Santiago: ‘I have lung cancer’

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

MANILA (3rd Update) -- Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said she has lung cancer.

Santiago revealed her diagnosis on Wednesday during a press conference at the Senate where she also tackled the controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) of the Aquino administration.

She said doctors who examined her after she complained of shortness of breath found "genetic mutation" in her left lung.

"I have cancer of the lungs, which makes it hard for me to breathe," Santiago said, as she disclosed that she is always short of breath when delivering speeches.

She said her cancer is Stage 4 but the disease is not spreading.

"I am still the same old me. Happy as usual and I am not afraid of cancer," said the 68-year-old senator who has been suffering from acute chronic fatigue syndrome for a long time.

(Video by Al Padilla/Sunnex)

The senator said her unexplained fatigue, which exists for more than six months now, has caused her a lot of difficulties as it persists throughout the day.

Her other symptoms include difficulty concentrating and walking, shortness of breath, dizziness, sudden weakness of knee or ankle, headache, joints pains and muscle pains.

The senator's medical team consists of Dr. Jove Cuanang, neurologist; Dr. Juan Javicer Lichauco, rheumatologist; and Dr. Esperanza Cabral, cardiologist and a very close friend of Santiago.

Santiago is hopeful that everything will be okay and God will take care of her, "no matter what."

"God never asks us for an opinion. God just goes ahead and does whatever is in His hands. I just say okay," Santiago said.

Santiago said she will not undergo chemotherapy but will instead take the "magic tablet" once a day in order to fight the disease, which the doctor, according to her, confirmed that it is not spreading to other parts of her body.

The senator, a non-smoker, cannot explain how she got the disease.

"But I know that God is with me and this test can only help me to grow prettier every day," she said.

Santiago said her doctors raised the possibility that her cancer will ease up after six months with the treatment, but if it does not, she said she might have to go to Cedars-Sinai, a non-profit hospital in Los Angeles, California, for a more extensive treatment.

Santiago said her sister, who is a doctor in Cedars-Sinai, has been constantly monitoring her lungs through X-rays and CT scans.

Confident as ever, Santiago said she is hopeful that she will survive cancer as she shrugged off the reaction of her enemies.

"I might die and they can get rid of me. Maybe, they will be happy. But, on the other hand, I might survive and I will not stop from what I believe is right. I will get rid of them," she said.

Santiago said there is no way that she will be affected, as she maintained that as usual, when she learned about her disease, "well, I feel excited. Because I am now entering another dimension of my life."

"When I told my mother that I have stage 4 cancer, she merely said, 'everyone has to go sometime'," the senator said.

Malacanang on Wednesday expressed hope for the recovery of the senator.

"We are one with the people in praying for the health and recovery of Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago," Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a statement.

He hailed Santiago for doing her job as a senator despite her illness.

"Despite her condition, she has devoted herself to the performance of her duties as a legislator and public servant," Coloma said.

Stage 4 cancer

Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO) president Dr. Antonio Villalon expressed puzzlement over claims made by Senator Santiago that her cancer of the lungs has not spread yet but is already diagnosed at stage 4.

Villalon said it is highly unlikely that the cancer has not yet spread since stage 4 already means it has metastasized.

"Imposible e… Kaya siya nasa Stage 4 kasi it means naka-spread na yung cancer," said Villalon in an interview.

He said, however, that Santiago may have been speaking in layman’s language and not scientifically.

"Sigurado kalat na yan although pwede namang outside the lungs or inside the lungs lang pero kalat na dun, maaring both lungs na," said Villalon.

On Santiago's decision not to undergo chemotherapy and instead take tablets daily to combat the disease, Villalon said that such a move may actually work for Santiago's case since taking Tarceva (erlotinib) tablets to cure lung cancer is already a growing medical practice.

"Kaya nito magpagaling kahit pa ng Stage 4 na cancer. It is the presently accepted guideline for cancer treatment actually," said the medical expert.

He noted, however, that the tablet treatment can only be given to lung cancer patients that are positive of the Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR).

"Kung ang patient ay positive sa EGFR, ang pinaka-best na treatment ay yung tablet talaga dahil yung receptor ang tatargeting ng tablet para atakihin yung cancer cells," said Villalon.

But if the patient is negative of EGFR, Villalon said chemotherapy remains to be the best option for treatment.

Medical leave

The senator from Iloilo also formally informed the Senate through the office of Senate President Franklin Drilon where she requested for an indefinite extension of what she called "qualified medical leave."

The senator has also withdrawn her appointment to the International Court of Justice due to chronic fatigue.

Santiago said there is still a big possibility for her to make her presidential bid if she will get well next month.

"Pag-galing ko next month, I am going to announce my presidential candidacy," she joked.

But Santiago made no categorical answer on whether or not she will seriously join the 2016 presidential race.

"It depends really. If there is really nothing else to do," she said. (ABC/Camille P. Balagtas/HDT/SDR/Sunnex)

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