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It was big. When the floodgates opened, as it were, hundreds of women in pink poured into the plenary hall and, later in the day, proceeded to various enriching topics of interest that filled them with awe and wonderment.

What a blast it was, but it was not only a time for celebration and renewal of sisterhood and a gathering of breast friends, it was also a time for reflection, planning and looking forward with courage and hope. I was moved.

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Last Saturday’s Silver Linings, the 4th national summit of breast cancer survivors, patients, advocates and supporters, served as ICanServe’s 20th anniversary gathering, with more than 500 participants from all over the Philippines attending. Venue was the Philippine International Convention Center.

One of the highlights of the day was the keynote address of Kara Magsanoc Alikpala, a founding mother of ICanServe who, along with Crisann Celdran (now chair of the board), gathered the first group of breast cancer survivors 20 years ago. As the name suggests, ICanServe aims to serve not just one’s self but others as well.

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The stories of how a small group of women grew into a foundation, and continues to reach out to countless women and men with breast cancer that it could manage to reach, could fill a book. (Take the hint!)

ICanServe’s main advocacy is early detection and timely access to treatment. This has been proven as key to cancer survival for many. Women are urged to check themselves regularly and seek help if needed. There is a what, where, why, when, how and who on this.

A flagship program of ICanServe is Ating Dibdibin that has grassroots health workers in towns and cities as well as patient groups that embark on the early detection advocacy.

Let me make a fast forward. ICanServe, along with other members of Cancer Coalition Philippines, pushed for the passage of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act or the cancer law which, after three years of lobbying and really hard work — believe me — was signed into law last February.

If and when the law gets fully implemented with its nuts and bolts in place, cancer patients should get quality and affordable care (free of charge for some), for any kind and any stage of cancer. Schools, workplaces and communities should have cancer control policies and cancer assistance funds. More will be served with cancer centers nationwide. Soon, cancer patients and survivors will have PWD (persons with disabilities) status for discount purposes, in medicines especially.

By the way, the cancer law is unique in Asia. Besides the Philippines, Japan is the only other Asian country with a cancer law.

“I am proud of how national, local government and civil society and the private sector came together (on this),” Kara said. “One of the things I learned the past few years is that for one’s advocacy to be effective, you have to first acknowledge that you can’t do it alone. You need friends, friends who are experts, and know better… I learned that you have to build a community and nurture that community. When you join forces with other groups, the names of your organizations shouldn’t matter. Titles shouldn’t mean anything. No one should count who did what and who did more. The bigger the community, the stronger it is. The more united, the more powerful. When it comes to cancer, we should consider ourselves a republic onto ourselves facing a common enemy of the state.”

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Yes, indeed, coming as it does from someone who had worked on the ground with cancer-stricken women, listened to their stories and did what she could for them — not alone, but with other women.

The ICanServe journey began 20 years ago with the survivors themselves first — what to make of what they were going through — that spilled out to helping other patients. Not long after, the foundation that it became worked with other advocacy groups, then with cities and barangays, and now in the national level for the cancer law. The challenge to the young: how to keep the law alive and relevant.

Kara’s warning: “The World Health Organization predicted that in the next 11 years, cancer incidence will increase by 80 percent. (If) we haven’t been responsive to the problem, what chances do cancer patients have in 11 years?”

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TAGS: breast cancer survivors, Human Face, ICanServe, Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, Silver Linings
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