Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Speech for Sean, our dentist

I crafted a speech for my kid brother Sean's inauguration as president of the local Philippine Dental Association chapter this weekend. Manong and I are going home for the occasion. We got new barongs. My mother said I should craft the speech immediately, so Sean can rehearse it! So typical of mother to be over-prepared in matters like this. As usual, I have a feeling she will overhaul what I've written, but when I spoke to her through a video call, she said the speech was "good."

It begins with something like this:

Dentists, too, have a unique role to play in society, even if much of what we do is hidden from public eyes. Ours is generally a quiet profession. Our work involves our daily routine of opening shop every day, sterilizing our instruments, checking if we have enough dental supplies, seeing, talking to, and reassuring our patients, and doing the actual dental work that our patients need. At the end of the day, we rest, we take care of our families, and we enjoy our hobbies—all these we do in preparation for yet another day. For each of these vital steps, we endeavor to do good and meaningful work.

I love dentists—there are two of them in the family! The smell of dental clinics brings me back to simpler days of my childhood, while we waited for mother to finish before we can head home, dropping by the Rose Fruit Stand near the Round Ball to get fresh mangoes, her favorites.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

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The writer Yukio Mishima

Over lunch, I told my friend and colleague, Berbi, that I read a depressing story by a Japanese writer during the weekend. His thoughtful reply: "Why do you do that to yourself?"

I did not know how else to respond except with the truth. "I don't know. I liked it!"

I avoid series or films that feature death and suffering, with particular aversion to those that feature doctors (as if my life weren't enough exposure to all things medical), but I can only evade these things for so long. I deal with the ill, dying, and grieving in real life, so I figured that my media diet should at least veer away from these depressing themes. I entertain myself with Monty Don's Big Dreams, Small Spaces—a Netflix series on gardening—or some episodes of The Good Witch, Mad Men, the Korean Designated Survivor: 60 Days, Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. My friend Rich King (his real name) watches a gardening show in YouTube before he goes to bed; there's something in plants that takes the stresses away, I suppose.

There have been exceptions. I did find myself enjoying the Korean drama Descendants of the Sun (my mother's recommendation), which has a doctor as a main protagonist. It was a cheesy, well-played love story that was enjoyable to watch. Last night I watched 84 Charing Cross Road, which featured the platonic and academic friendship between Frank Noel (played by the young Anthony Hopkins), a store keeper of a bookstore that sold rare secondhand copies of English books, and Helene Hanff (Anne Bancroft), a playwright and writer from New York. Set in 1949, they used typewriters and fountain pens! Part of the thrill of watching the film was figuring out what pens they used: I'm certain I spotted a Parker Duofold.

During the train ride back home, I read the third Yukio Mishima story, The Priest of the Shiga Temple (read Ivan Morris's translation in full here).

The Great Priest of Shiga Temple was a man of the most eminent virtue. His eyebrows were white, and it was as much as he could do to move his old bones along as he hobbled on his stick from one part of the temple to another. 
In the eyes of this learned ascetic the world was a mere pile of rubbish. He had lived away from it for many a long year and the little pine sapling that he had planted with his own hands on moving into his present cell had grown into a great tree whose branches swelled in the wind. A monk who had succeeded in abandoning the Floating World for so long a time must feel secure about his future.

The old priest was changed when he saw the beauty of the Great Imperial Concubine. The ascetic fell in love with her, and the more he thought of her, the happier he seemed, but the farther he felt from reaching The Pure Land. It was a testament to her beauty, to the overpowering hold of the flesh, and to the futility of self-righteousness.

This story was of a man doing everything in his power to enter The Pure Land. To do that, one must empty the mind. This is a worldview that stands in stark contrast to biblical Christianity. The Bible says we can never achieve heaven on our own apart from God: we are not saved by works, by meditation, or by any human act. Salvation is through faith alone. Until God breathes life into our souls, we are dead, unable to grasp heaven or holiness. Whereas other religions exhorted people to empty their minds to achieve peace, Christ says we are to fill our minds with the things of God.

The story was an enjoyable read, but it was ultimately tragic.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Three deaths during the summer

Death In Midsummer is the first story that appears in the short story collection of the Japanese writer Yukio Mishima.

