Leading Women: Gia Sison on how Filipinas can develop courage

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Mental health advocate Dr. Gia Sison talks about how she powered through cancer and how that experience helped her be a stronger and a more resilient woman. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — One in every 13 Filipinas are expected to get breast cancer in their lifetime. Five years ago, Gia Sison was the one.

She had several bouts of hopelessness, even wanting to quit on her third cycle of chemotherapy. Even with her family and friends fervently helping her, she still felt unable to move forward, so she looked for other venues for support.

“I first reached out through Twitter,” she says. “Literally, [I tweeted,] 'Any tips on how to cope?' … [and] I received so many, hindi pa nga feedback eh, I would consider it support of people, of women who I didn't know.”

A doctor by profession, Sison shares that after discovering the power of social media in harnessing a sense of community, she started sharing her own experiences and tweeted lines of encouragement and hope, which have increasingly gained traction over the years.

“I found out the importance of a support system, which I didn't get because there's no support group for breast cancer here … and being mentally fit really led to my recovery,” she says.

It is this importance of belongingness, of having people to turn to that Sison continues to advocate for in her various initiatives. She now leads the Philippine chapter of the Livestrong Foundation, a nonprofit that provides support for people affected by cancer, and she also started HealthxPH, an online platform she runs with six other doctors where they answer any kind of health-related queries from their audience.

“After [experiencing] cancer, it led me into thinking that we're actually capable of being whoever we want to be. We just need to push the boundaries more and not be so scared of who we are,” says Sison. Photos by JL JAVIER

On Saturday, March 17, Sison will be part of CNN Philippines’ “Leading Women to #PressForProgress” event where she will discuss how she powered through cancer, and the lessons that cancer taught her, which led her to her many advocacies.

“I'll be talking about courage, resiliency, and being relentless as a woman,” she says. “It's more of mental health in general, since that's also my advocacy. So it's really more on the courage of being who you are.”

One of the key learnings she took away from having to experience a terminal illness is to look fear in the face. She says that in the Philippines, she still sees a lot of women who are afraid to speak up and go for what they want for fear of coming off the wrong way.

“The problem today is society dictates on women, on the way they should be. Women should be in the house, women should just be up to this level in a company, etc,” she explains. “After [experiencing] cancer, it led me into thinking that we're actually capable of being whoever we want to be. We just need to push the boundaries more and not be so scared of who we are.”


Catch Dr. Gia Sison and other leading women Kristie Lu Stout, Iza Calzado, Lynn Pinugu, Hannah Pangilinan, and Rissa Mananquil-Trillo at CNN Philippines’ “Leading Women to #PressforProgress” event on Saturday, March 17, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the BDO Corporate Center, Makati.