Saturday, May 9, 2009

Pinky's purpose driven life

"Pinky’s purpose driven life"
Sun.Star Davao, May 5, 2009

I first met businesswoman and consumer safety advocate Pinky Pe Tobiano at Brisbane Airport when we joined the same tour group in Australia last month.

When Pinky learned I was from Davao, she immediately warmed up. The amiable mother of two excitedly shared that her best friend and ‘kumare’ Mia Dragon is married to Vincent Floirendo (who happens to belong to one of Davao’s prominent families). She loved Kuilan siopao and looked forward to having dinner at Ahfat Seafood Restaurant when she visits the city this month.

During the week-long tour with our respective families, I had glimpses of Pinky’s thoughtful ways. When my niece Stef celebrated her birthday during the tour, she sweetly gifted her with Easter egg-shaped chocolates. On our return flight to Manila, she asked if we needed a ride to our hotel.

Bubbly and always on the go, everyone was surprised when Pinky, who is only in her late 30’s, disclosed that she was a cancer survivor.

Pinky’s touching story of how she overcame cancer is truly inspiring. With permission from Pinky, I am sharing to you in full Joanne Rae Ramirez’ “A Christmas (card) story” which came out in the “Philippine Star” last December 6, 2005.

A Christmas (card) story

“Pretty Pinky Tobiano, a chemist by profession, was attending a medical forum in Tokyo in May 1994 when she and a colleague decided to take a cruise on Tokyo Bay at the sidelines of the convention. During the cruise, then 21-year-old Pinky made friends with several people, including a specialist from the Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York named Dr. Jatin Shah.

After the cruise, they all promised to keep in touch. Then they all bid each other goodbye and returned to the routine of daily life in their respective homelands. As we all know, some solid friendships are formed amongst people in a tour group. But it is just as true that there are many acquaintances that end after a tour or a convention, when faces dissolve into our memories just like the colors on a paintbrush dipped in water.

But Pinky did as she promised, and that Christmas and every Christmas thereafter, she would send greeting cards to Dr. Shah and the other friends she made on the Tokyo cruise. Dr. Shah never responded to her greeting cards, but she remembered him as such a nice person so she sent him a Christmas card every year, year after year.

Fast forward to 2003. By this time, Pinky had become a successful businesswoman and was rushing to the airport for a business trip to China when she slipped on the stairs of her house and hit her head on the steps.

She was rushed to the hospital for a head scan but somehow, the technicians went beyond the head zone and scanned her throat as well. There was nothing wrong with her head but two suspicious lumps were — accidentally — spotted in her throat. They were found to be cancerous.

Pinky was referred to surgeon Dr. Samuel Ang of the Cardinal Santos Memorial Hospital. During her consultation, she found out that Dr. Ang trained at Sloan-Kettering and she casually mentioned that she had met a doctor named Dr. Jatin Shah from Sloan-Kettering on a cruise nine years ago.

Dr. Ang’s eyes widened. “I trained under Dr. Shah!” he told Pinky, adding how respected and famous Dr. Shah was in the medical community. And he told Pinky something more. Dr. Shah’s area of specialization, for which he was internationally renowned, was throat and larynx cancer!

Dr. Ang then asked Pinky to take a chance and to e-mail Dr. Shah. Pinky checked Dr. Shah’s nine-year-old business card, but didn’t find an e-mail address, just a fax number. So she sent him a note reintroducing herself and told him that she had throat cancer (stage 2 papillary carcinoma).

Just to make sure he remembered her, she faxed him, too, a photocopy of one of their pictures during the cruise and she encircled her face and wrote, “This is me. You once told me to call you in case I needed help one day.” She wrote down also her cell phone number. She hoped for a response, but did not expect it to be so swift.

At 2 a.m. Manila time, her cell phone rang. It was Dr. Shah. Dr. Shah, who was by then in his fifties, told her, “Of course I remember you. You were that child on the cruise. I am sorry, I’ve been so busy and have not been able to answer your Christmas cards.”

Dr. Shah then instructed her to tell Dr. Ang to ring him up during her next consultation. At 4 p.m. the next day (4 a.m. in New York), Dr. Ang roused his former teacher and they conferred on Pinky’s case.

When they hung up, Dr. Ang turned to Pinky in amazement and told her, “He’s flying to Manila to operate on you.”

Dr. Ang told Pinky the Philippine College of Surgeons had long been inviting Dr. Shah to come to Manila for a lecture, but Dr. Shah had always declined due to his busy schedule. 

But he was making a special trip just for Pinky and while in Manila, he expressed willingness to address the Philippine College of Surgeons as well!

It was December 2003, nine years to the day of Pinky’s first Christmas card.

As she was being wheeled into the Operating Room of the St. Luke’s Medical Center, Pinky noticed that there were so many doctors around. Apparently, they had heard that Dr. Shah was going to do surgery in the hospital and they wanted his autograph.

When Pinky awoke after her delicate operation, the first thing Dr. Shah told her was, “The cancer’s gone.” He had taken it all out.

Dr. Shah watched over Pinky during her recuperation, and sent her flowers to cheer her up. 

The day before she was scheduled to leave the hospital, Pinky asked Dr. Shah for his bill. He looked at her in the eye and said, “You have long paid me in full for my services. The nine years in which you sent me Christmas cards without fail are more than enough.”
He flew back to New York the next day”.

Consumer safety advocate

“Dr. Shah was a stranger who gave me back my life. I have learned never to take the people you meet for granted. They could save your life,” Pinky reveals to Ms. Ramirez during the interview.

