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Bobby Joseph on Life with Stage 4 Cancer: ‘You Have to be Grateful’

Medically reviewed by Martha Juco, MD · Aesthetics

Written by Kai Magsanoc · Updated Jul 25, 2022

    Bobby Joseph on Life with Stage 4 Cancer: ‘You Have to be Grateful’

    Chatting with Bobby Joseph is like walking on sunshine. There is no trace that he has been living with stage 4 cancer for almost two decades, and has survived COVID-19.

    Kai Magsanoc: Hi, everyone! Welcome to #CoffeeWithKai. This is Kai Magsanoc of Hello Doctor Philippines, (where) I am the editor-in-chief. With us today for our Hello Health Heroes feature is — if I try to describe everything that Mr. Bobby Joseph has done in his life, I don’t think one hour is enough for that.

    He is a civic leader, he is a survivor, he is a cancer patient, he’s a businessman, he is a grandfather, he is a loving brother (I’m also connected to his brother on Facebook). And today, he is here with us to share with us his story.

    In the Inquirer, the title of the feature on him is that he’s “The Longest-Living Person with Stage IV Cancer” (which we borrowed for this interview, and we hope that’s okay).

    Bobby Joseph: Really? That’s according to the Inquirer?

    KM: Yes, according to them.

    Bobby Joseph: Not nearly, not nearly.

    KM: Okay, Sir Bobby, good afternoon po. How are you?

    Bobby Joseph: Okay, great, great. This is my last day as the president of the Rotary Club of Manila, ‘cause tomorrow is July 1 na. I already fulfilled my one year today. And at the same time, last June 26, the district is composed of 117 Rotary Clubs, so 117 presidents. I was recognized as the most outstanding club president overall.

    All because of getting involved with world outreach programs, training and development, publicity. I’m glad that things can happen much better during this pandemic than the natural, normal times. What you only miss is the socials. But business-wise, everything is on Zoom already.

    Health-wise, I just came out a couple of weeks ago from COVID. I nearly stayed for two weeks and two days. Two days in the emergency area, because there were no rooms. So living with cancer, I have to take medication.

    The difference is my kidney cancer, that went to my mediastinum, that went to my head, to my brain, to my pituitary gland, I had to get an operation. To my legs, to my L-5. I stopped golf, things like that. Like they said, I was given 6 months to live, or a maximum of 18 months. The doctors here said two years, 24 months. That was October 25, 2007.

    And I lived on living one day at a time. Doing my prayers, meditation, and thanksgiving. And before sleeping, an examination of conscience. Everytime I wake up, it’s a new beginning. The award that I got, that was yesterday. What other things can we do now? All achievements, that was the past, so what can we do now?

    That’s basically my situation. I’m a Sagittarius through and through, and an Ox. Seventy one years old. I’ve accomplished much, so I’m here to share and see what will happen. I’ll be joining the Rotary tomorrow, because that’s the handover, and I’ll become immediate past president for a year.

    In Rotary, if you get elected, you work for one year to get to know what’s going on. Second year, you’re the president. Third, you are now the supporter, coach, adviser to the president.

    Health-wise, I take soft drinks, Coke Zero. Sometimes, I stop for a couple of months. Not because people say it’s unhealthy, it’s because it’s part of my discipline. To show my strength of character, I stop what I like. I love strawberries, especially strawberries from my friend, Jun Magsaysay, he has the best strawberries. And then I gave myself one month, no strawberry ice cream. Things like this.

    I’m glad that you’re in your business. You started it in Asia, so hopefully — we want people to succeed, and hopefully if there will be any equipments that will be done, hopefully it can be done here in the Philippines. Kawawa naman ang ating bayan kapag naiimport lang tayo.

    KM: Kaya nga po, Sir Bobby, ‘yun ang gusto ko. Ma-share ‘yung technology para ma-empower, makasabay naman tayo sa iba kasi nandiyan na siya.

    Sir Bobby, when you’re a cancer — syempre, my mother was a cancer patient also. I was the carer, I know how it affects the family. You’re so good-natured about it, but was there ever a time that even you had a hard time? After the diagnosis in 2007 —

    Bobby Joseph: My diagnosis was in 2002. They got my left kidney, they said, “This is your kidney. This is 9.5 cm bigger on my left kidney.” 2002, in June, it was taken out. The Asian Hospital was brand new, still brand new. Then there was this medication that came out — in 2002, I was monitored every 3 months to see if there was any growth. There was none.

