By Marivir R. Montebon
When life teaches a lesson, the greatest challenge is to learn it fast, otherwise one loses it. Educator, community leader, and human rights advocate Rico Foz, had to quickly take a grip of healthy living when his lesson was about losing to cancer.
Today, he is at the helm of the health care industry, as executive director of Care Group USA which he and his wife Meryl established in July 2011 in San Mateo, California. Having dedicated much of his life to advocacies on health and human rights, Rico now enjoys living a life of deeper meaning when his family moved to California since two years ago, after his triumphant battle against cancer of the esophagus.
Public service and advocacy of issues now take a much better perspective for Rico who considers good health as the key to be able to efficiently serve and prolong one’s precious life. He lived with his wife and two children most of their years in the East Coast, particularly in New York and New Jersey.
Moving to the West Coast, where the weather isn’t as punishing, had truly helped him recover. “A new lease in life,” he said. Rico’s leadership rests on more than 25 years of experience in profit and non-profit management. His managerial skills are on Business Development Management, profitability, marketing, policy and procedure management, human resource management, and strategic planning and management.
For the nonprofit management, he is well into advocacy and policy Development, alliance development, event planning, grant writing, and social media marketing.
Excerpts: 1. What is your lifestyle now in terms of diet and activities after having been declared cancer-free?
Although there have been no restrictions, I have taken pre-cautionary steps to my diet. Since part of my esophagus and part of my stomach were cut (and sewn back together), my food intake capacity became a lot smaller. Smaller but more frequent portions of meal is what I am now doing, every two hours.
As for my activities, I try to exert effort to physically exercise. Pero hinay-hinay din, kasi pag nabibigla ako (But gradually too, because if I do it abruptly), for whatever reason my sugar goes down thus, I feel very weak. I have yet to establish my new normal in terms of physical activities. There are a lot of frustrations along the way.
Sa diet, kasi akala ko nun, pag napuno na ang tyan ko, busog na rin ako. (On my diet, I thought that when my stomach is full, I feel full.)
Reality is, puno na ang tyan ko, but I still crave for more pero hindi na kaya (Although I am full, I still crave for more but my stomach cannot take it anymore). So I have to wait for an hour or two for my next bite. Torture. If I try to consume more than I should, my heart palpitates and again my sugar level drops fast, nakapanlalambot talaga (truly weakening).
2. Attitude-wise, what has changed in you?
Having survived a cancer is indeed a blessing for new opportunities, new life. My perspective definitely changed. Natakot ako (I was scared) for my loved ones, for my wife, Meryl and my kids, Mike and Gabby. They nearly lost me at a very young age.
My priorities shifted too. Now, I take advantage of every moment spent with them. Most of the things I do now is dedicated to them. The same with my community services and advocacies. I told myself, I would need to create concrete projects to benefit as many people as possible. I shifted priorities. Instead of pure advocacies, I put in concrete programs.
That no matter how long we live, our lives are short. Might as well do as much as we can to serve people…and while serving, our health must also be kept in tip-top shape.
Hindi kasi ako naging maingat nuon (I wasn’t careful before). Madalas, dahil sa dami nating gawain sa community, nakakaligtaan nating kumain then nalilipasan tayo ng gutom. Kahit na di na ako makatulog sa hapdi ng sikmura, binabale wala at iinum lang ng antacids, tapos na. (Often, because of so much work in the community, we fail to eat on time. Although I suffered from acid stomach that gave me sleepless nights, I just took antacids and continued the same lifestyle).
I never took advantage of my health benefits before, hence my health condition worsened. I was diagnosed with GERD in 2007 after an endoscopy and I was prescribed medication and was asked to be scoped once a year. But when I felt better, I stopped my medications and chronically postponed my endoscopy procedures.
To make matters worse, I smoked a lot, which is a risk factor of GERD. Hence, I had cancer. So I realized, the mind and body have to be in good condition to be able to serve the others. Kung kotse nga konting problema nasa mekaniko tayo, ganun din dapat sa kalusugan. (When our cars had mechanical problems, we immediately go to the mechanic. The same attitude should be given to our health).
There is a big difference in the East and West coasts. Para sa akin, mas naging madali ang recovery ko sa ganda ng panahon sa California. (I believe I recovered fast because of the good weather in California).
In California, the winter feels like spring in New Jersey. I feel comfortable. I didn’t have to wake up early to shovel and clean the car after a blizzard. I can also dispose of garbage without the ritual of too many clothes to put on. (Laughs)
5. What keeps you busy these days? Any projects?
My wife, Meryl and I, recently put up a corporation here in San Mateo County, known as Careway Health Initiatives. It has six divisions to concretize our vision to be a “one-stop caregivers’ resource for elder care”.
Fully operational na yung Careway At-Home, an in-home care and senior referral agency. We are in the process of putting up Careway Health Institute, private post-secondary training school for care providers. The other divisions are works in progress. A nonprofit entity is also being established to complement these health initiatives. This keeps me busy these days.