When you’re raised by an extraordinary woman like Esperanza Cabral, some people tend to wonder: how will you carve your own identity when you’re associated with someone of that caliber?
My answer to that is: I am always going to be my mother’s son, and that’s something I’m proud of and grateful for. She had deeply ingrained in me values that I will carry with me throughout this lifetime.
But that’s getting ahead of the story.
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Mommy and Daddy came home to the Philippines in the middle of Martial Law in 1974, after their training in Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital. Mom is a very strong woman. She’s an activist. If she thinks she’s right, she’s not going to back down. So a big part of my childhood — I was born in ‘75 — was seeing my family do things that you don’t see regular families do, like cutting up our share of confetti from the Yellow and White pages, attending rallies, my mother shouting “Boycott! Boycott!” to the mega phone while we’re all on the family van. We were raised with the conviction that if you see something wrong or you don’t agree with something, you can’t just be a bystander and watch things happen; do something about it, otherwise don’t complain.
Growing up, I remember my mom to be very hardworking — and yet she always made sure her family did not feel neglected. During the Cory administration, she was also Medical Director of the Philippine Heart Center. She would leave the house at 6AM so she could get some office work done before going to her clinic, then after clinic she will attend to more paper work. She’d come home around 10 or 11 in the evening so it had become customary for me and my siblings to have conversations with Mom and Dad while they’re having dinner.
Weekends, however, are sacred. Well, sort of. Even on Saturdays and Sundays, my parents would still do their rounds but they would take me and my two sisters with them to the hospital. My playground was the parking lot of Makati Med, beside the oxygen tanks. Daddy would buy us guinumis or sago’t gulaman at Floating Island while waiting for Mom to finish her tasks. The rest of the weekend will be spent watching a movie, strolling around Luneta, riding bikes, going to church. We also made sure to spend time with my dad’s folks on Saturday and my mom’s folks on Sunday. So, we grew up valuing the importance of family. No matter how busy they were, they never forgot to see or take care of their parents. There’s nothing more important than family—taking care of each other, having each other’s back.
“Why can’t you do both?”
I ended up becoming a doctor like Mom and Dad, but honestly I don’t think we ever had that conversation about what course I was going to take or what I wanted to be. I had the freedom to choose. But since I was already exposed to medicine every day, it seemed like the easiest path for me to take.
My mother expects a lot out of us because she believes we can do anything we want—which she often told us. When I was younger, I had dreams of becoming a professional basketball player and I would wonder what I’d pick—basketball or medicine. To her, the question was: “Why can’t you do both?” A PBA player who’s also a doctor? I couldn’t picture it in my head. Later on, I realized I wasn’t exemplary in the sport, so I decided to focus on school and be a doctor.
When I was deciding on a specialization, I had a talk with my parents. I was planning to choose orthopedics. My dad, a very practical person, advised me to pick a less popular field, so there’s less competition. But my mom had a different outlook. She said: “Even if it’s a competitive specialty and you are the best, there will always be room at the top. So always try your hardest and prepare yourself. There’s always space for somebody who’s really, really good.”
We grew up thinking that “Mom knows everything.” That’s our slogan at home. If you had a question and you asked her, she would have the answer. You didn’t even have to look it up. No need for an Encyclopedia Brittanica. Itanong na lang natin kay Mommy.
She showed us opportunities we didn’t think we needed. During my first year of residency training in the US, she told me, “I think you better take up a master’s degree in Medical Management.”
I had no intentions of going into hospital administration back then, but trusting that she knew what’s best for me, I enrolled and started a few units. I realized later that it was difficult to juggle hospital administration and attending to patients, so I told Mom I couldn’t do it. I stopped. When I came back home to the Philippines, an opportunity to become a hospital administrator presented itself, so I had to go back to her suggested course and finish it anyway. If only I had listened to her and stuck with the course, I would have been done with it in the two years I was doing my US practice.
Others ask, “What would Jesus do,” when faced with a difficult decision. I often think, “What would Mommy do?” Because to her everything is simple—what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s the truth, what’s false. What a great blessing to have access to this person 24/7. Another lesson I learned from her: make sure you’re doing the right thing even if you get judged the wrong way.
‘She’s not sitting on that table unprepared’
I love it whenever she says ‘I love you.’ She calls me Baru—and she’s the only one who can call me that. If somebody else says it, it just doesn’t sound right.
I love our dinner conversations. It’s always Life 101, Politics 101, Advanced Medicine, or practical views on how to approach patient care. Through these talks, I get to see issues from a better perspective. You can debate with her, but you better be ready to bring it because she’s not sitting on that table unprepared. I guess that’s also one of the things we learned from her: don’t sit around tossing out ideas if you don’t know what you’re talking about.
The past months have been difficult because I lost a lot of friends, and parents of friends to COVID-19. Mom served as my sounding board. When I get home from the hospital, I can talk to her, cry, and be instantly relieved. She knows and understands how hard things are and what I just went through.
She’s outstanding in everything. She’s held two cabinet secretary positions: one at the Department of Social Welfare and Development and one at the Department of Health. She was National Outstanding Young Scientist, Jose Rizal Awardee, Most Distinguished Scientist by the Philippine Heart Association, Outstanding Professional in Medicine, Distinguished Researcher, Golden Heart awardee, Paragon of Civil Service awardee, TOWNS (Ten Outstanding Women in Nation’s Service) awardee, PCP (Philippine College of Physicians) Exemplar… the list goes on.
The problem when you have a mom who gets an award every few months, hindi ka na proud of just one thing—you’re proud of the whole picture. And the picture just keeps getting bigger. My mom is like an unfinished masterpiece — there’s always something added to this painting or that sculpture that just makes it better and better. Her accomplishments are enough for three lifetimes, and I don’t think she’s even done yet.
Dr. Brian Cabral continues to practice his specialty (nephrology, hypertension and renal transplantation) at St. Luke’s, Makati Medical Center and Asian Hospital. He is also a clinical associate professor at PGH.
Dr. Cabral’s mom is a hero as our own moms are heroes to us. She deserves to be honored and treated on Sunday. If you’re looking for gift ideas for Mother’s Day, click here.