    Then lo and behold, on October 25, officially discovered that there was a 5.6 cm [mass] in my mediastinum. That was October 25, 2007. And then from there, I was given the medication. Target pills. I did not go through chemo, I do not know what it is. So I went through different medications. There were times — there was one time I couldn’t move my bowel for 9-and-a-half days. All of my mouth and throat was full of sores. I couldn’t eat. If I got a straw and sipped water, it was painful.

    They had to go — you know when they have to clean, they have to fix your teeth, inject you, or spray you with anesthesia and inject you. Mine was being sprayed, and I was losing one pound a day. No medication was working, my entire body was jarring. Until I drank — somebody woke me up, a couple, and brought me to the toilet. I had a hard time with urinating, but the man was on the left, the woman was on the right, and they were telling me to — and I was already wearing diapers because they don’t know. So I dreamt that they were just telling me to continuously pray and push.

    Then I woke up. And what I did was — that was my dream, so I went to that toilet, I saw a diaper with a dung bigger than a carabao, a calf, or whatever. Huge. You know what it is? Nine-and-a-half days [worth] of you cannot make a poo. It was all there, and it was stinking like hell. And I started crying, because I never realized that this is what happened.

    You know what it is to go through a — I’m already traumatized with MRIs, but in the hospital, I had cancer in my brain. They had to use the gamma knife. This is energy to break [through]. But before that, they had to inject me, and put screws [in my head], and put steel on my face that I held on for a long time.

    And then there were 6 or 7 doctors that put me in a hold, stuck and put something on my head like I was being collected, and then I cannot move, and I can’t take any anesthesia, and then they did the treatment. The treatment was 3 hours.

    KM: My gosh. No anesthesia? Three hours, no anesthesia, with screws.

    Bobby Joseph: And it was only up to here. I was — I don’t know how I would have survived. Then I saw my relatives already, they were all in a line waiting for me just to cross. And if you will ask for a break to relieve yourself, it will take longer, because this, you cannot take out anymore if you have to do something, poo-poo, or what. Because it will be very difficult. But even that, I was holding on to finish.

    The first one, I lasted one hour and 20 minutes. Until I finished. I really was crying because the pressure there has made me older. Then after they took it out, it was bleeding. I told them, ‘cause I had to rest. I told them, “Can I go to a Chinese restaurant and eat good food?” They said sure. I was still bleeding. I went with my wife, then went back to rest, and they would observe me.

    Afterwards, they showed that the cancer was burned, and that it won’t get out, that it will not grow. That equipment is called a gamma knife. That equipment is only one in the Philippines at Cardinal Santos.

    And then I did it twice. The other one, the second one was worse because you already anticipate it. And the third one, they found cancer here, at my pituitary gland. So they entered here, through my nose and through my mouth. But when they took that out, I had to take my medication because I cannot produce. I cannot move as much if I don’t have the pill.

    And so many more, I had 14 cancers here on my head. Here, this one. Different places. My brother-in-law is a plastic surgeon, so he took it out. And when it was brought to the biopsy, it came out that this is because of the cancer that spread, that came from the kidney.

    So if you look at October, or June 2002, it’s now July 30, 2021. 19 years, hindi ba? 18? I talked to — this was in Singapore, October 25, 2007. I went to the hotel, I knelt down, I surrendered to the Lord, and I said — my youngest son was 8 years old, his name is River.

    I said, “Lord, Mama Mary, give me a chance that I would live until he reaches high school. And at least by that time, I’m assured that I can be his guiding light, his coach, his father.” He’s now 22 years old, a graduate of La Salle.

    So now I have all the bonuses, so I do a lot of outreach. I joined the Opus Dei. I’m a cooperator. So my outreach program is representing and glorifying our God. That’s why though I was in Rotary before, I was contributing, but now it’s more involved. But again, we get younger people who are healthy, who can go out. Because everytime I’d go home, my grandchildren would run away, because even if I already have my injection, if I become a carrier, papano? Then I stay home.

    After the Rotary now it’s only the business. The business, we’re meeting, my daughter is helping out, my other son. My brothers, my 3 brothers are there. My life is busy, but at least — you know I easily get tired because having cancer, you cannot be as strong anymore, and also, the age.

    Tapos ito pang COVID, ang hirap. No one in your room, no one in an emergency. You can only talk to them on video conference. Even watching TV, how much Netflix can you watch? Sasakit na mata mo. Boring araw-araw ‘yan. Now I spend two, 3 days, no Netflix, no nothing. I enjoy more going to YouTube, seeing who are the best singers, I go to meditation, I have this guy that I follow. That was a long one.

    KM: That’s okay, that’s okay, because this is really about you. I’m just [wondering] how do you do it mentally, sir? Because we see the Mediatrix beside you, and you already said earlier, you surrendered to God, so the spiritual part has been taken care of already. Pero mentally?

