The WORD in other words (2023) by Fr Flavie L. Villanueva, SVD — JPIC-SVD Central Province / Founder, Arnold Janssen Kalinga Foundation
As I write this, I think of my mother, who was diagnosed as having “primary ovarian cancer.” I brought her to the hospital on December 27, 2021 due to her persisting edema. Several tests were prepared, and halfway through these, a dear friend and a diligent Dr. Alvis Sarte worriedly told us that he wanted to do another ultrasound on Mommy. Less than 30 minutes later, the test revealed that Mommy has two masses – 5cm and 4.5cm respectively, in her ovaries. There were more tests needed that day, but my mother asked me that we address the matter after New Year. On January 3, 2022, I brought her back for the needed work-up to diagnose her tumors.
While in the hospital, as a matter of procedure, we both went through COVID testing. The test showed that she was positive while I tested negative. But I cannot in reason and conscience leave behind the person who first cared for me and who taught me how to care. Eventually, the tests, work-ups, and consultations revealed that Mommy was dealing with “primary ovary cancer,” both aggressive and metastatic.
On her second day at the hospital, the medical staff drained at least a liter of red fluid from her lungs. In conclusion, since Mommy is convinced that surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation were not her options, “palliative care” was the best choice, the care that relieves pain, symptoms, and stress. When a person becomes terminally ill, the best approach is “palliative care,” that is, giving the best care for that person.
Today, Ash Wednesday, we begin the season of Lent. The priest marks the sign of the cross on the forehead and prays: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or at times, he says: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is the initiation rite to the Lenten season, which calls us to fervently pray, fast, and offer alms.
The ashes are outward signs to remind us of our calling and our end. Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, the invitation today of holiness may be seen as offering “palliative care” both for our souls, and for the marginalized, outcast, sick, and tormented around us. Lenten season is a time for “palliative care.” Palliative care is about loving the person without hesitation through sincere and authentic acts of fasting or self-denial, almsgiving, and prayer or offering of self to God.
Almsgiving should never be from our extra or spare change, but it is sharing because we recognize Jesus in the other person. Similarly, our fasting is willingly and readily giving up something that we value so that others may have life. And when we are praying, it is not memorizing all the litanies or going to Mass every day; instead, koinonia is what matters most, meaning a change of heart, not only for this season but all throughout one’s life.
Lent is an opportunity, a time to sincerely realize our weaknesses and our resolve to give the best of ourselves so that we have a good relationship with God. Lent is recognizing that God is the source of all care. It is love with joy! And palliative care most often leads to new life. Mommy, thank you for teaching us what palliative care is!