(Laywer Zainudin “Zen” S. Malang sent this “year-end confession” to his classmates at the Ateneo de Manila University School of Law in December 2020, a copy of which he sent to MindaNews editor in chief Carolyn O. Arguillas after informing her on January 22, 2021 that he was diagnosed with a rare cancer two years earlier. Malang wrote an occasional column “A Moro in Exile” for MindaNews. He gave permission to publish this as his last piece He passed away shortly after the call for prayers at noon on Saturday, March 20 in his home in Cotabato City. He was 54.)
Boys and girls, it has been a terrible year so I thought one good way of bringing it to a close is by coming clean with you. This is actually prompted by a recent visit by two of our buddies, Laurence and Marla, who came to visit me and asked me “Zen, don’t you think it is time to let others know?”. And I thought, siguro nga. I am still not prepared to go public with it but everytime kasi nangungumusta kayo and I give the usual “ok lang ako” reply, that white lie nonetheless gives me an uncomfortable feeling.
I have been hiding it from most people for two years now because I didn’t want to burden others. My initial reaction when the doctors broke the news to me was to go to my favourite beach and wait out my time there. That was my Plan A, seriously. No Plan B because I was so convinced it was a sensible course of action. But to be sure, sabi ko tanungin ko a couple of friends – our dear late friend Gene Lim because of his experience with his mom and an Australian ex whose ability for cold logical thinking I have always admired.
Both Gene and my ex strongly advised me to tell my immediate family. Magtatanim daw sila ng galit sa akin if I don’t tell them until the very last minute. Even with that logical explanation, I still rejected the idea at first but eventually relented. And it still took three months post diagnosis before my two daughters learned, and six months for my two sisters. Ang nanay matalas ang pang-amoy kaya kahit ano gawin pagtatago, nalaman din.
But as for others, I told myself I can tell them once the treatment has worked and by that time, the news would hardly matter because there would be no more illness to be worried or concerned about.
So, the whole of Cotabato still does not know nor my former staff and colleagues at the human rights NGO I used to run and who genuinely look up to me, dote over me, as their kuya and mentor. Not my neighbors in Maharlika Village in Taguig, nor classmates from the numerous degree and exchange programs here and abroad, nor friends from my deployments to Africa, Middle East, and Asia.
God bless him and may he rest in peace pero nabigatan si Gene sa information that I shared with him and he just had to share it with Laurence. Si Marla naman, she must have somehow noticed something was wrong with me and kept asking me. Marla being Marla, kulit, tanong ng tanong. Sa sobrang kulit, I finally had to tell her. 😁
The Big C
But I meander. What Laurence and Marla are referring to when they say I need to come clean is that I have been fighting the Big C for the past two years. Yes, that C. Now, unfortunately, it is not the ordinary run of the mill types which, with early diagnosis, can accurately be described as “treatable”. But mine is of the rare types, different but about as rare as that of Steve Jobs. This means available treatments are limited.
Cancer treatment nowadays have progressed so much that there are specific treatment protocols for different types of cancer, i.e. targeted therapy, which have very high success rates provided the tumor is diagnosed early. But this not available for all, not for mine. We sent my tumor tissue to the US for genetic profiling and they came back to us with the result that there are no existing therapy for the type I have, not even ones o. clinical trial.
So, we were forced to adopt a trial and error strategy for my chemo, using targeted treatments meant for other types of cancer. It is a wonder we made it this far. My cousin, a doctor, recently told me patients with my type of cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) usually have six months.
Surgery was ruled out because the primary tumor envelops a major artery, too dangerous for the procedure. We tinkered with microwave ablation as an alternative to surgery as well as radiation. But the tumor fought back, metastasized, and spread to other areas from the bile duct inside the liver where it started.
It has been a rough journey. I can’t say chemo and these other treatments are a walk in the park. We have tried so many cocktails of chemo therapies, trial and error nga kasi. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t in which case we try another cocktail. But even if the response is initially possitive, it usually stops working after a few sessions and in the meantime, the treatments take their cumulative toll on my body.
And that is where I am at the moment. For the past several months, none of the treatments have worked and for the past few weeks, I have gotten so weak that I told my two girls and other members of the immediate family to be prepared for anything. And this is probably also the reason why I am coming clean with you.
Where no Moro has gone before
Comrades, I have had a full life, a very colorful life. I have lived the life I wanted to live and experienced most everything I want to experience in life. I jokingly tell friends and colleagues in Mindanao that my life mission is to go where no Moro has gone before and looking back, I can honestly say that is exactly what I have done.
I have enjoyed the love and respect of so many people, siyempre kasama kayo doon. 😊 If it is my time to go, I may not go as a rich man. Like my late dad, I have chosen to be a man of modest means. But I did live a rich life. By the time I reached 50, I had accumulated enough life experience for two lifetimes. There’s hardly anything I wanted to experience that I haven’t already done.
I have two loving, gorgeous, and well-grounded daughters. Things didn’t work out between me and their mom but fortunately, we are on very good terms. I have made a career out of helping people caught in violent conflicts . I have set an example for younger Moro lawyers, done things they and others thought couldn’t be done. I was able not only to live my life according to my principles but make others recognize those principles and respect me for it.
Comrades, my point is I am truly grateful for my life, with very few or even no regrets. So please do not feel bad for me. Just join me in celebrating the life I have lived. 😊
But I do have a few lessons from these past two years that I would like to share. Pardon me because I know I am only reiterating stuff you already know and believe in.
First, do look after your health. Please do not take it for granted. Take comprehensive check ups as frequently as you can. Kung puwede nga twice a year. Do it for yourself and for your family.
Second, family. What can be more important. Spend as much time as you can. Unlike you with your kids, I may no longer be around when my two girls go through important milestones in the adult lives they have just begun. Nagsulat na lang ako ng sulat para sa mga bagay at gabay na kakailanganin nila sa mga mahahalagang pagdadaanan nila sa buhay.
Third, true and loyal friends, how can we live life without them. I have learned to look past political and ideological differences. I prefer to look at my friends’ decency. I see them as friends, not as adherents of this or that socio-political belief. With socmed designed to highlight differences, there are now more reasons for people to be pulled apart from each other. I prefer not to take part in that and just enjoy the true friendships I have. In my case, I have been fortunate enough to be blessed with friends from all walks of life, from all backgrounds, with different nationalities and stations in life. My circle of friends is like a mini-UN. Truly decent people.
Fourth, service to others. One of the reasons why my career has given me so much pleasure, pride, and satisfaction is that it has allowed me to live my life according to what my beliefs taught me – serve others, follow the straight path, live a humble and God fearing life. Kaya nga I have not really paid much attention to having little material possessions. Very much worth it. I hope my service will be enough to leave a good name for my kids, same as my late dad did for me and my two sisters.
Sorry, with the way I am rambling on, this message may not exactly be the kind of positive closure I intended for an already depressing year. Sorry about that, could be the pain meds talking. 😉
But please, pretty please, do end this year by celebrating life. If there is anything that 2020 has taught all of us, we have taken so many precious things for granted. We only learned to appreciate them, even the mundane ones, after they were taken away from us. Ditto for my life. I have had a good run, a great run. So, instead of being depressed about my news, please join me in being grateful for the life I have lived.
So, comrades, be well. One Big Fight! 😊
P.S. Atin atin lang muna ito. I will go public at some point pero not now. Love you all. Big hug! ❤