(1st Place, Toastmasters District 75, Division H, Area 74 International Speech Contest 2019)
Ladies and gentlemen, I have The Big C. Yup. The Big C. I got it.
Toastmasters, friends, it started on a work trip in Cebu. Just like any other previous work trip, I rose early, showered, and headed down to take my breakfast. The sun was shining quite brightly through the hotel’s wide terrace.
My phone rang. It was Mama. I excused myself from the table and took the call in the restroom. This was probably important, I thought, judging from the tone of her voice.
“Anak, may findings. I have cancer.”
My life took one major pause at that moment. Like a CD player that began skipping after being jolted, one question began repeating in my mind, over and over: What do I do? What do I do? Tears began welling up in my eyes.
My flight home that day was one of deep sadness, but also, my mind started moving. I was determined to reverse the skipping and move on to the next track. My technical side began to take over as I thought about a solution: Papa would do the government and medical paperwork, my sister Sarah would handle all records, and I would be in charge of PR and liaising for donations.
We had a roughly two-year plan to get Mama through treatment. Despite the uncertainty, it was a good plan. I knew it would work!
But somehow, I felt something was lacking. There was something that I failed to consider. I just couldn’t think of it.
One afternoon, a few days after my Mom’s first few chemo treatments, a day I was personally dreading finally arrived. She came home, bald as a shiny one peso coin.
“I had it cut off na,” she explained. “It was falling off anyway.”
We didn’t expect her to lose her hair that fast. More importantly, I didn’t expect her to just go bald as direct as that. I expected her to purchase a hairpiece, an item which somehow make her appear as if she never had cancer.
Then it hit me. If my Mama could go bald, why couldn’t I? I marveled at the thought that formed in my mind.
See, I’m the vainest person ever when it came to my hair. Having been blessed with the most unmanageable of wavy locks, I obsessed with haircare as a child. I combed and sprayed and applied all sorts of hair products to manage my hair. But I never, ever sported a bald look. The only time I went bald prior to that day was a move imposed on me without consent in Grade 3– and resulted in me throwing the tantrum of the decade.
But I did it. I went to my barber and asked for a “semi-kal” look.
“Wow!” was what my Mama exclaimed when I walked in the door the next day. “Now we really look alike!”
I saw that she was surprised, yet happy with my new look. My sister also cut her previously long hair, to a near-boy cut look. In short, we all cut our hair for our dear Mama.
At that very moment, she asked me to sit on the couch. and we snapped a selfie together.
And for the next one year or so, throughout her chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone treatments, we have been snapping selfies everywhere. On her hospital bed, in the car, in the mall, anywhere. During those times, I felt happy that Mama’s confidence was growing and her insecurity was slowly fading. And I always liked the way our photos turned out: a bald mother and a bald son, with round heads like pandesals, always smiling.
On March 2, 2017, just two days before my birthday, Mama and I posed for one last photo in the hospital. It was her last treatment day. This time, however, her hair was already longer than mine.
You’re probably thinking, so what’s so special about cutting your hair? How exactly did that help my Mama?
Well, if there’s one thing I quickly learned with my Mama’s battle with cancer, is that cancer is not just a disease of the body, it can also a disease of the mind and heart. While chemotherapy and radiation can do so much to halt the spread of one’s cancer cells, another battle is being waged on the emotional front. And it can get pretty lonely out there, when you’re alone with your thoughts and emotions. If a cancer patient is losing that front, that can even be more crippling than the cancer itself. And that’s why I had to be there for my Mama. And the best way I knew how, at that time, was to make sure she didn’t feel insecure with her look. So I went bald.
So, remember what I said at the start? Yup, it’s true, I caught the Big C. You heard me--not my Mama, but me. And it’s not cancer. It’s two big C’s: care and concern. I learned how to really care, and how to be genuinely concerned. And believe it or not, just little bit of care and concern can mean a lot to someone who may need it the most. And sometimes, all it takes is one simple haircut.
How about you? Got that bit of Big C in you?