    Bobby Joseph: Everyday, when you wake up, first of all, you have to be grateful that God gave you a chance for one more day. You have to bring out the best in you, and the best in others during that day.

    Now, if you were not able to succeed or you hurt yourself, or you said something wrong or negative, you have to do your act of contrition in the evening, and hopefully you don’t do it anymore. Stuff like that.

    It’s continuous, and even if you make a mistake, as long as you have the initiative to talk to God, some people pray but they’re only asking. They’re not talking to God, they don’t read the Bible, or even ask God to give them signs.

    Sometimes just reading the Bible as a message, sometimes you wake up with an idea, sometimes you find everything in order and easy. We are trained to use our guardian angels to — example, if I have a problem with you, I’ll tell my guardian angel to see your guardian angel to break the ice, so that when we see each other, you won’t be as upset.

    Or if I do not know, I tell my guardian angel to go and see your guardian angel whether you believe or not. It happened to me when I was pressured, and things just happened. What made that happen? Being prayerful, positive, and you also have to avoid bad company.

    You cannot be grateful if you are always wanting to compete with your neighbor, or you are instigadora, you are chismosa, it’s all negative, ‘di ba? Dakdak nang dakdak ito, lahat may sakit pero they forget. They compare, if you start comparing, nothing will happen to you, you will be miserable.

    Just be grateful for what you have. What’s wrong with that? Remember, we’re all unique. We’re all special. This is not our life only, so kawawa ‘yung ibang tao, they think that life is all they have. Eh papano kung mahirap sila, eh ‘di wala na? Wala silang hope?

    I went to Lourdes several times. Mama Mary gave me the miracle of hope. There was nothing dramatic, but once you don’t have hope, talo ka na. You’ll go into a depression.

    KM: Did you ever have to fight depression, Sir Bobby?

    Bobby Joseph: No, you surrender. Period. You ask for strength, you don’t go with unhappy people who are grouchy and everything, rest ka na lang. You can stay for a while, be a gentleman, but try to avoid [them], or else you’ll absorb the negativity. Your body needs so much — I take around 28 pills a day.

    KM: Wow, a day. For how many years na, sir?

    Bobby Joseph: As long as it is already, as you said — your computation, 18 years.

    KM: Wow, 28 pills? Every day for 18 years.

    Bobby Joseph: Some more, some a little bit less, and then afterwards more again. Because you’re being monitored, and then they see that this medication, ito ang side effect, so you have to take this. What if this one will increase your blood pressure? If it’s too much, you have to take this. If it’s too much tomorrow, I’ll go to inject myself for the bones, that’s once a month through the stomach.

    Ganyan talaga. Sobra na ko ng ospital, grabe, it’s so traumatic.

    KM: Yeah. Kasi everyday, when I read your posts, ‘yung mga nuggets of wisdom that you post, I always ask, “How does he do it?”

    Bobby Joseph: That’s good, because you cannot write if you don’t have hope. You have to avoid [going to] the point of desperation, or you’re already depressed. Or if you are depressed, go see somebody. Talk to a psychiatrist.

    By the way, this was so nice, when I was in a very painful situation, in and out. And you know, when sometimes I’m hospitalized, 12 days, you cannot even walk, you have to learn to walk again. So there’s always — they offer that there’s always a psychiatrist.

    In the hospital there was a lady psychiatrist. So we were booked, syempre nasa ospital ka, we gave it a chance. So I went with my wife, we were talking. She gave her point of view, I gave my point of view. We find out how we are, imagine the psychiatrist sided with me against the attitude of my wife. Kasi my wife is nervous, scared, pessimistic, negative. Me, I’m go-go-go, I was head cheerleader, I would dance on TV.

    So I always ask why not? Why can’t I go the extra mile? Why can’t I do that? It’s a little bit tougher, but if they won’t go here, that will be a shortcut to me to give me strength. It’s tough, but it will. I’m adventurous, I was taking martial arts, I took judo, during my time I was taking karate. So syempre, there’s always some pressure.

    That strengthens your character and makes you think more — because of sports, yes I smoked and drank, but I was not foolish enough to join my colleagues who — because during those days, it was popular to do drugs, take party drugs. There are ways na lumihis ka na lang.

    KM: Sir Bobby, nabanggit mo na ‘yung wife mo, so ano ang advice mo sa mga nag-aalaga ng mga cancer patient?

    Bobby Joseph: Hindi ko siya pinag-aalaga because we have maids, the medicines. [The maid] will put the medicines, she’ll say, “This is what you take,” bibigay na sa ’kin for the week. So ano’ng inaalaga pa niya sa akin?

