A gathering of cancer warriors
Stronger together. All ages, all stages, all genders. These were the oft-repeated catch phrases at the recent National Cancer Patient Congress. The gathering almost filled to the rafters the AFP Theater in Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo. Not surprising because cancer is the second cause of death in the Philippines, and gathered were people who have survived the disease, if not still doing battle for themselves and for others.
April 8 was one of a kind. About 900 cancer survivors, patients, health care providers and support groups — cancer warriors all — linked and raised arms to celebrate, discuss and understand the newly passed National Integrated Cancer Control Act (Nicca, or Republic Act No. 11215) and its implementation soonest.
The moving force behind the congress was the Cancer Coalition of the Philippines and the groups that compose it, the tireless individuals, coalition cochairs Paul Perez and Kara Magsanoc Alikpala among them.
Beginning with a hopeful mood was Fr. Jerry Orbos, SVD, a cancer survivor, who shared his insights on his journey toward healing, how he embraced his cancer with grace and “focused on the humor, not the tumor.”
I must say that the way the program was laid out (with entertainment numbers in between and emceed by Mae Paner, aka Juana Change) was indeed informative. The three parts — “Stronger together through shared knowledge,” “Stronger together through collaboration” and “Stronger together through vigilant action” — each had experts well-versed in the topic and who answered questions from the eager audience afterward.
In the first discussion, panelists from the Department of Health (DOH) explained how Nicca can provide access to timely cancer care and treatment and make it affordable and accessible.
Nicca can indeed ease the burden on patients and their families and promote survivorship especially among the financially challenged. DOH facilities can be expanded to make diagnosis and treatment affordable and equitable. The law mandates for a National Integrated Cancer Control Program that would serve as a framework for all cancer-related programs and activities of the government.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III was just as gung ho in seeing the full implementation of the Nicca, while beaming about the 24 cancer centers in DOH hospitals. Other government agencies—the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth)—as well as private groups, such as the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology, were there to explain their roles in the implementation of the groundbreaking law. An oncologist explained the importance of patient participation in scientifically supervised medical trials that can lead to breakthroughs. Who knows, dramatic discoveries in cancer treatment might yet come from the Philippines!
A pleasant surprise was the group called Patient Navigators of Taguig City, whose members personally assist patients and families navigate the stormy journey from diagnosis to treatment to palliative care and so on. What a noble activity/ministry/apostolate!
Addressing the issue of funding is the Nicca’s Cancer Assistance Fund, which mandates PhilHealth to expand its benefit packages for all types and stages of cancer and regardless of patients’ age. In the package is not treatment alone but also screening, rehabilitation, pain management and palliative care in end-stage cases.
Cancer patients and survivors would have benefits and privileges granted persons with disabilities. This means 20-percent discount for medicines and maintenance drugs.
And so because of the congress, a vibrant community has been formed and forged, a caring community of public and private organizations, patient groups, health advocates and medical practitioners who are committed to “a concrete patient-centric, family-centric national cancer agenda and to give a stronger voice for patients in shaping policy and programs under Nicca.” The ultimate goal, the Cancer Coalition emphasizes, is to create a lasting impact on improving the lives of Filipino patients and give hope in winning the battle against the disease.
In a few months, Nicca’s so-called IRR or implementing rules and regulations, the nuts and bolts so to speak, will be put in place.
There is so much more about the congress than can be included here, but if there is one thing participants could have brought home in big doses, it would be HOPE, now writ large on a once dreary landscape, and an unwavering belief in being “stronger together.”
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