‘JUST ONE MORE’ by Malu E. Gacuma , June 20, 2017

For what could be the hardest battle to win but that which we fight against our own selves? Yesterday, JUNE 20, I had celebrated my 3rd year (!)  of being nicotine-free and caffeine-free!

During those 26 years of enslavement, I was fully aware of the dangers of smoking cigarettes. In those days, the late 1980s, cigarette boxes did not display gruesome photos of  the harmful effects nicotine causes to the human body. Vapor cigarettes they call ‘e-cig’ were not in style then. I never patronized tar guards, too.  A lighter in my pocket was just as vital then as money in my purse.They had to be together all the time. I couldn’t last long in a house that had no ash tray and whose owner scowls at smokers.

1993 in Fabrica - Copy

1993- At age 27,while vacationing in Fabrica,Sagay City at my late grandfather’s house where I grew up. Holding my pet puppy,Coo-coo, a silent witness to the two vices I had in my left hand.

How did I learn such vice? Environmental influence,definitely. It seemed everyone around me smoked.Then came the brokenhearted days, when tears were not enough. So,what could be the best of friend to have, in my solitude, but a pack of those sticks to burn so I could  puff my heartaches away? I always believed then that  next to a dog, it should be a cigarette, not a diamond, that should be man’s other  best friend. So, I never allowed being left without it.

When I started working as a broadcast journalist in 1989, it was when I started chain-smoking back-to-back with coffee-drinking. While immersed with work, I must be fully-equipped with the tools of both vices: a mug filled to the brim with creamed coffee, a lighter, an ash tray and my brand of cigarettes. Without them, I got restless. Very restless. Unknowingly, it was addiction setting in.

My habitual nicotine-and-caffeine routine  became the usual butt of jokes among my work colleagues. A naughty anchorman even called me ‘Robo-Cup’, an off-shoot term from the famous Robo-Cop film in those days.Eventually, I was often remembered as ‘someone who drank her coffee like water and whose fingers always held a lighted cigarette’.

The man I married also smoked, so it was more convenient for us  both ways. We seemed to be comfortable smelling like ash trays to each other.  I only stopped –not quit– smoking voluntarily during each of the three pregnancies I had. Thank Heavens the craving dropped to a nil whenever I was infanticipating and  it lasted until I gave birth. Then the cravings returned with vengeance.

ctg 1993 grolier days bacolod

My late husband, when I met  him in 1993.

The more I was dragged to a quicksand when times became tough and I was struggling as a solo parent. The vices seemed like a moment of respite from each long and tiring day.

How did I quit? I must admit that I owe it to a spiritual conversion. Born a Catholic, I had later on converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, I never took the bread and water on Sundays considering my unworthiness.Then I started  having a deep,unwavering desire to enter the LDS Temple in Cebu City. Among its spiritual preparations is a vice-free lifestyle to give due respect to the body. It took me  years struggling to be just that, vice-free.


March 2015: The Cebu Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ( Thanks to my 2nd daughter, Christienne Marie G. Gancayco for this photo.)

I became an expert in trying to quit a hundred times before, and repeatedly failed. There was always a good reason to backslide: stress, bills,a good meal, skipped meals, a bad memory, a nostalgic moment,people I was with. Name it. It was called ‘alibi’, per se.

For the first step away from both vices, I ended up extremely dehydrated, with unexplainable permanent headaches and my vision started to get slightly impaired. I  had to be hospitalized  for a week, first in June then on December, in 2014 . It was on June 20 that year that I  resolved never to allow both vices to overcome me.


June 25, 2014 -During my 5th day of hospitalization at Bacolod Doctors’ Hospital.

Nicotine and caffeine never did me anything good except giving me false adrenalin shots, a fake sense of relief and an insatiable craving for ‘just one more’. Just one more light.Just one more sip. In actuality, one more just kept going on. It was very deceiving! I had been fooled for so long! When talking about vices, ‘just one more’ actually meant ‘just one…then more.’

So, I vowed to start giving due respect to my body. To respect its  purpose. To take care of it. I persevered and went organic. I also avoided sweets. Noticeably, the very first thing that tasted so refreshing was WATER! (You see, I hardly drank water before because it usually killed my craving for cigarettes.) I started drinking water regularly especially after waking up and before sleeping (the Japanese way, as they said) . My perspiration reeked with the smell of cigarette. This lasted for about 2  months from quit time. My hair became brittle,too. Later on, my skin started becoming lighter and my hair regained its luster.

