Volleyball: Amid battle with recent sickness, Roger Gorayeb finds new appreciation for life

Manolo Pedralvez

Posted at Jul 05 2020 03:21 AM

Fans and supporters of Roger Gorayeb can take heart that the PLDT women’s volleyball coach is on his way to recovery after he found out in December that he was suffering a life-threatening blood disease.

Gorayeb, who was rushed to the hospital during the height of the Christmas season, had his last chemotherapy last Wednesday for multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer.

According to US-based Mayo Clinic, multiple myeloma “causes cancer cells to accumulate in the bone marrow, where they crowd out healthy blood cells. Rather than produce helpful antibodies, the cancer cells produce abnormal proteins that can cause complications.”

In the case of Gorayeb, who also had stints with the Ateneo, National University and San Sebastian College women’s varsity squads, it was his kidneys that took the early brunt of the disease’s onslaught.

“Noong dinala ako sa ospital nalaman na six percent na lang ang function ng mga kidneys ko kaya kailangan kong mag-dialysis. Doon ako na-depress kasi akala ko habang buhay na iyon.

“(When I was taken to the hospital it was discovered that my kidney functions were down to six percent so I required dialysis. I got really depressed because I thought it was for life),” recalled Gorayeb, whose real ailment was kept from him early on.

“Tinago nila muna sa akin iyong sakit ko. Nang malaman ko, ang sagot ko, ‘Eh ano naman kung cancer?’ (They didn’t say what I was sick with at first. But I replied, ‘So what if it's cancer?’)” the coach remembered of cool response to the revelation.

Gorayeb added that the ailment had attacked his bones, “causing them to have lesions.”

‘HOPEFULLY, GRADUATE NA’KO’ 

An early encouraging sign of his healing, he said, was being taken off the dialysis machine in March.

Even better, the amiable mentor disclosed that “the results of the comprehensive serum tests I underwent in March and May were negative for the disease. The last test was between my sixth and seventh chemo sessions.

“After my last chemo, I will have another serum test and, hopefully, graduate na ako. (I'm through).” 

A health and fitness buff, Gorayeb, who turned 59 last April, was stunned getting the debilitating disease.

“For the past 59 years I was never seriously sick. Ubo, sipon at lagnat lang. Hindi ako na-ospital. (I had cough, colds and fever only. I was never hospitalized),” he said. “Parang sinabi sa akin, ‘Magpahinga ka muna.’ Sobrang tagal naman, natakot ako tuloy. (It’s like someone said, ‘Take a break.’ But it took too long I got scared).”

The medical treatment was a huge drain on the pocket, he said, revealing that his medical bills averaged P180,000 a month for nearly eight months since December.

“The P140,000 was just for my chemo alone. Another P40,000 was spent for my other medications,” Gorayeb explained. “Most of my medicines cannot be bought over the counter so that I have to pay them by bank and have them delivered to me.

“For example, one test to determine my hemoglobin and creatinine levels costs P3,500 per session. That’s four sessions a month so that’s P14,000 already.”

Throughout the ordeal, the coach, who has a wife, two adult daughters and one son, 19, was grateful and, often pleasantly surprised, that his and family’s needs were met.

“Nagugulat na lang ako na sa bawa’t buwan nakakaraos. Mukhang malakas ako sa Itaas. (I am surprised that we were able to survive each month. Someone up there must have my back),” he said. 

TOUCHING PEOPLE’S LIVES

He disclosed the fact that PLDT management continues to pay his salary and those of the players as well.

“Malaki kong pasasalamat sa PLDT dahil hindi nila ako inalis maski nang magkasakit ako. Marami daw nag-aaply noong nasa ospital ako pero di nila pinagbigyan,” said Gorayeb, who soldiered on when the Philippine Super Liga opened last February despite his ailment.

The PSL and all other sports competitions were suspended since the middle of March after the national government shut the country down to contain the spread of the COVID-19.

“PLDT management advised me to take a break and just remain as a consultant. But I declined since I did not want to remain in the stands and watch my players from there,” he said.

“Hindi ko gusto iyon na malayo ako habang lumalaban ang players ko (I did not want to be away from my players while they were competing),” the coach explained. “I later learned that the PLDT bosses were monitoring me because of my frail health then.”

Former players, including volleyball icon Alyssa Valdez, friends, and even fans, rallied behind the embattled mentor, praying for him to get well on top of organizing charity matches to fund his treatment and financial needs.

“Doon ko na-realize na marami pala akong na-touch. Hindi lang sa laro pero sa lahat ng bagay (I realized that I was able to touch many lives, not only in the game but in other aspects as well),” he said. “Kaya naman noong time na ako naman ang nasa sitwasyon na kritikal, sila naman iyong nagparamdam. (So when I was in a critical situation, they made their presence felt.)

“It wasn’t always money; just planting good deeds was enough for them to remember me.”

“Naging reality check din sa akin ito. Na-realize ko na sa isang iglap maaaring mawala ang lahat. (This experience was also a reality check for me, that I could suddenly lose everything),” rued Gorayeb, who called the shots for the women’s squad that saw action in the 28th Southeast Asian Games in Singapore in 2015.

His present experience also taught the coach not to take life for granted.

“Huwag ninyong isipin na palaging malakas pa rin kayo. Kaya kailangan on the day itself, iyong araw na ito, gawin mo na iyong dapat mong gawin. Iyong makakabuti sa kapwa mo para sa iyo. (Don’t think that you’ll always be in good health. Do the things you need to do on the day itself. Help others while you can and don’t put it off till the next day),” he emphasized.

“Also don’t forget power ng prayer. Have faith and pray even if you don’t have to go to church. Just pray. Take it one day, one day at a time,” Gorayeb said, reiterating his gratitude to all who prayed and supported him during his trials.

The coach couldn’t help but add in jest: “Iyong sa mga nanalangin sa akin na gumaling, sana manalangin sila ulit at maibalik muli iyong perang nagastos ko. (For those who prayed for me, please pray again so I can get back the money I spent.” 

For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website.