‘Toots’ Ople on being cancer survivor, DMW chief: I can handle it

INCOMING Department of Migrant Workers Secretary Susan “Toots” Ople would have wanted to just ignore a group of “OFWs” who recently protested her appointment, questioning her fitness to handle the job due to her breast cancer. But she broke her silence to stand up for breast cancer survivors who may be discriminated against like her.

“Tama ba na pag may sakit ang tao, di na entitled na tuparin ang mga pangarap niya for herself and para sa bansa nya? Tama ba na i-discriminate ka kung nagka-cancer [Is it right to say that someone with an ailment has no right to pursue his dream for himself or for the country. Is it right to discriminate someone who had cancer] or dialysis, heart ailment? Ibig ba sabihin hintayin mo na lang ang katok ni kamatayan [Does that mean one should just wait for death to knock at one’s door]?” Ople said in reply to questions at BusinessMirror Coffee Club episode streamed live on Facebook and YouTube on Tuesday. The Coffee Club brought together panelists from media outfits under the ALC Group, including the Philippines Graphic magazine, DWIZ, Pilipino Mirror and CNN Philippines.

President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos earlier named Ople head of the new department created by law in January 2022, dedicated solely for the protection and welfare of over 10 million Filipinos working overseas. She was among his first appointees.

Ople, an OFW advocate and founding head of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center, had been diagnosed with breast cancer stage 2 in 2019 and underwent chemotherapy and radiation during the first two years of radiation. She wrote about her struggles in her “Scribbles” column in BusinessMirror.

Ople said in her first meeting with Marcos and incoming Executive Secretary Vince Rodriguez, she immediately disclosed that she has breast cancer.

“I was very upfront with President Marcos. When we met, I was first to say, ‘Sirs, I have breast cancer.’  You know, it was perfectly fine. They instantly and very efficiently moved to policy matters,” she recalled.

Ople described as “foul” the protesters’ move to use her photo taken two years ago which she posted on Facebook while undergoing chemotherapy. At that time, she said, the DMW had not yet been created.

She said she really had no intention to respond to this protest, but had to respond to a question from a BM Coffee Club panelist. Also, she changed her mind when she thought about other breast cancer survivors like her who might be discriminated against when they apply for work.

“I guess I have to stand up for fellow cancer survivors when I say you get to know yourself when you are down and out. God would not have given me this new path if I am not up for it,” she said.

Ople said she just wished that the protesters and her detractors would just see the value of life.

“I just want to be humble enough to say every morning is a blessing. I hope yung mga nagpo-protesta can see every morning as a blessing. Spread love lang, spread kindness,” she said. Ople will assume the DMW post on July 1.

Breast cancer is the leading killer of Filipino women aged 35-50. But with early detection, breast cancer is also one of the cancers with the highest rate of survival, BusinessMirror editor-in-chief Lourdes M. Fernandez, a panelist at the BM Coffee Club, pointed out.

“I personally know of people [who had breast cancer] and have been in remission for two or three decades, they have been functioning, they have built families.

“We keep talking about inclusivity, PWDs, the same way we should not discriminate against people who are sick. We will get sick at some point in our lives,” Fernandez added.