CANCER, a deadly disease that poses a major challenge to healthcare in the Philippines, has been neglected for the past year due to the focus on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). According to the World Health Organization, the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases such as cancer has been disrupted worldwide by the crisis.
“The pandemic is no excuse. We must prioritize our health,” said Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, a breast cancer survivor, journalist, filmmaker and member of ICanServe Foundation and Cancer Coalition of the Philippines.
Although cancer ranks among the top 10 causes of death in the Philippines, it is certainly not a death sentence. Like Ms. Magsanoc-Alikpala, many will find it easier to cope with the stress of serious illness by having a support group or network, said Maria Fatima “Girlie” Garcia-Lorenzo of Kythe Foundation and the Philippine Alliance of Patient Organizations.
An online survey commissioned by Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) found that two out of five Filipinos have had personal experiences with cancer, either as a patient or through family, friends or colleagues who have been diagnosed with the disease, according to data collected. revealed in the premiere episode of “Tita Hope Talks,” a four-part series of talks hosted by the Hope From Within (HFW) campaign of MSD Philippines’s cancer care campaign.
The same episode “Tita Hope Talks” urged access to correct information and treatment options.
“A third of Filipinos are generally aware of various cancer treatment options,” said Mylene G. Rodriguez, general manager of IQVIA Philippines, an analytics provider that conducts market research in the healthcare industry. According to research commissioned by MSD, innovative treatments, such as gene therapy and targeted drug delivery, are effective and less painful options for patients.
“We need to shape that so that people are proactive about cancer. If we can get consultations and primary health benefits, people will be more encouraged to go for checkups,” Kythe’s Ms Garcia-Lorenzo said.
When it comes to funding, the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office and the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation lead the way. However, there are lesser-known cancer funding institutions, such as the Malasakit Centers, a one-stop-shop for medical and financial aid operated by the Ministry of Health.
RELY ON COMMUNITY SUPPORT
In the “Tita Hope Talks” panel, HFW Ambassador and veteran actress Susan Africa shared her personal journey as a caregiver for her husband, Spanky Manikan, who died of lung cancer in 2018.
“It was a challenge because we had to learn a lot about what to do, where to go, what to use and who to ask for help. I learned a lot about radiation treatments, chemotherapy, clinical trials and how to deal with problems such as loss of appetite, anxiety and discomfort,” she said.
An important source of comfort, information and even finances were the loved ones. “Help can be found through the support of our community, especially those who stand up for and advocate for the rights of cancer patients,” said Dr. mom. Via Jucille M. Roderos, a sustainable health and business professional and one of the panelists in the latest Alaga Health consultation, “They are advocating not only for those who have cancer, but also for the loved ones who are fighting with the patients.”
Cancer patients and advocates are still awaiting full implementation of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act, which was signed into law in February 2019. — Brontë H. Lacsamana