No love could be stronger than a mother's love. That is why there is no greater pain than a mother losing her own children.
Mothers, as caring and heroic as they have always been, would do everything for the betterment of their children, so much so that they would choose to lose their own lives over that of their sons or daughters. And if the unfortunate event of losing their children happens, these mothers would continue to fight, but this time, against endless pain.
As author Jay Neugeboren describes it in his 1976 novel An Orphan's Tale, "A wife who loses a husband is called a widow. A husband who loses a wife is called a widower. A child who loses his parents is called an orphan. There is no word for a parent who loses a child. That's how awful the loss is."
One of the parents who continue to brave this lifelong battle is Lorelei Go who lost all three of her sons to liver cancer in a span of three years.
As a single mom, Lorelei had been very close to her sons Rowden, Hasset, and Hisham from their early years until they passed on in their late 20s.
"Ako ang tumayong tatay at nanay sa kanila," she said. "Kung kailangang sumali ako sa basketball, sumali din ako para lang ipakita sa kanila na nandyan ako sumusuporta sa kanila."
In this interview with PhilSTAR L!fe, the 65-year-old mom shares her story attesting to the power of a mother's love that no tragedy could ever break.
Bigla niya akong niyakap. Sabi niya, 'Ma, kailangan magpakatatag ka, kailangan maging strong ka. Wala na si Kuya.
Lorelei's firstborn bids his last goodbye
Lorelei's life began to change when her eldest son, Rowden, was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2014.
At that time, she didn't think she would get the shock of her life as her son, whom she describes as "matapang," has been regularly working out at the gym. Lorelei noticed that he was losing weight and would often have stomach aches, but they often regarded them as normal.
Lorelei recalled, "Iyong si Rowden, or Hazzy ang tawag namin, malakas ang katawan, naggi-gym pa 'yun, hindi mo talaga makita na may nararamdaman siya. But end of May, lagi na siyang sinasabi na masakit ang tiyan niya 'tapos nilagnat siya. Akala ko naman, ordinary fever, ordinary sakit... Continuous na 'yun kaya siya na mismo nagsabi sa akin na magpadala siya sa ospital. So sumakay kami sa taxi, dinala ko siya sa PGH (Philippine General Hospital)."
Rowden's results were released a few days later, with the doctor informing him and his younger brother Hasset of the diagnosis.
"Ang unang nakaalam, si Hasset. Kasi umuwi pa ako, kumuha ng mga gamit," Lorelei continued. "So si Hasset, nasa labas siya ng kuwarto ni Hazzy pagdating ko. Sinalubong niya ako, sabi niya, 'Ma, dapat maging matapang ka. Dapat maging matapang tayo kasi ang sabi daw ng doctor, nasa stage 4 na si Kuya."
"Hindi ako makaimik, hindi ako makahinga. So niyakap ako ni Hasset at sinabi na, 'Kalangan kapag pumasok tayo, hindi tayo sad. Kailangan ipakita natin kay Kuya na lumalaban tayo,'" she added.
Although Rowden had been growing weak and tired each day, all three of them, alongside Lorelei's youngest son Hisham, continued to fight throughout his treatment, which lasted for three weeks.
In that short time, Hasset made sure that they fulfilled one of his kuya's wishes—to get married to his girlfriend Liezel.
"Gusto niya talaga magpakasal sila after ng birthday niya sa July 8 pero sabi ni Hasset, 'Ma, hindi nalang natin patagalin. Gagawin na natin ito,'" Lorelei recalled. "Natakot siya na hindi na makayanan ni Kuya.'"
Rowden and Liezel got married in PGH on June 10, 2014. The bride wore a shimmering gown and walked down an improvised aisle while holding hands with their daughter Zakiah. The couple then said their "I do's" while Rowden was gasping for breath on his bed.
The story of their wedding went viral and was featured in one of the episodes of ABS-CBN's anthology series Maalaala Mo Kaya.
Little did everyone know, it was Rowden's last farewell to everyone he loved. He passed away on June 11, 2014, just ten hours after his wedding with Liezel. He was 29 years old.
Lorelei was at home when her firstborn breathed his last. It was Hasset who broke the news to her while urging her to remain strong.
"Bigla niya akong niyakap. Sabi niya, 'Ma, kailangan magpakatatag ka, kailangan maging strong ka," Hasset told Lorelei before saying, "Wala na si Kuya."
