Fighting cancer is a shared burden #28StoriesofGiving
Razel Estrella (The Philippine Star) - July 4, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Young cancer patients playing in the garden are not a rare sight at the Cancer Institute in Manila.

“These kids don’t think about how long they will live. They live in the moment and right now, they are very happy,” said Jorge Ignacio, medical oncologist and chairman at the institute.

Following a congressional act in 1938, the Cancer Institute was built as a multi-disciplinary area at the Philippine General Hospital as a venue for service, research and training for would-be specialists in cancer treatment.

Since cancer affects various body organs, treatment requires expertise in many disciplines such as orthopedics, ophthalmology, nutrition and even dentistry and psychology.

“It’s not just the disease that must be addressed, but the psychological and spiritual needs of the person as well,” Ignacio said.

The Philippines currently ranks third in cancer morbidity. One out of five Filipinos aged 75 and up suffer from the killer disease.

“It’s the change in our lifestyle, especially the Western diet we’ve adopted,” Ignacio said of the growing threat posed by the Big C on people all over the world, the Philippines included.

So alarming has the cancer pandemic become that at the Cancer Institute alone, the number of patients is growing by 20 percent each year.

It’s not just the growing number of cancer patients the Institute has to contend with, the facility also has severe structural problems. Constructed 80 years ago, the building has survived the war and decades of wear and tear, and as a result is plagued by leaking roofs as well as electrical and plumbing issues, to name a few.

Additional space and facilities are imperative as well. The facility’s 51-bed in-patient capacity is not enough to accommodate patients in dire need of their services.

“In a nutshell, the burden is getting heavier,” Ignacio said.

Despite the limitations, however, the institute makes it a point to look after those who come by, particularly walk-ins that come to Manila all the way from the provinces.

“Ang pinaka-ayaw kong marinig sa pasyente ay, ‘Kung may pera lang ako, Doc, hindi na ako pupunta dito (The last thing I want to hear from a patient is, ‘If only I had the money, I wouldn’t be here),” he said. “Because that means I have stripped them of their dignity.”

That is why human value is something Ignacio instills in everyone at the Institute.

“At the end of the day, turning away patients will make you question yourself. You are faced with the thought: ‘Am I doing this for the money or for the chance to serve?’”

While the Cancer Institute receives generous support from partners, sponsors and volunteers, there is still huge room for help.

“The burden is on everyone,” Ignacio said. He firmly believes that it takes an army comprising an entire nation to fight the cancer menace.

The Cancer Institute is presently appealing to the Senate to finance a bigger and better building, but as Ignacio previously said, no single act will win the battle.

“My dream is a jolt of awareness, since the problem is everyone’s burden. If we share the burden, it will be lighter,” he emphasized.

“What I can’t understand is how the lottery jackpot skyrockets to up to P200 million. Even the smallest guy would place a bet, anywhere from P20 to P200. Imagine if that amount of money was raised for The Cancer Institute,” he continued.

Donating money is not the only way one can help. Everyone with something to share is encouraged to visit and interact with the patients. They can hold storytelling and painting sessions, massage patients, talk to them, share a laugh – live in the moment with them.

“Nobody is too rich that they never want, and nobody is too poor that they cannot give,” Ignacio said.

To find out more about how you can help the Cancer Institute, call 526-6953 or 544-8400.

For comments and suggestions to #28storiesofgiving, email follow @philippinestar on Twitter or visit The Philippine STAR’s page on Facebook.

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