This is the third excerpt from my commencement speech last December 18. I talk about my cancer diagnosis and how it has changed my life.
Earlier, in October 2021, I decided not to be partisan in the May 2022 elections. In my discernment at that time, it was clear to me that disinformation was going to play a big role in the months to come.
In response, together with other colleagues, I co-founded and serve as the founding president of the nonpartisan Movement Against Disinformation.
In addition, during the pandemic, I had become the lead lawyer of the Lumad Bakwit Schools in UP Diliman. The most audacious I wanted to do was the rebuilding and expansion of Lumad schools in Mindanao.
In such a dream project, which I shared with others who have become my closest associates and best friends, I would be able to converge many of the issues I cared about. It would be a full circle to when I was 15 years old.
Anticipating a heavy workload in June, I decided to have my physical exam three months earlier than usual – in April instead of July.
And then the results came out. First the PSA, followed by an MRI, a biopsy, and a Pet-Scan.
The bad news: I had prostate cancer.
When you read about this cancer and possible scenarios, there is always an optimistic air. Prostate cancer is compatible with long life.
But it is different when your cancer is no longer localized and has spread to your bones, lymph nodes, or organs. My Pet-scan indicated metastasis to the bones which lessens the odds of survival considerably although there are still treatment options.
In the meantime, in August, I had to do a minor procedure in the hospital called TURP where the patient is usually out of the hospital in 2-3 days.
And then the unimaginable happened. I lost a lot of blood in the operation, lost consciousness, and my doctors and nurses could no longer detect my blood pressure.
I was brought to the ICU and stayed there for a couple of days.
A week later, I was about to be released when it happened again – bleeding, low blood pressure, and being near death.
This time, I was conscious and for a few hours suffered extreme, excruciating pain.
It became so unbearable that my wife and I thought that the best thing to do was to accept God’s plan and if that meant to surrender to what we thought was his will and accept death, then so be it.
But then I realized that this was not the prayer God wanted us to utter. A lifetime of trying to discern God’s will made it clear that this was not yet my time.
And so we changed our prayer and asked God for me to bear the pain until the pain medication comes and then after that to pray for healing because I am still called to a mission in this world.
I stayed in the hospital for another 10 days and during those days, I would wake up at 4 am every day when the nurse would come in to take my vitals.
I would meditate and pray, waiting for the sunrise while also watching my sons sleeping. They were taking turns at night so my wife could rest. That was very comforting.
Since I was discharged from the hospital four months ago, that has become a habit, waking up at dawn, contemplating on the Word of God, reflecting on my priorities, sometimes reaching out in serious conversations to those also awake at that time.
When I came out of my second near death experience, I thought that it was because the Lord still wanted me to be still active—in the climate change negotiations, by teaching, in the Movement Against Disinformation, and in launching the Mindanao Climate Justice Resource Facility.
With the latter, some of the best people in Mindanao and in the Philippines, some quite young, have come together to get our new organization going.
I was wrong about my remaining mission.
I now truly understand this passage from Psalm 127: “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”
I now realize I was given more time so I could be a witness to the love of God, to the power of the Lord who is a suffering servant and who heals through the cross.
I was given more time so people from all over the country and the Philippines could show their love for me through prayers, novenas, and, yes, good food. I share and proclaim my gratitude.
I was allowed the grace to live another day so I could go to Mindanao and meet with and give a talk to consecrated sisters who prayed for me when I was hospitalized and saw before their eyes that God answers our prayers.
I was given more time so I could be with my family and friends for a little more time and learn to listen better, ask for their forgiveness for my failures, and show my love and faithfulness as God has shown me even greater love and faithfulness.
I realize I was given additional time so I could proclaim: Laudato Si, O Dio Mio! Blessed be, my Lord for everything – this planet, our history, even my sickness and coming death – is grace!
Blessed this New Year, this new life!
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