Tuesday, August 28, 2012

15 years of breast cancer advocacy in the Philippines

It has now been 15 years since Rosa Francia-Meneses established the Philippine Breast Cancer Network as a direct result of the 1st World Conference on Breast Cancer held in Kingston, Ontario in 1997.

The PBCN pays special tribute to Andrea Martin from the USA, who had devoted her life to the global movement for the eradication of breast cancer and who was a very special friend of the PBCN.  We likewise give special recognition to the following who have maintained the course and pursue in this quest: North America - Sharon Batt, Barbara Brenner, Judy Brady, Devra Davis, Samuel Epstein, Nancy Evans, Ann Fonfa, Jackie Manthorne, Karen Miller, Sandra Steingraber and Laura Weinberg; Europe - Laura Potts, Helen Lynn and Annie Sasco; and Japan - Akiko Domoto and Kimiko Goldberg

But as these persons have been trailblazers in their respective countries, our organizations all face a lacking of new faces of dynamism and resolve, of 2nd liners who will continue what was started in that historical 1997 Kingston Conference. But without a doubt, there are already newly-diagnosed women out there who have already picked up the baton. 

The PBCN has only been able to persist because it is the only breast cancer organization with a completely patient’s perspective that is led by a man who will not yet die. The burden of advocacy on a patient, most especially in the Philippines is not only demanding of her time and health but breast cancer activism in itself has yet to be accepted and recognized by society and governance.

If not for personal donations from both patients and supporters, the PBCN would have already succumbed to the cancer industry with all the offers of partnerships and assistance from the medical-pharmaceutical sectors as well as grandstanding politicians. This is the reality of territory the PBCN has been in since 15 years ago – yet though it would be simply practical just to survive, the PBCN has always relied on divine intervention and to quote Goethe, “The moment one definitely commits oneself, the Providence also moves. All sorts of things occur to help which would not have otherwise have happened. A whole stream of events flow from that decision, bringing all kinds of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no one could have foreseen. Whatever one can do or dream one can, do it. Boldness has genius, power and magic. Do it now.”

August 28th was the 15th year of the PBCN and also the 60th birthday of its founding President. I was able to attend mass, but on television. It was for a simple yet great public servant who perished from a plane crash and captured the hearts and minds of the entire nation. He had dreams that did not fit into the political realities in the country but held steady since more than 20 years ago – he had no idea whether his efforts would go anywhere. Are there others like him?

Yes there are! Two days before, I accompanied my daughter and her classmates undertake a cultural research visit to a small and obscure town in Laguna province. They were all amazed at how the town has maintained its cultural heritage and how the entire community is starting to progress. Then they were shocked to see the month-long waist-deep flood waters that remain and of all places, where the town Mayor and his family reside. Yes, this unassuming mayor of Pila, Laguna is another Jesse Robredo in the making.

Why did I have to mention this?  Because just like these devoted public officials who kept on with their “impossible dream” ….. the PBCN after 15 years of breast cancer advocacy and all its accompanying personal sacrifices, I know deep inside that something’s got to give! 

The PBCN’s advocacy for the prevention and ultimate eradication of breast cancer did not end with the death of Rosa Francia-Meneses.  As silent as every woman copes and confronts with her life-threatening disease, so does the PBCN grapple to stay alive. Despite having lost its recovery center in Tiaong, Quezon aggravated with the unsolved cold-blooded murder of its caretaker, the PBCN continues to provide care and management for women afflicted or suspected to have breast cancer whenever, wherever and however possible.  

Breast cancer is today a national public health epidemic – this is the reality. But the truth is that breast cancer can be prevented! 

The reality is that the medical-pharmaceutical industry continues to mislead the public in believing that early detection prevents breast cancer. But the truth is that mammography causes breast cancer!

The reality is that the PBCN is in dire need of funds. But the truth is that firm resolve and not money has kept the PBCN alive and kicking the past 15 years.

To face reality, one can just opt to be practical. But to be real, one just has to be true.

“Freedom from Breast Cancer!”


Friday, August 10, 2012

Floods and breast cancer

Update: Exactly a year after the floods of August 2012, flood waters have again hit the country, and the Department of Health still maintains that the prevention of non-communicable diseases such as breast cancer is in tobacco and alcohol intakes? 

The Philippine Breast Cancer Network takes serious concern over the massive floods in our country the past four years: Tropical Storm “Ondoy” in September 2009,  Typhoon “Sendong” in December 2011 and the monsoon rains in early August 2012.

Acid water levels have most likely risen quickly because of the rains and the acid water has now affected wide areas in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao spreading into ground water that people in rural areas drink water from. The downpours diluted the concentration of heavy metals in mining, industrial and farming areas but they were not dissolved and have certainly contaminated water systems.
Residential, commercial and industrial wastewater contain hormone-disrupting chemicals such as natural estrogen and alkylphenols, insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, pharmaceuticals, chlorinated solvents, industrial chemical waste, petroleum products and heavy metals. The floods have spread huge undetermined volumes of these toxic pollutants and contaminants including those known to cause cancer and birth defects especially mercury and dioxin from power plants, fuel depots, paper mills and many other industrial factories along Pasig River and Manila Bay.

