Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rosa's Plenary 15 years ago

27 July 1999
Ottawa, Canada
Opening Plenary
2nd World Conference on Breast Cancer

A most beautiful morning to all the gallant women and men in the global movement for the eradication of breast cancer. My name is Rosa Francia-Meneses and I am from the Philippines.

When Laurene Clark asked me to talk in this opening plenary, I felt challenged. To speak before such a huge audience baring my soul, if not my chest…that is tough Yes, living with breast cancer is really tough. Tougher still when you have to recount the terrible pain of a not so distant past. It’s like scratching a wound and exposing the raw part of it. I go through this motion many times when I talk – so you can imagine how often I bear the pain.

Recalling the pain serves a purpose – to remind myself that dealing with it is living with breast cancer. As I do so today, I am reminded of the many other gallant women doing the same. My story is the same as every woman with breast cancer. 

In February 1997, after my two year old daughter refused to suck from my left breast, I went to a doctor because of a nagging lump I thought was dried breast milk. I went alone, thinking that it was a routine checkup. Nothing prepared me for the shock that followed.

He was not a doctor of my choice but one referred by my health maintenance plan. After enduring the pain of a mammogram, he coldly told me I had cancer and had to undergo surgery at once. He didn’t wait for any of my family’s presence for that heartless declaration. With utter disbelief, I told him I couldn’t have cancer – no one in my family had cancer. My ears then just shut off and I no longer heard whatever he was saying afterwards. Walking away from the hospital like a lost soul, I don’t even know how I got home.

My 21 year old daughter was eager to learn of the result. Suddenly, the tears I had been holding back flowed like Niagara Falls. No words came out but it was enough for my daughter to know that death was casting its shadow on us. My husband had to be brave for both of us. He brought me to his childhood classmate who was a cancer surgeon. I must have been stricken with total numbness for I just left everything up to them.

His friend had me immediately confined in preparation for a frozen section biopsy. Being both ignorant, we left everything up to the doctor. Again, nothing prepared me for what happened later on.

I was brought to the operating room early in the morning and regained consciousness from the anesthesia early evening. Upon opening my eyes, I saw the sad faces of my family and friends around me. I thought I had died. My body felt torn apart, like some blasted wall. I instinctively reached for my heart where the pain hurt most. Realizing that my left breast was gone, I could only wish I was back in my mother’s womb.

The days that followed were like preparing for a final exam. My husband and I devoured as many information available on breast cancer and sought anyone with knowledge of this disease. It was to get myself ready for chemotherapy because I was given a very bad prognosis of advanced breast cancer with 16 out of 23 lymph nodes found malignant. With chemo, I was being given a 5 year statistical chance of survival but without chemo, I was not to survive more than two years. Five months later, I had not yet submitted to any further assault on my body.

By fate, a friend had informed me of the 1st World Conference on Breast Cancer in Kingston, Ontario. This time, my feeling was not for anyone else to decide for me. I had to be fully armed with knowledge and understanding before facing another battle.

I gathered all my inner strength to travel all by myself for the very first time outside my country, at a great distance on an extended airfare payment just to attend that historical conference in July, 1997. It turned out that I was the only breast cancer delegate in attendance from the Philippines. It was as if I was the only one with breast cancer from my country.

I clearly remember that time when I was among the audience, simply overwhelmed as I listened to the plenary talks of the late Bella Abzug, DevraDavis, Annie Sasco and Sandra Steingraber. By some unexplained force, I was drawn to the concurrent session of Joan Reiss. As she presented, I was already contemplating on what had to be done to prevent my three daughters from getting breast cancer.

Traveling back to the Philippines, I chanced on Akiko Domoto at the airport and told her of my intention of holding a similar conference in my country, no matter the burden for a sick woman like me. At hindsight, there seemed to be an unseen hand leading me to people who would later mean much to what I would be undertaking.

The Kingston Conference was the reason why my husband and I have decided to commit our lives to the movement for the global eradication of breast cancer – to live or even die so that others may live. The conference galvanized me and to this very day, I have not submitted myself to any form of chemotherapy or radiation, 29 months after my radical mastectomy. How did I manage to stretch the time, struggling to live to once again be with all of you, not anymore the “lost” soul from the Philippines but as a plenary speaker.

Immediately upon my return from Kingston, along with my husband and a few close friends, I established the Philippine Breast Cancer Network on the 28th of August 1997, patterned after the Canadian Breast Cancer Network.

Against many odds, we were able to hold the first ever Philippine Conference on Breast Cancer on October 1998. We were blessed with the presence of Andrea Martin of The Breast Cancer Fund, Kimiko Goldberg of the Japan Breast Cancer Network and Cindy Termorshuizen (representing Akiko Domoto of the Japanese Diet). Devra Davis sent invaluable materials which have since become the core of the PBCN’s information and awareness initiatives.