She told L!fe that she could barely stand or walk after hearing Hasset's words. "Nanlambot ang katawan ko. Mahirap talaga. Mahirap," Lorelei said in between tears. "Kasi siya yung panganay, napakahirap talaga."
Although the single mom admitted that she never really coped with the loss of her eldest son, her two other children made it less taxing because they were always there to shower her with love.
"Napakabait lang ng mga anak ko, si Hasset at si Hisham, kasi ginawa nila lahat para hindi ako malungkot. Kailangan lalabas kami, sama-sama kami. Lagi silang nakagabay sa akin," Lorelei continued.
The battle continues with her second son's diagnosis
While Lorelei couldn't be more grateful to still have Hasset and Hisham by her side, fate had other plans for her. A month after their Kuya Hazzy was cremated, Hasset urged Lorelei and the rest of their family to have their livers checked for tumors.
"Sabi ni Hasset, kailangan kaming lahat magpacehcek-up kasi malaking question namin kung bakit nagkaroon ng cancer si Kuya na kitang-kita naman sa katawan na very healthy. Sa pamilya din naman namin, walang namatay sa cancer, sa kahit anong cancer," Lorelei recalled.
"So lahat kami nagpacheck—ako, si Hasset, si Hisham, si Leizel, at Zakiah. Nalaman namin na si Hasset pala, malaki na ang tumor sa liver niya. Si Hisham, may cirrhosis. Kaming mga babae, wala kaming sakit sa liver, normal kami."
Between the two brothers, it was Hasset who needed immediate treatment because the progression of Hisham's liver cirrhosis could still be slowed down. According to UK's National Health Service, cirrhosis cannot be cured, but its symptoms and complications can be managed through lifestyle changes, diet, and medicine intake.
Hasset's doctor then advised him to undergo surgery, which he only took after three months since their family still needed to make money for it.
Lorelei has been making an income out of her home bakery business, while Hassett was a celebrity chef who co-owned Le Jardin, a French fine dining restaurant in Bonifacio Global City frequented by local celebrities. He was also best known for his appearances in GMA's Unang Hirit from 2011 to 2015 and Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho from 2013 to 2015.
The operation turned out successful, with the doctor being able to remove the part of Hasset's liver which has a tumor. Lorelei also became optimistic about her son's future, as the doctor assured her that the part of Hasset's liver that was removed would still grow back.
But not long after, the single mom learned that even her time with her second son was running short.
"Tumubo nga yung liver niya, pero nakita na naman ng doctor na meron na namang tumor na nakadikit sa liver niya, meaning cancerous ang liver niya. Stage 3 na," Lorelei recounted.
Veteran broadcast journalist Jessica Soho visited Hasset while he was being treated at a hospital and featured it in an October 2015 episode of her magazine show, which the celebrity chef used to be part of.
In the episode, Soho noted how the body of the good-looking chef quickly declined in one year. Lorelei was also captured saying, "Kung among pain ang naramdaman niya, ganun din ang pain na naramdaman ko, talagang mas masakit pa."
Through it all, Hasset kept proving that he was like his Kuya Hazzy who would always fight for another day. He told Soho, "Gusto ko lang magpasalamat sa mga taong sumusuporta sa akin—sa family ko, sa friends ko, at lalo na sa ilang mga segments ko po sa inyo. Malaki ang epekto sa akin ng Jessica Soho. Aside from this, lalo na yung mga taong nagsu-suffer ng ganitong sakit, huwag kayo mawalan ng pag-asa kasi si God naman walang pinipiling lugar. So kahit saan ka, maririnig niya 'yung prayers natin."
His never-say-die attitude was affirmed by Lorelei in her interview with L!fe, when she said, "Matapang siya, lumalaban. Never siya nagalit. Talagang lagi lang siya nagpe-praise kay God, thankful. Wala kang marinig sa kanya na hindi maganda. Kaya naging strong din ako kasi matapang siya."
Never ako nag-ask ng question na, 'God, bakit mga anak ko pa?' Gusto ko magtanong. Pero sinabi ko nalang, 'Lord, ikaw na bahala sa mga anak ko.'
29-year-old Hasset passed away in PGH on Oct. 24, 2015, after a year of searching for all types of cures, including organic, for his disease.
Grieving was much harder for Lorelei this time, especially because she had a close relationship with each of her sons. She described the successive demise of Rowden and Hasset as "parang part ng body mo na natanggal. Onti-onting tinanggal."
