Monday, October 30, 2023

Dog in Zambales

Dog, pathway, landscape

Keep on going

There are days when I think about shutting down this blog. Nobody reads blogs these days. I prize my privacy. I have rediscovered the pleasures of keeping a prayer journal in pen and paper, which has its own advantages: I can write anything I want without anybody reading it. I have become rather critical of my own writing—which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the time of day. I cringe when I reread what I have written. So often, I forget that I have written anything about a subject at all.

But I realize, too, that writing for a potential audience here has been a habit of many years. Whatever I post here is meant to flex my writing muscles. Blogging helps me metabolize my thoughts and experiences for the reading pleasure—I hope—of others. I hardly edit my posts. The process I employ in writing a blog is different when, for instance, I submit a piece for an anthology or magazine. Those instances rarely happen.

I do not blog as frequently as I used to. Maybe I should.

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Narrative medicine


I spoke at and moderated a lunch symposium of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO) annual convention. Credits to Kgel Bebero—wellness advocate, world traveler, medical oncologist from Trento and Tagum—for the catchy title. Soul-scription—Writing for Our Well-being. With me on stage were Drs. Honey Abarquez, no less than the conference organizer herself, Will Liangco, bestselling author whose book, Even Ducks Get Liver Cancer, is selling like hotcakes (where are the hotcakes my father used to buy from palengke—yellow, doused in margarine, and sprinkled in refined sugar?), and Joti Tabula, whose gift is not just heart-expanding poetry but the generous encouragement to doctors and opportunities to share their stories. We were thrilled that the medical humanities and narrative medicine were given the time of day—at a prime time slot at that—in a prestigious meeting that normally features lectures on new data about treatments for cancer. That people stayed until after lunch to listen to us read our pieces was a surprise. I told Will, who sat beside me, “Andito pa sila!” So we talked about our motivations for writing and how it helps us as doctors make sense of our experiences. Many thanks to the leadership of PSMO for the kind invitation.

In the evening, I, together with 22 young medical oncologists, were inducted as PSMO fellows. Lining up outside and waiting for our names to be called, we reminisced the harrowing moments of the written and oral exams two years ago. “Ayoko nang ulitin ‘yun,” one of them said. Praise God for His goodness in being with us this far in our careers.

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Right after the customary handshakes with the PMSO leadership onstage, I rushed to another venue to attend the 2023 Rotor Literary Awards. I met met Prof. Marjorie Evasco (so radiant and elegant in her Filipiniana), Dr. Noel Pingoy and Dr. Joti Tabula (who co-edited the new anthology of medical narratives) as well the leadership of the Philippine College of Physicians. I also met Mark Siñagan, who practices in Maitum, Sarangani. He was in my PGH internship batch. He won second prize in the creative non-fiction category. I also saw the poet Dr. Elvie Razon-Gonzalez (whom I'd just met in Bohol a few days ago), the podcaster-writer Dr. Ella Masamayor and the pediatrician Dr. Mitchie Gonzales, who joined the La Salle Creative Non-fiction writing for doctors last year. I also met Dr. Su-Ann Locnen, Dr. Regina Berba, my consultant in GenMed at PGH, and a host of bigwigs from the leadership of the Philippine College of Physicians. I arrived just minutes after the program had ended but I was able to get a sense of the excitement and joy of being in a crowd that celebrates medical humanities.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Arturo Rotor as Doctor-Writer and the Growing Field of Narrative Medicine in the Philippines

Dr. Elvie Razon-Gonzalez

Congratulations to Dr. Elvie Razon-Gonzalez for winning a Palanca this year. This evening I'm moderating her talk on Arturo Rotor as Doctor-Writer and the Growing Field of Narrative Medicine in the Philippines. There will be a 

Friday, October 13, 2023

Typecast 11: Hermes Baby

Typecast 11: Hermes Baby

The Hermes Baby has arrived. Mr. Gerald dela Cruz, typewriter restorer-extraordinaire, allowed me to receive this machine from his workshop in Comandante Street, Quiapo. It is a solid machine. He did not need to do repainting because it is well-preserved. It comes with the original case bearing instructions on how to change ribbons or which parts do what. This brings my collection of working typewriters to four: 

  • the Smith Corona, which I used to write my entry for the Rotor Awards
  • the Erika-Weinrich, a remnant of the Cold War, and 
  • the Underwood Universal, which sounds like a character in a Netflix series (Frank Underwood, of course, from House of Cards!).

What a great addition to my growing collection. This typewriter is truly portable. It is very light and does not occupy too much space.

Hermes Baby

Hermes Baby

Reach Gerald through Instagram.


Med onco family—my batchmates edition

My med onco family - batchmates edition

Extremely proud of what they are doing and who they have become! Roger, Rich, Freddie, and Kmomsh Karen. There are days when I wish I had them around the clinic, seeing their own patients in the other cubicles, so I could shoot them questions, discuss my diagnostic and management dilemma, and occasionally have a fun chitchat and share a hearty laughter, which was how we had coped during training. (Photo taken during the annual Philippine Society of Medical Oncology convention, where we were all assigned to speak on-stage at some point.)


Embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope

Thomas Cranmer's collect
Typed using my Underwood Portable.


Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Nicole Kidman, Melbourne Central Station

Nicole Kidmen, Melbourne Central Station




Fireflies along the river (Maribojoc, Bohol). Photos taken by the internist-medical oncologist-hematologist-writer-photographer-renaissance-man Noel Pingoy.