With her new lease in life, the Harvard-educated Pinky decided to “pay it forward” by initiating meaningful projects that would not only benefit her family and friends but the Filipino people.

In 2006, Pinky established QualiBet (“Quality is Better”) Testing Services Corporation—“a world-class food, water, pharmaceutical and veterinary testing facility which conscientiously complies with good laboratory practices, ISO 17025 standards and applicable government regulations. Its testing laboratory is recognized by government agencies”.

“We offer third party testing services to check the calorie count or nutrition facts, transfat, melamine contamination in fast foods, fine dining restaurants, and food manufacturing companies”, Pinky explains.

Moreover, QualiBet can determine the presence of heavy metals and bacterial contamination in cosmetics; examine the purity content and efficacy of veterinary and pharmaceutical products; check water quality for bacterial contamination like e.coli; among others.

Through QualiBet, Pinky has likewise been actively involved with the Philippine Coast Guard in helping preserve marine life by safeguarding the shoreline water against oil and other toxic chemical spills.

One of her most important roles as a commander in the Philippine Coast Guard Auxiliary is spearheading the ‘Save the Butanding (Whale Shark) movement’ in Donsol, Sorsogon.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary “assists the Philippine Coast Guard in the enforcement of maritime laws, sea safety, and search and rescue, marine environmental protection and preservation, youth development, and humanitarian service”.

Pinky cares

Pinky is also the founder of the The Pinky Cares Foundation, “an institution that provides health seminars, consumer awareness and medical projects to strengthen the health of every Filipino”.

“The foundation works hand-in-hand with other government and non-government organizations to provide full service to Filipinos and design programs and projects that support and help the underprivileged Filipino people”, Pinky states.

For fifteen years now, Pinky, who loved her late Amah (Chinese for grandmother) dearly, has been visiting the Golden Acres Home for the Aged on a weekly basis. The elderly home “provides care to senior citizens, 60 years old and above, both male and female who are unattached, dependent and needy”.

Even when she was sick with cancer, Pinky regularly brought food, medicines and cheer to the 200 lolos and lolas once a week. Her birthday, which falls in July, is celebrated at Golden Acres.

Pinky grants wishes of the elderly during the special occasion.

Every month, she conducts feeding programs and medical missions at Golden Acres. So far, forty-seven elders have received free cataract operations.

When some buildings of Golden Acres were gutted by fire years ago, Pinky adopted the community for an entire month. “We cooked and delivered breakfast, lunch and dinner for the lolos and lolas of the center with the help of my dedicated staff”, she recalls.

Pinky’s generosity and compassion for the elderly was featured in People Asia magazine in 2007 and caught the attention of Barry Akrongold, a business partner of American real estate/media mogul Donald Trump. Through the magazine, Mr. Akrongold promptly sent $4,000 for Pinky to be donated to Golden Acres.

Even Donald Trump pledged to donate money for Pinky’s various charities and invited her to be part of a TV show lauding Asian women who have made a difference.

H.O.P.E. springs eternal

Recognizing the great power of music to inspire and enliven cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, Pinky produced two CD albums with her friends namely, “H.O.P.E. (Healing of Pain and Enlightenment)” and “H.O.P.E.: Wings of the Soul”, both distributed by Star Records.

H.O.P.E, which earned a gold record award, boasts of high caliber recording artists such as Gary Valenciano, Jose Mari Chan, Jamie Rivera and Charice Pempengco. These talented singers performed for free.

The worthwhile recording project benefited two cancer support groups, Bosom Buddies (Pinky’s mom Tessie is herself a breast cancer survivor) and I Can Serve Foundation. Each of these support groups received P500,000 from proceeds of the top-selling album.

On the other hand, “H.O.P.E.: Wings of the Soul” featuring Ms. Lorna Tolentino, “encompasses a different set of concept: acceptance, healing, surrendering and moving on”.
“Wings of the Soul” topbills Sharon Cuneta, Piolo Pascual, Aga Muhlach, Christopher de Leon and many more. These stars lovingly dedicated the CD to Lorna and Rudy Fernandez.
Sales from the album will benefit The Pinky Cares Foundation and The Rudy Fernandez Cancer Foundation, Inc.

Pinky’s purpose driven life

With her fast-paced lifestyle, one wonders how Pinky still has quality time for her two adorable daughters Pianne and Karrel. But, trust Pinky to productively juggle the multi-tasking roles of mother, daughter, wife, friend, entrepreneur, chemist and crusader to a hilt.

The fashionista mom wakes up at 5:00 a.m. to make sure that her hair, make-up, clothes and shoes are just perfect. Pinky vows that she will never leave the house unkempt. “It’s a sin!”, she laughs.

“I want my children to remember me as a pretty mom with a very happy disposition and positive outlook. Their friends say that if there’s “The Devil Wears Prada”, then I’m “The Princess Wears Hermes”, Pinky remarks in a past interview with People Asia magazine’s Ivy Ong.

“Every morning, I personally bring my daughters to school before reporting to the office at 7:30 a.m. On the way to school, we recite the Holy Rosary together”, she shares.

Surviving cancer taught Pinky to “embrace everything that she cared about by becoming motivated and proactive.” She feels “extremely blessed by God’s goodness and wants to make each day count by sharing her blessings to the less fortunate”.

The selfless Pinky never expects anything in return. “My simple wish is just to see my daughters graduate and have their own families”, Pinky confides.

“Now, more than ever, I am so determined to live my life”, the indefatigable Pinky declares. And, what a purpose driven life it is!

Cheers to you, Pinky! Happy Mother’s Day!

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