Elderly stateswoman of Philippine art Cecile Guidote-Alvarez recovered not just from cancer, but from COVID-19 as well. The lady–former Executive Director of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) founder, and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) artist (among other distinguished positions)–shared her experiences in the Department of Health’s Survivors Series on September 13.

DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire underscored the importance of showing the episode on Grandparents’ Day. “We do have to take care of our senior citizens because they are among those who are most susceptible to the virus,” she said. “The lessons that our guest will impart can serve as helpful reminders not just to our elderly but their children and grandchildren as well.”

Cecile, who is a septuagenarian, echoes this caution, sharing one of the valuable lessons that she as a senior citizen learned along with her family: “Mahirap ang naiiwan ka lalo na kung sanay ka na lumalabas. Sa buhay ko ngayon lang ako di lumalabas. Kahit gusto ko lumabas pinipigilan nila ako. Nakikinig ako sa kanila kasi naalala ko yung agony nila nung namatay ang tatay nila.”

Cecile and her husband, the late Senator Heherson Alvarez were nearing the celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary. When she started showing symptoms of the virus, both of them were admitted for confinement at the Manila Doctors Hospital. Although the results of their tests didn’t come out immediately, both husband and wife were advised to check in for further assessment. And that was the last time the couple saw each other. While Ceclile survived, the senator succumbed to the virus.

Isolation was the first major difference between treatment for cancer and that for COVID-19. She said of the harrowing experience, “Noong ako’y nagka-cancer hindi naman ako na-isolate, nakasama ko pa rin pamilya ko pero nung na-admit na kami sa ospital, naka-isolate ako, inihiwalay ako sa aking asawa,” Cecile recalls. “That was the greatest pain, wala akong communication, hindi ko makausap ang asawa ko.”

The second difference between cancer treatment and COVID-19 was the pain that comes with intubation. “Kapag cancer, isang kamay lang pwede tusukin. But in COVID-19, I thought I was going to die with that tube inside me. Napakahirap at napakasakit. You feel helpless,” Cecile looked back at the experience.

Cecile did name one aspect that she was profoundly grateful for during her confinement: “But thank you to all the frontliners who stayed with me all throughout my battle with COVID-19.”

Days after her recovery, it was saddening for Cecile to see her son break down in tears because he could not see or touch his father whose remains were quickly cremated according to standard medical procedure. What made it even more heartbreaking was that the family members were not able to even hug or kiss him.

“Walang goodbye. Walang final kiss. And to think na mag-isa siya namatay, yun ang pinakamasakit sa akin,” Cecile lamented, saying that no words could adequately describe the loss she suffered when Senator Alvarez passed away. “Hindi ko lang po siya asawa at tatay ng mga anak ko kundi siya ang soulmate ko, cheerleader, sabay nga kami pumasok ng hospital. Nakakaloka talaga íyung loss.”

Meanwhile, Cecile emphasized to her fellow grandparents to make the most of every minute they have while they are in their sunset years. “Ang matatanda, may apo ka, they give you joy. Kausapin mo sila, tawagan mo. Life is precious. Take the moment to express love and appreciation because sudden death can occur.”

Throughout the DOH series episode, Cecile kept reminding the public to follow the protocols, especially those like her who, either because of age and/or previous existing medical conditions, were at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Following the protocols would protect not just themselves, but their family members.

She urged the audience, “Napakahalaga talaga na maipaalam sa ating mga mamamayan na napaka-treacherous, at deadly ng COVID-19. Kahit mahirap na naiiwan lalo na kung sanay ka na lumalabas, sa tuwing naaalala ko yung agony ng mga anak ko nang mamatay yung tatay nila,napakasakit, nakikinig na lang ako sa kanila.”