediately. The new thing he learned is that it was cancer or, more accurately, Stage IV Renal Cell Carcinoma.
We were stunned and scared and clueless. The first two, we couldn’t do anything about, but at least we could do something about the third. My sister and I had gone on research mode, and we learned that RCC or kidney cancer is not like other cancers in that chemotherapy and radiation are not very effective treatments. The medicines available were expensive, very new—some barely coming out of drug trials— and, like any other treatment, there’s no guarantee that he’d get better.
My sister applied for a huge loan that would cause her financial problems. My father withdrew a lump sum from his retirement pay. We borrowed money from relatives and friends. We squeezed every peso from every available resource to pay for my brother’s operation and later his medicine which, by the way, wasn’t available in the Philippines so we had to order from India. Later, through the help of social media, we received donations from Omar’s batch mates (persons in his graduating class) and friends from our hometown. The support was amazing and we’re so grateful to all those who helped us in this fight. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread to my brother’s lungs and liver. He was getting worse fast.
By October, Omar had been in and out of the hospital. He was so weak that he spent most of every day lying down on his bed and yet he was so strong that he fought the pain without complaint whenever we were within earshot. November 1, we were all gathered around his hospital bed. His wife was kissing and hugging his feet while I was beside him, pumping the manual respirator. Stubborn man that he was, he’d gotten up earlier to use the bathroom. The effort, his doctor told us later, might have caused him to have a pulmonary embolism which ultimately caused his death. The CPR that followed wasn’t like in the movies. It was painful and traumatic and it still gives me nightmares.
It’s been six years and I’ve forgotten many of the details of my brother’s fight with cancer, but one thing I wouldn’t ever forget is his last word: Nabannogakon.(I’m tired.) It was his response to my begging him to keep fighting. It was an apology and I never had the chance to tell him that he never ever needed to apologize to me or to anyone in the family and that we would go through the same fight over and over again for him.
It’s been six years. And my love for him is as great as ever and the pain of losing him will probably never go away.