Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Kanser Waryor's Battle With Dusk

I was a young boy when we visited who I was told was my great-grandmother, my maternal grandfather's mother. She was lying on a hospital bed with all these tubes going in and out of her, one ran through a gaping hole on her throat. That was how she breathed air, I was told. My mother sat beside her and I couldn't make out what she was saying to the old lady - almost everyone else seemed to be whispering. The sun had just set but it wasn't quite dark yet, and I was scared but all the grown-ups were busy whispering to each other so I just kept to myself looking out the window watching the surrounding trees outside become silhouettes. Up to now I get this deep feeling of being alone at dusk.

She was most probably in her 70's when we lost her to cancer. Of the lungs, I learned later. She was a heavy smoker just like my grandfather was, who succumbed to emphysema whose last words to me were "quit smoking," just like mother is and I am now.

A couple of years ago I along with my wife and some friends noticed an unusual lump on one side of my neck. A friend couldn't say it nicer - have it checked, kuya, he said. Another friend of his had the same strange lump, had it checked by a doctor, and she was gone in a matter of weeks due to cancer. Damn, it was dusk again.

I tried to remain calm about it, promised to have it checked by a doctor the following day, but that night was one of the longest nights of my life. What if it was, indeed, cancer? Circumstances seem to point in that direction - a great-grandmother whose life cancer claimed, a grandfather who passed away due to a smoking-related illness too, and I smoked heavily. If it was indeed cancer, how long did I have? How does one live the rest of his life if the end's in sight?

We have a friend we met recently during one of our performances. She came with one that show's guest performer from Manila. They have been going out a few months. She was soft spoken, almost always whispering, and had a permanent pretty smile on her face so bright she could light up a room with it.

She defeated cancer not so long ago, I learned. She was diagnosed with Nasopharyngeal Cancer in 2009. After a surgery and a series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, a CT scan showed no signs of the tumor anymore in 2011 and was declared cancer-free. She was even given the go signal to resume work. She's an engineer, by the way.

Then a recent CT scan revealed that the tumor has recurred, and this time it can't be surgically removed. The doctor recommended more advanced chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She's due to start with that this week.

The lump on my neck, after surgery, turned out to be benign. I am among the luckiest people in the world, I'm alive, and the end's not in sight anymore. Ignorance is bliss.

We wish we can do much more than dedicate an evening of music for her and her cause, but I also know that more than whatever little money we can raise for her the greatest gift we can give is for her to know that she's not alone in this arduous journey. April 30, 2013 at Kikan, Baden Powell Inn, Gov. Pack Road, Baguio City, will be Cai's night. We will be singing songs for her, pray for her, for her healing will be our healing too.

Join us.

And in this temporary moment of darkness, Cai's happiness, her inner joy, her smile can light her way out of it and towards the next day's sunrise. She calls herself a "Kanser Waryor," and we're here to see her win this battle with dusk.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Whatever purpose it may serve

I’m a high school graduate. A few days ago, after almost being denied entry to the Department of Education’s main complex in Pasig for wearing slippers (bawal ang naka-tsinelas dito, a security guard told me), I retrieved the results of a test I took 23 years ago.

I dropped out of second year high school when I was fourteen, auditioned for a play at the Cultural Center of the Philippines and realized that theatre was what I wanted to do and learn about for the rest of my life. Then three years later I learned about the Philippine Educational Placement test – pass that test and you get a high school diploma. I gave it a shot and passed the test.

I barely passed the exam, I remember arriving a full hour late for the test that morning in 1990. A few months later, a teacher at some high school in Pasay handed me a piece of paper with a big smile and, “congratulations, pwede ka nang mag-college.” I lost that piece of paper.

Then a few days ago, we were at the DepEd complex because three of my children needed to take the same test after being home-schooled for years, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to get that piece of paper that said that I was qualified to go to college.

One time, I was one of three choices to be the speaker at a high school graduation in an international school in Baguio. The headmaster vetoed my nomination telling the graduating class that having a high school dropout, and, in his own words, somebody who was “not successful” in life for a speaker was not a good idea. The graduating class then requested to have me speak to them at the last school assembly before the graduation.

I was once offered the position of Production Manager for a reputable theatre company in Manila. But when the executive committee met to discuss my appointment, the then managing director of the company opposed it since I did not have that piece of paper. I resigned before they finished their deliberations.

This past year, I met a city executive who’s a lawyer who said he cannot do anything to save 182 trees from corporate greed; lawyers and government executives who defended one corporate entity’s interest over that of the public’s; a judge who declared that removing 182 trees on a hill will have no significant impact on the environment. There’s a lawyer who’s a local legislator who is said to be a protector of illegal gambling operations in the city and another of illegal squatting in the city’s watersheds; an engineer whose idea of a public garden is more concrete and less earth space; newspaper editors and writers who sell frontpages to the highest bidder; a policeman who drives around town in a motorcycle without a helmet…

… they all have really impressive pieces of paper.

At the bottom of the certification I got from the Department of Education, it says – “This certification has been issued upon the request of Mr. Altomonte for whatever legal purpose it may serve.”

For whatever purpose it may serve, indeed.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Break a leg

When casting a play or a film, this is how I conduct my auditions: I ask actors to prepare a short piece, a monologue. I take note of the following: the actor's choice for an audition piece (why choose that particular story?), sincerity in his delivery and his committment to the material and his performance.

An interview follows, here I try to get a glimpse of the actor's personality. I also try to determine if he'll be as committed to the production as he was to his performance during his audition. His past works hardly matter to me, although it helps to know that he did not abandon a production before for no good reason or was a pain to work with, I'm more interested in what he can deliver NOW.

In the last few days, I've heard candidates present themselves. I will choose my candidates the way I choose artists to work with because at the end of the day, that's how it's going to be: whoever's elected to office are the ones that we , the people, will have to work with to make our home a better place for us today and even better for the next generation.

I will listen to their "audition pieces," it's very important to know what concerns they believe are worth putting at the top of their respective platforms. I have my own list of very important concerns that the city needs now, I shall compare theirs with mine.

I shall take note of their sincerity when delivering their "stories," their commitment to it. If I can't personally talk to them, I'll watch their interviews with other people. From that I should be able to determine if the candidate has the personality to deliver on their promises. And while I am interested in what they can do NOW, I shall take note of their past, their track record: what have they done to address the concerns they are now promising to address if elected? And while this is easier to determine in the case of re-electionists, for all we need to do is look back at the last three years, I am also very much interested in what first-time candidates have done in the past as far as their chosen issues are concerned. Afterall, we don't have to be in power to effect positive changes in our community and if they have done nothing before, I am almost sure they will do nothing even if they get elected.

So, to our candidates, as we say in theater... break a leg!