    KM: No, I mean po sa mga nanonood, ‘yung mga nanonood po ng interview natin — kasi sa website po na ‘to, isa sa mga number one na search ay cancer.

    Bobby Joseph: Number one, ‘wag maging nagger sa cancer patient. Kung gusto mo maging nagger, i-nag mo sa aso mo. And after one year, namatay ‘yung aso namin sa kaka-nag ng misis ko.

    Laughter is very, very important. If you cannot laugh, you have to go on TV, you look for laughter, look at funny bones, funny stuff, you read jokes, things like that. You have to accept all of your embarrassing moments, laugh about it, and turn it into a joke.

    Kasi once you turn it into a joke, and you laugh about it, and you tell people about it, your weaknesses, wala ka nang tension, nalabas mo na. So ‘pag napupuno ka na, lumayo ka na, kasi iuunload mo ‘yun, kung hindi, dadagdag pa.

    Bawal ang sama ng loob. Tatanggapin mo na. Hindi naman lahat ng cancer matanda na, marami ring mamatay ng bata. My son died in 2017, 28 years old, in the state of Seattle. It’s really terrible, but you have to say that perhaps it’s a better way that he crossed over to the Lord.

    Dito, tinetest ka pa dito. Do’n wala na. Kawawa ‘yung mga atheist, kasi hanggang dito lang ‘yung paniniwala nila. Lugi sila. Kala nila tapos na, mamamatay na lang sila. Nako, nakita nilang nasa impyerno na sila, patay kang bata ka, lugi.

    Something to that effect, you just have to laugh, you have to appreciate. Small things. You have to help, you have to help the young. Magbigay ka ng kaunting pera, magluto ka ng kaunting pagkain, luto ka lang ng tinola, dalhin mo lang do’n sa mga madre, ‘pag papakainin, may kanin ‘yung mga bata. O, ‘di ba nakatulong ‘yun?

    Some small things. You don’t have to throw out big money, if you want, go ahead, if you can. You have to help. Or sometimes, you just go visit a friend who is sick. That’s more than enough. Called a good deed of the day.

    What did you do good today? Count those. Imagine, if you don’t count them, what are you doing? Papasok ‘yung sama ng loob mo, maawa ka sa sarili mo, pa’no na ‘yan? Talo na tayo. Now there are cancers that are really so dangerous and fast.

    But you can see also, some people with those kinds of cancers that are still surviving. So never lose hope, because sometimes — hindi ba, ‘yung namatay ‘yung asawa tapos matanda na, gusto na sumunod ‘yung misis niya, baka mamaya, talo ‘yung mga selosa, baka sa’n pumunta ‘yung asawa niya, dapat do’n ako. Ayaw na kumain, ganyan.

    I’m close to PNoy, but from what the doctor said that he had some pain and he did not take dialysis for one week, what do you expect? That’s poison, ‘di ba? He could have been — it’s hard, you’re alone. Your niece and everything love you but you cannot call them naman when you — you’re alone, and mahirap ‘yung alone. It’s hard to be alone, it’s hard to be lonely.

    So what I do, I call people up, talk to them. I know my friends [who] have cancer, I talk to him. If I cannot talk to him, I talk to his daughter, who is a nurse, and then I monitor [him] on Facebook.

    Kasi, and I’m making another suggestion, if you don’t feel like eating, you have to take Ensure. Whatever you like, if they like ice cream — my mommy was gorgeous, 118 pounds, 5’3″. She died at the age of 79 with cancer, sexy. And when she wears clothes, plunging neckline. In the 70s. She’s very vain, because she wants to be beautiful.

    When she was 13, and her heart broke, she brought a mirror and a hairbrush running to the mountains at the age of 13. She did not bring clothes, she did not bring — the mirror, how vain can you get? At the age of 13. She lost weight, from 118 to 58 pounds before she died. She couldn’t even take two tablespoons of ice cream for the whole day. Terrible.

    Kaya some people I tell them, you have to choose what you like. Or sometimes I tell them, for them to eat Indian curry, chicken curry, a little bit spicy, so that it can open up your tastebuds. You have to eat, hindi pwedeng hindi. Something has to happen.

    Because I share, I talk sometimes, behind that kasi, they want to rest. They’re so tired. They cannot move. What can you do if you cannot do anything? Syempre, with all your hope, siguro you pray na lang that God will take you and you’re still smiling.

    It’s hard. I saw people who got mad at God, who was so prayerful, because of what happened. I told him, “Get mad at God. He is the guy who has the patience for you because He loves you. Get mad, it’s alright. God understands you because he loves you.”


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Martha Juco, MD


    Written by Kai Magsanoc · Updated Jul 25, 2022

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