It was alarming that I had temporarily lost my voice. Whenever I spoke, it became a squeak! No modulation at all, just a thin voice escaping my throat!  I had to write most of the things I wanted to tell my children. It seemed whenever I wanted to speak, there was not enough air to breathe and my lungs felt like bursting. I knew I was ‘oxygen-deficient’ in some way, so I must let my burnt lungs heal fast! I must get out of the house and gasp more of the morning’s cool breeze! Water therapy  also helped a lot!

1st heavy meal june 30,2014

PRUSSIAN SALAD : The very 1st heavy meal I took  (4 days since I checked out of the hospital  on June  26, 2014) Taken at Shakey’s  Pizza at Robinson’s Main,Bacolod City.

Each morning was  a test of discipline, to pursue  a routine of exercises as early as 5 am. The first 3 days were trying moments. I could hardly walk beyond 15 minutes and both knees wobbled. My lungs were grasping for air—not cigarette smoke anymore– and  I really wanted them to heal fast. In the succeeding days,the walking turned to half-jogging then to full-jogging. The next month, I was running for more than 30 minutes. Appetite increased. And wonders, I could carry a 5-gallon water-filled container with ease! Stamina was finally back!




July 12,2014 – During one of my 5am jogging routine.

From a usual 90 lbs. frame, I bloated to 170 lbs after 6 months! To regulate this back to 130 lbs., I had to get attuned to the word ‘diet‘.



2016 – Visiting our mangrove-planting area in Tuburan, E.B. Magalona, Negros Occ. Me at 170 lbs.

In-between, I kept myself busy day in and day out  by home-making, pursuing hobbies, writing on my journal,serving others (specifically the less-privileged children thru humanitarian projects I had organized), doing environmental  and Church activities, finding time to join my daughters’ invitations,then end the day by reading the Scriptures.


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Volunteering during a Church activity.


Being preoccupied with worthwhile tasks takes away the mind’s attention from  the immediate desire to give way  to the vices and redirect  the mind  to the task at hand instead .
Most importantly, the cravings just disappeared, for good. They died a natural death.That was how I believed it  and it worked! Until now.
From ‘Just one more’, the mindset finally boiled down to ‘No more’!
(NOTE: The writer also runs a column titled ” The Diarist: On Love and Life” published over Negros Daily Bulletin.)

‘REMNANT OF HOPE FROM AN EASTER CANDLE’ by Malu E.Gacuma (April 16,2017 @ 9:00 pm , Saturday)

What significance does Easter have in my life? Looking back,during the most tumultuous chapter of my life as a newly- abandoned, jobless wife left to raise 3 young toddlers, how can I forget that evening of 2003?

We were in Manila then but I couldn’t be employed because no one can tend to my children, then aged 7, 5 and 4. So I did sales. Despite all the emotional hurt, I did all best to tackle both parental roles.

family in manila

With my 3 children,namely: Christa Lou  (then 7,in blue blouse), Christienne Marie (5, middle) and Christiana Claudia (4) .

One day, due to sheer hard work, I  fainted on the street and got bedridden for days.

Consequentially,as sole provider, it led to unpaid electric bill,so we suffered several nights in the dark. I couldn’t even afford to buy candles! With a storm preempting, I struggled to get up and took my kids to the nearest Church (since I was not with the LDS fold then) and sought help. I needed to protect my children that very evening!

The kindhearted seminarians gave us groceries ( from their own supplies). and candles,among them a big or life-sized EASTER CANDLE! Seeing me pale and thin, they even took us home.

That night, while my children were fast asleep, I stared at their innocent faces.The Easter candle, with all its intricate design in green, yellow-gold and red, kept us company. Its muted presence lorded over the small house where we stayed.


candle 2

A candlelight in our home in Bacolod City.

It symbolized HOPE! It was a cue from the Lord for me to accept that I was a solo parent already.I did and profusely thanked the Lord for the realization,that it was time to keep the fighting spirit! I spent that night praying,in tears yet in peace, talking to that Easter candle , as if it was the Lord himself!

The next day, I applied for for a job and was immediately hired to work in a radio station. We eventually transferred and the struggle keeps on until now, for a better,more decent life for my children.

But a life that has a semblance of Easter in every passing day.

That Easter candle may have long been gone, but its light of hope will always burn in my heart

family 2017

 2017, our family after attending LDS Church Sacrament .


