On January 25, 2005 Bangge Mabanta, a mother of two boys, was waiting inside a clinic to hear the biopsy result of the mass taken from her left breast. She was with her husband Marty. The doctor announced, “Good news and bad news!” Bangge and Marty were all ears as the doctor continued, “The bad news is it’s malignant. The good news is it’s still in stage 2.” Then the doctor went on to enumerate their options in treating cancer. But somehow Bangge was just staring at the doctor but not understanding anything beyond the words malignant and stage 2. Her mind was on her kids, death and what’s going to happen to them. At that time, her mother-in-law just died of cancer and her sister-in-law was just diagnosed with cancer.
When it was her turn to speak, all she could say was, “I’m sorry I can’t think of any options right now.” They left the clinic without any tears in their eyes.
Outside the clinic Marty hugged her so tightly and said, “This is not only your battle, atin ito, we will fight this together.” Then they started crying. That’s when she realized that this was really happening to her, to them. She has the big C! They were facing the biggest trial of their life. Bangge said, “But you know Marty’s hug and words were so powerful that somehow I felt that everything was going to be ok.”
When they got home, the person she wanted to talk to was Lydia. Lydia is the sister-in-law who was just diagnosed with cancer after taking care of her mom who just passed away due to cancer. She and Lydia get along well. They even did pottery together. So she called up Lydia who was in the hospital at that time. “Lydia, alam mo idol talaga kita!” was her opening line. “Di ba I went into pottery because of you. Pati sakit mo ginaya ko na rin!” There was silence, then Bangge started crying. “Wala na talaga kaming pinag-usapan, I was just crying for about 30 minutes on the phone. Marty was beside me.”
After having cried a lot and gaining back some calm and composure, they decided to sit their sons down to tell them about it. At that time their sons Miguel and Gab were 11 and 8 years old, respectively. Having had some cancer experiences in their family, Bangge was able to draw from them to explain things to her young boys, “Remember Tita Lydia got sick and she had to go through medication? And look at her now, she’s getting better. Mama will also go through that.”
No matter how well they tried to put it, the effect on the boys was they got scared. Miguel, upon arriving home from school, always rushed to check on his mom. “When he saw me sleeping he would wake me up just to ask, ‘Ma, are you still ok?’ Parang takot na takot lagi na baka mamatay na ako. Lagi nyang titingnan kung humihinga pa ang nanay nya.” She narrated this with tears about to roll down from her eyes. Then she successfully held them back by laughing.
“My bunso Gab during a mass at home saw everyone crying. He came to me and hugged me tightly. He was clinging to me the whole day, ayaw ako pakawalan. He said, ‘Ma, tell me that you’re going to live.’ And all I could say was, ‘I am going to make sure that I will do everything so that I will live, not just for me but for you guys. I will be with you on your high school graduation.’” Then she paused because the tears she held back earlier finally rolled down.
But Bangge has a way of bouncing back immediately as she continued to talk and this time about something happy. She really is Miss Congeniality as some of her friends call her. She fights her big C with a bigger C, her cheer.
A month after her diagnosis her husband gave her a surprise birthday party in February. The theme was Afro. She had already cut her hair short at that time in preparation for her chemotherapy in March. So everyone came in afro wigs to celebrate with her.
Then came March, the start of the treatments. Chemotherapy is the procedure commonly used to fight cancer by killing the cells that divide rapidly. It is administered intravenously. Before this procedure, you have to undergo a full body check-up. While some do their chemotherapy on an out-patient basis, Bangge did hers overnight. Because of her petite body frame they had to do a slow drip and the overnight stay enabled her body to recuperate before traveling back home. She narrated, “After each chemo session my body was very weak. I was shaking, I could only eat lugaw, my taste buds were not functioning. There was this orange medicine whose mere sight already made my body feel weak.” After each chemo session there was also another check up in order to see if other body organs were also affected by the chemo. “I’m lucky because no organ was badly affected, maybe this was the effect of my healthy living.”
She acquired this healthy living of eating just vegetables, fish and chicken during her years of singing in Brunei where pork is prohibited. It brought me to the question, “Did you go through the usual stages of denial and anger, especially considering that you were already conscious with your diet?” She said, “I did not. Maybe because I was lucky to be surrounded by people who love me. From the very start, I already had Marty’s support. So no more ‘Why me?’”
Husband’s Devotion: What started with that “comfort hug” outside the clinic went on until the end of their chemo sessions. Bangge feels very blessed to have Marty as her husband, “I thought it was normal for husbands to be this devoted to their sick wives but I later found out that it wasn’t. Marty was always with me during my chemo sessions. At home when I was very weak to even go to the toilet by myself, he would carry me. He really took care of me and he was doing all these while I was very ugly, hahaha! Even I myself was shocked at my sight when I would see myself on the mirror, ‘Ngi who’s that monster?’”
