Empowering women against breast cancer
It is easy to look at Filipino women with breast cancer and see them merely as patients suffering from a serious disease. Spend time with them, get to know them and you begin to see that they are also mothers, wives, sisters—human beings hoping for a cure.
Last year, a middle-aged woman came to the Breast Care Center (BCC) of the East Avenue Medical Center (EAMC). She asked how much a mammogram costs. When we told her a mammogram costs P750, she started crying. Moved by her tears we told her she could get a mammogram at a discounted price of P500, but she continued sobbing. Eventually, we found out that she brought all the money saved for her son’s graduation. She was faced with the difficult choice of either forgoing her mammogram or telling her son they couldn’t afford his graduation expenses. We let her have a mammogram for free.
Sadly, this woman’s story is a recurring one in our country, which has one of the highest incidences of breast cancer in Southeast Asia. Breast cancer is the third leading cause of death in the Philippines and the number one type of cancer among Filipino women, often afflicting them during their most productive years. Even sadder is the reality that the Filipino women who come from poor families will first hide the suspicious lump and when discovered will refuse treatment because of the cost.
Aside from the financial burden of breast cancer, Filipino women, at the start, struggle to cope with the most personal and emotional toll of losing a breast to the disease. In our society where the nanay (mother) traditionally takes responsibility for caring for her husband and children and managing the family’s finances, many Filipino women diagnosed with breast cancer go through feelings of shame and inadequacy as well as depression when the demands and effects of cancer treatment prevent them from earning a living and being productive.
Not too long ago, we endorsed a woman from Kalinga province for sponsored (free) chemo drugs. And, to save on board and lodging and facilitate treatment compliance, we helped arrange for her to stay with a sister who was working in the city as a kasambahay. This arrangement worked well, initially. Midway through the treatment program, our surveillance team lost contact with her. We later found out that she had returned to Kalinga. She could no longer take the “shame” of being a “burden” to her sister and not being able to earn a living for her family, so she decided to quit the program.
The country’s only advocate and support group that operates and manages a breast care facility in a public hospital, the Philippine Foundation for Breast Care Inc. (PFBCI) was established in 2001 to serve primarily indigent patients with breast cancer. It is the only Bureau of Internal Revenue-certified donee institution focused on breast cancer. We seek kind-hearted donors for financial assistance to qualified beneficiaries, guide and facilitate the treatment of patients, and provide emotional support and counseling to patients and their family. Optimal pharmacological treatment and emotional support are very important in order to achieve better outcomes.
Because PFBCI has limited resources, we empower people to enable them to sustain our work. Through our Breast Cancer Advocate Training Course, barangay health workers and committed individuals get knowledge and skills training not only in implementing a sustained awareness and early detection campaign but also in identifying where to navigate cases from assistance to transportation to a treatment program. These campaigns have created partnerships in referral networks that link medical professionals, public and private facilities.
The PFBCI office is located in the BCC at the Out-patient Department of EAMC in Quezon City. For more information, call (632) 927-3492, text (0917) 867-7624, or e-mail at [email protected]
Maria Lourdes Cortez is the president of the Philippine Foundation for Breast Care Inc. The ONCOURAGE Health Information Advocacy promotes public awareness and continuing medical education on the prevention, detection and management of cancer and blood disorders. It is a collaboration between the Philippine Society of Medical Oncologists, Philippine Society of Hematology and Blood Transfusion, Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, Philippine Foundation for Breast Care Inc.-Kasuso, Touched by Max Philippines, Balikatang Thalassemia and Novartis Oncology Philippines.
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