MIKEE COJUANGCO-JAWORSKI (MCJ): Good afternoon to everybody here today! You know, when I walked in everyone was thanking me: “ Naku, Mikee, salamat at nagpunta ka dito .” Actually, it is me who would like to thank all of you for being here. Maraming hindi nakakaalam na ako po ay anak ng isang cervical cancer survivor at kapatid ng isang thyroid cancer survivor. So it's really an honor for me to be here with all of you today.
Of course, like everybody here today I value family very much, and this is a salute to all the families who are going through this experience with all of us today. And today, magkukwento po sa atin ang isang pamilya who has someone very special move on because of cancer, but hindi natin pwedeng isipin na ito ay isang kawalan because for someone like Rio Diaz-Cojuangco, life is a celebration, and her life was full of courage. Just like her family who is here with us today, they are a picture of courage and strength, and they are also a wonderful gift to Manang Rio and they are here today to share with us their joys and their challenges through their experiences.
So friends, please join me in welcoming them at iniimbitahan natin silang umakyat dito sa entablado. Unang-una po si Manong Charlie Cojuangco. We will call everyone to come up here first. Para tayong may set dito, tawagin din po natin ang mga kapatid ni Manang Rio, si Tita Gloria, Tita Ruby, Tita Georgia, and Tita Aurora.
So umpisahan na po natin . We would like to ask Manong Charlie to tell us their story, the story of their love and their experiences. Manong Charlie.
CHARLIE COJUANGCO (CC): I'll try my best to try to fit in my part in 10 minutes. It's hard to compress 10 years of marriage into 10 minutes, but I'll try my best. So allow me to start by thanking the organizers for allowing us this short talk, this short sharing session with all of you regarding our very well known and documented situation that, believe it or not, came to its finale almost a year ago.
After two weeks of receiving the bad news that my wife had stage 4 cancer and was terminally ill, we decided to take a break from hospitals, and doctors to have time for ourselves to pray and to determine what would be the best course of action. After two weeks, we decided on the where, who, how, what for her treatment.
That aside, we decided to try to be as ordinary and as normal as possible. I remember at the start of all of these, she told me once that she appreciated the fact that I never looked at her or treated her as a patient. It is as if our relationship did not skip a bit. I would ask her to do this and that for me, and she would likewise do so, but the bad husband that I am, I never gave her any special treatment. In fact, I insisted that she continue to spoil me. Anyway, the sisters were the ones taking care of her, the bunso. Bunso din ako. Anyway, it's been almost a year now, 1 year will be this coming October 3, that she was taken by the good Lord, I think it was her time. In hindsight, I think it was the right time that the Creator and His infinite wisdom, decided to take her in the way that He did. And I believe her mission here on this earth was fulfilled, and what was that mission?
I think that mission was to create awareness of how to cope with an ailment that has become a very terrible challenge, or a very serious challenge to a lot of people in all walks of life all over the world. I think her mission was to share her experience in dealing with this, with other people that may need support, moral support and inspirational support in dealing with this. For Rio, what begun as a tragic chapter in her life ended in the fulfillment of her destiny; and I'll quote 2Timothy 4:7, which she was fond of saying, “I have fought a good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” This deep faith in Christ, her personal relationship, is I think the real well-spring from which she got her energy, her will to fight, and the will to be able, despite the physical and the mental strain, to be able to even come out and share with others, and be able to also be supportive or be a positive support not only to other people but even to us, her family, as well. And I am not ashamed to admit that this is probably how we were able to get through it also. After all was said and done, we continue have a positive outlook on this and not look at it as a loss.
I also remember her reading from this book, “Streams in the Desert.” And the reason why it is significant is that during one of her treatments, usually after you take chemo, you're baldado , you're tired, and you don't want to talk to anybody. But I remember her telling some of her sisters that as she read the passage, it was as if somebody was talking to her, word for word, and explaining why she had to go or why these things were happening.
If you will permit me it goes like this: “Yes Lord, You have allowed this. I remember these words from streams in the desert that spoke so audibly to me . ” From Isiash 53:3. “Are you experiencing a time of sorrow? I am a man of sorrows and familiar with sufferings. I have allowed your earthly comforters to fail you, so that by turning to me you may receive eternal encouragement and good hope.” It continues with 2Thessalonians 2:16. “Have you longed to do some great work for me but instead have been set aside on a bed of sickness and pain? This is my doing, you were so busy, I could not get your attention, and I wanted to teach you some of my deepest truths. Now I know that this is not about me, but about you.” I think this is what made her increase her drive to keep on going even after the second and third remission.