"Naglo-lose weight ako, pumayat ako. Hindi naman talaga madali ang naging situation ko. Para bang, bago lang si Kuya nawala, 2014, tapos 2015, si Hasset naman. Ang hirap," the single mom said as she continued sobbing.
Despite the shock and sorrow that Lorelei had to endure even up to now, the doting mother is just like her sons who never made space for hatred in their hearts.
She explained, "Hindi ako nagalit, never ako nagcomplain, never ako nag-ask ng question na, 'God, bakit mga anak ko pa?' Gusto ko magtanong. Pero sinabi ko nalang, 'Lord, ikaw na bahala sa mga anak ko.' Kasi kahit among sabihin ko, kung 'yon ang kagustuhan niya, wala tayong magawa."
Apart from finding strength in the Lord, the single mom kept herself motivated by thinking that she still needs to live for her youngest son Hisham.
"Kapag makita ko naman si Hisham, kailangan ko lumaban. Nandyan pa yung bunso ko, kailangan ako. Kasi kung mawala ako, sino ang mag-alaga kay Hisham?" Lorelei said while weeping.
Lorelei loses all three of her sons
Because he was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis quite early, Hisham found it fitting to exert all his effort and options in stopping it from developing into liver cancer. And the 27-year-old made sure to do it with an immeasurable amount of courage.
Lorelei recounted to L!fe, "Itong batang ito, kung gaano katapang yung dalawang anak ko, mas sobra siya kasi na-expreience na niya yung sa mga kuya niya noong kailangan siyang lumalaban. Siya mismo nagsi-search kung ano ang dapat gagawin. Sasabihin nalang niya, 'Ma, ganito ang kailangan gawin. Ma, ganito ang iinumin ko, ihanap mo.' Kasi at least siya daw nalaman niya, early stage."
Despite everything, Hisham's condition still worsened and turned into stage 1 liver cancer in 2016. He continued to find ways to beat the disease, more so when it reached stage 3. It was then, Lorelei said, that Hisham learned about cryosurgery.
According to the National Cancer Institute of the United States, cryosurgery or cryotherapy is a minimally invasive procedure in which cancer tissues are thoroughly destroyed with the use of an extremely cold liquid or an instrument called cryoprobe. Since the procedure is minimally invasive, it often results in less bleeding and quick recovery.
In a study conducted by Jiren Zhang and Kecheng Xu which was published on the World Scientific website, cryosurgery is described as a cancer treatment widely performed in China for over 30 years.
"Ang gusto lang ni Hisham, makapunta kami sa China para sa cryosurgery niya kasi yun na daw ang last hope niya na mapagaling ang liver niya," Lorelei continued.
She and her son went to China on Oct. 12, 2017, in the hopes of getting cryosurgery for him. Their trip of over a thousand miles, however, led to another heartbreaking news.
"Pagdating namin sa China, sinabi sa amin ng doktor na stage 4 na pala siya. Hindi na siya pwedeng mag-cryosurgery," Lorelei recalled.
"Umabot kami doon ng 17 days kasi hindi niya matanggap-tanggap... Sabi niya, 'Doc, pwede pa ako mag-extend ng one week?' Para madala pa ba, para hindi surrender agad," she added.
Sinasabi niya sa friend niya na kailangan niya lumaban kasi, 'Paano na si Mama? Paano na si Mama, wala na siyang makasama?
Lorelei and Hisham eventually went home without getting the cryosurgery they had hoped for. Hisham then continued getting treatment at home, inside his mother's room which they converted into their own hospital.
"Ayaw niya magpadala sa ospital pag-uwi namin. Gusto niya sa bahay nalang. Yung room ko, ginawa naming doon ang kwarto niya. Bumili kami ng bed, oxygen, meron na kami lahat doon. Kumuha kami ng private nurse," Lorelei said.
A true cancer warrior, Hisham never gave up on his desire to be healed and kept on thinking that his suffering has a greater purpose.
"Sabi niya, 'Ma, wag kang malungkot kasi naramdaman ko na gagamitin ako ni Lord dahil ma-heal ako,'" Lorelei recounted. "Gagamutin daw siya ni Lord. Talagang never ko siyang narinig na give up siya."
And just as much as Lorelei referred to Hisham as her reason to live, her youngest son likewise kept thinking of his mother as his sole reason to beat cancer.
