Ian Sangalang sat beside his teammates who were not in uniform as the Magnolia Chicken Timplados Hotshots opened their PBA on Tour campaign against the Blackwater Bossing inside the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.
Although smaller than the venues where they usually play, this felt right for Sangalang. He has been practicing with the team again but being with them in an actual game felt like a cause for celebration. The big man whooped it up as he cheered for the Hotshots alongside Calvin Abueva, Russel Escoto, and Jio Jalalon.
It must have felt nice to be in this situation again after everything he has been through.
It was in the Commissioner’s Cup semifinals when Sangalang started feeling that there was something wrong with his body. Throughout that conference, the Hotshots looked like they would be title contenders. With a solid import in Nick Rakocevic and a cast of locals that already have great chemistry with each other, they finished tied for the top spot with the Bay Area Dragons with a 10-2 record.
And then it all fell apart.
Magnolia lost to eventual champions Barangay Ginebra in the semis, 3-1. In that series, Sangalang scored 10 points in Game 1, 2 markers in Game 2, another 2 in Game 3, and 6 again in Game 4.
“Kinakausap na ako ni coach Chito (Victolero). Sinasabi niya na ‘Kailangan ka namin sa game.’ Sinusubukan ko naman ibigay lahat. Kaya naman ng isip ko pero 'di kaya ng katawan ko,” Sangalang admitted. “Nung semis, 'pag halftime parang 'di ako aabot sa dugout. Gusto kong umupo. Iniisip ko baka bugbog na 'yung katawan ko kasi padulo na rin 'yung conference pero dati kaya ko namang ilaro pa rin 'yun e.”
After their elimination, they took a break for two weeks. By January, when they came back for training, everyone on the team already noticed he lost a lot of weight.
“Hindi ko naman napapansin 'yung sarili ko. Hindi naman ako nagpapayat. Palagi lang akong pagod pero aside from that wala naman akong nararamdamang sakit,” Sangalang said.
“Pero nung nag-weights na kami, dun ko nakita na sobrang hina ko. 'Yung mga binubuhat ko dati, hindi ko na mabuhat. Hindi ko maitindihan. Parang bumalik sa college 'yung katawan ko.”
The big man still tried to be there for his team in the Governors’ Cup. He played 13 minutes, scored 2 points, and grabbed 2 rebounds but he felt like he played the entire 48.
The next day, coach Victolero convinced Sangalang to have himself tested. He spent three days in the hospital for a battery of tests to finally figure out what was slowing him down.
The doctors crossed out different illnesses as they finally pinned it on hyperthyroidism.
“Sabi ng doctor, kaya daw ako pumayat kasi kahit tulog ako, parang daig ko pa 'yung nagba-basketball. Napansin ko rin na kahit paggising ko pa lang, parang pagod na pagod na agad ako,” he said.
“Tamad na tamad ako. Parang ayokong pumunta ng practice. Hindi ko maintidihan 'yung sarili ko kasi hindi naman ako ganun.”
When they finally got the diagnosis, Sangalang took a positive outlook on it. At least, now he knows what he’s up against. At least, now he knows there’s a way back to basketball.
As an athlete, Sangalang knew that he needed to be able to get back as soon as possible so he was given three choices. The first was to take the thyroid out through an operation. The second choice was a treatment plan that would take 18 months. The third was radioactive iodine (RAI), which could take one to three months, depending on how Sangalang’s body will react.
Magnolia’s management and coaching staff left the decision to the player.
“Sinabi nila sa akin na call ko kung anong gagawin. Na-appreciate ko 'yun kasi hindi nila ako pressured na madaliin 'yung pagbalik ko. Naging patient sila sa akin para maka-focus ako sa pag-recover ko.”
Sangalang went with the RAI treatment and started it on March 8. After a month, it already looked good. His doctor prescribed another two-week treatment plan followed by a two-week rest period.
“Pagkatapos nun, nung okay lahat ng tests nung May 9 , pinayagan na ako ng doctor na makabalik,” he shared. “Dahil siguro athlete rin ako, maganda 'yung response nung katawan ko. Since that time, wala na akong iniinom na gamot. Pa-kundisyon na daw ako tapos pag feeling ko ready na ako, maglaro na daw ako.”
Even before he got the all-clear, Sangalang already started working his way back to shape. A bit of light jogging and a bit of weights. Just enough to get his old strength back.
For a time, Sangalang was worried about what the illness would do to his body and his career. At 31 years of age, he is still in the prime of his career and he’s hoping to get more years in the PBA to take care of his family.
“'Di mo naman maiiwasan na may konting takot kasi hindi ko naman alam 'yung sakit na 'yun pero buo naman 'yung tiwala ko sa doctors ko. Nung naging okay na 'yung results, nakahinga na ako ng maluwag,” he said.
With his illness now behind him, Sangalang’s next order of business is to get back into the game. He’s raring to play again because he wants to show Magnolia his appreciation for their handling of the matter.
“Grabe 'yung suporta sa akin ng management. Kahit alam kong kailangan nila ako sa game, never nila ako pinush na magpractice. Sila pa 'yung nagsasabing mag-focus muna ako sa sarili ko,” he said. “Si coach Jayson (Webb), si coach Chito, si Gov. Rene Pardo tinulungan nila ako lahat. Si boss Alfrancis (Chua) tinawagan ko rin tapos yung binigay niya na contact sa akin yung doctor mismo ni RSA (Ramon S. Ang) sa St. Lukes.”
When he was away from the team, Sangalang admitted he felt some guilt. He watched as his squad fell short of their goal as they got eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Governors’ Cup.
“Tinawagan ko si boss Al, sabi ko sorry na hindi ako makatulong sa team pero sabi niya wag ko daw isipin 'yun kasi 'yung importante lang daw is gumaling ako.”
Magnolia did not expect Sangalang to play in the ongoing PBA on Tour but to show his willingness to make up for the lost time, the big man will be suiting up against NLEX on June 3 or against Ginebra on June 11.
And then he won’t have to wait long to try and pick up from where he left off as the Commissioner’s Cup will open the PBA’s 48th Season in October.
“Siguro reminder lang 'yun na alagaan 'yung sarili ko at talagang ibigay lahat ng makakaya every game kasi hindi mo alam anong mangyayari sa future e,” Sangalang disclosed. “Kahit na nagkasakit ako, blessed pa rin ako kasi maraming tao yung sumuporta sa akin kaya nakabalik ako.”