MISSIONARIES : ‘KINGS AND QUEENS’ IN THE MAKING- by Malu E. Gacuma (Bacolod Multi-Stake Public Affairs Council) Feb. 2,2017

“You did not come to this mission to be good salesmen or to have cultural expansion, not even to develop your personal skills and talents. You came here to share the Gospel.” The words of visiting Utah-based Church leader and guest speaker, Brother Bruce Bryan Bingham  permeated the Sacrament Hall of the Dumaguete Stake Center in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental last January 27 during the Missionary Meeting held from  9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. that day.

About 80 active missionaries of both gender from various mission fields in the south of Negros province attended the said meeting, along with local Church leaders led by Dumaguete Stake President, brother Jairus Perez , who was the concluding speaker.

The missionaries immersed themselves with the enlightening counsel of Brother Bingham, 68, whose message was punctuated by both  wisdom and humor.


Brother Bruce Bryan Bingham  during his guest speakership (photo: Malu Gacuma)

Sharing some amusing anecdotes about his own missionary days, Brother Bingham narrated  , “Even a simple missionary rule like making your own bed has its value. As a newly-arrived missionary before, that’s what I realized. So, after four  days, I stopped rebelling against it and did my own bed! “ (Laughter)

He  also explained to them about the Keys of Priesthood  and the relevance of these  to the geographic areas of each missionary. Then his topic  led to the importance of obedience ‘in the mission fields and beyond.’


The missionaries listening intently and taking down notes (photo: Malu Gacuma)

“Be obedient with the mission rules for 30 days, and you’ll succeed. We must be doers of what we teach so as not to lose the Holy Spirit as our testifier,” he emphasized.

Halfway through his message, he  told the missionaries, “Please put up your hands  as high as you could.”  When they all did, he smiled and said ,” Good. That’s what you do when you want to participate by asking something.” (Laughter).

Then he opened the two-way discussion by quoting what he considered his favorite verse :  ‘’There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated. “ [D&C 130:20–21]


An Elder giving his perspective about obedience to the laws of God.  (Standing behind him is Bishop Suan of Dumaguete 1st Ward)

The missionaries answered his questions with enthusiasm. When asked why the Lord’s commandments must not be deemed as a  reason to constrain us, a missionary named Elder Hales from Arizona gave an analogy about ‘snorkeling  undersea  but staying inside a cage. Insodoing, the cage is meant to protect us from predators like sharks. It is not meant to constrain us.”

When asked why obedience is important, another missionary named Sister Rosner from Utah  opined,” When we stretch ourselves to be obedient,  we adhere  to a higher law and that’s the Law of Consecration.”

Meanwhile,  Elder Charifa of Manila, who serves in the Siquijor island, said he ‘strongly felt the Holy Spirit speaking’ to him thru Brother Bingham. This was the same impression shared by Elder  Balasbas of Canada and Elder Gonzales of California, among others.  For her part Sister Naylor, who became teary-eyed, said that she learned so much to a point that her ‘testimony suddenly  grows’.


The writer interviewing  Elder Balasbas  and to his right, Elder Gonzales (photo: Malu Gacuma)


The writer with Elder Charifa (photo: Malu Gacuma)

Finally , Brother Bingham underscored  his message by quoting  the late President Ezra Taft Benson  who  said, “When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power.” (quoted in Donald L. Staheli, “Obedience—Life’s Great Challenge,”  Ensign, May 1998, 82).

At this juncture, he turned emotional as he implored to them: ”Don’t give up the good in you. Do not ever violate your covenants.  You are all anointed and consecrated to be a King and a Queen in the making. Be faithful and true.”**


Jan 26, 2017 @ Hotel Essencia, Dumaguete City,Negros Oriental  ( L-R : ) Dumaguete Stake President Jairus Perez, Brother Bruce Bryan Bingham and wife,Sister Jean B.Bingham, Prima Gequinto  holding  their son ,John Phelps Gequinto, Prima’s husband, Dumaguete Stake 2nd Counselor John-john Gequinto  and the writer. (photo: Malu Gacuma)


(NOTE: Written on  a special assignment from the Area Presidency Office,Manila thru brother Noel Maglaque)

SEEING HOPE : A LIFE-CHANGING MOMENT by Malu E. Gacuma, Jan. 21,2017

‘Life begins at 40’, that’s the usual adage spoken with humor when somebody enters the turning-point age that opens the door to ‘midlife crisis’, so to speak. Hence, humor is usually a must-have at this stage. However, it is the same age when the dreaded loss of vision can also start, depending on the person’s lifestyle. The usual culprit is eye cataract.