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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Bohol Diary: Day Two

Successfully squeezed myself into the travel plans of Drs. Elvie, JP, and Rey. Was welcomed with open arms to join their day tour of the island.

Woke up at 4 am and waited for the beginning of daybreak before heading out to sea. Young and old men in small boats hauled fresh fish to the shore. Overheard friendly banter and the chorus of dogs, as if in conversation. I imagined that, after the ritual of fishing and sailing, the men would all be home with their wives and children, on dry land, waiting for the next sunrise. The waters were calm. Had to walk many meters from the shore to approach deeper waters conducive to swimming. Carefully stepped on sea grass, which felt ticklish on bare feet. Was far out into sea, yet the water was below my knees. Decided to head back and swim in the pool. Alone, I realized everyone was sleeping, or transitioning to wakefulness. It was 6 am. Breakfast was ready. Had danggit and coffee. From my vantage point, it seemed like a good day to meander: not too hot, with pillar of clouds of day to shield us from the oppressive Visayan heat.

First off: Napoleon Abueva’s Blood Compact Shrine. Datu Sikuatuna signed an agreement with General Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565. Bohol is the stuff of Philippine history. The island is steeped in myth and stories.

Then, a 45-minute van ride to Carmen, Bohol to see the Chocolate Hills. Thrilled to see the geological wonder in person: a marvel of God’s creation. The photos don't do them justice. "Buról" was my go-to anyong lupa in Sibika at Kultura, when the teacher asked the class to draw a landscape. The hills were green at this time of year. No huge trees grew on them. The marker on the lookout told the story of how the hills came to be. This part of the island was underwater. As the waters receded, the hills emerged. The hills were made of calcium, not fertile soil. I asked the driver-tour guide Lumin what his favorite hill was. He said he liked everything.

Drove straight to the tarsiers. If you asked me to rank animals based on their cuteness when they sleep, I’d say the tarsiers would be shooting for first place; koalas a far second; and our dog Paul a close third. Caretakers warned us not to use flash-photography or make noises. Otherwise, we’d stress the tarsiers out. Got fresh buko juice and had Bohol Bee Farm ice cream. 

Stopped over the “man-made forest.” Dr. Elvie asked why it was man-made. Mahogany, apparently an invasive species, were planted by the roadside. To get a proper photo taken, one has to risk getting crushed by speeding vehicles.


Hungry. Lumin brought us to the Loboc river cruise. Well-traveled friends told me it was underwhelming and the food was bland, but Lumin said this was different. Stepped on a boat with eat-all-you-can buffet. Fish, clams, seaweed salad, tropical fruit, rice-based desserts, pork chops. Crowd serenaded by a Boholano balladeer as the boat slowly moved forward into the river. Heard American country music, OPM love songs, Cebuano folk songs. To cheer the Korean tourists, he sang the Korean national anthem and a love song ("Sarang hae yo"), earning him enthusiastic clapping and a generous tip when the hat was passed around. Korean girl beside me said, "He sing better than Korean!" Same girl said she loved the Philippines.


Dropped by the Dauis church, built in 1697, to see the well with miraculous water. Did not get inside because there was a wedding we'd interrupt had we insisted.


Headed back to Amarela for Prof. Marjorie Evasco's book launching and 70th birthday celebration. Listened excerpts read from "It Is Time to Come Home," a literary jewel. Felt stunned and grateful that I got invited to this intimate affair of closely held friendships. Heard heart-warming testimonials from her colleagues, teachers, friends, and family: she is a woman whose generosity of spirit and humility of heart have touched many. A common thread from what were spoken: just do what she says, and you'll do well.

The book launch/birthday celebration also doubled as a PCP Medical Humanities meeting.

Merienda cena by the beach was a feast. Everything was well-curated, each detail considered.

The medical contingent with Prof. Marj: Drs. Noel Pingoy, Elvie Razon-Gonzales, myself, Alice Sun-Cua, Rey Isidto, Will Liangco, Joti Tabula. Front row: Prof. Marj Evasco with Dr. Charito Mendoza.

When I thanked Prof. Marj for the goodie bag, she replied:

The red Binacol bag was woven by malingkatweaves run by Fawziyyah Maridul of Sulu, who had become a friend after I gave her & her weavers a copy of Dreamweavers. She also printed the gift tags. The Binacol design is the Tinggian Mandarawak’s blanket, although the one for healing is pure white. The coffee is “Café de Nueva Vida,” & Dr. Miñosa, retired anesthesiologist who now runs Buenaventurada Farms in Carmen, Bohol, personally delivered them. The Ube Kinampay pastel from Osang’s Baclayon was delivered to Amarela personally by Pie Maristela, who now runs her mother’s heritage pastry house.

As if those were not enough, she arranged a quiet visit to the fireflies by the river in Maribojoc, her hometown. She would gift us with memories. We left the hotel at 7 PM and stepped on the boat at 8 PM. Darkness surrounded us, with streaks of bright light from the lightning. Rain was coming. Then we saw the magical fireflies, sparkling like Christmas lights. The young man who guided us said they fed on the mangrove trees' flowers. Our boat inched forward so we could get a closer look. Magical. A firefly came near, curious why outsiders like us were around. It rained, and then we went back to the hotel.

Left early the next day to catch Oceanjet to Cebu. Did not get to say a proper goodbye to my companions, who were sleeping. Flight to Gensan was delayed but I had Prof. Marj's poems with me. It was time for me to come home, but it surprised me that I felt at home where I had come from. 

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