The story goes this way: while Tomoko is sleeping, her three children play in the beach, being watched over by Yasue, her sister-in-law. When Tomoko wakes up, she learns that Yasue has died from what seems to be a heart attack and her two children, Kiyoo and Keiko, have drowned in the sea. Three deaths in one day—and Tomoko blames herself for it.

Life goes on for Tomoko. Her husband, Masaru, does not blame her for the incident. They both try to move on. During their visit to the cemetery, they are described this way:

While neither of them especially thought about the matter, it seemed that the period of mourning, an relievable parade of the dark and sinister, had brought them a sort of security, something stable, easy, pleasant even. They had become conditioned to death, and, as when people are conditioned to depravity, they had come to feel that life held nothing they need fear.

It is depressing. One thinks that Tomoko hasn't really moved on.

She was living, the others were dead. That was the great evil. How cruel it was to have to be alive.

The story is, to my mind, a stark contrast to an actual tragedy that happened in the life of Horatio Spafford. All of his four children died when the ship crossed the Atlantic Ocean and collided with a sea vessel. His response was neither despair or hatred. He was at peace. He then wrote of my favorite hymns, It Is Well With My Soul—a testament to God's peace that transcends all understanding. I sing it whenever tragedies strike or when things don't go my way.

I hope the next stories in the story collection aren't so depressing! The writing is beautiful and haunting; it also brings back a lot of memories of people I know who drowned during beach trips, including my elementary classmate Jed who used to visit the house to play.



Didn't do much this week, save for some household cleaning and working on deliverables for the church's media ministry. I'm sharing this Korean heart-sign, a gesture I initially thought to be related to collecting money.

Here's a beautiful prayer for when interruptions and disruptions happen in our daily lives, yet again from Scotty Smith's Heavenward:

Heavenly Father, I’m sitting here with a confirmed seat on a 9 pm flight for Orlando, but six and a half hours later than my flight was supposed to leave. You know without me telling you, I didn’t exactly receive this delay as “an opportunity for great joy”—to use James’ words. I can give birth to a bad attitude as fast as anyone. I am grateful for your kindness and patience.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Thursday, August 8, 2019

On friendships

What an inestimable blessing to have friends like this, who will not leave our side when the crowd ebbs, but draw closer as the shadows darken over our path, and the prison damp wraps its chill mantle about us! To be loved like that is earth's deepest bliss!

—F.B. Meyer,on John the Baptist's friends who remained with him after he was imprisoned by Herod

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Thursday, August 1, 2019


Manila in the afternoon

Intramuros, Manila: Old City

This was the view from the roof deck of Bayleaf Hotel in Intramuros. From afar, Manila looked calm and peaceful. If only there were more green and open spaces.

Had a great time hanging out with Aylmer, Harold, and Merv—first year fellows who are so well-adjusted they're coming with up various research ideas as early as this year.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019


Decrease, increase

From FB Meyer’s John the Baptist—on humility.

May I decrease, so that Christ may increase—the Christian's prayer. Quite above is from F.B. Meyer's John the Baptist.

Written using my Platinum 3776, medium nib. Ink: Pilot Iroshizuku Bishamonten (100th anniversary edition).

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

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One day

Scenes at the clinic today:

—My patient's sister, braving the Metro Manila traffic to tell me the news: my patient has died. He refused to be brought to the hospital, saying he was tired and wanted to rest. They buried him two days ago. She gave me unused chemotherapy vials (paclitaxel and carboplatin), hoping others could benefit from them.

—A colleague, inviting me to work on a research project. This was followed by another colleague, telling me we already have data to report.

—Some watchers at my research's focus group discussions for my breast cancer screening study, confessing they did not even know what a mammogram was.

—My colleague's mother, diagnosed with breast cancer, for whom I did chemotherapy. We later found out she had another cancer—a large mass in her kidney. She underwent surgery a few days ago. This afternoon she texted me:

Well, this happened the other day: longganisa (sausages) from Lucban, Quezon, a gift from a patient with breast cancer, whose hair has grown. I told her, "Mukhang sosyal!" She beamed.

I had the longganisa for lunch; I cooked it myself: I poured water onto the pan and heated it until the water evaporated and the natural oils came out—a literal case of being cooked in one's own juices. Naparami ako ng rice!


