The grace of Elizabeth Zimmerman and Sara Duterte

Patricio N. Abinales
The grace of Elizabeth Zimmerman and Sara Duterte
'What I saw was the same noble composure of a cancer survivor, of one who has gone through and endured one of the most excruciating experiences in her life'

I saw her in a film only a few days back, when I finally found a YouTube link that has most of President Digong Duterte’s monologues and conversations with people.

It was on the occasion of her 68th birthday when her candidate-former-husband went to see her, bearing flowers, to greet herAs expected the habit of Philippine media to go for the scoop and the tsismis turned this family occasion into another ambush Q and A with Digong and ignoring the celebrant. 

I was, however, drawn to Ms Zimmerman for personal reasons. Her demeanor told me that she had gone chemotherapy treatment for cancer. A brief check on the Wikipedia notation about her (very short compared to that of her ex-husband’s) stated that, a year back, on August 15, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.

The information stuck hit very close to home because my late wife had the same ailment. Like Ms Zimmerman, she underwent dose dense chemo treatment for Stage 3 breast cancer, followed by 15 rounds of radiation (there is no information whether Ms Zimmerman had radiation).

Elizabeth Zimmerman, ex-wife of Presidential candidate Davao mayor Rodrigo Duterte, joins their daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio and granchildren for a 30-day campaign activity dubbed as BiahengDU30 that kicks off in Davao City on April 5,2016.

Like Ms Zimmerman, she began to feel the impact of the poison(s) in her body. After the second chemo session, she was perennially tired, the tips of her fingers and toes had this electric sensation that was extremely uncomfortable to one’s sense of touch, her bones were aching over the power of the white blood cells boosters that she had to take after each session. Moreover, she also lost her hair.

She lived that painful phase of her life with grace and equanimity. She did not let cancer overwhelm her, and found ways to work around it and for a while live with it. My wife passed away in 2011 not because of cancer but because of something else. 

I see that same dignity in Ms Zimmerman as I watched her quietly listening to her former husband and then tolerate the pettiness of the journalists’ queries about her “love life” with pleasing but curt answers.  What I saw was the same noble composure of a cancer survivor, of one who has gone through and endured one of the most excruciating experiences in her life.

And none of the journalists present in that party even asked her how she was doing and how the treatment was going. Callousness at work here, folks.

Quietly sitting at the back of the president-to-be and Ms. Zimmerman was their daughter Sara. As they did to her mother, the media expectedly also ignored her, and perhaps there was a good reason why. Sara was, after all, buried in her reading of whatever was on her cell phone, but occasionally raising her head when her father mentioned something funny and her mother respond to questions about family and children.

Inday Sara, as she is fondly called in Davao City, was also conspicuously bald. It was reported that she shaved her head to express support for her father’s presidential bid, but it is not likely. Her shaved head appeared to be more her way of showing solidarity to her mother’s struggles.

I believe many of us would have done the same. If we, relatives and friends of cancer survivors, were to live around Inday Sara and her mother, I think we would do the same thing. This is what having cancer survivors in the family can do to you. It not only creates this small community where families and friends come together to form a support group as well as a wall to protect their sick loved ones. They pray, share information, do research, lobby executive and legislative agencies, and educate the public about this disease, which author Siddhartha Mukherjee calls “The Emperor of all Maladies.”


There is so much to be concerned about cancer because of its robust and deadly presence in our lives.

The Philippine Society of Medical Oncology re-posted a report from the Philippine Star that stated that the country “has the highest incidence rate in Asia and is among the top countries with the most cases of breast cancer,” comprising 16% of the 80,000 reported cancer patients in 2010. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer among women, and the highest incidence rate had registered an extremely high 589% from 1980 to 2010. In 2010, 1 out of 13 Filipinas would have been diagnosed with breast cancer. – 

Patricio N. Abinales is an OFW.



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