So maybe what I'm saying is, without finding out why we are here or what our purpose is, it seems doubly harder to cope with the pressures in life, and yet even go through additional pressures not only for the individual concern, but even for their support groups on how to cope with life with all its pressures. You need to find some inspiratio, and if even your comforters can fail you at times, there's only one person I know that cannot fail you and that is God.
Friends, death is not an end. It's only the beginning of an eternity. If Rio were here today, I'm sure that she would tell or remind us that we should make certain of our personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ so that when the time comes, we, too, can be assured of a place in heaven, because of what Christ the Lord has done for us. I think this is why I'm confident. I don't suffer. I don't grieve for the loss of my wife because I know that she has finished a good race, and she's up there in heaven where she always wanted to be. So with that, I'll end my talk and thank you for this opportunity.
(MCJ): Thank you very much, Manong Charlie. Ngayon naman po para hindi po masyadong pormal , we will ask the sisters of Miss Rio Diaz-Cojuangco to tell their stories from their seats. May we start with Tita Ruby.
RUBY ROA (RR): Yes. I wrote mine. Rio was not told that she had cancer. She read it in our faces, through our frozen smiles, but she quickly assured us that it is God's will that she's ready for whatever consequences. And with that, all my sisters,and my brothers, we took to our talents and immediately went into our departments. Georgia here got into the crying department. Every time you say cancer, tears will fall off her eyes; but she was also Rio's shopper. Rio always wanted to feed her doctors, her nurses, the assistants, and even the neighbor. So she would get Georgia to run and buy food and sandwiches, all on Charlie's account, to feed them while they treated her in the hospital, or even sometimes when she's not in the hospital, even when she is just passing by.
Then Aurora and Didith, they were into the computer research. They went into cancer.com , alternate.com , health.com , but Didith, she's my sister, she's in America now, she had one particular job. She had this. She had to tell everybody, “Wash your hands before you approach Rio.” And also most especially, to ask them to gargle before they approach Rio. Even the doctors were asked to gargle because she said many times Rio had said, “You know, cancer is not gonna kill me, bad breathe will.” That's how it went and, Glory, Glory was our pambato , she would arrive after a shoot. She would arrive in the hospital. She would make PR with everybody. Everybody wants to give her extra napkins, toilet paper.
GLORIA DIAZ (GD): We are talking about Standford. When we were in Standford, as you know, most of the nurses there were Filipinas, and of course they knew Rio, and they didn't know enough what to do for her. So when we get there, they always wanted us to say hello, take pictures, and Rio would obligingly take pictures with them in the beginning and then I would take over some of it. But the most important is, it kept her busy from thinking and thinking about herself. And that was very important for Rio because really, if she really thought about it and we would have time to think about it on the way home, our spirits would just keep sinking lower and lower, but Rio was always so busy there were many nurses coming and going. We are 10 girls and 2 boys including Rio, so we would travel to America. In and out. She arrives, she leaves, she arrives, she leaves. So really, during the treatment, between Charlie, their children, and our family, she had no time to sit and feel sorry for herself. Each of my sisters had a papel . Ruby was there, constantly, constantly. We call her “Doctor” Ruby because she would always study everything and try to see if it's good, and of course, it's always good. The doctor knows everything, but we always wanted to. In the beginning, we were trying to give her the right food, but in fact, Dr. Fisher told us, Isn't it a little bit too late to start eating tofu? She already has the cancer, and she should just eat and eat as much as she can. We also have all kinds of self-medication. First of all, in my family, we never had cancer. And the word cancer was never even mentioned fully. The day, I remember, in Charlie's house when we found out that she might have you know what. We didn't say, “what.” Don't say it. It might become true. So it was that way and then Ruby said they were going to wait for their mileage. Ah, when was that gonna be? There were gonna wait one more week or two more weeks before going to America. When we found out, I don't, I said, “No, we got to go today! What mileage are you talking about?” because we were going to get, I think, the flight for free or something.
(RR): Only because Rio was always the practical one. My other sister is Kuroy, she was living in Los Angeles, and one time Rio was feeling sick and had to be rushed to the hospital. I called from Manila and I said, “Kuroy, run over to San Francisco, Rio has to be brought to the hospital.” So in two hours, she landed and was in San Francisco Hospital in Standford. Then she met with Dr. Fisher and the other doctors and all these meetings. About half a day after, Didith arrived and asked what was happening. “Kuroy,” she said, “your dress, it's upside down, I mean, inside out.” “Oh,” she said, “I'm gonna change.” So she checks her bag and all she had were panties. She did not even have her toothbrush, only some canned goods. I think she's protecting herself from hunger. But Kuroy's main job, which Rio appointed to her, was to chika-chika with Charlie. There was a time when Rio was getting having difficulty in getting the IV needle inserted; she was squirming and said “Kuroy, what are you doing here? Go outside. Sit with Charlie, chika-chika with him. He needs you.”
