‘I have stage 4 lung cancer’
Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) - July 3, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - She has taken on “fungus-faced” foes and once said she ate death threats for breakfast.

This time, feisty Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago is gearing up for the battle of her life, revealing yesterday that she has stage four lung cancer.

As ever, Santiago is in fighting form. If she emerges healthy enough after six months of chemotheraphy, she told reporters, she might even throw her hat into the ring in the 2016 presidential race.

Santiago showed no signs of depression or other symptoms to indicate that she was suffering from a life-threatening ailment.

“Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce myself as the only senator who has been diagnosed with lung cancer as of last week,” Santiago said at the start of her press briefing at the Senate.

Last week, her office issued an advisory that she was going to make a major announcement, but provided no details.

Based on documents provided by Santiago, she underwent a biopsy last June 21 at the Makati Medical Center where she was found to have cancer in her left lung.

“My lungs were being filled with water. They took nearly two cups of blood from my lungs,” she said.

But the senator said that it was not all that bad since it had not spread to the rest of her lungs.

Santiago said that she has always been short of breath and tired, which she attributed to her chronic fatigue syndrome, an ailment she has been suffering from for more than a year. She said that she was always coughing too, but dismissed it as merely an allergy.

Miriam fights

Instead of being despondent after finding out about her ailment, Santiago took the news in stride and even managed to find humor in the entire situation.

“I am very excited. I said yes, I got cancer. Because now I am entering another dimension of human life, that has always been my attitude,” she said.

“I don’t know what the reactions of my enemies are. Maybe they will be happy because on the one hand, I might die and then they could get rid of me. But on the other hand, I might survive and then I would get rid of them,” she said.

Santiago said that it was not all bad news that she got from her consultations with her doctors led by former health secretary Esperanza Cabral, one of the country’s noted cardiologists.

According to Santiago, her biopsy results showed that her cells have developed some kind of genetic mutation that makes them “impermeable to cancer and gives them the energy to fight off cancer nearby.”

“They discovered today certain persons like myself who are very lucky, have been capable of what they call genetic mutation, maybe from living a healthy life. I have a very rare condition called behavioral mutancy,” she added.

Treatment: Tablet

The treatment recommended to Santiago involves a newer form of chemotherapy, which she said is now reduced to a mere tablet.

“This tablet is called molecular targeting. The tablet is a sort of magic target so I don’t have to take anything. I just take the tablet and in effect, it gives me the benefits of chemotherapy, without the side effects,” Santiago said.

The tablets are taken once a day and with it, Santiago said that “I grow prettier every day.”

“So I hope to be able to see you in six weeks fully cured of cancer. And you’re probably feeling even envious of my status, because it will give me certain gravitas when I talk to other people about cancer,” she added.

If ever the recommended treatment fails, Santiago said that she would consider flying to Los Angeles to undergo a more aggressive treatment at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where her sister, Linnea Defensor-Evangelista, is based.

Santiago said that her sister has managed to get her in touch with a colleague who is considered one of the best lung cancer specialists in the world.

Cause unknown

Santiago said that her doctors were stumped as to the cause of her cancer because neither she nor her husband Narciso Jr. smokes.

According to oncologist Antonio Villalon, former president of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology and Philippine College of Physicians, while smoking is a “risk factor” for cancer, the actual cause of the disease remains unknown.

“Smokers tend to get lung cancer more compared to those who do not smoke. But smoking is just a risk factor and there is no definite cause, unlike other cancers like cervical cancer, for instance, which is caused by a virus,” Villalon told The STAR.

Villalon, however, said that pollution and chemical inhalation could also increase a person’s susceptibility to developing lung cancer.With Janvic Mateo, Aurea Calica, Delon Porcalla, Sheila Crisostomo

ANTONIO VILLALON AUREA CALICA CANCER CEDARS-SINAI MEDICAL CENTER DELON PORCALLA ESPERANZA CABRAL LINNEA DEFENSOR-EVANGELISTA LOS ANGELES SANTIAGO
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