In loving memory of Erwin
DIRECT LINE - Boy Abunda (The Philippine Star) - May 19, 2016 - 12:00am

When lawyer Erwin Cabanag, a City Fiscal of Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental, passed away in 2005 at the age of 45, it was a painful time for the family.

Everyone was grieving, especially since Erwin was still relatively young, and at the peak of his career. He succumbed to a severe infection in May 2005 at the St. Luke’s Medical Center, only four days before he and his family were scheduled to leave for the US so he could undergo a bone marrow transplant.

Erwin’s disease started as Myelodysplastic Syndrome and evolved into acute Myelogenous Leukemia, a type of leukemia doctors say is difficult to treat. He was given high-dose chemotherapy that lowered his immune defenses. He also developed a fungal ball in his lung, called aspergiloma, which had to be removed by surgery.

“He was an athletic person,” remembers his sister, Dr. Erlyn Cabanag-Demerre, M.D. Dr. Demerre is an internal medicine specialist, cardiologist and is also into echo-cardiography.

The whole two-year battle was often frustrating for the family, because aside from the usual delays and visa problems they experienced (Erwin’s application for a US visa was initially denied), they realized that there are practically no support groups available to help those struggling with this disease. “Through his journey, we realized that there is no support group for adult leukemia, no voice for the victims because society looks at leukemia as a death sentence. No hope. No help,” says Dr. Demerre.

After Erwin died, Dr. Demerre and other like-minded individuals started thinking of what they could do to drive public awareness of the disease and to put systems in place that could help other sufferers.

Explains Dr. Demerre: “We wanted to create an organization that could offer multi-faceted practical and significant help to the many victims of leukemia. My family’s experience with my brother made us see more clearly that life can only be lived well with the help of the Almighty since it is travelled only once. Instead of grieving for the loss of my brother and the disappointments we met, with the grace of God that shone brightly through our journey, we committed to help those in similar situations.”

That’s when EPCALM, or the Erwin Piedad Cabanag Adult Leukemia Ministries came into being. Now known as the EPCALM Adult Leukemia Foundation of the Philippines, it is the first and only Christ-centered non-stock, non-profit organization in the country focused on extending timely, personalized, practical and family-oriented support to leukemia patients and their families.

Going in, Dr. Demerre realized what she was up against. She knew it was not going to be easy.

“I knew it would be a herculean task to build a leukemia (foundation) dedicated to the neglected sector and deemed hopeless group — the leukemia patients. But having seen the hand of God as the Hope, the Healer and the Provider during our journey and the power of relationships, of prayer, of helping hands, of love in action, of networking with others, we courageously set forth and started to plant the tree for EPCALM. In my heart, I knew God would not have allowed me to connect with a lot of people and agencies, especially the National Institutes of Health (NIH) if it would just die with my brother. I knew God would want me to use it for others. Hence, EPCALM was born.”

They have surpassed the usual birth pains and are now busy reaching out, raising awareness and financial support for the foundation.

EPCALM receives requests for assistance from leukemia patients and their families across the country every single day. To sustain the various services and ministries of EPCALM, The HOPE Fund was launched last April 1 to continue with the mission of extending timely assistance to people in need.

The inaugural 2016 Pledge Campaign was able to touch base with some individuals who had signified their desire to help EPCALM in its activities and service ministries, including its public advocacy.

One celebrity who has long been an ardent supporter of EPCALM is Martin Nievera.

Martin is glad to be supporting this advocacy. “I have been with the Epcalm family for quite some time now and every time they need a project that inspires, educates and heals, I am their in-house singer,” he says. “The people at EPCALM are on a mission to help learn more about leukemia and want to build a facility that will house families dealing with the grief and challenges this cancer comes with. Being a sad song singer, I believe you need to cry before you can really know the true value of a smile. Dr. Erlyn Demerre and her team have been passionate about this mission and I am honored to be part of it.”

Martin topbills the concert billed Journeys. “Journeys with Martin Nievera” is going to be staged on May 24 at the Samsung Hall of the SM Aura Premier, Bonifacio Global City in Taguig City. This special benefit concert is about giving hope to sick sisters and brothers — as they journey toward wholeness — healthier, happier.

Concert proceeds will go to the EPCALM Hope Fund.

(Tickets are now available in all SM Cinemas and SM Supermalls. For inquiries and reservations, call SM Tickets at tel. no. 470-2222. For online ticket purchases, visit smtickets.com/events/view/4431.)

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