“It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.”
― Lemony Snicket, Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid
I wrote a blog post for Ate Yollie sometime last year to help raise funds for her medications and chemotherapy sessions. Sadly, Ate Yollie passed away last January 25, 2018 after an almost seven-year battle with breast cancer and bone metastases. I would like to post this in loving memory of Ate Yollie.
How I met Ate Yollie
I first met then 58-year-old Yolanda “Yollie” Santos in 2009 when I was the head of the Lectors and Commentators’ Ministry in our parish. Back then, she was the head of Mother Butlers’ Guild (MBG) so we just talk and discuss things every chance we get.
She was the type of person you can easily get along with. She’s soft-spoken, very accommodating, friendly, and exuded a very vibrant personality.
When I found out that she used to be a reflexologist, I didn’t hesitate to invite her to our house to give us a regular home service massage.
A native of Rodriguez (Montalban), Rizal, Yollie worked as a caregiver in Taipei, Taiwan from 1996 to 2001. She provided solely for her kids after her separation from her husband while her kids were left to her mother’s care.
In 2004, she studied Reflexology at the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Calamba Youth Training during her stay in Pansol, Laguna while overseeing her uncle’s property.
There she started working as a full-time reflexologist for various resorts near Mt. Makiling, servicing Korean, Japanese, and Filipino patrons paying PhP 500 for a half an hour massage.
In 2008, Ate Yollie’s mother urged her to go back to her hometown in Montalban to personally take care of her three kids and when she went back, she started attending church and joining MBG.
In 2010, Ate Yollie suffered Invasive Ductal Carcinoma or Breast Cancer (Stage 1) where her right breast was removed. She was declared free after undergoing chemotherapy, but after a year (June 2012), she was again diagnosed with bone metastases or bone cancer that prompted her to undergo a series of chemotherapy again.
“I couldn’t speak. I wondered where I would get all the money for my chemo. I started questioning God, ‘Why me? I’m a good person. I’m not a murderer!’ But I apologized afterwards and thought it was just my fate and it was a test of faith,” said Ate Yollie.
With God’s providence, she was able to finance her chemo sessions through guarantee letters from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), and financial support from some co-parishioners, lectors, friends, parish organizations, and government officials.
Her one regular session cost around PhP 30,000, excluding the dextrose, laboratory fees, and medicines.
“The doctor said that my cancer could be hereditary because my grandmother died of a brain cancer. Or it has something to do with what I eat. I had weak bones ever since I was a child. I would often fall from the stairs. So now I was advised to drink milk and Calcium Caltrate. I have to be extra careful this time. Although it’s not viral, I still have to wear a mask whenever I go out because I already have a weak immune system,” said Yolly.
After a while, we thought Ate Yollie was recovering as she was able to serve the parish again as a member of the LCM. But her drastic weight loss became noticeable, maybe not only from the pain she’s suffering but also from worrying too much on where to get money again for her dextrose, laboratory fee and maintenance, vial, and other needs for her next sessions.
“I used to be stubborn. I don’t go to church before. But I’m glad I attended church before I had this sickness. I’m really scared – scared for my grandchildren and kids. I’m also sad because there are very few people who devote their time in serving the church. I feel I was brought here to serve and prepare for my condition. Please pray for my recovery. I still would like to serve our parish in the future,” said Yollie.
Her church service didn’t last long tho as she decided to stop after having a hard time walking due to a twisted vein in her spinal cord.
Her doctor advised her to undergo therapy sessions and to have a back brace to support her back, but she had no means to finance it. She had no regular job and her kids had their own families too. She had no one else to turn to.
We tried helping Ate Yollie by raising funds, while some help came, they were not enough to fully support her needs and sustain her continuous medications and therapy sessions.
Our last encounter
Last December 31, 2017 before our Sunday mass, I chanced upon Ate Angie Abegan (a co-lector and Ate Yollie’s frequent visitor) and asked her about Ate Yollie.
There she revealed Ate Yollie’s getting weaker and weaker every day so she had to visit her frequently to talk to her, buy her food, massage her legs, or even bathe her.
I wanted to just give her money for Ate Yollie, but something inside me urged me to go see her. Little did I know that would be our last encounter.
After the mass, I went with Ate Angie and lay minister Arthur Libertino to Ate Yollie’s house. True enough, she hasn’t eaten her breakfast yet and it was already past 9:00 am.
I felt sad looking at her condition. She was lying in a wooden bed (near the window and door so maybe she can access them easily) with a small pillow under her head, looked very weak and can’t even move.
Ate Angie told Ate Yollie I was there, but she didn’t react. I thought she just didn’t hear it. But as I spoke, she started recognizing me through my voice.
“Ikaw pala ‘yan, ate Mylene. Alam ko ikaw ‘yan dahil sa boses mo. Salamat sa pagbisita (Oh, it’s you Ate Mylene. I know it’s you because of your voice. Thank you for visiting me),” she said.
“Yes it’s me. How are you?” I asked her. She answered briefly. But I knew right there and then, she can’t see me anymore. She can only hear my voice.
I had to leave Ate Angie for a while to buy food for Ate Yollie. She requested for French fries, spaghetti, and coffee in Jollibee, but I ended up buying her spaghetti and juice in a nearby restaurant because there were too many people in Jollibee.
Everyone’s buying a cake or desserts in preparation for the New Year’s celebration that night. So when I got back, Ate Angie already finished massaging Ate Yollie and we had to go home as well because we also need to prepare for the New Year’s.
After that, I wasn’t able to visit Ate Yollie again. I wanted to but Ate Angie had to leave for an out of town trip for a month; while I became too busy with my new work that there wasn’t a chance to do so. Some of our co-lectors visited tho but they reported she can’t recognize people anymore.
A text from a good friend and co-lector informed me that she finally joined our creator on January 25, 2018 after a day or two in a comatose at the East Avenue Medical Center.
It was a sad day for me, but I know she will be in a better place right now, where there is no pain, no sickness, and no sadness.
Ate Yollie, wherever you are, please know you will be missed. Thank you for the friendship, your kindness, and dedication. You are now home with the Lord. May your soul rest in peace.
For those who wish to visit her wake, her remains lie at the Antipolo Funeral along Brgy. Manggahan highway, Rodriguez, Rizal. As of the moment, schedule of internment is yet to be determined.