Before Rudy Fernandez announced the recurrence of his cancer early this year, the action star has already undergone a life-threatening experience, spending an entire month in a hospital, with Lorna taking on the role of wife, mother, and nurse through it all.
This conversation with YES! was published in August 2006, and itinevitably centered on their past ordeal.
It all began with a recurring fever that gripped Rudy every afternoon in 2006. There was something unusual about the fever, he recalled: "Usually, di ba, 'pag nilalagnat ka, meron kang sore throat, may tonsillitis, may ubo? Wala ako no'n. May lagnat lang, so hindi mo alam ang ano."
Lorna suggested a blood test and a check-up. Indeed, the tests, which included an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, revealed some kind of tumor blocking the flow of blood near Rudy's liver. Immediate surgery was called for.
"Stage one cancer" was how the doctors called the disease that sent Rudy Fernandez to the operating table of the Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan one morning in March. It had no known cause, but doctors said it was likely to destroy Rudy's stomach and even his pancreas and liver.
It will be recalled that the operation seemed a huge success then. "Wala akong chemo, walang radiation, walang kailangan," he described. "Walang danger na in one year, bubuksan ka na naman—walang ganoon."
Rudy underwent what doctors call Whipple surgery, a treatment for pancreatic and ampullary cancer in which certain structures of the organ are removed and the remaining parts are sutured back into place. The surgery lasted for 10 full hours.
"Matindi 'yong ginawa sa akin, dahil ang bypass sa heart is only four hours," Rudy said.
After the operation, he was confined at the ICU, or intensive care unit. Here, for six days, assorted needles and tubes were stuck into various parts of his body. "Meron ditong nakapasok, meron dito, meron dito sa tiyan, meron dito sa dibdib, catheter," Rudy relayed, pointing out the body parts.
"Mahirap talaga 'yong sa ICU," he went on. "Yon ang kritikal sa 'kin, dahil nakakalungkot. Walang television. 'Tapos, palagi pang may namamatay. Umaga, madaling-araw, hapon-hu-hu-hu! Nag-iiyakan. 'Nurse, ano 'yon?' 'May namatay ho.' 'Matanda na ba?' 'Matanda na, 39.' Thirty-nine! Para bang candidate na 'ko, dahil matanda na raw, 39."
Rudy is 54.
A hospital ICU is by definition a place for the critically ill, so Rudy could wax philosophical about his own mortality.
"E, ganoon talaga ang ICU. Maraming natitigok doon, e. Okey lang, hindi naman ako ninerbiyos masyado, dahil preparado na 'ko. Yung talagang kukunin na 'ko, okey lang." He had three special nurses attending to him, working in three shifts.
"There was a time na hirap na hirap na 'ko talaga. Para akong nakatali, e. Kailangan mong bantayan ang likod mo, baka pinapawisan. Pag na-pneumonia ka, namatay ka hindi sa operation kundi dahil sa pneumonia!"
At the ICU, Rudy says, he saw dead people in his dreams—including his father, the renowned 1950s film director Gregorio Fernandez (Malvarosa), and fellow actors Jay Ilagan and Robert Talabis. The dead said nothing, but he felt that they were trying to take him.
"Totoo 'yon, kinukuha na 'ko ng mga dead. Wala, hindi ako sumasama."
At that time, he did not tell Lorna about his nightmares.
"Baka akala niya mamamatay na 'ko, matakot. Baka ma-tense. Pero gabi-gabi 'yon, iba-ibang bangungot. Puro bangungot talaga."
Rudy had undergone a gallbladder operation in the past. "Wala, easy," he said of that previous experience. He rated the Whipple surgery as the most difficult medical ordeal he has ever endured.
"May time na hirap na hirap na talaga ako. Nagdasal na 'ko talaga: 'Lord, kung mamamatay ako—baka naman mamamatay din ako—kunin n'yo na kaagad ako, dahil nahihirapan na 'ko.'"
Even after he was transferred from the ICU to a regular hospital room, Rudy's hardship was far from over. One night he found himself praying again, "malalim talaga"—praying for an early death.
His desperate prayer: "Lord, kung kukunin din n'yo 'ko, bilisan na n'yo. Kunin na ninyo 'ko kaagad. Kung hindi naman, pagalingin ninyo na kaagad ako. Pero kung pagagalingin n'yo ako, 'tapos after mga one month 'tsaka n'yo 'ko kukunin, kawawa naman ang pamilya ko, the same ang gastos no'n. 'Wag n'yo nang pahirapan. Kunin n'yo na kaagad ako. Hirap na hirap na 'ko, e. Ayaw ko namang pumayat nang pumayat. Kunin n'yo na kaagad ako. Ayaw ko nang ganito."
He prayed endlessly that night: "Dasal, dasal, dasal. 'Bahala na kayo.' Kumbaga, ipinaubaya ko nang lahat sa Kanya."
"The next day, ang ganda na ng pakiramdam ko."
He was discharged from the hospital after a month. But the first few days back home were still problematic. "Madugo!" was how he put it.