(GD): One thing I remembered when we first had to go to chemo, I'm sure you all went through this, they didn't know whether they'll going to do alternative medicine or chemo. Charlie was thinking of alternative medicine and Rio was thinking of chemo and they were discussing all of these. Of course, Rio won out. She wanted to do chemo. My sisters were there, and they were calling us saying “Can you imagine Rio was shouting: I want to do chemo! I want to do chemo!” I never heard anybody so excited to do chemo. Charlie wanted her to “try first, try something.” We were all afraid of chemo, we were even afraid to say the word. Finally, after doing chemo and everything, Rio said, “You can't fight tumors and cancers with a bunch of carrots. You have to do chemo and you have to fight it.” Things like that. So that was an interesting thing. I don't know if Charlie remembers.
GEORGIE DIAZ-BALLIETE (GDB): The most important thing I remembered throughout the 6 years when Rio went through the treatment and recovery was she always held on to these words, “Never to give up.” I saw her every single day never giving up even when she was suffering so much, or when she is in so much pain. Almost to the last day, she still held on and hoped that there would be a miracle. She just never gave up.
(CC): Also, I think it's important and pertinent here is you must always maintain your sense of humor and find something light even in the most serious of things. This is true not only the person concerned but even the family and the support group because laughter is also a good medicine.
AURORA DIAZ-WILSON (ADW): All this time, Rio did not sit around feeling depress or helpless. She was very much involved with daily activities-the impeachment, the latest sales, fashion, and feeding people. She was very, very involved with everything. She was coordinating from San Francisco for the food of the medical mission happening in Negros. When I asked Rio in her final days, I asked her, “Was all the treatment worth it? Was it worth it?” She said, ‘Yes, it was.” And I answered, “What was God's greatest gift to you?” She said, “Life.”
(GD): Another thing, like what Charlie was saying, is that you should always have a sense of humor, even the family, because I think the family suffers even more than the survivor or the patient. Like all of us, sometimes when I would see her suffer I would say, “Oh, Rio, if only I could get maybe 10% of what you're getting.” And then she'll looked at me and said, “No, make it 5%.” “Maybe 2%,” I said; because I knew she was suffering a lot. On the other hand, everything was practically given to her when she was doing chemo, but when she had her remission, my older sister said: “Hey Rio, the cancer is gone.” or “You're in remission, carry your own luggage.” So, it was an up and down roller coaster ride for all of us, but we still try to make everything funny and light, especially the people around her. But she was so busy comforting us all, the family, and even other cancer patients. In fact, sometimes I would tell her, “Don't go there anymore, just preserve your energy.” We had a lot of friends with cancer, so she would go see them. She was always so busy; I would say, “I've got a headache and I want to stay in bed and have a massage all day.” Whereas Rio, she'd come in from chemo or whatever, or whenever she comes from abroad, she would go to Bulacan, she went everywhere! She went to every hospital and I would said, “Don't go because there's a lot of infection everywhere.” But somehow she survived. I mean, she was okay. She took her charge of her own time and she was happy doing it, and I think that was important for her.
(RR): Again, to end, during all and every activity she had, Rio focused on one reason and purpose: For the greater glory of the Father through his Son, Jesus Christ. That's the only reason for her to live and move. (audience clapping)
(MCJ): We have three microphones situated at strategic areas of the room, and you may come and ask your questions.
(ADW): One of the things I remember, because of our “Doctor” Ruby here, was when the doctors were already giving up on Rio, Ruby had graphed a chart on how Rio was reacting to different medicines and that showed a lot of how positive the reaction was to one of the different chemos. So that helped her a lot.
(RR): The doctors used it and we had an extra year with her. Not because I'm so galing , but I'm sure God led him towards there. At that time the doctor said “No more, finished na .” Then we encourage him and said, “No, no, look, look at the chart.” and he did, and we had that extra year with her. I think every year was an extra given by God.
(MCJ): Yes, you have a question.
(Q1): Yes, good afternoon. I'm a survivor myself but I come from a family with breast cancer history. My mother outlived it for 20 years, my sister for 21 years, and I have another sister surviving for 6 years; I'm the 4 th one but my question is: I admire the great courage of the family, but what was your reflection or the redemptive value of the things and sufferings that you have gone through with all these episodes in Rio's life?
