Dr. Gia Sison had a tough battle with cancer but the journey instilled within her a purpose – to spread to many people as possible that cancer can be beaten. This is promoting the importance of early detection as cancer is easier to treat at its earlier stages, and increasing access to screening and treatment which are crucial in winning against the disease, especially for the poor and marginalized.
Gia Sison, a doctor specializing in Occupational Medicine, social media influencer and host of CNN Philippines digital series “G Talks”, has been cancer free since 2013. In an interview, she further elaborated on the values along with the type of mindset that helped her survive stage 2 breast cancer.
“In going through cancer, it is important to take it slow – one day at a time. Be grateful for the small things. From diagnosis to treatment, the small milestones matter. I’ve learned to be thankful if I don’t vomit after a session of chemotherapy or if I get appetite at all that would push me to eat. It’s about being grateful of the small things that you tend to overlook,” recalled Dr. Sison.
Dr. Sison underscored the value of family that helped her go through the difficult times. “You can’t fight this alone. You need a strong support system and you usually get this from your family,” she said.
It was particularly challenging for Dr. Gia to switch roles, from being a doctor to being a patient. At first, she found it hard to face her condition. “I discovered the lump on my left breast incidentally. I knew right away that the lump was breast cancer. It had the characteristics of breast cancer – it was fixed, it had no definite shape, and it was big. I wanted to have mastectomy right away, before even having a biopsy.”
Skipping the facts of her disease was a form of expressing her denial. Fortunately, Dr. Sison’s friend, who’s also a doctor, convinced her to go through the whole process, from diagnosis to treatment, which should be taken slowly but surely. “I had the biopsy and my diagnosis made me realize firsthand the importance of early testing. Early detection really saves lives. I’m scared myself, until now, because I undergo testing every year to ensure that my disease hasn’t recurred. But it really takes courage to face your fears,” she stressed.
“There have been many times that I wanted to deny that I’m sick, or sad, or that I have to rest. It took me humility and courage to be myself, to admit that I’m sick, that I have to set aside my knowledge as a doctor and deal with cancer as a patient.”
Dr. Sison underwent six cycles of chemotherapy with the faith that her journey with the disease would soon be over and that she would live. “Faith kept me going. Faith will help a lot in making the journey better, that there is something greater than us that’s in control.”
Her experience with cancer strengthened Dr. Gia’s compassion as a doctor especially in her dealings with patients. This also pushes her determination to advocate for patients and to form a
support group for patients suffering from not just cancer, but chronic illnesses in general.
“I want to emphasize that there is hope after diagnosis. At third chemo cycle, I wanted to stop and discontinue my treatment. But before I knew it, I was already at my 6th and final cycle.
Don’t let a diagnosis define you because the brain, your mindset, can be powerful against cancer.”
Dr. Sison is a cancer patient advocate fighting with the Hope From Within: Cancer Game Plan
PH which espouses early detection, access to treatments, and improved patient navigation system in the Philippines.
As a patient advocate, Dr. Sison took the opportunity to spread awareness on the evolving landscape of cancer treatment that brought about innovative therapies improving patient outcomes. One of these is immunotherapy which boosts the patient’s immune system so it can recognize and attack cancer cells. Clinical trials show that immunotherapy resulted in better patient prognosis and quality of life. It is currently approved in the Philippines for among others lung, melanoma, head and neck, gastric, bladder, and Classical Hodgkin lymphoma.
“Our goal is that no patient dies because they don’t have financial support and access to treatment. Everyone should get the chance to live and fight,” noted Dr. Sison.
Hope From Within: Cancer Game Plan PH is a campaign led by MSD in the Philippines that aims to put patients at the heart of the fight against the dreaded disease. Using powerful voices from leaders, advocates, policymakers, survivors, support groups, and patients, it boosted awareness of proper cancer care, sparking conversations and actions on how to reduce the burden of cancer-related mortalities and other challenges and to spread information and increase access to new scientifically proven treatment options such as immunotherapy and targeted therapies.
Visit www.hopefromwithin.org to know more about where cancer patients can get support.