G3 San Diego shines the spotlight on her mother—a strong woman, a fighter, a role model, and her source of inspiration.
I read a poem somewhere that said “our mother is our first country, our first continent—the very first place where we lived…” For me, it rings true, and this gave me so much perspective.
Everything we learn, we learn first from our mother. She’s our first teacher—the first person to love us and the first person we love back. I cannot fully wrap my head around the fact that we all lived inside our mother’s body first before anywhere else. It’s where God created us—the vessel in which He breathed life into us.
So imagine when our mother gets sick—when something’s wrong with their physical body. How do we feel when our first home falls ill? It’s not a pleasant feeling, that’s for sure.
By God’s Grace: A Miracle
I was only 11 years old when my mother was first diagnosed with Lupus. I am now 43. My mother has been sick for 33 years, or most of my life. And when someone in the family is sick, it’s not just the sick person dealing with the sickness. The whole family is involved.
Lupus is a hereditary disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs. This causes inflammation that can affect many different body systems including joints, skin, and kidneys. It’s a difficult disease and it pains me to see my mother suffer because of it.
Some of my earliest childhood memories include my father carving out thick pieces of cardboard for our car windows. That’s because the sun cannot hit even just an inch of my mother’s skin for even just a second, otherwise, she would get inflamed and writhe in pain.
I remember how beautiful my mother was and how the disease changed her appearance. This caused her so many insecurities—especially as a young mom in her thirties of five young children. I also remember her crying often, saying she might never live to see the day that my youngest sister Kika grows up and gets married. But by God’s grace and faithfulness, my Mom is still alive today—celebrating her 44th Mother’s Day.
The Road to Recovery
Her Lupus was eventually cured, but the steroids she took to cure it destroyed her kidneys. There were a good number of years before her kidneys totally deteriorated—from 17%, down to 15% function. She was then diagnosed with Renal Failure and had to go for dialysis for a year. By then, I had just finished college and started working.
Her initial dialysis treatments were twice a week until it became thrice a week. Unlike the time she had Lupus, her dialysis kept her from living a normal life. My mother was a fashion designer in the 80s and she ran a business—three RTW boutiques in Ali Mall, Farmer’s Plaza and Virra Mall in Greenhills. But she had to give all of that up.
Thankfully, she only had to go on dialysis for a year and a half because one day, HOPE Foundation called us through the National Kidney Transplant and Institute. They said that there was a cadaver whose kidney might be a match for our mother. She underwent a kidney transplant soon after. Back then, I was in my early twenties. I vividly remembered wheeling her into the operating room with my family—not knowing if she’d come back alive.
Many agonizing hours after, she came out of the OR. The transplant was a success! We were all so happy. She would finally live her life normally again without the need for dialysis.
But only days later, her body was rejecting the new kidney. Overnight, it became a life-or-death situation. I remember this moment being my mother’s first brush with death.
Thankfully with prayers, isolation care, and more medicine, my mother recovered and her new kidney finally nestled in her body. It was nothing short of a miracle!
Touch and Go
My mother enjoyed 11 years of good health, where she could eat anything and go out into the sun. We were able to once again travel again as a family. And those were the best years we had together.
That is, until our very last trip to Hong Kong six or seven years ago—only my mother and I. I was awakened by her screams of pain. She complained about the pain in her joints, and I just started crying because I couldn’t do anything. We were in a foreign country—I didn’t know what to do!
When we got home, we got the news from the doctor, much-dreaded news. Her transplanted kidney had now deteriorated in function and has failed like her two kidneys before.
She needed to get another transplant. But in the meantime, she went back to her dialysis sessions— three times a week, 4 hours a session. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. My father, siblings and I would take turns going with her for her treatment.
And as God intended it, we became much closer to our mother. With the moments that we spent with her, she’d teach us life lessons while hooked up to a dialysis machine.
Operation After Operation
The saddest part is when we would celebrate Christmas and birthdays in the hospital. Because of her condition and being on dialysis, my mother became very prone to infections and other diseases. Every year, she would have major surgery—a cancer scare, the removal of her spleen, ovaries, the addition of a pacemaker, the replacement of said pacemaker, pneumonia, sepsis and even a full psychotic breakdown. You name it, she has been through it.
All this time, we’ve been with my mother, never knowing which illness would get to her.
