Coalition is bent on licking cancer

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     H.O.P.E – Hold On, Pain Ends.—Anonymous

    Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. —Desmond Tutu

    The one-storey heritage house of National Artist architect Pablo Antonio at 2650 Zamora Street, Pasay amid lush trees and plants typifies tropical architecture with eco-friendly features way before the trend started. It’s still stylish up to now, and one of my favorite luncheon destinations. Every Maryknoll gathering we hold here, thanks to his only daughter Malu Antonio Veloso, the bridal and debut designer.

    But let’s not forget Antonio’s wife Marina Reyes was very much an achiever in her own right.

    When the two were introduced by their mutual clients Speaker and Mrs. Jose Yulo, Marina was already an accomplished fashion designer known for her dainty, romantic renditions of the Filipiniana. What attracted Pablo Antonio was in fact the way she had decorated the house she was living in. He was to later say that he could not have married someone who didn’t know how to fix her house.

    Their union led to the birth of a daughter, Malu and five sons namely Pablo Jr., Victor, Luis, Ramon, and Francis. They also had an adopted daughter Annette. All would follow their footsteps into the realms of architecture, art, and fashion design. Marina’s love of food, flowers, and the art of fixing both home and garden were also passed along even to the fourth generation of Antonios.

    To celebrate Marina’s birth anniversary, an old fashioned salon type show will be held on Sept. 30 at the Zamora house. Clients, daughters of clients, and Marina’s own great granddaughters will model her classic ternos and wedding gowns at a high tea. It will be a visit from another era when times were gentle and slower, when fittings with clients revolved around entertaining amid the lush greenery of the Antonio abode.

    “Love, Marina” will highlight not just fashion but also the food specialties of the Garden Room and a new exhibit from the Vibrant Art Studio in the Yellow Room. And as a nod to the quickly approaching Christmas season, there will be art and fashion as gift items for sale, as well as flowers and edible gifts.

    This will be the first annual fashion event at the heritage home of Pablo Antonio and his wife Marina, to be held every September.

    For inquiries call 02 831 8407, 63 917 539 3940 (Vicky), and 63 937 370 9615 (Letlet)

    * * *

    With almost 110,000 new cancer cases per year and over 66,000 cancer deaths per year, Cancer Coalition Philippines is calling on congress to prioritize the passage of the proposed National Integrated Cancer Control Act to halt the increasing burden of cancer epidemic.

    Hold your breath, cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, with approximately 70 percent of deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. Here in the country most of us know someone who has the disease, or have family members who are battling it.

    This is why the Cancer Coalition Philippines, a broad national coalition of cancer patient support organizations, medical societies, and health advocates, cited the latest data from the Philippine Cancer Facts and Estimates (PCS-DOH-PCHRD) which showed an increase in the incidence of cancer. We had a hearty, healthy lunch with the coalition and learned more about the disease (which incidentally claimed my dearest Sonny almost 13 years ago).

    “Our numbers here in the Philippines translate to around 11 new cases and seven deaths every hour for adult cancers, and around 11 new cases and eight deaths per day for childhood cancer. Many more remain uncounted, unrecorded, and unreported. With this data, we hope Congress sees cancer as an urgent health concern that needs legislative action now to address the different gaps in the cancer control program,” shared Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, the coalition co-chair. She is herself a survivor and is the “face” of the coalition.

    The coalition acknowledges that the multiple challenges in the current cancer control program should be addressed by looking from the lens of the entire cancer continuum of prevention, detection, correct diagnosis, early and proper treatment, survivorship, and palliative care.

    “We believe the proper response to this urgent health issue should be an integrated approach, to cover all aspects of cancer care, at the same time, national in scope so that no cancer patient will be left behind” added Carmen Auste, a coalition member.

    A number of legislators, among them Senators JV Ejercito and Sonny Angara and Representatives Alfred Vargas (5th Dist QC), Karlo Nograles (1st District Davao), Jericho Nograles, (PBA Partylist), Chiqui Roa Puno (1st District Antipolo City), and Bernadette Herrera-Dy (BH Partylist) have filed versions of a national integrated cancer control act.

