MANILA, Philippinesâ€”Flowers and kisses.
Thatâ€™s what Michelle would give her mom, Cristy Arroyo, 44, on Motherâ€™s Day.
Not this year. Cristyâ€™s youngest daughter lost her three-year battle with leukemia. She was only 15.
At noon last Sunday, the respirator was finally removed. Michelle and Cristy held hands. A few minutes later, Michelle let go of her motherâ€™s hand.
Cristy said: â€œShe really made sure her father was home safe before she left us.â€
Even from her hospital bed, Michelle sought to save her father Roger, 46, who was captured by Somali pirates last year by writing a letter of appeal to his captors. The pirates reportedly berated Roger when they received her appeal.
The Inquirer ran a story on Michelleâ€™s appeal. It also caught the attention of Kenya-based volunteer group Ecoterra International that offered to relay Michelleâ€™s plea, through its Somali members, to the captors.
Last February, Roger and his fellow crew members were released after more than three months of captivity.
Despite her illness, Michelle remained strong, Cristy recalled. She taught taekwondo to children in their neighborhood in Antipolo City even after her painful chemotherapy sessions.
In her hospital bed, Michelle painted colorful flowers, and was preparing for her first one-man show to raise funds for her expensive treatment and medication for leukemia.
Cristy said she lost a â€œsweet, loving and thoughtfulâ€ daughter who always slept in her arms.
â€œI am proud to be her mother,â€ she said during the last night of Michelleâ€™s wake on Friday. â€œI am thankful the Lord gave her to me.â€Fighting for life
Cristy first discovered Michelle had leukemia in October 2005. Two types of cancer cells were poisoning her blood.
It broke the young girlâ€™s heart. She wanted to become a fashion model. Instead, she had to undergo treatment and started losing her hair. It was more painful for Cristy, who kept asking: â€œWhy did it have to be my daughter?â€
While her two sisters excelled in academics, Michelleâ€™s heart was in sports. She earned medals in taekwondo and played volleyball.
Cristy knew she had to be strong for Michelle. Through her motherâ€™s guidance, Michelle fought for her life. Being a black belter, she gave free taekwondo lessons to children in their village. She remained with the Church choir. She continued her hobby of cooking and just last year, took an interest in art. She painted flowers with bright colors.
Michelleâ€™s courage earned the love of the nurses who took care of her at the Seamenâ€™s Hospital in Manila. Using her camera phone, she took videos of her painful bone marrow extraction procedures to show to her father and friends.Father captured by pirates
Her condition worsened in November 2008. Around the same time, Cristy learned that her husband Roger was among the 18 Filipino seamen on board oil tanker Chemstar Venus that had been seized by pirates off Somalia.
Cristy was beside herself with worry. She had to buy expensive medicines for Michelle. She had to seek help for her husband. She worried about her eldest daughter Rochelle, 19, who worked at a call center and would come home late. She also looked after her second daughter Christelle, 18, who was still in school.
â€œI did not know what to do,â€ Cristy said.
Feeling alone and desperate, she thought of ending her problems by jumping into the tracks of the Light Rail Transit (LRT). But what would happen to her children?Faith kept her strong
She found strength in her faith.
â€œI prayed for healing,â€ Cristy said. â€œI thanked God that despite everything I was going through, I was healthy.â€
While her body was getting weaker, Michelleâ€™s heart remained strong. Just as her father Roger was determined to come home for her, Michelle was also determined to stay alive until his safe return.
Last December, Michelle wrote a letter appealing to the pirates to set her father free. Cristy e-mailed her daughterâ€™s letter to the Cancer Warriors Foundation, which had been helping the family finance Michelleâ€™s expensive medication. The e-mail circulated online until a reader forwarded it to the Inquirer four days later.Prayer of surrender
They were still celebrating Rogerâ€™s safe return in March when Cristy again rushed her daughter to the hospital. Michelle was suffering from extreme headachesâ€”the cancer cells had reached her brain.
In the next three weeks, mother and daughter continued to pray. One day, Cristy opened her prayer book and saw â€œa prayer of surrender.â€
She left the room and cried. Was God trying to tell her something?
Cristy went to the chapel. â€œI asked the Lordâ€”if He wants to take my daughter back, please donâ€™t let her suffer anymore.â€Letting go
Although Michelle could not talk because of the respirator on her face, she used her cell phone to send text messages to her family, her doctor and the nurses. She requested for the removal of her respirator.
The doctor said they would remove the respirator if she could sustain breathing on her own. Last Sunday, they took her off the respirator.
Although she had lived a short life, the wake for Michelle was unusually crowded. It was attended by her friends and teachers, her choir mates and neighbors, even her nurses. They all told Cristy how deeply her daughter had touched their lives.(inquirer.net)