Dear Miriam Defensor-Santiago
(Note: For those who have lung cancer, a warning: I will be talking about survival rates in this article and if you need emotional preparation, you may decide to read no further.)
One of the first things I say to anyone who has cancer is that doctors can give you a prognosis, but don’t take that to mean he or she has told you when you are going to die.
A prognosis tells you how serious your cancer is and what your chances for survival are. Survival rates, on the other hand, are based on averages for a large number of patients. In that sense these are rough guides to how long you have left. Many people live longer than the average and many die sooner.
But survival rates for Stage 4 lung cancer are rather bleak and the cure you claim in just 3 months' time, is highly improbable. A miracle, if you will. Certainly the medical literature does not speak of a cure.
And now that you have filed your certificate of candidacy for President of the Republic of the Philippines, we need to know: have you really been gifted with a miracle? (READ: Will voters go for ill candidates like Miriam Santiago?)
Facing mortality with courage
I know this may sound harsh and some readers may be reacting to my lack of consideration for your feelings.
As in many cultures, Filipinos find it hard to talk about death. But spiritual leaders and mental health professionals advise us that we should overcome this reticence. Death, after all, is inevitable. There is something we lose in terms of courage and authenticity when we refuse its reality. Particular to planning one’s life in the light of a cancer diagnosis, it helps to have some estimate of the likely course of your disease and the time you have left, in order to plan the best, most comfortable and affirming alternatives for you.
This is why I admired you when you announced your Stage 4 lung cancer with such aplomb. You seemed so unafraid and so matter-of-fact. So like the person you were when you said that you eat death threats for breakfast.
You were a professor, and there is something in the life of a true intellectual that makes her braver about any information she can discover about the world and herself. In fact I admit to the guilty pleasure of sharing in your intellectual snobbery. (After all, when you make fun of other people’s stupidity is it not because you feel so smart and we feel superior right along with you?)
Thus, while professionals would caution against a doctor blurting out survival rates to an unprepared patient, I don’t think that is you. As a courageous and intellectually superior woman, I am almost certain you asked to know your survival rates almost immediately and are familiar with them by now. (For those who have lung cancer, a repeat warning: I will be talking about survival rates now and if you need emotional preparation, you may decide to read no further.)
Bravery beyond politics
If my faith in you is well-founded you would know what I mean by “bleak.”
The American Cancer Society states that the percentage of patients who live at least 5 years after their Stage 4 lung cancer is diagnosed is 1%. And there is nothing in the literature that talks about cure. In the harsh words of the medical profession, the cancer is incurable.
As a fellow advocate of the reproductive health law, I was saddened to hear you announce that you had lung cancer and that it was Stage 4. But as I said, your pluck and spirit were admirable. When you followed up with a sequel to your best-selling joke book, it seemed that you had finally gone beyond the limitations of being a politician – I disliked your defense of corrupt presidents and former chief justice Renato Corona. With your continuing zest, dear senator, it seemed you were ready to teach the nation far more than how to be a competent politician.
When people began hinting that you were going to run for president I was even more in admiration. I thought you were up to your naughty tricks again. Threatening a comeback as if to say, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”
I hardly thought you would actually run. But now you have, and worse, you have chosen Bongbong Marcos as your vice president.
Public has right to know
And so I am sorry, dear senator. You, whom I chose to forgive over and over, because I love disruptive people in mainstream places. This time I cannot just smile and let this pass.
This time I must ask you, in all fairness, to release your medical records.
Because if you did not receive a miracle, there is a great probability that you will not survive your 6-year term – should you win. You are essentially asking us to vote Bongbong Marcos into the presidency if we were to choose as you choose. (As for Bongbong, suffice it to say that he is like his father except dumber, and despite his protestations, the Marcos dictatorship is rightfully reviled locally and internationally.)
Knowing also how campaigns work, if you did receive a miracle, you should announce it and prove it because it’s a sure-fire way to gain the presidency. Your low-profile announcement causes me to doubt you further.
Your recent interpellation of the Freedom of Information Bill shows that you understand the need for transparency. I ask you, in that spirit, to release your medical records.
As you know this will require your voluntary release of confidential information. As you are a renowned jurist, you know that there is enough precedent for what I am asking as well as arguments against it. Perhaps you also know that I would not be the first physician to ask this of a presidential candidate and many who have done this are far more expert in this and more prominent than I have been.
My area of expertise being psychology, I have opposed the release of medical records on the suspicion of mental illness because, given the stigma, I feel this would unjustly bias the voters.
But this is not a psychological illness, it is a physical one.
And you broke part of your confidentiality protections when you announced your illness for which, I suggest, you got admiration and political mileage. I also think that it is dangerous for people to come away with the impression that lung cancer can be cured. It may cause them to be more complacent about taking preventive measures.
There is no clear demarcation when the public’s need to know exceeds your right to confidentiality. But as a physician and as a concerned citizen, I believe you tipped the balance when you filed your certificate of candidacy.
Please, release your medical records now. – Rappler.com