    A salient provision of the bill seeks to create a Cancer Assistance Fund (CAF) of up to R30 billion to support the medical and treatment assistance programs for patients. “The financial burden can be overwhelming, given that financial risk protection mechanisms are limited and patients often need to shell out money from their own pockets to pay for treatment and other costs,” added Dr. Rachel Rosario, a coalition member. Added Daisy Cembrano, another coalition member, “There is a high incidence of treatment non-compliance and abandonment due to high out-of-pocket payment in relation to the financial capacity of patients and their families.”

    Dr. Ramon Severino, the coalition co-chair explains that “a comprehensive national cancer plan is long overdue. We need more pathologists, we need more oncologists. We have limited nurses trained in oncology.  Our cancer centers are mostly located in Metro Manila, and some big cities. When you all add this up, and compare it with the number of cancer cases, then you will see why we need to act now.” His good news for the day, “Cancer in many cases, is preventable”

    As a side, I renewed old ties with Dr. Severino who has been with the East Avenue Medical (EAMC) for many years. He works with children with cancer there and has seen the horrors of the disease and its impact on their families—financially, physically, and emotionally. He and the late Dr. Abesamis of the EAMC, and my sister Ma. Paz Weigand, a cancer survivor, set up the Kapisanan ng May K (Kanser) there. As he reminded us, cancer cuts through all economic and social classes, ages, and genders.

    He reminisced about the time Cory Aquino, when she was no longer president (but still not a cancer patient herself) visited the hospital and asked him about their needs. He toured her around and later she donated the slide and other playground equipment and toys of her apos Josh and Bimby.

    We also met at the lunch that the coalition hosted, retired army nurse Fe Ea who is a volunteer in the fight again cancer. She is an operating room nurse and does work in hospitals where her skills are needed. Amazing woman!

    If the bill gets the nod of Congress, and we really hope and pray Congress reacts intelligently, compassionately and quickly, a Cancer Care Infrastructure and Service Delivery Network will be set into motion, where Regional Cancer Care Centers will be strengthened or set up, with the capability of making available and accessible, high quality cancer services such as screening, diagnosis, optimal treatment and care, and supportive and palliative care, supported by well-trained team with proper equipment. The regional cancer centers will likewise provide for separate units and facilities for children and adolescents with cancer. The bill also will push for oncology-related academic curricula for higher educational institutions (HEIs).

    Oliver Calasanz, another coalition member shared that cancer survivors are also almost left alone after being declared cancer-free. “They still need support. Some are left without jobs, and they see the world differently as they become more cautious.” In the current version of the bill, all legislators are unanimous in wanting to extend people with disability (PWD) benefits to cancer survivors.

    “We need to prioritize cancer now. Because in the current set up, we already see so many gaps. Imagine what can happen by 2030 when it is projected by World Health Organization (WHO) that cancer cases will increase by 80 percent more in developing countries like the Philippines. That will really put so much strain on our health systems. So we hope Congress passes the National Integrated Cancer Control Act now, so we start to see an increase in survivorship and improved health outcomes for Filipinos with cancer,” added Paul Perez the coalition spokesperson. Paul’s son Steve had leukemia at three years old but he licked the Big C and is now a healthy 13-year-old studying at the Ateneo de Manila University.

    Dr. Chit Reodica, the first woman Department of Health (DOH) secretary was in also in the forum and she pledged her full support to the coalition’s goals. With a power-pack cast of dedicated supporters, we can only see a bright future for this bill!

    We also met Lani Eusebio board member of “I Can Serve” who has had several cancers but continue to be bright and cheery and still works at a regular job as a human relations manager.  This is what Kara Alikpala wants to put across—cancer is not automatically a death sentence. One must fight for life surrounded by loving family and friends and live as normally as possible. All of the coalition members are happy and dedicated volunteers, survivors or have family members who have the Big C. Everyone is positive and hopeful that Congress will come through with the bill they need. (


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