"Nakakain na 'ko paglabas. Kaso, meron akong feeding through the stomach. So, pag-uwi, pagdating ng ten o'clock in the evening, kakabitan na 'ko noong feeding tube. Hanggang umaga 'yon, eight hours. 'Tsaka, every hour ina-adjust 'yon. Ang nag-aadjust, 'yong special nurse."
At the ICU, Rudy said, the first time he was allowed to walk, he went to the bathroom and checked himself in the mirror. "Nagulat ako. Ba't ang payat ko naman? Payat talaga ako!"
The next time he asked for a mirror, he checked out his trademark mustache, which had not been trimmed for days.
"Habang nasa ICU, sasabihin ko do'n sa nagbabantay sa 'kin, 'Kuha mo 'ko ng pantina, magtitina ako.' Nagtina ako ng balbas, nag-ahit ako. Pagtingin ko sa salamin kasi, ta**ina, mukha naman akong gurang nito! May mga balbas ako naputol. Isipin mo, maysakit ka na nga, mukha kapang maysakit! Ano'ng mangyayari sa buhay mo no'n?"
It was the mirror that kept Rudy company during his stay at the hospital. "Yong maliit na salamin, 'yong ginagamit sa shooting, palagi kong tinitingnan 'yon, pag nakahiga," he said.
"Talagang naghanap ako ng maliit na salamin," Lorna added. '"Buti na lang, may nagregalo sa 'kin."
Rudy managed to quip: "Siyempre, di ba, pag artista, mahilig sa salamin 'yan, e."
The results of the trim-and-dye operation were favorable. "Noong makita ako ng mga kaibigan ko: "Ba, medyo okey, ha.'"
Like the macho persona of his movies, he didn't want visitors to shed tears for him.
"Ayoko ng drama. Ayokong manlambot, humina ang loob ko. Basta okey lang—kung mamamatay, mamatay. Gano'n lang. Hindi ako nerbiyoso. Ready na 'ko. Kung gusto na nga 'ko kunin ni Lord, okey lang sa kin."
He said he even asked Lorna to remind those who wanted to visit him not to shed tears.
'"Pinagbilin ko talaga. Kasi, mga kapatid ko, puro babae, di ba? Lahat 'yon, puro drama 'yon. Magdadrama 'yon na akala nila mamamatay na 'ko. So, sabi ko, 'Babes [Lorna], padalawin mo mga kapatid ko, pero sabihin mo, ayoko nang may umiiyak, ayoko nang may malungkot. Ayoko na ma-invite 'yong lungkot, 'tsaka 'yong parang mamamatay na 'ko, naaawa sila sa kin. Ayokong makakita ng ganoon, a.'"
It was a requirement that was followed strictly.
When Sharon Cuneta visited Rudy, the Megastar put on a nonchalant this-might-as-well-be-a-party act and greeted her sick friend with the most cheerful "Hi Daboy!" she could muster.
"Nakakatuwa si Sharon," Rudy laughs. "Pagpunta niya, nakangiti siya. Masaya! Alam mo naman si Sharon. 'Tapos, noong nasa labas na ako, nagkita kami sa binyag ng anak ni Jinggoy [Estrada], 'Kinuwento na niya na nag-iiyakan sila ni LT sa labas [ng hospital room]. Sabi lang ni LT, 'Ayaw ni Rudy ng umiiyak.'"
Not all visitors complied with the act-naturally request. "Siyempre, kung minsan, may mga bisita na hindi mo mapagsabihan," Rudy said. He remembered a friend who kept saying: "Kumapit ka, 'wag kang bibitaw, tibayan mo lang ang loob mo." Rudy burst into laughter as soon as that friend left the room.
"Akala yata, mamamatay na 'ko talaga. Traumatic naman kasi 'yong nangyari sa taong 'yon. Yong asawa niya, namatay kasi ng cancer. Oo na lang ako nang oo. Pero talagang mahal naman ako noong kaibigan kong 'yon. Sabi niya: 'Pare, ha, sige, pusoy tayo paglabas mo. Magpapatalo ako sa 'yo, basta magpagaling ka, ha!'"
BEST IN THE PHILIPPINES
Rudy was advised by friends to seek treatment in the United States, but he preferred to remain in the country.
"Katwiran ko naman, kung mamamatay ka, mamamatay ka anywhere. Kahit nasa States ka o nasa ibang lugar ka, pag kinukuha ka na, wala ka nang magagawa roon."
The action star, who describes himself as an advanced thinker, was also concerned about the financial strain that hospitalization overseas could cause. "Isipin mo naman, siyempre pag doon, ang gastos mas matindi lalo."
However, he was first and foremost worried about his wife.
"Hindi ko naman sinasabi dahil baka nagi-invite ako ng negative—pero isang katwiran ko rin, e, pa'no kung mamatay ako, 'tapos nandoon si LT nagbabantay? Di, ang ginaw-ginaw, nagtete-text siya, 'Hu! Hu! Hu! Rudy has already passed away.' Send to all. 'Tapos, kasunod na text: 'What will I do with the body? Paano ba iuwi ito?' Malaking parusa naman 'yon, di ba? Nag-iisa siya. Di ba, nakakaawa naman 'yon?