In spite of the spiraling increase in breast cancer incidence and mortality in the Philippines, no considered the highest in Asia, there has been no organization whether private or government focused on the issue of breast cancer alone, prior to the PBCN. All were general cancer groups that were hospital based, initiated by doctors and which maintained a purely medical point of view. All were just preoccupied on how to cope with medical treatments, how to accept one’s fate and how to prepare for one’s death. None at all even slightly touched on the causes of breast cancer.

Breast cancer patients in the Philippines have no rights. They have no right to speak or to ask. They have always been considered to be the walking dead – people to take pity on and offered prayers for. It’s just tough luck if one gets breast cancer in the Philippines.

During the recent public deliberations on the Total Ban of incinerators in the Philippines, our Department of Health (DOH) wanted an exemption for medical incinerators, our Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) wanted an exemption for chemical incinerators and our Department of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR) wanted an exemption for solid waste incinerators. Our own government and not the private sector were unsupportive of the total ban. During the Belgian Dioxin Scare, our DOH stated that our government was not in any position to act on dioxin in our food, water and air supply, even as far as saying that “a little amount of dioxin was nothing to worry about.”

The 5-Year Health Priorities for Research of our Department of Science and Technology (DOST) focuses on cure and treatment and simply looks upon cancer as an unavoidable cost of progress. Our Department of Agriculture (DA) actively promotes and encourages chemical farming. Our tri-media is more concerned with sensational news of rape and kidnapping, not knowing that the same level of violence is committed everyday of hundreds of women diagnosed with breast cancer.

The greatest risk of getting breast cancer tomorrow is being born today in a developing country. The greatest risk of not surviving breast cancer today is being a woman in the Philippines. But now, the landscape of breast cancer in the Philippines is changing. To this day, the PBCN has been able to enlist more than two hundred women with breast cancer and several hundreds more of women at risk of getting it. The PBCN has conducted a series of 7 lectures and 6 symposiums all over the archipelago that had more than a thousand in attendance. On October this year will be held the 2nd Philippine Conference on Breast Cancer.

A month ago, a nurse who was moved by one of our provincial symposiums; a daughter who had just lost her mother to breast cancer; and a female surgeon who is disturbed by the high incidence rate in her locality – each made separate contact with us expressing their desire to do something. To commemorate the PBCN’s 2nd year of existence with the help of these 3 women, the PBCN launched the first ever breast cancer prevention project in the Visayas, the first ever “Fight Breast Cancer Week” in the University of the Philippines and the first ever breast cancer symposium for Philippine Muslim women. Talk about things just happening through some unseen hand.  

The PBCN has been moving forward and taking strong action, breaking the silence and shattering the walls of apathy and ignorance. We have been taking a journey in unknown territory that has never been seen in the Philippines. We have had to rely on help from friends here and there, now and then, in whatever form and in whatever way. We continue to uphold and defend our dignity and self-esteem, never cowing to statements that in fund raising, “beggars can’t be choosers.” Though we have not received any major funding from whatever source, we will never beg for our lives.

Four months ago, I attended a breast cancer conference in Brussels, organized by the US National Breast Cancer Coalition. A week before, I had surgical removal of a lump due to recurrence. This did not stop me from traveling because it was my first opportunity to be a plenary speaker in an international setting. What almost prevented my attendance was the Belgian Embassy in Manila. They doubted the conference and they doubted me. It took five visits and several communications within a brief period before I was finally issued a visa – and believe it or not, just a day before my flight departure.

Recurrence for a woman with breast cancer is of extreme anxiety. But the recurrence of a foreign embassy’s arrogance and discrimination of women living with breast cancer makes matters far more unbearable.

Today, I stand before you, a single-breasted woman with a recurring hurt in my heart. I bear with me the memory of sixteen women from my country who have gone ahead and the faces of five women of my delegation who should have been among you right now, to witness this historical conference.

The Philippine delegation to this 1999 World Conference onBreast Cancer underwent a radical mastectomy, performed by a supposed embassy of goodwill and friendship which has made them diplomatic surgeons armed with the skill and precision only a woman who has lost her breast can never forget. The Philippine Canadian Embassy felt that this World Conference was not reason enough to be granted an entry visa and worst of all, considered the Philippine delegation a scam. My five colleagues: a nine year breast cancer survivor, a medical doctor, a nutritionist and two physical therapists never felt so rejected and humiliated in all of their lives. They had prepared and looked forward to coming with me, most specially Chit Marfil, who said, “Do I have to undress and show these embassy consuls the scar on my chest?” Like men in white, these diplomats felt no need to neither explain themselves nor apologize for their acts.

Imagine the shock I got when our delegation was called a scam and denied visas? A delegation that I had long worked for to realize? They cut up my delegation just like when my breast was cut off. They had rudely and coldly shut the door that was opened two years ago in Kingston where I was also all alone. I find myself all alone again. What does it have to take for a woman to wage battle with breast cancer?

Not only are we faced with the uncertainties of medical science and the greed of a cancer industry, but now, we are even insulted with the indifference and callousness of a host country’s embassy officials. This incidence has now become an international concern. The outpouring of letters from all over the world in support of the rejected PBCN delegation to the conference has finally shown the true meaning of global action.

