My Health Journey

December 3, 2004

I remember, it was the saddest day of our life as a complete family. From 2 to 6 AM, my dad was trying to catch whatever last breaths he had until nothing was left. In the middle of his torment, he had this courage to face death (perhaps he already knew it was really the end for him) and to say to us, “this is it,” while we all held hands. He was already saying goodbye.

At the onset, he asked us to bring him to the hospital to assist his breathing. The oxygen attached to him was no longer enough. We also tried pulmo-aide but it did not work.  As much as we want to bring him to the hospital, we had no money. One relative said that we should always have steady cash of PhP5,000 since we have a sick member in the family.

It was easy to say that. Because of my dad’s condition, he was no longer working. And even before he knew he was sick, his work contract ended. My mom was a housewife and we had no savings. I was the only one working with a salary of PhP10,500 at a faith-based NGO.

I learned the sad news from my mom and sister when I returned home from a month-long training in Mindanao. Apparently, they had to bring my dad to the hospital for a check-up because he complained about his cough never leaving him despite the medicines. He also complained about catching his breath while doing the usual things he does (i.e. climbing stairs, driving, walking, etc.). I also remember a year earlier, when we lost our house to a loaning firm, he complained of heaviness in his chest. At that time, the doctor diagnosed him with Bronchitis. My dad did not agree to be admitted and chose to take the medicines instead because he just started working on a new contract.

This was the start. We were slowly losing him even a year earlier. At that time I thought it was just stress because we lost our house due to unpaid loans. My brother and sister were not yet finished with their studies. I was taking my MA in Journalism so I can’t fully help him though I was no longer depending on him for money. My priest superiors were always so generous to my family. And for that I am so grateful until now.

Then that week before he died as soon as I arrived, my mom told me the diagnosis (on paper) and there’s the word “metastasis.” It was the first time I ever heard it. My sister googled the term and it was about the spread of cancer. We found out that he has it when it was already Stage 4 Lung Cancer. According to our own research, lung cancer is often diagnosed late and the one who suffers it seldom survives. She said that my dad still needs to go back to the hospital to have the results read. She asked me to come with them.

I wanted to say NO but couldn’t voice out my fear. It was the first time I felt so afraid because I knew we are going to lose him at 54. I knew I am going to cry once the doctor confirms the diagnosis and I might not be able to hold back the tears. I so wanted to back out but I already said YES and besides I would only prolong my agony. I have to face the truth.

I always remember my dad saying this remark long before his cancer days, “If I have cancer, I will never have myself undergo chemotherapy and other treatments because cancer patients always end-up dying anyway. Sayang lang pera, mauubos at mamamatay ka rin naman.” And this was exactly what he did.

He asked the doctor point blank, “what are my chances of surviving lung cancer? Will chemotherapy and/or radiation make me survive it?” The doctor was also point blank in his answer, “definitely surgery is out of the question because malala at kalat na. Wala ng mangyayari dun. Chemotherapy and radiation, wala na rin yan.” Then the doctor proceeded enumerating the sessions he would be needing in case he opted to choose chemo. If I remember it right, we would be spending around PhP250,000 for chemo without assurance.

He did not accept any of the options but decided to accept his fate. I believe I too accepted the fact that I will loose my dad to cancer that early.

A week after his diagnosis, he left us.

This was my family’s first health crisis encounter.

****

December 2011.

I was 170 lbs. I was not eating right (eating junk, not eating at the right time). No exercise or any physical activity except for the occasional walk during rallies and mobilizations. I was practically not taking care of myself. For me, my work and advocacy are the most important things. I look at it as “shallow” when you think about yourself. I don’t want to waste time thinking about how I look and how I feel.

I was not ready to change my lifestyle until my second “tatay” was diagnosed with Stage 2 Colon Cancer (if I remember it right).

Milo Tanchuling was our Secretary-General at the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) at that time. Some people might have misgivings about him or call him other names but everyone will agree that he has a very kind and gentle heart.

I remembered my dad after hearing the news. This was the nth time I already heard about “metastasis.” It is a dreaded word. My thoughts immediately went to his family. How are they going to take it?

Tatay Milo was able to survive for a year. In fact, we celebrated his 50th birthday at UPCSWCD. He was up and about that Christmas 2012.