(CC): Ma'm, for us?
(Q1): Yes, what was God's message to each and everyone, among the family when you saw Rio in pain, and how did it touched you?
(CC): Well, you learn how to value life more. You learn to appreciate the little things that maybe in the past you will just ignore as mundane or everyday stuff. Each day, each additional day that you get is manna from heaven.
(Q2): Yung pong mga pamilyang Cojuangco o mga Diaz, kayo po yung mga blessed people, ika nga. Marami po kayong resources, well-knit po yung family ninyo. Paano po naman yung mga katulad naming na wala, yun kulang po ang resources namin na hindi katulad ng sa inyo. Ano po yun maipapayo nyo sa amin, sa mga katulad namin?
(CC): Me first…(interrupted by Gloria.)
(GD): Charlie, I will tell them first. Maybe for Charlie, Rio was the one, and with Charlie, thank God it was with Charlie, because if it was me, I think, I will be a part of your “ tayong mga wala .” Alright? I mean, but of course, I have my sisters' support, Charlie also and the time. But God chooses those who can cope, I feel, somehow. Kasi, andito pa naman din kayo . Now, Charlie, you.
(CC): Yan nga ho yung punto kanina na itong, itong nararanasan niyo, hindi po pumipili ng mayaman o pulubi yan. At saka, maski anong kayamanan ang ibuhos niyo dyan kung talaga hindi magagamot ng siyensiya yan o ng duktor, eh tutuluyan din ho kayo. So ang punto ho dito, kailangan handa tayo, di ba? Yun ho ang punto diyan. Lahat tayo hindi naman pare-parehas, eh. Parehas tayo sa mga karapatan natin. Pero yung iba matangkad, yung iba putot, yung iba mataba, ganyan. Yung iba payat, yung iba mas maykaya, yung iba ah, kulang, kulang-kulang ho . That is why , tayo na mas maykaya kailangan mas marami-rami ang binabalikat. Sini-share ho.
(GDB): I remember, one time, because we have resources like you're saying, so we try to push her to the experimental medicine and we were using all our influence to try to push her there. But her foreign, your foreign friends, the other doctors who say, I think the doctors are too close to her and they're desperately treating her with too much. So it became also not a very good reaction. Very true?
(RR): Did you get that? Sometimes, we like searching the internet. We were searching everywhere, China, Europe, everywhere possible. We were trying to get her the best and whatever was available and then the doctor corrected our mindset and said, “I think you're doing too much. This is, you are already almost risking her life.” So we were put on a hold. One time we had a friend, Leana Ilyana Maramag, and through the internet, we read something about putting you in a hot temperature thermal something. So without even understanding, I just mentioned about the possibility that Rio should go. She flew. She had advanced cancer. She flew to Germany. She searched for this doctor. She put herself in there. What they did was put her there in like an oven, and she tried so hard and she said she in fact was taken away. 6 hours inside an oven, and she was fine, actually when her companion said, “no more, end of this.” They pulled her out of their of there and she went back to the United States in a wheelchair, in a bed, practically dead. And then she said afterwards, she survived it, thank God, but she said, “O my gosh, imagine what else could I do just to kill myself in there already.” So, I think you can trust your doctors here. Go to the internet and eat everything, all the immune encouraging medicines and vitamins. That's important, the immunity.
(MCJ): Siguro pwede din po natin idagdag na kaya din po nandito ang mga foundation kagaya ng I Can Serve is exactly for that purpose. Para po yung suporta ng lahat ng nandito para sa isa't-isa and you know that you have someone who's also working very hard and trying their best to provide the support for everybody such as this foundation.
For the cancer patients, we left some CDs of Rio that she did.
(ADW): One of the things about Rio also is that she hardly ever talked about the pain that she was going through. Maybe just not talking about the pain did not make it really solid pain and one of the only times that she ever mentioned it was when I said to her, “You hardly ever smile.” and she said, “It's very hard to smile when you're in such pain.”
(MCJ): Yes, please.