But then there will be no winners- only losers. On the side of the Canadian Embassy, their decisions must not be questioned, much more be pressured. On the side of the Philippine Breast Cancer Network, our motives and actions must not be undermined, much more, be insulted. On the side of the organizers, of this world conference, this undertaking must not be doubted, much more, be exploited. On the side of women all over the world who are afflicted with breast cancer, our condition must not be compromised, much more, be aggravated.

Women have long been the watershed of man’s bruised ego. And when she gets breast cancer, she becomes his nightmare. She is cut, burned and poisoned but much worse, she is doubted, insulted and robbed of her dignity. She who nurtures life has lost her value. How much longer does this have to go on? How many more women have to get breast cancer?

I call on every country to each have a national breast cancer network with a patient’s perspective. I call on the creation of a World Breast Cancer Network. Our numbers have been growing and the army of breast cancer warriors are uniting and closing ranks for one purpose. Together we will change the world that all our daughters may never experience the pain and agony of breast cancer.

And just by being with all of you today, I feel no longer alone. I may have lost a breast and I may even lose my life, but I will never lose my heart.

To each of you, I give all my love from deep beneath my bare chest.

Monday, July 7, 2014

HUMAN NATURE - Pink marketing at its worst!

When a woman hears the word MAMMO, what enters her mind?

Try typing the letters MAMMO in your search engine and see what comes out - Mammoa film by Shyam Benegal released in 1994.....A "long bomb" home run as first described by Atlanta Braves career player and third baseman Chipper Jones (#10) ..........Mammo: Mammography/ Breast Imaging......or referring to the mammary gland.  Of these four, what would be the most common understanding to one's mind upon hearing the word MAMMO?

Well, there is now a self-proclaimed "pro-Philippines, pro-poor and pro-environment" passionate enterprise called HUMAN NATURE that provides personal care products in the Philippines, the United States of America and other countries worldwide. Unfortunately, it turns out that this company is anti-women and really only interested in making millions from the lucrative and huge market of women because of its corporate support and promotion of mammography.

In a message received by the PBCN on 20 June 2014 from the company's President Anna Meloto-Wilk: "MammoMe was an initiative of Kasuso Foundation and they were the ones who approached us regarding the idea. Since we are a company that believes in a healthier lifestyle and in promoting products that are safe, we think it's a great collaboration."

"The name of product itself - MammoMe - also came from the party of Kasuso Foundation and their agency. The root word "mammo" refers to the breasts, to the mammary glands, and is in no way intended to relate to mammograms."

"If you look at all our promotional materials, you will see that we heavily concentrate on instilling the habit of doing breast self exam which every consumer can do without any help from a doctor. We firmly believe this is a great way of empowering women in taking better care of their health and in knowing their body better."
"Lastly, a big part of MammoMe is helping indigent women who need financial help in getting the health care they need. A significant portion of the proceeds go to funding medical treatment for them."

Is the company into prevention of breast cancer or treatment of the disease? Are the company's products meant to prevent breast cancer or meant to augment breast cancer detection?  It proudly states that their products are 100% NO harmful Chemicals and yet they are telling women to regularly self-exam their breasts in the shower. Well, the more you consume their natural body wash product, the better for them cause most women will never feel a lump in the shower until it is already palpable. So what good is the company's campaign to fight breast cancer? There is NO such thing as early detection because it takes 5-10 years before the first symptoms of breast cancer are manifested. Furthermore, once a breast lump is felt in the shower, what next? Aha! You are to undergo a mammogram! So can  Anna Meloto-Wilk honestly insist that their product in no way is intended to relate to mammograms?

Mammo-you, Mammo-Me?  To my knowledge, this is the very first time that a company in the whole world has engaged itself in the full support and promotion of mammography! (The PBCN challenges the company to market Mammo-Me in the USA.)
One in 13 Filipino women will get breast cancer in her lifetime BUT is this meant to instill fear or should it be taken as a wake-up call for women to act on preventive measures instead of detection? To take action on eliminating the environmental causes of breast cancer such as paraben in personal care products! 

Sadly, Anna Meloto-Wilk has allowed herself to be grossly misled by vested interests of the breast cancer industry to believe that lowering one's risk of breast cancer is solely on diet& fitness, breastfeeding and monthly self-exams.  Think about this: a woman has a negative reading from her annual mammo year in and year out till one day, there is a suspicion and finally, she is said to have a malignancy. So where is prevention? Self-exams, especially mammo is just to tell you of an existing problem - not preventing it from happening.

HUMAN NATURE has to immediately change their entire campaign into breast cancer prevention - NOT breast cancer detection. They are very much in a position to do so because of their paraben-free products!  By heeding this serious and urgent concern, Anna Meloto-Wilk can now truly say that her company is Pro-Women! Meanwhile, HUMAN NATURE is just another pink washer!