MANILA—Doctors and cancer survivors on Tuesday urged the public to keep themselves free from the impact of cancer by “investing” in themselves through early detection.
“Love yourself. Sometimes, you know tinitipid natin ang sarili natin, tinitipid natin ang health, but remember this is also an investment,” medical oncologist Dr. Josephine Tolentino said during a multi- stakeholder cancer advocacy summit, “Kalayaan ng Kababaihan mula sa Kanser", by group Hope from Within.
“We should be very vigilant. In any disease especially in breast cancer. The earliest time that we can diagnose it, treat it, the higher the curability rate,” Tolentino said.
According to the Department of Health, “cancer is the third leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the country after diseases of the heart and the vascular system”, where “our Filipinos die of cancer every hour or 96 cancer patients every day, according to a study conducted by the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Human Genetics, National Institutes of Health”.
Cancer survivors and their families shared their painful lessons of having been diagnosed with the ailment early on.
Celebrity and cancer advocate Dianne Medina spoke about her mother’s battle with breast cancer.
“My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at age of 47, at first she kept going to her cardiologist because of heart problems. Hindi ma-pinpoint kung ano ang mali, until she felt a lump on her breast. The doctors told us that she was already in stage 4. There was no chance to live, it was already 50-50 for my mom because of late detection,” Medina said.
By some “miracle” as Medina called it, her mom survived for 10 years after the diagnosis but succumbed to the disease in 2011.
She urged the public to get themselves tested right away.
“Ang problema sa ating Pilipino we are always scared of our diagnosis, the doctors. Don’t! Kung nagpa- check- up agad si Mommy, for sure napakataas ng rate na kasama pa namin ang Mommy namin hanggang ngayon,” Medina said.
Cancer survivor and advocate Jojo Flores shared how he lost most of his tongue to cancer.
“I lost 90 percent of my tongue. Apart from the way that I talk, the way I ingest food is also affected. I cannot eat like any other person anymore. Anything that I have to take in must be blended. In 2008 I notice what I thought was ‘singaw’ in my tongue. I allowed the singaw in my tongue for a few months until nearly everything on my tongue to the point that that in 2009 anything that goes into my mouth even one grain of ice was very painful,” Flores recalled.
But for Flores, being aware is not enough. People need better “access to awareness, early diagnosis, and screening”.
“If they cannot provide the access to the average Filipinos especially the ones in the remote areas, no matter how aware they are even if they are not scared, if they do not have the logistics, resources, what can you expect from them?” Flores asked.
The passage of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) in 2019 hopes to answer questions Flores’ and other cancer survivors' questions by boosting cancer control in the country: providing cancer patients better health services, more access to new treatments, and even alleviating financial risks to families.
However, three years since its passing, the implementation of the law is still in its infancy stage.
“The implementation of the cancer law, the NICCA is a progressive realization. It would be in phases. So we have this timeline from 2021 to 2030. For the phase one it is starting up so we need to establish the Cancer Control Division, we need to appoint the members of the Cancer Control Council, and then we need to develop several policies and guidelines,” said Dr. Clarito Cairo, program manager for cancer at the DOH.
"Part of stage one is providing access to the patients, and the families through ... let’s say the Cancer Control Palliative Access Program which is now in place since last year. And hopefully this year we are going to launch Cancer Control Assistance Program, hopefully by the third quarter," she said.
Cairo appealed to the public to be patient with their implementation of NICCA.
“Please bear with us, the implementation of the Cancer Law… we assure you that we will sustain what we have started.. so every family, every Filipino will have the access they deserve,” she said.