The phrase “like a girl” is often used to humiliate or insult someone. It is thrown around to connote that females are indeed the weaker sex; that women are supposed to be sweet and docile, innocent and delicate — and nothing more.
Before the National Women’s Month comes to an end, I am sharing with you this story of a wife and mother who, against all insurmountable odds, was able to pull through. She managed to face, struggle and triumph over many difficult situations and adversities that plagued her family. And when you’re done reading this, you will realize that you have absolutely no right to complain about inconsequential issues and petty grievances. You will also develop enormous respect and profound admiration for people like her — people who fight like a girl.
A woman, no matter how fearless or independent she would like herself and others to believe her to be, can only take so much adversity and pain, loss and betrayal, and death brushing near.
At one point, she falls.
She admits defeat.
She dies inside.
There are women, though, who take beauty and strength and courage to a completely new level. Women who go out and grab the world by the lapels. Women who don’t allow themselves to be trampled on nor be bullied by life. Women who find their voices amid the noise and chaos, and use them to affect change. Women who fight tooth and nail to assert their place in the world. Women who claw their way out of an impossible situation. Women who make other women proud to be women.
This story is about one such woman.
Marie was a young bride in 1993 when, just a year after their wedding, her husband, Carlos, decided to pack his bags to work in the Middle East. Finding a decent, well-paying job in the country to support a family was like trying to find a needle in a haystack, the young couple realized. Fortunately, behind the corporation that Carlos was able to work for was a large and generous employer. The pay was awesome, the benefits were excellent, the working conditions were humane and, most importantly, he was in the company of many other OFWs like him and he was entitled to a biannual vacation.
Their separation notwithstanding, life was good. Financially, they had more than enough that they could even afford to generously help Carlos’ family. But however substantial their support might be to his parents and siblings, it never seemed to be enough.
They wanted Carlos to leave his wife and to return to them.
That was the first thorn that Marie had to endure during their marriage — a thorn which left a pain that lingers up to this day, almost 24 years into their marriage. Yes, Carlos did not heed the persistent call of his family, but Marie still feels that he could and should have done more to fight for her and their relationship. As it is, she has never heard him defend her against their lies and accusations. Carlos’ continued silence kept feeding his family’s open dislike (sometimes even bordering on hate) towards Marie. It left her feeling that her husband does not love her enough.
Now, already with four kids (aged 20, 18, 14 and 10), Marie’s relationship with her in-laws has not shown an iota of improvement. The people who should have been her partners in raising her children while Carlos is away are sadly the same people who are making things harder for her family.
Like any other OFW family (Carlos has been working in Riyahd for 23 years now), Marie and Carlos’ family experienced — and still continues to experience — the adverse effects of long periods of separation.
The couple has, over the years, accumulated numerous issues that remain unsettled between them. (Marie does not want to burden her husband with unpleasant news or petty details that could affect his work. When he is home for vacation, she also avoids bringing up serious discussions as she wants his short stay to be as relaxing as possible.) Their kids have also grown up emotionally distant from their father.
When Carlos is around, the children do a lot of tiptoeing around him. The awkwardness and uneasy relationship between the father and his four kids is heartbreaking for Marie but she has no idea how to fix it. She knows that the love is there, but the familiarity and closeness that only develop through years of constant togetherness are unmistakably absent. Carlos has missed out not only on the uneventful day-to-day experiences but also on most of the milestones in their children’s lives. And now that their only son is struggling with his sexuality and is seeking the acceptance and assurance that only a father can provide, Marie doesn’t even know how to broach the subject to Carlos for fear that he wouldn’t understand.
As if those trials were not enough to test a woman’s strength, Marie was dealt with two consecutive tragedies recently, the direness of which could propel a lesser woman to give up completely.
In August of 2013, she learned that her husband had Stage 5 Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) and, thus, urgently needed a kidney transplant. While looking for a possible donor, he had to undergo a three-times-a-week dialysis.
Knowing that her husband’s critical condition required her presence and close attention, she left their children and flew to Riyahd. She stayed there for 5 months —- 5 months of worrying about the uncertainty of her husband’s health and about the children she left behind.
When they came back to the country in time for Carlos’ vacation, their days had been occupied mostly with her husband’s dialysis sessions and a battery of pre-transplant tests for both Carlos and his brother, who agreed to be the kidney donor. However, all those diagnostic tests and procedures, the approaching surgery itself, and the post-transplant maintenance medications all came with hefty price tags. They had to raise P2 million for the transplant alone!
Marie was unemployed at that time, but she and the children were able to raise around P800th by designing, printing and selling shirts to friends and relatives from both near and far. With that amount added to the grant they were able to secure from Philhealth, the proceeds from the sale of Carlos’ car in Riyahd, and the loan that his company generously approved, the kidney transplant happened in July 2014.
Barely three months after the surgery, Carlos had to go back to Riyadh — the transplant had left them knee-deep in debts. They also had to deal with the exorbitant cost of the anti-rejection drugs and, of course, the continuing education of their children.
Still reeling from that financially debilitating, life threatening, emotionally draining and spiritually trying tragedy, Marie was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2016.
Thanks largely to her friends and former schoolmates who readily extended a much-needed hand, Marie was able to undergo mastectomy three months after. The rest of the year saw her completing her chemotherapy, while the start of 2017 witnessed her contending with a series of radiation treatments.
Her fight is far from over, though.
Next month, she is scheduled to undergo various tests that will determine if all those procedures had been successful in ridding her body of the nasty cancer cells. Recently, she learned that her husband is now at the ICU in Riyahd due to a post-kidney transplant complication called Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). He had to undergo dialysis due to fluid retention in the lungs. He also developed pneumonia caused by excessive exposure to sandstorms that continue to rage on in the Middle East. Marie is determined to fly there once she gets a clearance from her oncologist.
When asked how she is able to handle all those family crises, she has a simple yet deeply insightful response. “I accept my fate, I have complete trust in the Lord, and I welcome each day with a grateful heart and a positive disposition.”
Now, what are YOU whining about again? Get up and fight. Fight like a girl!