MY LIFE IN A NUTSHELL
After having spent 88 years in this life, there is one thing I am certain of and which I would like to pass on to whomever may read this account of my life: we owe so much of what we are to the people whose paths we have crossed as we have gone through the various stages of our lives. William Ernest Henley wrote those oft-quoted verses: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” With all due respect, we do make our own decisions but these are shaped by all the interactions we have had with others and all the influences that family, friends, colleagues and others have had on our lives.
I was born on December 3, 1933 in Cebu City, the capital of Cebu Province in the central Philippines. I was the first of five children of Demetrio Labitan, an Accountant, and Guadalupe Buenavista, a Schoolteacher and Guidance Counsellor. My siblings, three other girls and a boy, followed over a span of 20 years. From our parents we learned to love each other, the value of discipline, the importance of education and the need for hard work, honesty and respect for others. For this I am eternally grateful to them.
While I did my early schooling in Cebu, I was sent by my parents to the University of the Philippines in the country’s capital where I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry. Following my graduation I returned to my home province of Cebu and taught for a few years at the University of San Carlos, a school run by German Catholic priests from the Society of the Divine Word. I was fortunate that the President of the University saw potential in me and recommended me for an intensive program of training in Germany with the internationally renowned firms Bayer and Agfa. This was a turning point in my life, and my experience in Germany led to higher professionally fulfilling experiences. For this I am grateful to all my professors who instilled me a love for learning and a desire to advance myself.
After working in Germany as a trainee for two years – an experience which, needless to say, was an eye-opener for a simple provincial lass from a developing tropical country – I went to visit a friend in the United States. This visit, like so many things in life, took an unusual turn which defined the next stage of my life.
My friend with whom I was staying was applying for a position at Yale University and encouraged me to do the same. The result? I was accepted as a chemical researcher and was assigned to work with one of the most prestigious scientists in the field of chemistry and medicine at that time (early 1960s), Dr. William H. Prussof. Dr. Prussof has been called “the father of antiviral chemotherapy” and, along with his team and colleagues, developed the first combination drug therapy for HIV which has helped millions recover from this condition and led to the development of later more effective drug combinations. I worked with Dr. Prussof for five years and my experience working with world-class scientists enriched my desire to develop my skills further.
In 1967 I thought I would take a break and decided to visit a friend in Montreal and attend the International Expo which was being held in that city then. I fell in love with Montreal and Canada, with its less hectic pace and the friendliness of people and decided that I would try and see if I could live and work there. So I applied at McGill University, again as a chemical researcher, and was accepted to work with Dr. Phil Gold, another giant in the field of medical research. Dr. Gold, along with Dr. Samuel Freedman, discovered and defined the world’s first cancer biomarker, the protein Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA), which led to the world’s first blood test to detect and monitor cancer cells. CEA has changed cancer research and treatment forever.
It was a joy working with Dr. Gold and his team, filled with the excitement of being involved in cutting-edge chemical and medical research and knowing that you are helping to benefit millions of lives.
In the meantime, I had taken on Canadian citizenship and began the process of arranging for my siblings and my mother to join me in Canada. Our father had unfortunately passed away in 1973, the year before he and our mother were supposed to move to Canada.
After 31 satisfying years and having reached the age of 65, I decided to retire and devote myself instead to helping people face-to-face, touching individual lives one by one. So I moved to Toronto where my siblings were and plunged into the world of volunteer work. I assisted in a soup kitchen, St. Francis’ Table, in the gift shop of St. Michael’s Hospital and in a foundation working with seniors. I did this for 12 years, travelling to the Philippines frequently and taking cruises to other countries.
Because I would lose 5 hours every time I would travel since I would have to fly from Toronto to Vancouver before I could get on the international legs of my journeys, I decided to move to Vancouver where I lived for 7 years. There I joined the Green Coats, a group of volunteers who help travellers at the Vancouver International Airport find directions, try to recover lost luggage, look for misplaced items, etc., anything that would make one’s travel experience less stressful and more pleasant.
All the time I continued to travel on cruises, often taking one or two of my siblings with me, and flying back home to Cebu to visit friends and relatives. I figure that I must have visited more than 80 countries in my lifetime.
Unfortunately, in 2018, at the age of 84, I began to feel my years. One day in October of that year, I just collapsed in my apartment and my sister had to fly over from Toronto to attend to me. It turned out that I was extremely anemic, the iron level in my blood was abnormally low, and this led to my physical weakness.
Since I was living by myself in Vancouver, my sister insisted that I move back to Toronto where she and my other siblings could attend to me. So I did, was confined at Mt. Sinai Hospital for two weeks and then moved as a palliative patient to Bridgepoint Hospital. Unfortunately – or fortunately? – I was not acting like a palliative patient, being very active in the various programs the hospital offered, roaming the corridors with my walker and conversing with the nurses and other staff, which led to the hospital suggesting that I consider moving to some other facility in order to give way for other more seriously ill patients who could make better use of my space at Bridgepoint.
So I ended up at Presentation Manor, a wonderful home for long-term care residents, with a great ambiance, spacious rooms, delicious meals and a very friendly and helpful staff. And this is where I lived out the last two years of my life, in the company of friends whom I met at the home and with whom I developed very close friendships, and my family whom the home allowed to visit me despite covid restrictions but making sure that necessary protocols were met.
If there is one thought I can leave, it is this: Everyone we meet in this life has an impact on you, and you on them. So be mindful of all the interactions you have with anyone you come across. Be grateful for all the blessings you have received and share these blessings with as many people as you can. Your life is not your own but is part of a larger web of Life that we all contribute to, for better or for worse. Hopefully it will always be for the better.
December 3, 1933- December 21, 2021
Aurora escaped the mortal realm on winter solstice, Tuesday, December 21, 2021 at the age of 88 in Toronto, Canada.
She hailed from the backwaters of Tina-an, Naga, Cebu, Philippines and her proud parents were Demetrio and Guadalupe Labitan. She unwittingly put her native land on the map when she went to Germany in the early 60’s as the recipient of a German scholarship. Yes, it was a novelty to see a non-Caucasian walking within the august walls while she was there.
Needless to say, she excelled in her field of study which was chemistry. A lot of people may not have gone everywhere, but everywhere is where she went. She was infinitely curious about everything, and being able to travel for as long as she could was her unparalleled passion. Her adventures took her to the ends of the earth and back with the various worldwide cruises that she sailed.
And did I tell you too that she was a very good cook? Oh, yes, she was! Whenever someone could taste her great cooking they would moan and groan with oh’s and ah’s while closing their eyes. She would famously say, and I quote , “cooking is chemistry”!
When Aurora was alive, she lived. She lived a life filled with no stone left unturned. Her illustrious career in cancer research can be found on google. She was the eldest of five children. Aurora is survived by her four siblings, Victoria and her husband Daniel, Augusto and his wife Mila, Gemma, Armi and her husband Tom, two nephews, Robbie and Carlos, and niece, Mia and her husband Gary.
In lieu of flowers, please donate in her memory to the charities listed under the Donations tab on her home page. To share your memories, photos and sentiments of Aurora here at her memorial web page.
Uniquely entrusted to eco Cremation & Burial Services Inc.
Life Celebrations. Done Differently.