by Sue Ellen Nario

Two years ago, on Valentine's Day, I received what would be one of the most unforgettable phone calls I will ever receive.

We were just finishing up from our dinner when Tita Emma called, crying, to tell me about Tita Mama's condition. It was only a few days ago that I last talked to her and that was when she finally told me that she has cancer. My tita was always the independent one, the strong one, she could and would do anything. But on the other end of the line, even though she was trying to be strong, I know she was really scared. 

We kept our head high, I was trying not to cry. It's breast cancer. People every day beat this shit, right? It's the most common one, there are so many studies and advancements with this type of cancer, she said reassuring both of us. I promised I would stay with her in California when she undergoes chemo. I was going to see her in March. 

On Valentine's Day, Tita Emma tells me that they found out she has Stage 4 breast cancer. "What does that mean?" I remember asking her. She tells me it's the most advanced stage. That it has metastasized to other parts of her body. I started crying. We both were crying. She was going to do a round of chemo that night. The following morning, I get another call. She's in a coma and she may not wake up. I booked the earliest flight to San Diego. 

Seeing her in the hospital was not easy. I'm used to seeing her smiling face, she'd tease and hug me, we would chat for hours. I'm never going to have that again. Tito Tim tells me that she doesn't have much time. I kept touching her hand, it felt warm and comforting and it felt like home. All I wanted was for her to hold my face in her hands and start her sentence with, "anak..." I so badly want her to hug me one last time. 

On February 21, she quietly passed. It would've been their 21st wedding anniversary, too. She was at home, surrounded by everyone who loved her. We still do. 

I very much still do.