"Kung mamamatay din lang ako, dito na sa Pilipinas, para walang problema. Ganoon din naman 'yon. Kung mamamatay ka, mamamatay ka, whether nasa Amerika ka o nasa Pilipinas ka. Bakit pahihirapan mo pa ang asawa mo?
"Hindi ko naman sinasabi until noong tapos na, dahil pag sinabi ko noon baka naman mag-invite ng negative."
(Throughout the interview, everyone from YES!—including our editor-in-chief and associate editor, our photographers and stylists—can't stop laughing and doubling up as Rudy was speaks, even as we all struggle to look as concerned as we feel. We don't realize the action star is such a fun storyteller.)
"Dito, inoopera pa lang ako, nandoon na lahat ng kaibigan ko, nakabantay na do'n sa baba at pumapasok sa operating room para sumilip at magbantay, sa ayaw at sa gusto ng mga doktor. Sina Jinggoy, nakapasok sa loob ng operating room. Nanood sila, pati sina Ipe at Bong. Ibig kong sabihin, kung may nangyari sa kin, nandoon na 'yong mga kaibigan ko."
Plus, he got treated very well by the nurses and the hospital staff. "Ay, mabait sila, sobra."
And the doctors who attended to him? Rudy has nothing but praise for them.
"Maganda ang service nila. Yong mga doctors, mababait, especially 'yong si Samuel Ang, 'yong surgeon. He's the best daw in the Philippines, and very reasonable siya maningil. Yong una naming doctor, si Gina Bagsic, ang galing din. Magaling na at sobra pa ang bait."
ROAD TO RECOVERY
Rudy's doctors tried to prohibit visitors from coming in all at the same time and lingering. "Siyempre ayaw nila, kasi ang immune system ko, bagsak na bagsak."
Since total prohibition was impossible, a policy of "reverse isolation" was instead put in place. This meant visitors had to wear face masks and scrubs, the hospital gown worn by doctors and nurses.
The patient said it helped a good deal that a lot of people came to see him. "Pag wala ka namang bisita, ang lungkot!"
The problem was actually in the number of visitors.
"Kung minsan, ang dami talaga, walang biro. Kung minsan, mga sampu nandiyan. E, siyempre, 'yong kuwarto, kahit na suite pa 'yon, limited ang room. Kung minsan, 'yong iba nasa labas.
"'Tapos, naabutan noong doktor, sabi ng doktor, I'm very sorry, my patient is having a fever of 39, he's susceptible to ano. Kung puwedeng 'wag kayong magtagal.' So, mabait naman 'yong mga bisita, sumunod naman sila."
One visitor, Gretchen Barretto, sent food to the hospital suite every day. "Oo, walang biro. Yong 'pinapadala ni Gretchen, masasarap. Nilulusaw ko muna, kasi solid food."
Although the fans were not among the privileged visitors, they sent in prayers for his recovery.
"Nakakatuwa 'yong mga tao. May mga tao na hindi ko kilala pero nagdadasal sila, nagte-text. Nabalitaan nila 'yong nangyari sa 'kin. 'Tapos, 'yong mga kasalubong ko: 'Oy, walang halong ano ito, isinama ka namin sa dasal kahit hindi tayo magkakilala.'"
These days, however, Rudy is faced with another serious health problem—there's a recurrence of his cancer-related sickness. Lorna explained that Rudy has an "ampullary" type of stomach cancer. Meaning, that the person affected is not confined to bed and is strong enough to walk.
The last health update reported that the actor has six months to live. But Lorna has been reacting to the situation positively, "I know we can survive this trial." Rudy is even more positive, he has been quoted as saying, "I ain't gonna die yet."
IN SICKNESS & IN HEALTH
Throughout Rudy's ordeal, it was his resilient and supportive wife—to whom he has been married for more than 20 years now—who kept vigil, staying by his side whenever possible.
"Si Lorna, from the time na na-ospital ako, inopera, hindi na siya umuwi sa bahay. Umaalis lang siya for Startalk, babalik sa ospital. Lahat ng gamit niya, pinadadala lang niya."
Indeed, Lorna lived by her wedding vow to love her husband in sickness and in health.
"Nakabantay siya talaga, lalo na sa ICU," Rudy recalled. "Tutulog siya sa 'taas ng kuwarto, 'tapos mga six, six-thirty, nando'n na siya sa 'baba. Aakyat uli siya ng mga bandang one, kakain, 'tapos dinner, 'tapos aakyat siya ng mga eleven-thirty o twelve. Six, ando'n na siya uli. Siya 'yong talagang nakabantay sa 'kin. E, hindi naman siya puwedeng matulog sa ICU. Bawal."Flashing a handsome smile, the action star says, "Mahal na mahal pala ako ng asawa ko."