It's been a long day. Praise be to God for the strength.

Friday, July 26, 2019

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Germ Cell Tumors: the UP-PGH Round Table Discussion

The hosting of the round-table discussion (RTD) bookmarks an important event in subspecialty training. Yesterday our Division sponsored the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology RTD. We discussed a case on germ cell tumor. As has always been tradition, the first year fellows took over the organizing, as we did last year.

GCT Poster

Mervyn was picked to discuss the case, and he did so with ease and grace. He spoke with clarity and authority.

Mervyn Leones
Photo credit: Berbi Berba

This did not come automatically, of course. He had to rehearse and study the material.

Mervyn rehearsing

As with most events, the success of the RTD was largely due to the work behind the scenes. Berbi and Marvin, with laser focus, discussed the slide transitions and the LED screen (many thanks to Roche Philippines and Mundipharma for all the help they've extended in giving pizzazz to our stage design).

Medical Oncology

Berbi reviewed the slides and, with the technical team, made sure the sound transmission was good and the images on screen were clear. Weeks before this, the rest of the team members worked on the protocols, highlighted the guideline-based recommendations for management, polished the script, and contributed their ideas.

Medical Oncology

But the brainchild of the RTD, he who made it his life's work to make the event successful, was Marvin. He thought of the raised platform, the LED screen, the lapel microphone, the lights—his mind is a walking events-organizing machine—while remaining gracious and patient. He channeled, he would probably confess later, his inner "Dane Sacdalan."

Medical Oncology

Here were all the training institutions present, with our invited panelists, Dr. Carmela Lapitan (Urology), Dr. Johanna Patricia Cañal (Radiation Oncology), Dr. Rosario (Supportive, Hospice, and Palliative Management), and Dr. Ding Fernando (Med Onco).

PSMO RTD all institutions
Photo credit: Berbi Berba

I'm not joking when I say the the Cancer Clinic is one of the happiest clinics in the hospital. I'm grateful to work with these people. I wish for them success and happiness and more opportunities to touch the lives of people who need help the most. Congratulations, UP–PGH Med Onco!

Medical Oncology
From right (back row): Mark Ando, Harold Tan, Alfie Chua, Marvin Mendoza, Mervyn Leones, Berbi Berba, Aylmer Hernandez—our first year fellows. 
(Front row): Roger Velasco, myself, Rich King, Karen Mondragon, Fred Ting—second year fellows. Photo credit: Rich King

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

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On our lives' purpose

Flowers on the road, Banga, South Cotabato—photo taken by my mother (April 2019)

F.B. Meyer wrote:

And when we read the words of the apostle Paul about John [the Baptist] "fulfilling his course," we may well ask for grace that we may fill up to the brim the measure of our opportunities, that we may realize to the full God's meaning and intention in creating us: and so our lives shall mate with the Divine Ideal, live sublime words with some heavenly strain, each completing each other. [emphasis mine]

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Swimming updates

I was able to swim for four days. It has been refreshing. I hope to continue this for as long as I can.

I'm sharing a photo my mother took in one of her travels. Not sure where this is, but it's likely somewhere in Negros, where she went to visit some friends.


Monday, July 22, 2019


Shrink not from sorrow

Lonely road
Photo credit: Jan Pelz at Flickr

FB Meyer contemplated on the barrenness of Elizabeth and the reproach she had endured among men because of this. Nevertheless she remained faithful in God and trusted in Him.

FB Meyer's prose is a balm to the soul. Consider this passage about sorrow and how it applies to Christians.

Shrink not from sorrow. It endures but for the brief eastern night; joy cometh in the morning, to remind. I may be caused by long waiting and apparently fruitless prayer. Beneath its pressure heart and flesh may faint. All natural hope may become dead, and the soul be plunged in hopeless despair. "Yet the Lord will command his lovingkindness in the morning," and it will be seen that the dull autumn sowings of tears and loneliness and pain were the necessary preliminary for that heavenly messenger who, standing on the "right side of the altar of incense" shall assure us that prayer is heard.