Tatay Milo and Me! This was Christmas at FDC in 2012.

Tatay Milo and Me! This was Christmas at FDC in 2012.

Also about same time of his diagnosis, my colleagues at work noticed how I was looking so “manas” in the pics I posted in Facebook. That sent alarm signals to me. With the diagnosis of tatay Milo and my unhealthy lifestyle, anything is always possible. Diseases are like thieves in the night. If you let them steal your life away, they will at a snap.

Manas mode

December 10, 2011 at Yakimix, Podium. I was weighing 170 lbs.

I knew what I have to do. CHANGE. I was able to do it before, I can do it again.

In January 2012, I enrolled at Fitness First North Edsa. The difference this time was I got a personal trainer and at the same time enrolled in their nutrition program to kick-off my CHANGE.

I started learning about personal health, nutrition and exercise, the proper and safest way to do it.

My first health goal is to reduce weight. With my 5’6 1/2″ height, my ideal weight is within the range of 132-150 lbs. Since I was decided not to stress myself out about my figure (I am beyond that), my goal is to reach 140 lbs.

The entire year was all about reaching that first level goal while enjoying it. And I did.

Christmas 2011/ Christmas 2012. See the changes?

Christmas 2011/Christmas 2012. See the changes?

On the enjoyment part, I re-discovered my another passion, DANCING. My instructor in bellydancing at Fitness First invited me to join the Annual Bellydance Festival organized by Jill Ngo-Crisologo. I remembered her from a long time ago when she taught bellydance at Gold’s Gym where I used to go before.

Bellydancing is more than just a weight loss program. It is a strength program tuning-in to my feminine side. From then on, I supported Jill in all her endeavors. She is the ultimate instructor in bellydance.  

Dancing Sahara Saidi Tribal Mix at the Philippine Annual Bellydance Festival 2012

Dancing Sahara Saidi Tribal Mix at the Philippine Annual Bellydance Festival 2012

My passion to take care of my health was growing even if I already hit my first goal. I said to myself, this passion had to translate into advocacy. I had to focus my energies to reduce unnecessary stress.

I also began attending health events to learn more about health and gather networks in the advocacy and health and wellness businesses.

In the middle of 2012, there was a turmoil at FDC. Our Secretary-General was on temporary leave, there were movements, changes and adjustments at work, which were really stressing the staff.

At that time, I was finding a location for the health advocacy in my work. Good thing there was the Social Debt, Social Wage Campaign. Since we were only two in the Debt and Public Finance program, I already volunteered to write the preliminary paper on health.

However due to prioritization and urgency of the issue, I had to write first the housing paper. It was when demolitions were left and right so we had to respond.

****

Year 2013.

My second health goal was for me to eat healthier and start connecting my body, mind and soul.

During the first month of the year, I went to GINHAWA Well-being Retreat for the Filipino Soul organized by the GINHAWA team, led by Ms. Leah Tolentino.

In a capsule, the retreat was a, “Refreshment for both body and soul at the beginning of the year. A time of breathing out the old energies of the previous year, breathing in the freshness of the New Year. Reflections of the blessings and challenges of life through bio-energetic exercises. Identifying “body blocks” and freeing locked up energy through exercises and breathing, helping you ease stress. We will have moments of reflective silence, body prayer in the morning, gentle stretching, life-giving sharing and affirmations for well-being. From tiredness to relaxation, from a feeling of heaviness to a feeling of lightness, from a sense of inner mess to growth in wholeness.”

As I progress with my health journey, I met new people and groups who inspired me to move forward. One of them is the creative people of the GINHAWA team. I nurture my relationships with them because somehow I feel that we will be united one day in one endeavor. Hopefully it is when we advance a genuine universal healthcare for all, when health will no longer be perceived as the absence of disease and/or management of it but a “holistic” approach to reach the fullness of life and well-being.

At FDC, the location for a health advocacy became steeper because unlike the rest of the issues, there is no visible movement or campaign to speak of except for RH and Sin Tax. Both were legislative agenda and successfully passed. Both are now laws.

The increased health budget and amended policy on PhilHealth for the Universal Healthcare (UHC) program of the PNoy administration seem like a good progress for the health sector. In one talk of Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, he even called 2013 as the year of health.

