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When breast friends gather

/ 08:51 PM September 21, 2011

We had a blast.

ICanServe’s 3rd national Silver Linings gathering held at the Grand Regal Hotel in Davao City last weekend was awesome, amazing, inspiring, heart-tugging. One is at a loss for adjectives in describing the experience. More than 1,000 participants from all over the country, most of them coming from Mindanao, came to be part of “a sisterhood like no other.”

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The majority, if not many, of the participants (myself included) were can-do, energetic breast cancer survivors, the rest were special persons from the indispensable circle of support. Health workers, providers and advocates. Doctors, relatives, friends, facilitators, organizers, volunteers, sponsors. Grassroots women mingled with celebrities. Survivors in various states of wellness and stages of recovery from illness bonded, embraced, shed tears, laughed, prayed, listened to one another. Bright pink on black was the color theme of the day.

The registration lines were long, despite online pre-registration for many, and I thought, would we be able to start on time? But in no time the sea of women in the lobby thinned out and we all found our seats in the big, packed session hall. We were off to a good start and the day grandly unfolded as it should.

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What is Silver Linings? Held every three years, Silver Linings is an educational forum and homecoming for breast cancer survivors and their circle of support. It is organized by ICanServe Foundation Inc. (whose major partner in this year’s gathering was Evolife-Evaux Laboratories). Several institutions, establishments, corporations, the media (the Inquirer, of course), Davao health advocacy groups and the city government threw in their support.

And what is ICanServe? Founded in 1999, ICanServe is an advocacy group of breast cancer survivors that promotes early breast cancer detection. Its flagship program is “Ating Dibdibin,” a Filipino saying that means taking it to heart. Dibdib means chest or breast. For ICanServe, “Ating Dibdibin” means “take your breast care to heart.”

Presiding at ICanServe’s birth were Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala (indefatigable founding president), Crisann Celdran, Becky Fuentes and Bet Yap. Its present executive director is Leilani E. Eusebio.

“Ating Dibdibin” is a barangay-based breast cancer screening program, the first of its kind in the country. It is the foundation’s response to the grim reality that the Philippines has the highest incidence of breast cancer in Southeast Asia. The Philippines ranks ninth in the world. Globally, breast cancer is the number one cause of cancer deaths among women.

The screening program entails training of the community’s medical team composed mainly of barangay health workers, community forums and screening, patient navigation programs, information campaigns, creation of cancer registry and support groups. The program also establishes partnership with those who can give free or subsidized diagnostics and treatments.

ICanServe urges and campaigns that: by age 20, women must do a monthly breast self-examination; by age 30, women must do an annual clinical exam, and a monthly breast self-examination; by age 40, women must do a yearly mammogram, an annual clinical examination and a monthly breast self-examination.

“Be in the loop; get the knowledge, get the edge” is ICanServe’s latest campaign catch words.

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ICanServe’s Silver Linings brings participants from all over the country every three years. The first one was held in Manila in 2005, the second in Cebu City in 2008, the third in Davao City this year. These huge gatherings are followed by smaller forums for patient groups on topics like promoting patient power, patient counseling and patient navigation.

Being distributed free of charge is ICanServe’s resource and guide book for the breast cancer community. There is also a breast self-exam video in Filipino (hosted by Dawn Zulueta), Visayan (Rakki Vega) and English (Lea Salonga). To raise funds, ICanServe holds events such as food festivals (Pink Kitchen), bazaars (Tickled Pink) and auctions (ICanShop).

ICanServe can be reached at Room 3007, GCF Building, Garnet corner Ruby Streets, Ortigas Center, Pasig City. Tel. 6365578,  email [email protected]

And yes, if you are looking for a support group there is Carewell Community Foundation (8151294, 7510242, [email protected] org).

The Davao City event was a first for many women of Mindanao. Aside from the plenary sessions, there were small discussions on topics such as “What to expect beyond five years of cancer remission,” “Managing the side effects of cancer treatments,” “Role of family and friends,” “Cancer-causing foods,” “Breast cancer 101,” “Stories that heal,” “How husbands cope,” “What is Her-2 breast cancer?” “Breaking the news about cancer to family and friends” and many more. Experts shared knowledge and insights and were assisted by facilitators.

I was one of the eight who shared stories of hope at the plenary. One was a male, breast cancer survivor who showed me his scar. Scriptwriter-director Bibeth Orteza, wearing a red shoe on one foot and a black one on the other, was the irrepressible emcee. She told the crowd: “What does it matter if the colors are not the same? What does it matter if I have only one breast?”

But there was a very personal side to all of these for many and for me, and that was bonding with and meeting sisters (and brothers) both old and new, cancer survivors and supporters of the sisterhood. I mention some names: Kara, Lani, Bangge, Vangie, Crissan, Pamsy, Mercy, Marivic, Me’Anne, Bettina, Carla, Bibeth, Tang, Leonor, Lynne, Sam, Karen, Rachel, Rose, Chic, Bobbit, Norman…

The impact of the experience and the memories could last a lifetime.

Send feedback to [email protected] or www.ceresdoyo.com

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