MANILA, Philippines - While most teens today can be found tapping away on their mobile devices, planning what to take up in college or getting into their first relationship, 20-year-old Rudy Labata spent his teenage years dealing with cancer.
It has been seven years since Rudy was diagnosed with Stage 1 Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL), but the young man still clearly recalls that fateful day.
“They suspected anemia at first,” Rudy says, as it took a while for him to get a proper diagnosis. The process took several tests and a long, agonizing wait. When it was finally determined that he was suffering from ALL, Rudy’s mother was crestfallen, taking the news of her son’s critical situation hard.
Rudy, on the other hand, put up a brave front but kept wondering how he could have cancer at age 13.
He was only in high school then, full of hopes and dreams.
“I was told that treatment will take two years,” he recalls. Concerned that the treatment would diminish his family’s meager finances, he also thought of the impact on his schooling.
“I thought to myself, it’s just two years,” he says.
Just then, a Kythe volunteer approached him and his mom at the charity ward of the UST Hospital and changed their lives forever.
Kythe Foundation Inc., which provides a whole range of support services to indigent children suffering from life-threatening illnesses and their family, started out as a school project at the Ateneo de Manila University, said executive director Maria Fatima Garcia-Lorenzo.
To date, the foundation has provided much-needed psychosocial support to over 8,000 children with cancer and other chronic illnesses and their families since 1992, and helped increase the patients’ chances of survival – from 40 to 60 percent – simply by making hospitals a happier place.
Although he suffered a great deal, what Rudy remembers most from his bout with cancer were summer camps that allowed him to play and mingle with other children also suffering from critical illnesses. During this time, volunteers generously spent their time with them and their families in hopes of seeing them get better and eventually, cancer-free.
He cannot thank enough the individuals and organizations that helped his family shoulder the costs of his treatment. Rudy’s father, a tricycle driver, was the sole provider of their family of four, and understandably had a hard time making ends meet.
He said, “There were times when the doctors themselves had to loan us money for medicine, or when we had to ‘borrow’ medicine from a fellow cancer patient.” According to Rudy, this was a common practice among the patients – a simple act of generosity that bound them closer together.
The positive experiences tend to drown out the suffering he endured.
“I would throw up so often it came to a point when I would eat just to make the throwing up a bit more bearable than if I did on an empty stomach,” he says.
On a lighter note, during his two-year treatment at the hospital, Rudy was everyone’s kuya, being the eldest in a group where patients were as young as four years old.
With an illness like cancer, Rudy admits, a positive attitude is not enough, one also needs a good support system. This is why Kythe proved to be a source of strength to him, while his fellow patients provided inspiration as he saw them trying to be strong for their own sake in spite of their suffering. He’s thankful that his friends and teachers were also very supportive and helped him graduate from high school on time.
Declared cancer-free in 2010, Rudy has become a dedicated volunteer as well as an employee of Kythe Foundation. After finishing high school, he took a two-year vocational course on a Kythe scholarship, and now works as an administrative assistant at the Kythe office in Quezon City.
These days, he devotes time helping young patients and their parents cope with cancer, assuring them that it need not be the “death sentence” it is feared to be.
“I give talks especially to parents of newly diagnosed patients. They have to stay strong for their children,” he says.
Rudy hastens to add that at one time he also received help from The STAR’s advocacy arm, Operation Damayan, among a long list of donors that helped him get through the ordeal.
Currently, Rudy is hoping to continue his studies, eyeing a four-year course to enable him to support his parents and younger sibling. He admits that even though it’s been years since he underwent treatment for cancer, the family still has debts to settle that he would like to shoulder, if only to repay his parents for their efforts.
If there is one thing he has learned from all this, Rudy says it is appreciating life and everyday blessings. His story, indeed, is one of survival.
(Editor’s Note: The Philippine STAR’s #28StoriesOfGiving is a campaign that turns the spotlight on 28 inspiring stories of people and organizations who devote their lives to helping themselves or others. Everyone is encouraged to post or tweet a message of support with the hashtag, #28StoriesOfGiving. For every post, P5.00 will be added to The STAR’s existing ‘give back’ anniversary fund. For comments and suggestions to #28storiesofgiving, email firstname.lastname@example.org. follow @philippinestar on Twitter or visit The Philippine STAR’s page on Facebook.)