Walking the talk: Making 2016 a healthy year

Thursday, August 18, 2016 Stef dela Cruz, MD 0 Comments

It wasn’t until I took a peek at my archives today that I realized my blog was a little more than four years old! I did not expect it to last this long – health, after all, is something many of us think of only when we have problems about it.

Oftentimes, health becomes an issue after sickness makes it one.

That is why many of us don’t like spending money and time on health if we’re healthy. Going to the gym becomes important only when we start gaining weight. Investing on health insurance starts to matter only when we get diagnosed with hypertension or high cholesterol.

Healthier PHHere’s a token I received which will forever serve as a reminder of what I should (and could) do: build a healthier Philippines.

But trends are changing. Millennials are actually more particular about health (see number 7 in this listicle by Business Insider). They love eating healthy and getting physical.

Even games have evolved, requiring gamers to get off their butts and head out to catch monsters (kaway-kaway to fellow Pokemon Go trainers), turning technology that was once pro-couch-potato into a fun tool for unintentional fitness.


5 Healthy changes in 2016

Before I annoy you with my official endorsement of Pokemon Go as the innovative answer to many health woes (save for the safety issues due to careless use), I’ll dive into my list, which details five healthy things that happened to me this year. I share this with you in hopes that my story inspires you to share yours – we are, after all, shaped by the company we keep.


1. I embarked on a journey towards health leadership

Unilab Foundation Leadership JourneyHere I am with fellow doctors, feeling empowered to help build a healthier Philippines! (Photo from Unilab Foundation)

Together with about 30 other doctors handpicked by Unilab Foundation, I embarked on a journey that led me from my comfy two-bedroom apartment to the it’s-so-outdoorsy-there’s-sometimes-no-actual-bathroom charm of Siargao in Mindanao. It was an emotional, intellectual, and physical experience that gutted me raw, drawing out in me that thing – that calling – that made me want to swap my stethoscope for the humbler pen.

(Side note: Siargao is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. I am haunted everyday by mental pictures of its clear blue waters, plush greenery, and fresh air. Going there was a healthy break for me, one I didn’t know I needed!)

Experiencing the six-day journey was a rite of passage, one I was happy to have said yes to after having said no the first time.

I’m glad I was given another chance because it was the healthiest experience any young (naks!) doctor could ever look back on – and any of my fellow Leadership Journey alumni will tell you the same thing.


2. I became “judgmental” about positive ideas

Ideas-Positive-2016I’m not one to judge people… except when I’m one of the judges, as was the case in this year’s Ideas Positive run!

Speaking of Unilab Foundation, one of their five flagship programs is Ideas Positive, which taps the talent of my favorite demographic – the millennials! – in helping to build a #healthierPH. I was fortunate to be part of the panel of judges during the semi-finals, together with these awesome folks:

- Commissioner Percival Cendana, National Youth Commission
- Dr. Christian Gomez, Ideas Positive Program Manager
- Prof. Ma. Christine Reyes, Development expert
- Dr. Paolo Medina, Community Health Medicine expert
- Anna Torres, Unilab Foundation Projects Controller


Imagine speaking to 13 groups of young students proposing and implementing health projects for an entire year with a budget of PhP100,000 per group – and many of them aren’t even from health courses! Of these, five were chosen as finalists, awarded during the National Youth Forum on Public Health on August 12, 2016.

Among these young minds, I know there are no losers. When the youth become health champions, everybody is a winner.


3. I learned a thing or two about persons with intellectual disabilities

Dare to Hire Me NowPeople with intellectual disabilities and companies happy to hire them unite during this momentous event of Project Inclusion. (Photo from Unilab Foundation)

I’m a doctor yet I know very little about the reality that people with intellectual disabilities (PWIDs) have to face, including the unfair and unjustified slim pickings they make do with when it comes to employment options.

The workshop held by Probe Media Foundation, Inc. and Unilab Foundation, which centered on PWIDs’ contributions and capabilities, was an eye-opener. Did you know that people with autism are an asset in the workplace? They are rarely late (if at all), they don’t gossip, and they don’t cheat. Hire one and their work ethic becomes contagious to everyone else!

What moved me the most was the realization that PWIDs are expected to understand others more than others are expected to understand them. Enlightened companies feel fortunate to have them under their employ and it is our responsibility to continue to provide them an inclusive workplace.

Are you part of the human resources department of a company? Perhaps you’re a CEO looking to hire? Visit Dare To Hire Me Now and look for the PWID to complete your workforce! Hire a PWID now and you have nothing to lose, except perhaps your previous misconceptions about what PWIDs are capable of.


4. SeriousMD thinks I’m one of the top 11 Filipino doctors with a blog worth following

Top Philippine Doctors BlogsMy website is one of the top 11 Philippine doctors’ blogs, according to SeriousMD. Hurray!

I realize that the first three healthy things that happened to me involved the Unilab Foundation. I’m not under their employ – I just happened to get involved in a lot of their programs this year. If it’s meant to be, then it’s meant to be, right?

In any case, number four on this list is an endorsement from SeriousMD, deeming my website one of the top 11 Philippine doctors’ blogs.

I’m actually psyched that most of the doctors on the list are people I’ve already met and worked with. Although I doubt that I deserve to be on this list, I can say I’m in good company.


5. I helped find homes for two three beautiful cats

Rescued and adoptedRescued from a locked storeroom, Sitti (left) and her kittens Tumi (upper right) and Chun-Li (lower right) have all found adoptive purrents! Read their story in the August 2016 issue of Manila Bulletin’s Animal Scene Magazine. (Upper right photo from Gian Francis Ruiz)

So I originally thought it was just two cats. After all, two of the three cats I fostered each found families to go home to! Yes, they’ve been adopted by wonderful purrents.

In the upper right picture, you’ll see Gian and John in a beautiful picture together with Tumi, one of Sitti’s two kittens. In the lower right photo, you’ll see Stanley Chi handing Chun-Li (Sitti’s other kitten) over to Nek, her new meowmy.

However, it dawned on me that the third cat did find a forever-home, too: Sitti is now very much at home with me!

Because nobody adopted her, she ended up being what people in animal welfare called a “foster fail”. It’s actually a happy failure: It means you end up adopting the cat you are fostering!

You might be wondering how animal welfare factors into health. Too many cats and dogs wander our streets, without food, shelter, and vaccination, not to mention love. They end up getting sick, which means they are vectors of disease for humans as well as other animals.

Every animal without a home is a health issue. It is an issue not only of animal-borne diseases, but of blindness (because we turn a blind eye), deafness (because we turn a deaf ear) – you get the drift. To stay healthy as a people, we need to start caring for those who need us most.

Every cat or dog you adopt helps save the lives of both animals and humans! Please adopt instead of buying from pet stores or breeders. For as long as we have strays roaming the streets, it is our obligation to find homes for these wonderful creatures that do not deserve the neglect and cruelty they experience each day.


What healthy things have happened to you lately?

But enough about me and my preachy little diatribe! How about you? What healthy things have happened to you lately?

The seemingly small things we do each day to nurture our nation’s health, if taken together, are not too small anymore. So, please, share your stories. We can’t have enough of those.

Even if it’s just a short story about how you avoided that yummy slice of cake, it matters. Tweet it! Leave a comment here or share it on your own network!

Tag me or not – it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are sharing your story and inspiring others, making a ripple of change in a world where small ripples make big waves.

Stef dela CruzAbout the blogger
Stef dela Cruz is a vegan doctor and writer. She received the 2013 Award for Health Media from the Department of Health. She is the editor of The Manila Bulletin's Animal Scene Magazine. Get in touch if you want to invite her as a speaker!