It felt like there was no more room for health at the Coalition so I decided to leave before I could even write the health paper. I spent a good seven years at the FDC. It was time for me to MOVE ON.

I did not search long for an organization that could accommodate the health advocacy. SARILAYA, a 20-year old women’s organization focusing on health and environmental issues, was in need of an IEC officer. I immediately grabbed the opportunity and within a month’s time I started working with the organization.

SARILAYA has a health project known as the Integrated Health Development Programme (IHDP) and I assist the project in its capacity-building needs. I also do community work for the project.

The first value I learned in the organization is to walk the talk especially in the issue of health. We cannot advocate for something we don’t practice to which I totally agree. There’s always a push to be healthy, a struggle when you put something into your mouth, which to me is good and necessary.

I ditched supermarket food products. I became more choosy in what I eat. You may read more about this here.

Since we’re trying to make ends meet, our lesser evil options are to stick with homemade food from trusted “karinderias” though we’re not sure about the vetsin and artificial flavoring used. The best way really is to prepare your own food.

In my first few months, I was already given the opportunity to take a 3-month advance human rights-based approach course. It was in this course that I was introduced to the, “health in the hands of the people” principle through my classmate, Dr. Jenny Madamba of Integrative Medicine for Alternative Health Care Systems (INAM) Philippines.

I was inspired by that principle and with the things I learned about human rights through our instructor, Prof. Cookie Diokno, an HR expert.

In the course of our studies,  we were tasked to develop our own framework. I took on health and started racking my brain for a HRBA framework to health, which I titled as, “The People’s Healthcare System.” Currently, I am improving on the framework (Integrative Healthcare: An HRBA framework to health) and hopefully be able to write and share it.

What is lacking though and I recognize it, is for me to capture and witness first hand how to apply the framework in the communities.

With the comments of Prof. Diokno and SARILAYA’s approach to organizing through the Philippine Integrative Medicine Training Levels 1-3, I hope to see the processes behind it and how communities respond given that they have different contexts. I will be able to give breath and heart to the framework and enrich the paper with experiences from the grassroots.  This is my HOPE!

Also, this was the year when I started doing for SARILAYA and myself related health advocacy such as safe food, organic agriculture, no to GMOs and health budget advocacy.

In connection with my personal health initiatives, since I love to write, I planned to launch my own health blogsite. So by the end of the year, together with my new found friends in the Philippine Health Bloggers Society (PHBS), I launched my blogsite, www.healthactivist.ph.

Official Poster for distribution

Alongside with my blog, I am also a freelance fitness and wellness contributor writer for BlogWatch (thepoc.net) and Drop Dead Gorgeous (DDG) Magazine.

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At present – theory and practice.

I am in this conjuncture where I felt the need to know, read and study more. Know the theories behind health policies, read, study them and apply the practice.

Second, though I don’t buy the idea, when people asked me, “are you a doctor/health professional?” and I say “NO,” there’s a slight cringe inside me that I can’t help but feel.

So I decided to inquire about courses on public health that wouldn’t require me to study medical courses since it would take time and limited resources.

It’s a blessing that I maintained good relationships with my former colleague and found new doctor friends that could help me pass the evaluation for the Master of Arts in Health Policy Studies (Health Science track) program at the University of the Philippines-Manila.

MA in Health Policy Studies

****

In the future. 

After I graduate, I’m looking at a WHO internship and a 6-month VSO contract that would further expose me to public health outside the Philippines.

On the lighter side, I am planning to put to good use my growing contact of health advocate groups, healers and medical professionals, health and wellness small and medium enterprises. I believe they are ripe for a campaign that shifts the mindset of both government and people to make way for  the achievement of genuine healthcare for all.

My long-term plans also include organizing more health and wellness fairs, publishing an online magazine including producing a radio program for the promotion of natural and alternative healing modalities with health and wellness products and services as sponsors. The aim is to increase their number so that there are more supplies to respond to the growing demand, thus, bringing down the price tag of health and wellness that could be afforded by the government for the people and by the people.

And so, my health journey continues…

2 Responses to My Health Journey

  1. Remy says:

    Great article dear! keep it up. and oh nice website too! 🙂

  2. Love Divie says:

    I’m happy to have found this blog by twist of fate! I’m starting to read now and I think I have a lot of catching up to do with the many past interesting articles you’ve written. Keep it flowing!

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