(Q3) Virginia Santos: Good afternoon, I am Mrs. Virginia Santos, a survivor of breast cancer for 24 years. (audience applause.) I have lived a longer life because of the support of my husband and family, and then what made me so depressed was that I was operated in 1980, and then, in 1993, my husband was afflicted with colon cancer, and he survived for 4 years. I was so very much depressed, dahil sa sama ng loob ko sa pagkamatay ng aking mister , but what I did was to think positive. Because when I was afflicted in 1980 with breast cancer, I didn't mind the sickness that was in my body. I enjoyed life. I served my children. Eight, I have 8 children. All of them are already professionals through the help of God. Then I continued serving the Church so I didn't mind what afflicted my body. And then when my husband passed on in 1997, that made me so depressed to the extent I would rather die than live, even 4 months after the interment. Then when I think of my children, I made myself think positive. I took music lessons, voice lessons, keyboard lessons, and then up to now, at the age of 72 years because I enjoyed my life. (audience applause)
(MCJ): Yes, please.
(Q4) Wilma de Belen: Good afternoon, I am Mrs. Wilma de Belen. I am a nutritionist, a dietician, and I am a breast cancer survivor for 8 years now. Whenever there is a breast cancer forum in our province, that is Catanduanes and Bicol Region, I am usually sharing my testimony as a cancer patient. And most probably, I can remember some of what I'm saying every now and then and I can share it with you. Can I? Okay, this is it. I am a positive thinker. I count the blessings I received from heavenly Father. I have a very supportive family. Our parents have brought us up in such a way that we have God for our guide. The 3L's needed in child rearing had been given emphasis; and that is love, limitations, and as they grow up, with responsibility comes. I took upon the bright side of life. I do not complain. I am contented with whatever little things I have. I know that worrying and being discontented will only make me unhappy and will be the beginning of many big problems to come. In order for us to be happy, these are the things I've learned in life. To be contented of whatever little things we have; live for the sake of others; make sacrifices and pay indemnity. With these, thank you for giving me this opportunity to share these things with you. Thank you very much.
(MCJ): Thank you, very much.
(Q5) Elena de Guzman: Good afternoon po. I am Elena de Guzman, nursing student. Gusto ko po sanang malaman kung yung nangyari po kay Ms. Rio Diaz , ano po yung pinakapinanghinayangan niyo po yung nawala po siya?
(GD): Are you asking her husband?
Elena de Guzman: Anyone po.
(GD): Ah, okay. Well, of course, pinanghinayangan namin because she was just starting her family, her kids were very young, her husband she was still training him to be good, almost trained na . You know, and of course, Rio was so full of energy. Talagang involvedsiya . Hindi ba nag-artista siya at lahat . Ang dami-dami niyang kaibigan sa mga artista, sa mga kung sino-sino dun. Unlike me, I've been in movies much longer, medyo detached ako kasi mayroon akong sariling mundo. Pero si Rio, she would immerse herself in everybody's activity, and she never said no to anything kaya niyang lahat . Yun ang pinangsayangan namin kasi parang masyado pa siyang bata. But sa totoo lang, my mother, when she passed away, she was 86. I thought she was also quite young. So I think age, is not the problem, because if you have something to share with your kapwa , with your friends and family, you would still be a loss. Perhaps Charlie can say more.
(CC): Me, none. Nanghihinayang ako , this is just my opinion, is where you see a couple that fight and leave each other over small things and they're not willing to work together for one another. That is for me is nanghihinayang , especially now that I am a widower and then you'll hear stories that this couple is no longer together because of something that's so workable just by communicating and thinking of the other person first rather than yourself. That's nanghihinayang . It's a waste.
(MCJ): Bali , last question po.
(Q6): As a future nurse, ano po ba yung ma-iinpart niyo sa akin na ma-aadvise ko po sa mga magiging cancer patients ko po in the future.
(ADW and GD): No 1, don't use any perfume. No seriously. No perfume, and toothbrush very well. Di ba? Yun ang talagang number 1 ni Rio, pag nagsalita, kasi medyo malapit kang magsalita, mababa. For the cancer people while doing chemo , ayaw nila.and, of course, always patience and gentleness. At yan naman ang katangian ng Filipina nurses. So magaan ang kamay. Kaya gusto-gusto ni Rio yan mga Filipina nurses. At of course, maybe stay in the Philippines no.
(MCJ): Marami salamat po sa lahat ng mga nagtanong . Thank you very much for being here today for our guests, the family of Ms. Rio Diaz Cojuangco. Masasabi po siguro natin, I don't think that there's anything that's been said today that is very new. Pero ang mahalaga po siguro ay we have been reminded how important a positive outlook is, how important it is never to give up, and of course, to always have our faith in the Lord because the way that Ms. Rio Diaz Cojuangco did, alam po natin na kahit wala na po siya dito sa atin ngayon , for sure she is with the good Lord. And she is right, that she fought the good fight. Thank you very much and good afternoon to everyone. (audience applause).