*Note: Name has been changed to protect the subject’s identity.
It all started with a little girl who began to chase a dream.
My name “*Candy,” is a bit of an irony. Oftentimes in life, fate had been quite bitter to me more times than it was sweet.
You see, my family was many things but rich was never one of them. I was the middle child in a family of five – that is, “five eventually” when my youngest brother was born much later.
As you might have already surmised, we were – to put it bluntly, poor – very poor. This is no mere exaggeration.
To illustrate: One time, we were forced to eat nothing but rice and one big piece of botong-botong (a long cylindrical piece of candy) for lunch. Mother was slicing it into separate pieces for all of us, but just as she had cut it in half, the other piece fell off the table and through the floor. You read that right. It fell through the floor because our flooring consisted of thin-cut pieces of bamboo elevated off the soil by a wooden platform.
With that said, I never once harbored any ill-feelings for my parents just because I hadn’t won the “birth lottery” and hadn’t been born well-off like some of my cousins from upper middle-class families. After all, when it came to supporting us, my parents did just about everything they could except get rich; I could live with that.
After all, I had been brought up by my Lolo Pilis to be a devout Catholic since I was very young. I treasured the days that I spent in community service and other Church activities.
Of course, while I did not detest our financial situation, this did not prevent me from dreaming I could have more – a dream that I decided to take into my own hands… but I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let us journey back to an earlier time.
Vaguely, I was about 5-6 years old when this happened. I vividly recall the sweet scents of pine, lemon and flowers. All this while soft, kind hands gently travelled across my forehead. When I looked up to see who was touching me, what I saw was a person cloaked in clean, pure-white robes. It felt comforting.
I did not know why, but I had to stay in this special place for some time – cared for by these angelic beings until one day, I was finally allowed to walk through those double doors that led to these long, narrow hallways as I passed by other beings all covered in pure-white robes. I lavished all the care and attention that they gave me and for whatever reason that I had to be in that place, I thanked “The One Above” and swore that someday, I would become the one who led these white-robed heroes – a doctor, specifically, a pediatrician... just like the person who cared for me on that day.
I was a naïve little girl chasing a dream, but it was a dream which I would never let go of. This is something that my siblings could easily attest to.
How, you might ask? Well, not to indulge in self-praise, but there was an abundance of beauty pageants in public schools every year when I was in grade school and I was often handpicked to become the class representative in these contests – and every single time, when I had to introduce myself, I would always end with: “My dream is to become a doctor for children.” Naturally, my siblings were always around to cheer for me all the way.
As early as about 9 years old, I had always understood that people considered me pretty, smart, and talented. As you can imagine, these are not traits that a child my age would find desirable in herself – for the simple fact that it automatically incites jealousy in other children; jealousy that leads to bullying. Other girls often pelted me with verbal abuse left and right – and there’s not much you can do when no one else is standing up for you – at least not unless you happen to be someone named after her overachieving elder sister. Unfortunately, although I definitely look up to my aunt, I never inherited the flames of fury from her genes.
While I do not consider myself a coward, I always chose to avoid conflict. I would cry for days whenever I was bullied, but then I would simply pray and most importantly, think about what I would do next to put a definite stop to the abuse. In this case, it was as simple as telling on the teacher – simple, effective, and practical.
Certainly, childhood dreams often fade into the distance and even change completely over time as we become teenagers and eventually adults. But… this was not the case for me. As I transitioned into my final year of High School, being the conservative, devout Catholic that I am, I finally decided that I had joined my final beauty pageant – for the life of me, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a daring swimsuit.
I do not know if you believe in God, far be it for me to judge your beliefs or lack thereof. All I know is that besides my dream to become a doctor, my faith was always the one thing that I clung to for inner strength. It was also the conduit through which I became part of the JCWL (Junior Catholic Women’s League). It was through my religious community that I had the opportunity to interact face-to-face with people from all walks of life. As a peer facilitator, I have talked with ex-convicts, rape victims, and other individuals that you would probably avoid like the plague in any other situation.
Perhaps this is why, I can honestly declare that I never judge nor have I ever held a grudge against anyone. Everyone’s circumstances are different after all.
