TIME FLIES! That was the only thought running through my mind as I boarded a plane bound for the Philippines from the United States last February 27, 2009. I was on my way home after being away for two years.

So many emotions were going through me. There were feelings of happiness, excitement and even anxiety. I had been away for two years now and was excited to see my partner, Vickie. I was also looking forward to visiting my second home — SELF.

My first year in the United States was full of trials. I was still adjusting to my new environment when I received news that Vickie was hospitalized with Dengue. At that time, I was still jobless and was dependent on my parents. How I wished I could be with her but that was not an option. I felt helpless but did the next best thing. I pretended to be strong when I spoke to her by phone. It was really hard for me because I felt ashamed. It was her relatives who were taking care of her when I felt that it was my duty to do so. There was nothing I could do except trust in the Lord.
When she finally recovered from a long bout with the deadly fever, I thanked the Lord for coming through and, lo and behold, I found myself a part time job and immediately used my earnings to pay back some of the money I had borrowed from my family. It was clearly not enough, but I felt blessed because I knew God was slowly answering my prayers.
Several months later, Vickie fell sick again. Once again, I felt helpless and knew no other way but to turn to Him. I must admit, however, that I was starting to get upset and began to question what it was the Lord was trying to make of my life. I honestly had moments of weakness and started to doubt God. It was really getting to me and I began to be afraid about relapsing.
But I continued to pray and something wonderful happened to me. I got a better job at a small clinic near our house where the pay was good. Excitedly, I phoned Vickie about it assuring her that I will support the costs of her treatment. For a change, I felt so proud to be able to tell her that everything was going to be just fine.
But I guess the Lord had other plans for us. As the saying goes, when it rains, it pours and that November 2007, Vickie was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer! I couldn’t believe it. It was surreal. My world started to crumble right before my eyes. Why this now? What did we do to deserve it? I didn’t know what to do.
Sadly, I began to drink. I started with one bottle, then two, then three. Soon after, it became a regular habit. Then one night, I overheard my uncle telling my mom that I might have relapsed already. The statement jolted me back to reality. I suddenly realized I was wallowing in self-pity and needed to find solutions, not add to the problem! So I began asking around about her condition. I had relatives who were doctors and they kept me well informed about the disease. I also asked my boss who is a doctor and knew a thing or two about cancer.
At first I was resisting the fact that she had to undergo a mastectomy. I was so afraid for her because I knew of patients in the States who became psychologically affected by this kind of treatment. Some were never able to accept the situation and got depressed.
Thankfully, this wouldn’t be the case with Vickie. It was Vickie who was the strong one. Every time we talked she would joke about her cancer. I guess she knew I was taking it hard. I was questioning the diagnosis and she felt that I was resisting the solutions. A major issue I had was the cost of the operation which I wished I could provide. Yet, again, I felt so helpless.
One day, I went up to my mom and broke down. I cried like a baby telling her how much I felt sorry for myself and Vickie, and that I didn’t know what to do anymore. My mother just hugged me tight and told me to stay strong and believe that I can surpass this trial. She assured me that she will find a way to help me financially. On my own, however, I decided to contact a cousin in New York who suggested that I write my relatives about my situation. I learned how to do this in SELF when we would do fund-raisers.
While I knew it was a good idea, a part of me was anxious since they didn’t know about my drugging past and I was afraid that nobody would help me. But I did it anyway and promised the Lord I will humbly accept whatever will be the outcome. As it turned out, my fears were unwarranted. My relatives came through for me. The help and support I received was overwhelming.
Looking back, I now know that God, in His infinite love and mercy, gave me those experiences because He wanted me to get stronger. When He gave me those trials, He knew I could handle them. God plays an important role in our lives and I’m just grateful that He gave me and Vickie those opportunities to discover His power. To this day I continue to thank Him and commit to Him my remaining life.

ERWIN M. SANTIAGO
GRADUATE 2001