Every year we would prepare for her kidney transplant, but a major health crisis would happen to her, and she’d need open surgery. Since you’re only allowed one major surgery a year (to allow your body to recover and heal), these other illnesses would push back her transplant.
And then, the pandemic of 2020 happened. It was her fifth year in dialysis.
Imagine my Mom getting all kinds of infections and diseases in the old normal. Now with a super contagious virus on the rampage, what were my mother’s chances of survival?
Survival Amid the Pandemic
We were all so scared for her—for our family. We didn’t know her chances of survival if ever she caught it. My mother’s considered super high risk with her diabetes and heart condition. But with her ongoing dialysis, she would still need to go to the hospital three times a week—and for more than four hours each time! This increased her exposure to the virus, making things even riskier.
We couldn’t do anything, but pray and trust in God’s protection upon her. In the past five years, she would contract a new illness every year that would require major surgery and months of hospitalization. But in the first year of the pandemic, she breezed through her dialysis with excellent vitals and zero hospitalization.
And that’s because of God’s grace upon her—His mercy and favor to our family, too.
It’s amazing how we are able to celebrate another Mother’s Day with her—each year more special than the last because God sustains her. Every year is a chance at a life where we get to be with her and learn from her. And for that, I feel truly blessed.
Today, she is in her sixth year of dialysis and we are still awaiting the day for her transplant. She is a very young 64 considering all the things her body has gone through from every battle she fought and every victory God won for her. Her frail, sick body—still my first country and my first home.
Of Lessons Learned
I know that there are many lessons that we can learn from our mothers. I too have learned so much and continue to learn everyday. These are three things I learned from her, my mother, Emma Barqueros-San Diego:
“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in sickness, in hardship. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
– 2 Corinthians 12:10
I am strong because my mother is strong. Anything that happens to me is nothing compared to what my mother went through—from birthing five children, starting a career, and living with illnesses for most of her life. If she can survive all that, then I can survive the tiniest of heartbreak or the littlest and biggest of problems. Her strength, of course, comes from a God that sustains her.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies are new every morning. Great is his faithfulness.”
– Lamentations 3:22-23
It’s so easy to get mad at the world or with God when you’ve lived most of your life in physical pain—in sickness. Even my father didn’t think he would be in it “in sickness” or “for worse”—vows he said to my mother many years ago—during most of their marriage. But again, an affliction in one family member is an affliction to all family members.
When my mother is in dialysis, when it wasn’t our turn to be with her (before the pandemic, that is. Since the pandemic, people cannot stay with dialysis patients anymore), we would always have her on our minds—whenever we were working or doing otherwise—from the hours of 7 to 11AM. Only when we receive a message that her dialysis went well would we sigh in relief.
And every time she had her dialysis in the pandemic, she has always gone home safe and sound. That is, as she would say, thanks to the grace of God—her unmerited favor.
Many have lost their parents while they were in dialysis. I have witnessed people die before my own eyes—from a child to a grandmother. Whenever I’d accompany my mother to the hospital, it is a sobering and humbling feeling. It makes you see life very differently. And it makes you know God differently. You begin to realize the gratitude needed to greet every morning as his grace abounds upon you.
“Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
– Isaiah 41:10
In everything she went through—every time my mother is wheeled into the operating room and every time she woke up from recovery, her first and last words are always “Praise God!” Her faith never wavered because God has always healed her, strengthened her, and sustained her.
If before (when she was first diagnosed with Lupus), her greatest fear was that she may never see my youngest sister Kika get married, her pride and joy today is my sister’s only 3-year old son, Mambo. As she continues to live by faith—even when her health was most dire—she would always utter praise and worship and surrender to God.
That is the kind of faith that is strengthened and purified by affliction and longsuffering. It is a faith that lets us believe in all things—believe that God is a God that heals. And when He heals, He is not a God that heals only partially or temporarily, He is a God heals completely—totally and irrevocably.
That is our faith. That God—in spite of the pandemic or whatever sickness in the this world may come—will heal our mother. He will be faithful to His promise as much as my mother has been faithful to Him.
Mother Knows Best
These three things—strength, grace, and faith—I learned from my mother. And along with many life lessons, I always carry these in my heart. They are in my mind, my soul and my body. The same way I was in my mother’s body before, my first country, my first continent, my first home.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers! Nanay, inay, mommy, mom, and mother.
But most especially, Happy Mother’s Day, Mommy! I love you.
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