Sunday, July 21, 2019


Music in our hearts

South Cotabato, sometime in 2016

Treated myself to a book this Sunday morning, John the Baptist by F.B. Meyer, before I went swimming, part of this so-called lifestyle change I'm implementing for myself. In Chapter II, F.B. Meyer begins by quoting a hymn written by John Keble:

There are in this loud stunning tide
Of human care and crime,
With whom the melodies abide
Of th' everlasting chime;
Who carry music in their heart
Through dusky lane and wrangling mart,
Plying their daily task with busier feet,
Because their secret souls a holy strain repeat.

May that be true of us this week: carrying this music in our hearts through the daily stresses of life. Ours is a peace that transcends all human understanding.

Pagbilao, Quezon, taken sometime in 2012. That was Kuya Arbie, still unmarried, walking to the sunset!

On the Pilot Custom 74

Pilot Custom 74 broad nib

This month, my pens for work are the Pilot Custom 74 (which appears above) and the Lamy Safari with 1.1 mm stub nib (something I got for myself when I went to Singapore this month). The Custom 74 is a wet writer, which I prefer, and it glides smoothly onto the page. If you're transitioning to the mid-price range fountain pens, and if you've developed a strong liking to gold nibs (as I have), the Custom 74 may be a good way to start.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Camotes Island

One of my mother's closest friends in dental school is Ninang Baby who has, for years now, been inviting us to visit her in Camotes Island, Cebu. My brother Ralph had some time off last April, so he visited and sent me these photos. I would love to visit some day.

Camotes Island

Camotes Island

Camotes Island

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

On religious liberty

Photo credit: Albert Mohler,

Thoughtful, well-written, and moving speech by Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr., The Eclipse of God, the Subversion of Truth, and the Assault Upon Religious Liberty:

We must defend the right to believe in enough theology to get us into trouble with anyone, anywhere, in a secular age. We must defend the right of Christians, along with all other believers, to be faithful in the public square as well as in the privacy of our own homes, hearts, and churches. We must defend the right to teach our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We must defend the rights of Christian schools to be Christian—and to order our institutions around the Word of God without fearing the crushing power of the state. We must defend the right of generations of those yet unborn, to know the liberties we have known and now defend.

Oddly enough, this will mean defending florists and cake bakers and fire chiefs, and pharmacists, and teachers, and preachers, and moms and dads who dare to resist the secular powers that be.

For Christians, eventually it all comes down to our faithfulness in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and nurturing biblical churches and raising our own children in the grace of God.

No God, no truth. No truths, no liberty. No liberty, and nothing remains but the heel of someone’s boot.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Congratulations are in order

Congratulations are in order for Drs. Bobby De Guzman, Norman Cabaya, Ozzie So, Crizel Uy, Paulo Vergara, and Ken Samala for making it to the written exams part of diplomate exam in Medical Oncology! I just had to write this down. The news made my day.

Monday, July 15, 2019




I'm happy to inform you that I've started swimming again. Knowing I need physical exercise and understanding that I have an aversion to the gym, I figured I should start playing a new sport (tennis or badminton—something non-contact and uses rackets) or resume swimming. I was largely encouraged by a sister from church, Ate Yvette, who started swimming to help with her back pain, and by a colleague from work, Harold, who said I should have a go at it. I wonder how long I can sustain this, but I already have the necessary equipment: swimming shorts, Speedo goggles na may grado (with prescription lenses), and a quick-dry towel. If you have books on swimming, or biographies of swimmers you can recommend—those would be great, too.

Things become more real to me when I read about them.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


Cherith is a brook in the Bible, mentioned in the account of the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 17).

As an aside, the passage reminded me of Ma'am Cherith, who manages the Med Onco office’s front desk, and helps oversee all things academic and administrative. A kind and gracious lady, she also helps with our research documents and prepares, out of love, a fresh pot of brewed coffee daily. She hates it that my documents are crumpled; she hands me folders and envelopes to prevent that from happening.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

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The Giving Café and my second affogato

Found a comfortable, quiet café a couple of blocks away from home. I decided to work here for the afternoon, after a comforting Saturday nap.


The Giving Café (TGC): A Social Enterprise is surrounded by specialty coffee stores.



One gets the feeling that the management takes coffee seriously. But not too seriously: the place feels relaxed, almost like the cafés in Seoul, but more homey and familiar. The tables are long, there are plugs, and the internet is fast. The store offers free complimentary internet connection for an hour, and then it's Php 35 for each succeeding hour.

