Anton Ramos, 35, and his beloved wife, Cel, had planned to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary with a renewal of vows this October. Sadly, that won't happen anymore. Cel passed away last March--on a day that should have been one of the happiest in their lives.
Back in March 2009, Cel was diagnosed with breast cancer at 28 years old. She underwent mastectomy and reconstruction, and she later endured six cycles of chemotherapy. Five years after her chemo, Cel was on maintenance medication, but she was advised by her obstetrician to avoid getting pregnant since the medication may pose risks for her and the baby. But, time and again, their firstborn Vito would beg his mom to stop taking her medication so he could have a sibling. Anton and Cel stalled granting Vito’s wish.
In October 2014, Cel surprised the family with the announcement of her pregnancy, but she was later diagnosed with a blighted ovum and lost the baby. She went through depression, but with continuous encouragement from her family, Cel became pregnant again. This time, it was a healthy pregnancy, and she was able to carry the baby to term.
On March 14, 2016, Cel gave birth to a healthy baby boy she and Anton named Fredo Santino or “Baby Dos.” It was one of the happiest days of their lives. But it was cut short when, after announcing Cel's successful delivery, Anton was called to the recovery room.
Even as hours went by, Cel remained in pain at the recovery room. When her condition didn't improve, she had to undergo emergency protocols. Four hours later, Anton had to face the tragedy of losing his beloved wife. Cel passed away due to cardiac arrest secondary to pulmonary embolism eight hours after giving birth and seven years after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer.
The family was still mourning her loss when another tragedy struck two weeks later. Anton’s mom passed away due to lung cancer.
“In a span of two weeks, two of the closest women in my life left this world,” says Anton. “In a normal life, you would have at least a wife or a mom to look after your kids. Lucky are those who still have them both. Me, I had neither. To raise my children singlehandedly is a great challenge.”
Six months after the tragedy, Anton shares that even if he feels so alone, he had to tell himself that he needed to start living again for the sake of his two kids. “Emotionally, for me and Vito, we still have not recovered from our loss 100 percent. We take it one day at a time.”
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To help Vito cope, Anton fills his schedule with activities like after-school tutorial classes and boxing. They frequent the mall to eat out and play arcade games. Meanwhile, Anton focuses on his work, makes visits to his dad and sister in the province whenever possible, and makes time to socialize with his and Cel's friends.
“Our friends have always been very supportive. I can talk to them about everything, and they come to visit me and the kids every so often. It is a gesture that has made me realize these people are really good friends. They have helped us recover from our situation,” he says.
As a breast cancer survivor, Cel used to tell Anton that she wanted to breastfeed their baby even with just one breast. Despite Cel’s passing, Anton felt he needed to make sure his wife’s wish would come true.
“My son needs me,” he says. “He has no one else. I need to be [a] dedicated [father]. He already lost his mom and I won't let him lose my being a father to him.”
Anton is known by his family and friends as a very independent person who rarely asked people for favors, but for his newborn's sake, he decided to seek out breatmilk donations. “When it comes to my family's needs, kakapalan ko mukha ko," he says. "It was also fulfilling to meet people who are really sincere in helping out, donating without asking for anything in return.
“The first person to donate breast milk was Maricel Cua of The Parenting Emporium (TPE) through a family friend, Theresa Orteza. If my baby needed breast milk, I'd text Maricel and she would ask me to pick it up at TPE or refer me to donors. Also, an officemate, Giane Conejero, a counselor of the group Breastfeeding Pinays (BFP), referred me to Bing Sugue-Guevarra, who promptly sent me a list of donors to contact.”
Most of the donors were people Anton just met. Breast milk donations came in not only from Metro Manila but as far as Northern Luzon and the Southern Tagalog region.
To all the people who helped them in this very challenging moment, Anton says, “Our hearts say ‘thank you.’ Nothing could make up for the kindness you've shared with my family. Not even the replacement bags or bagnet or longganisa we gave. But rest assured that the simple gift comes with a prayer for you and your family.” .
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Anton promises to continue moving forward, to take care of his kids and to fulfill his wife’s legacy. “Because of Cel, I have risen into becoming somebody beyond myself. She inspired me to become a better person from day one. She left us something that has made us better members of the family and of the society as well. The memories out of this love will forever be her legacy and an inspiration for me to keep up with life moving forward.”
Should you wish to donate breast milk, you may contact Anton Ramos via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.