She narrated a story that happened during one of her chemo sessions. She was there wearing a tube top and a pretty bandana cheerfully waiting in a room for her turn. She was with Marty. Then there was a very angry lady, another patient, who said, “This is supposed to be my room!” Surprised, Bangge just said, “OK I’ll leave.” Then the angry lady said, “No, you’re here already, I’ll leave!” Later on the doctor told Bangge why the lady was very angry. She was actually envious of Bangge. She asked the doctor why the chemo seems to be working well on Bangge and not on her. The main difference observed by the doctor was that Bangge was always accompanied and supported by her husband while she ended up separating from hers. The doctor even asked Bangge to talk to the lady in order to comfort her.
Friends and family support are another big boost to Bangge’s fighting spirit, “All the well wishes and messages of my friends are so meaningful and powerful. I wrote down all the text messages and inspirational words and I would read them before my chemo. During my treatment I liked having my bading (gay) friends around. They are just so funny, I just keep laughing I don’t have time para masuka, hahaha! I also avoided some negative people during my treatments.”
One negative message she received from a friend, maybe unknowingly, went something like this: All the sufferings you’re experiencing were brought about by your past sins. It was a good thing that she received this email message when she was already ok. She was able to reply to the friend that her God is not a vengeful God. In fact, Bangge was even thankful that she was the one who carried the burden and not her sons.
What did cancer do to you? “The biggest effect was my detachment from everything. Before, I used to be very protective of my kids. I did almost everything for them – fixed their food, did the groceries, market, attended their school activities, etc. Then when I got sick I couldn’t do these things anymore. I realized that even my kids are not mine. I was detached from them, from the everyday things. It was just me and Him and I said, ‘Lord, wala akong magagawa, talagang total surrender, bahala ka na.” Her relationship with God became deeper. Even if she used to be prayerful prior to her diagnosis, her prayers became more meaningful as if each word is really loaded with feelings and gratitude and not just recited.
She also finds herself talking to Him about anything, sometimes it goes like this, “Lord, ano kaya ang ulam namin ngayon?” Bangge also feels that after her diagnosis of the big C, she seems to be getting special favors from the bigger and more powerful C – Christ, “Sometimes as simple as please don’t let it rain. There was also this one time I was so weak after a chemo I could not even open my eyes even if I wanted to see and touch my kids, so I said, ‘Ok, bahala ka na matutulog muna ako.’ True enough when I woke up I was full of energy. Times like this I tell Him, “Ayan ka na naman sinagot mo na naman ako, pinagbigyan mo na naman ako!’” She acknowledges that her heightened awareness of God must have brought all these. It’s possible that all along He has always granted her requests but she was not as appreciative as she is now.
Bangge continued, “But you know somehow, I believe that I’m not going to die because of cancer, kasi pangit e, hahaha! But of course, I also prepared. I was inspired by this book to write down the things that I want to happen when I die. I wrote down that I want to wear maong jeans na butas-butas. I already chose my friend who will do my make-up and the people who will talk. I want a lot of singing during my wake. I want it to be a celebration of my next life.”
Another good thing that happened because of cancer is her ability to appreciate her husband, sons and everything around her more.
She appreciates how her sons are growing up to be very kind young men, “I don’t really aspire that my sons will become these great achievers but I really want them to become good persons and I am always happy to hear mothers praise them for their kindness. Miguel reads the bible. There was one time he even wanted to be a priest, but I think that has changed now.” Miguel is a member of the Antioch, a Catholic youth movement. Gab is also a Mister Congeniality in his group. He is the one who brings the group together. When he notices that a classmate needs a friend, you can count on him to be that friend. Bangge also wants to impart in her sons the simplicity that she grew up with, having come from humble beginnings.
She also appreciates her husband more, “Now I realize how lucky I am to wake up every morning beside the man I love. There is still that kilig factor.” This man whom she met back in 1989 at Tia Maria was God’s answer to her prayer. Having seen unhappy stories of unfaithful husbands, Bangge was not so keen on getting married back in the day so her prayer was, “Lord OK lang akong maging old maid, if I will not find a really good husband.” God not only gave her a good husband to love but a big family (Marty belongs to a family of 10 children) she loves dearly.
She told me a story when she had a major argument with her older son and she ended up crying. Marty, talked to their son in private and said, “When I married your mom, I only wanted 2 things: 1.) to give her everything she wants as much as I can; and 2.) not to make her cry. If you’re the one who will make her cry, I can ask you to leave the house. This reminds me of the saying that the best way a father can parent his children is to love their mother well.
Are you out of the woods? Six years after her diagnosis and after six chemo sessions, series of check-up and other medications including alternative medicine, there has been no recurrence of the big C for Bangge. Doctors say that if there was no recurrence within 5 years, the chances of recurrence is very low. However, they are not discounting the fact of any recurrence in the future. For the meantime, Bangge continues to live life with her bigger Cs – Cheerfulness and Christ.
Catch Bangge’s performances: July 8 Aawitan Kita at the University of Makati; July 1 & 29 at the Resorts World; July 12 & 26 at the Chef and Brewer together with MOBB (Men of Blue Blood).
Cheers to Bangge and cheers to life!