I'm surrounded by a couple who brought their charming daughter with them, working women deciding on a business plan, and friends who are catching up with life—it has a youthful, scholarly vibe, and it reminds me of old UP Diliman Main Library. My saucer features a quote by Steve Jobs.

Love what you do.

The store closes at 10 PM, which is just about right—it's the time of the day when my productivity is at its lowest.

Before closing time, I'm having my second affogato for the week. I'm getting to love this dessert more and more.


Sleep and burnout

Kaye and Tia, resident physicians from Psychiatry, visited the Medical Oncology office to continue their series on mental health. It's a big thing these days—and for good reason.

From left: Kaye, Rich (big head), and Karen

Roger, Nathant, and Mark Andō

Topics like physician burnout, caregiver fatigue, and depression in the workplace have gained traction, the subjects of many medical conferences and discussions across specialties.

Physician Burnout - Medscape
Credit: Medscape National Physician Burnout, Depression, and Suicide Report (2019)

Kaye spoke about burnout and how to avoid it. Based on the routine diagnostic survey they conducted, many of us oncologists suffer from burnout. One of the ways to avoid burnout is adequate sleep. There's no actual defined time, but it should result to a relaxed, rejuvenated, and refreshed state. She shared tips for regular sleep.

Credit: Mervyn Leones (@louismervyn), screenshot of his Instagram story

I don't have problems with sleeping, but I've come to appreciate the value of good sleep. In fact, these past months, I've been reading and thinking a lot more about naps and sleep. I asked my brother Ralph to get me comfortable cotton elephant pants when he went to Bangkok. I bought a pair of pajamas from Uniqlo, which were on sale. I looked at duvet and duvet covers last night and ended the day by ordering online.

Credit: Pinterest

But nothing compares to peace of mind as key to good sleep. I remember Isaiah 26:3:

You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.

I hope you've had a good sleep last night!

Friday, July 12, 2019


Affogato is Italian for "drowned"


Tried my first affogato yesterday at a café along Scout Rallos called Goffa. Affogato, Italian for "drowned," is a coffee-based dessert prepared by pouring hot espresso to a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I honestly don't know what to make of it, actually. I enjoyed it for a time, but when my tummy grumbled a few minutes later—I am, after all, lactose intolerant—I started to question my decision.

Thursday, July 11, 2019


King Asa

Three days in a row of blog updates. I'm starting to get my groove back.

So allow me to share with you what I've been reading this morning. It's about King Asa of Judah (1 King 15 and 2 Chronicles 13–14) who is described as someone "who did what was right in the eyes of the Lord." The next passages described him thus: "...the heart of the Asa was wholly true to the Lord all his days." He went on to remove pagan worship, put away the male prostitutes in the temples, and remove all the idols. No slip ups, no return to sin—just straight up obedience and devotion to the Lord. When he came to battle, King Asa cried out, "Help us, O Lord, for we rely on you..." This portion of the Bible documents in rise and fall of the kings of Judah and Israel. It's amazing how the Bible never shies away from talking about the sins and shortcoming of the leaders of the land. Ah, to be like King Asa, who loved the Lord and obeyed Him all his days.

I leave you with this—a kid in shorts, walking alone. What was going on in his mind?


Wednesday, July 10, 2019


Looking for fountain pens in Singapore

During our trip to Singapore for a pre-conference workshop on clinical trials, Fred and I looked for Overjoyed at Golden Wall Centre, Bain Street. My brothers got me the Diamine Chrome ink I still use for journalling from that store. We found the store, but it was closed. The website told us it was going to open the week after our visit, when we'd already be back in the Philippines.

We searched for other fountain pen places and found Fook Hing near Bras Basah.


I got a 1.1 mm nib for my Lamy Safari and my favorite purchase for that trip: a 100th anniversary limited edition Pilot Iroshizuku red/pink ink called Bishamonte.

Bishamonten Iroshizuku

I couldn't resist the urge to try it and even indoctrinated convinced Kuya JI, one of our hosts, to have a go at fountain pens. I think Kuya is buying his own fountain pen soon!

Days after the trip, I got a message from Overjoyed. A soft opening! We'll definitely come visit in next few months when we'll be back, God-willing.

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