Eye cataract is  reportedly the most common cause of principal blindness in the world and  a major cause of vision loss for those aged more than 40 years old. A Department of Health report showed that  about 362,000 Filipinos lost vision due to cataract.

Unlike the irreversible glaucoma , eye cataract can still be treated thru surgery.

LDS Charities, the humanitarian arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had  recently confirmed an increasing number of successful eye cataract surgeries being extended  by the Our Lady of Mercy Specialty Hospital in Eroreco, Bacolod City, Negros Occidental to  its indigent patients, specifically less-privileged senior citizens.

In an interview, Dr. Jeremias Manuel K. Moscardon, Jr., OLMSH Medical Director, attributed the success to the Lumera surgical microscope and Php 5.8 million worth of surgical supplies donated last year  by the LDS Charities  and the Mason Eye Institute  to the said hospital.


The  donated Lumera  surgical microscope


Me with Dr. J.M. Moscardon, Medical Director.

He said, ‘the donation is a big help  to  more poor patients now that our hospital is about to open a branch in Kabankalan this April, considering our hospital has a large number of  such patients. We are honored to have been chosen as a recipient of the donated multi-million-peso worth of surgical equipment and supplies.“

Meanwhile, on January 19, a group of Latter-day Saints  met with the hospital representatives to follow-up  the results of the said donation.

The group, led by Manila-based Country Director  for Welfare Projects Carlos Revillo and  Welfare Project Manager George Kenneth Lee, also included  Remus Villarete  (Stake High Council) and Bacolod Multi-Stake Public Affairs Council members Francis Muñoz, Jeffrey Plaza, Bong Ferrer ,Vanessa Nang and Malu Gacuma while the meeting was facilitated by Multi-Stake Public Affairs Director Belle Georfo and Myles Muñoz.

Later that afternoon, some of the group had witnessed  an actual eye cataract surgery under the supervision of known eye surgeon, Dr. Miguel Sarabia, who heads Negros Eye Specialists.


During the operation, we had witnessed how the medical team combined the use of the donated technology with their eye cataract surgery technique inspired by, according to Sarabia, “the Aravind  eye hospitals in India.”

It introduced  a new approach to the surgical procedure by “scooping out  the diseased lens instead of using incision,  thus making the Lumera  surgical microscope  play a more vital role in the  meticulous  process,” he added.


The patient’s right eye, up close

The patient named Leonora, in her late 40s, had a case of a “stubborn  kind of cataract”, as Sarabia described  both the hard lens and the soft, fluid-type  under it  that had to be taken out. The surgery  may have lasted for less than 30 minutes, but the life-changing impact on the patient would be for a lifetime.


Me (by the door)  with brother Revillo and sister Ferrer


Dr. Sarabia taking a peek through the microscope

Sarabia said that  with the  upgraded equipment, more indigent patients and less-privileged senior citizens even from far-flung areas can now avail of ‘first-class medical service’ despite their financial incapacity.

At this juncture,  Lee clarified that, based on Church principle, the donation was done ‘without expecting anything in return, not even in exchange for  free consultation for  any LDS members. All the patient has to do is to bring  his or her Philhealth card and then  undergo a screening to qualify for the operation.‘   Lee added that ‘this is consistent  with the self-reliance doctrine  of our Church.’

Lee’s statement resounded the late President Gordon B.Hinckley who cited  the “tremendous statement given by the First Presidency in 1907. They said: ‘Our motives are not selfish; our purposes not petty and earthbound; we contemplate the human race—past, present, and yet to come—as immortal beings, for whose salvation it is our mission to labor; and to this work, broad as eternity and deep as the love of God, we devote ourselves, now and forever.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1907, appendix, “An Address to the World,” p. 16.)

Before we left the hospital , I asked Leonora how she felt. She smiled and said she was very much relieved and excited to fully recuperate, thus having her vision back after 8 long years.

Now she is seeing hope. A stubborn  kind of hope.


By: Malu  E.Gacuma ( Bacolod  1st Ward)

Social Media Specialist,Bacolod Multi-Stake Public Affairs Council

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

5pm, Friday,January 21,2017


Group lunch at Masskara Chicken Inasal, Bacolod City.  ( Counter clockwise : Me, George Kenneth Lee, Dr. Miguel Sarabia, Carlos Revillo , Anne Catolico ( Sarabia’s secretary), Vanessa Nang, Bong Ferrer, Remus Villarete and 2 eye doctors invited by Sarabia.)