Back On Track

Posted on Aug 24, 2018

Back On Track

Sandy Syjuco and Judith Caneza


A woman with severe weight problems and a 62-year-old real estate businessman recovering from cancer are oddly the partners in an annual race meant only for the strong and physically fit. Yet, the duo—Judith Caneza and Sandy Syjuco—would both complete the race, a triathlon involving biking, running, and swimming.


They were buddies in St. Luke’s Weight Management Center three years ago when Judith was enrolled in a comprehensive workout plan after struggling with weight woes for years, while Sandy was in physical rehabilitation following an early detection surgery for his liver cancer.


Judith underwent gastric band procedure back in 2008 in St. Luke’s–Quezon City and followed her fitness program that helped her lose weight.  Her progress was halted, though, when she went overseas to study and work, and had to return home to seek medical help anew.


“I had gone up to 310 lbs., and so I consulted Dr. Edward Oliveros, who did my gastric band surgery in 2008. He introduced me to the weight management team of the hospital.”


Holistic recovery

To Sandy, it was quite a comeback. His operation in 2011 cost him parts of his liver and his entire gall bladder.


“I couldn’t do anything. I was like a one-year-old child again and had to have a nurse to take care of me,” Sandy narrated. “It was the first time in my life that I felt helpless.”


The recovery process, Sandy claims, has been thorough with St. Luke’s, from the physical to the spiritual.  Aside from having a 90% salad diet, he has also acquired the habit of praying.


“My nurse encouraged me to take a trip to the hospital chapel. She told me she’d pray with me. She wheeled me into the chapel and put me in front of the statue of Padre Pio. That guy became my patron saint, and I think he was instrumental in my healing.  Up to now, you see, I have a necklace of Padre Pio. He’s my savior,” said Sandy.


“I call Dr. Cortez my Sully,” Sandy quips. “He does miraculous things. He saves lives, which is what St. Luke’s stands for,” he added.


Sandy was referring to the movie Sully, based on real-life events about American pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. In 2009, Sullenberger miraculously landed a 155-passenger aircraft on the Hudson River following an engine failure. There were no casualties.


Life’s a triathlon, not a sprint

It was during training that one of the fitness trainers at St. Luke’s told Judith, Sandy, and others about the Ateneo aquathlon as a fun way of ramping up their physical activities. Judith took the challenge head on and signed up for the competition, prompting Sandy to join as well. “That was how we started bonding. We also went on to join running events and duathlons every chance we got. After a year, it was time to train for the triathlon,” said Judith.


A triathlon consists of three events: biking, running, and swimming, which Judith was already good at. “She’s a very good swimmer, one of the fastest,” said Sandy. As the St. Luke’s Team, with their track suits bearing the hospital name and logo, toured across the country to join events, Sandy and other participants marveled at her grit.


Not a lot of others her size joined the triathlon, let alone making it to the finish line.


“Some wanted to take pictures with me at the event. There was even one who interviewed me to get my story. I must be doing something good,” Judith surmised. The St. Luke’s Team’s efforts have come a long way, even leading them to Cebu in 2015 for the Ironman competition, a prestigious event for elite athletes and “age-groupers”, or amateur triathletes.


Sandy added that the camaraderie and teamwork allowed them to not only excel in sports but also overcome their medical conditions. “Training at 4AM and participating in the events made us forget our physical ailments and focus on the excitement and fun of being part of the St. Luke’s Team.”


Whether on the athletic stage or in the game of life, both Sandy and Judith are back on track with the help of St. Luke’s.