"Sabi niya, laban kami. Laban lang talaga kami," Lorelei continued. "Sinasabi niya sa friend niya na kailangan niya lumaban kasi, 'Paano na si Mama? Paano na si Mama, wala na siyang makasama?'"
But the purpose of Hisham's suffering turned out to be different from what he thought. On Nov. 17, 2017, Lorelei's youngest son passed away after being rushed to Bacoor Cavite Hospital.
The single mom is still sad to this day for not being at his son's side when he breathed his last.
"Noong tinakbo namin siya sa hospital noong last day niya, nakita ko siyang nahirapan. Doon ako bumigay. Dinala din ako sa emergency room kasi nag-collapse ako. Hindi ako nakahinga dahil siguro sa lahat ng pagod ko, sakit," Lorelei told L!fe as tears kept falling from her eyes.
"Ang masakit lang, hindi ko nakita si Hissham noong umalis siya. Ang laki-laki ng pagsisisi ko hindi ko siya nakita."
As things were going downhill, Lorelei's pain and yearning for her three sons continued to dig deep into her heart. She said losing Hisham was the final blow. "Napakalungkot kasi wala na, wala nang mga anak ko," she said.
"Kasi silang mga anak ko, mga mababait," she continued. "Wala silang ibang iniisip kung hindi mabigyan ako ng magandang buhay habang tumatanda ako. Gusto daw nila iparamdam sa akin na yung mga paghihirap ko as a single mom, worth it ba."
'Ma, 'wag kang laging malungkot'
Five years after the untimely demise of her sons, Lorelei carries on showing her endless love for them by visiting their remains in Lamac Cemetery in Oroquieta City every Friday.
She spent Mother's Day last May 14 crying for a while, as she misses her sons and how they would usually fill her day with so much affection.
"Noong nandito pa ang mga anak ko, full of surprises. Like i-treat nila ako sa spa o sa parlor, then kumakain kami sa labas with flowers. Noong nawala na sila, wala nang nagbigay sa akin ng flowers at surprises. Masakit dahil hinahanap-hanap ko 'yon," she said.
Instead, she spent last Sunday worshipping the Lord with her fellow mothers at the Oikos Christian Church and bonding with her daughter-in-law and granddaughter over simple lunch.
Although it was far from how sweet it was before, the day turned out to be just like how Lorelei's sons would want their mother to be—easy and peaceful.
Hisham told her this after they flew to China for his supposed cryosurgery. Lorelei recalled, "Ang sabi niya sa akin, 'Ma, i-enjoy mo lang sarili mo, 'wag kang laging malungkot.' Isipin mo lang palaging andyan kami para sayo."
Prior to their death, Lorelei's sons had also been telling their mom to keep herself preoccupied with baking. "Lagi yung sinasabi ng mga anak ko, lalo na si Hasset, 'Ma, maging busy ka. I-bake mo lahat ng recipe ko kahit dahan-dahan lang,'" she recalled.
"Dahil dito sa pagbe-bake ko, hindi ko maisip ang nangyari sa buhay ko, sa mga anak ko. Kasi 'di ba kapag busy ka talaga, maiba ang nasa paligid mo," Lorelei added.
Looking back, the mom of three still couldn't believe how she herself survived all the trials she had been through before and after losing her sons. That is why she attributes her unwavering strength and willpower to a higher power.
"Unang una talaga, I praise God kasi andito siya sa puso ko. Siya ang nagbigay sa akin ng strength kasi kung wala ang Panginoon sa puso mo, hindi mo makakayanan lahat ng pinagdaanan ko," Lorelei said. "Kaya thankful ako sa lahat ng nagdasal para sa amin kasi yun ang nagbigay sa akin ng lakas. Kasi wala akong ibang hiningi kung hindi prayer sa church, sa pamilya namin, mga kaibigan. Malaking bagay iyon kasi nalabanan ko lahat."
Today, Lorelei continues to grieve over her sons, just as how no parent in this world could ever move on from losing a child. But because she was strengthened by the love and bravery that her sons possessed, this single mom continues to fight on as a wounded healer for others.
Asked for her advice to parents facing a situation similar to hers, Lorelei replied, "Wag sila basta-basta bumigay kahit gaano kasakit na magkaroon ng anak na may sakit, kahit hindi cancer, kahit anong sakit. Kailangan labanan nila ang nararamdaman nila. At i-surrender nila lahat kay God kasi wala talagang mangyayari. I-lift up lang talaga kay God. Laban lang talaga para sa mga anak, para sa mahal sa buhay."