Still, becoming a doctor when your family is poor is an extremely lofty dream – especially by 90’s Philippines standards. Therefore, I planned early. I understood fully-well that my parents might not be able to finance my ambitions, so I would do it myself. It took me six grueling years to finish my undergraduate preparatory course for medicine. Over this span of time, I took on several part-time jobs and did whatever I could to add to earn some extra income. I had actually amassed three Trisikads (Basically a bike with a sidecar attached used as public transportation in the Philippines) from being an English language tutor for Koreans in the Philippines.
The Trisikads were sold off eventually – but they had done their part, to help me get into medicine proper in University. At this point, I had a single plan in mind: I would finish my course and fulfill my dream… and if I failed, then I’d try again.
If there is one thing that my colorful experiences had taught me at this point, it would be the grim reality that sometimes, when you try your best to chase your dream, life puts you down unexpectedly. So you know what you do in this predicament when life tries to put you down? It’s simple; you get up and chase your dream again.
Medical School was quite a unique experience altogether. It was a stage of transition for me as well. Back in High School, I was actually a bit of a local celebrity since I participated in so many extracurricular activities from group dance contests to the aforementioned beauty pageants – all while keeping my grades high enough to consistently place in the top two in my year level.
In college, this part of me, the superstar slowly faded away into obscurity. At this point, I became the earnest, hard worker. I was that one familiar girl in the corner; the one who was always selling something or couldn’t hang out after school. In fact, I worked part-time jobs at several fast-food restaurants including Jollibee and Pizza Hut while schooling.
In Med School, I realized quite quickly just how much talent plays a factor when it comes to studying. While I was definitely no slouch when it came to academics, I couldn’t help but admire some of my more talented classmates who could easily ace all the written and practical exams with ease – all while partying the night before with not a care in the world. It felt just a little bit unfair, to be honest. I couldn’t help feeling just a tinge of jealousy at these people who could seemingly slack off and still do better than me no matter how much I tried to hammer in as much information into my brain as humanly possible.
Of course, I never bothered to nurture these feelings of jealousy. After all, at the end of the day, I was simply competing with myself. Other people’s performances didn’t really matter when my goal was just figuratively inches away from me. All I needed to do was keep moving forward and grasp my future with my own hands.
Finances were never the best for me even during med school. At one point, I almost quit for a year, if it weren’t for the efforts of my kind-hearted aunt – the younger sister of my fiery aunt. In hindsight, I had lots of help during this time financing my schooling from my siblings as well as my relatives. My classmates knew of my financial situation, but of course I was too proud to accept any kind of monetary aid from them – even from the ones who could clearly and willingly afford it. I had to keep my dignity after all.
As a medical student, I like to believe that my classmates saw me as the “big sister.” I was the reliable and mature one in the group – and the one you could rely on for emotional support and life advice. It was an uplifting feeling – it almost made me feel like I could actually be a psychological therapist at heart… but this was someone else’s dream, of course. It could never be mine.
Bullying was a problem in Med School as well – not from my classmates but ironically, from our superiors. Perhaps I am wrong, perhaps my experience is anecdotal, but the extremely toxic prevalent culture had always been this way: If you were rendering duty as a doctor’s assistant, then you had to look as haggard as your physician. Therefore, when I showed up looking fresh and with work-appropriate makeup even though I had rendered at least 18 hours of work the day before, my superiors sounded off sarcastically: “Abaw, mayo iban may tiyempo pa mag makeup makeup lang ba.” (Well, that’s nice. Looks like someone has enough time to just put on makeup.)
I admit that I might have shed a tear or two -- again, I wasn’t my fiery aunt after all. But after the tears, after the pain, all I could think of was to pray to God and then plan my next move, and of course, the answer was simple: I just needed to ignore them and focus on my true goal.
Finally, the doctor’s license came and the mocking voices simply faded away as nothing but debris in the most obscure recesses of my memories.
It all started with a little girl chasing a dream. I like to imagine that my dream is a person – a very kind, beautiful individual who often visited me at different stages of my life; to counsel me, to console me, to comfort me, and most of all, to inspire me to pursue her form. A person who was always just out of reach until one day when I had finally achieved my goal – which is the day she disappeared forever. Even if I wish to meet her again, perhaps I never will.
But of course, it’s only natural because now that I had achieved my dream, it is my turn to become that dream – that flash of an inspiration for someone else.
I am happy.