Unique to the Philippines is the numerous junk shops where it would not be surprising to have significant amounts of PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyl) from drained fluids of used transformers and electric motors. Then there are the garbage landfills, notably Payatas and San Mateo whose tailings go straight down to the Marikina river system, and Smoky Mountain whose toxic solid waste have been permanently buried beneath former President Ramos’ flagship project, the 79 hectare Manila Harbour Centre.
In the highly urbanized industrial City of Iligan is where the National Power Corporation operates six hydro-electric power plants and where several heavy industries (steel, cement, chemical, refractory and food) have been operating since the 1970’s. There has already been an alarming number of breast cancer, leukemia and lung cancer in a city with a small density of less than 400 persons per square kilometer. Just like Manila Bay, Iligan Bay is as polluted. When the floods of "Sendong” struck in December 2011, the waterways have definitely become a serious environmental health hazard.
While “Ondoy” flooded Marikina City within 12 hours, the recent floods submerged the city for 3 days just three years later.  And what industries are in Marikina City aside from the shoe industry?  For starters - Fortune Tobacco, Armscor, Purefoods and Nestle. Despite their waste disposal systems – the floods had certainly overflowed their holding wastewater  ponds! Furthermore, all persistent organic pollutants in Payatas, San Mateo and Antipolo went down to this valley!

Our country will continue to experience calamities due to a multitude of socio-political-economic factors and it can only be hoped that present and future governance can act to limit if not contain the degree of damage to life and property. The Philippines has become very vulnerable to catastrophes. In fact, our country registered the highest increase in the incidence rate of breast cancer over the past 30 years worldwide. The recent flooding has again unleashed and exposed thousands of women to environmental toxins and carcinogens and this will be validated with the surge of breast cancer cases in the flood-stricken areas of the country at least five years from today.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Population and breast cancer

Several books have drawn attention to the severe economic and social problems linked to having too few children.

Philip Longman, in his book "The Empty Cradle," concentrates on the economic disadvantages of a rapidly falling birth rate. Fears of a "population bomb" aside, modern economics have depended on ever-growing populations. New businesses flock to areas where population is growing, and social security systems depend on growing numbers of taxpayers to finance welfare for each retiring generation. He notes that it may seem counter intuitive to worry about too few children at a time when the world population is still growing by around 75 million a year. Fertility rates, however, have plummeted in recent years and no industrialized nation has enough children being born to sustain its population. U.N.data show that currently 59 countries, accounting for 44% of world population, are not producing enough children to avoid population decline.

Another book, "The Coming Generational Storm," by Laurence Kotikoff and Scott Burns focuses on the fiscal crunch facing the United States due to the costs of an aging population, accusing politicians of deliberately ignoring the long-term financial burdens in favor of short-term political interests. According to the authors, the difference between the US government;s future receipts and expenditures will be in the order of $45 trillion.

In their book, "Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population. " Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer observe that China and India, with 38% of the world's population, have surpluses of young males far beyond what any natural forces could produce. Noting that female infanticide was practiced in many cultures and epochs, Asian culture has had a particularly marked preference for male offspring and modern technology has allowed this preference to be applied more radically than in the past. The book puts the number of women eliminated in seven Asian countries at just over 90 million with India and China respectively accounting for 43% and 45% of this total.

And even if the future isn't as bleak as these authors describe, mainstream economics opinion is in agreement that the dramatic fall in fertility will pose severe problems for the world's economy. Peter Heller, in his book, "Who Will Pay?" points out that society may well rue the day it embraces the logic of the family planning movement.

The Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR)  stands firm against population control policies but is also against hazardous contraceptives while advocating for abortion rights and the reduction of maternal mortality & morbidity.  

In her presentation on "Breast cancer and the Environment" years ago, Professor Devra Lee Davis pointed out that the proportion of male births in Canada and the USA have been in steady decline since the 1970's. According to her study, had the sex ration not dropped, at least 38,000 more baby boys would have been born in the USA and 8,600 more in Canada. This observation was part of the human evidences pointing to the proliferation of environmental xenoestrogens that has resulted in the feminization of nature and consequently the rapid rise of breast cancer, especially in areas of toxic waste dumping (California, New York and Florida). Today, 1 in every 8 women in the USA will get breast cancer.

In arriving at our own country's population program, health concerns (particularly breast cancer) must be at equal footing with economic matters. Whatever population size may best serve our country's specific needs, the PBCN is totally against the use of hormonal contraceptives in any form because it places women at high risk of getting breast cancer. Instead, the use of condom is highly recommended. A woman's health and safety (whether with or without child) is foremost as her reproductive system is so complex and intricate that makes her most vulnerable to the environmental factors causing breast cancer.

The Philippine government has unknowingly been implementing an effective population control program by distributing breast cancer causing hormonal contraceptives nationwide and thereby causing the death of thousands of women annually from the breast cancer epidemic. The country today has the highest incidence rate of breast cancer in Asia and the 10th highest worldwide. Today, 1 in every 13 women will get breast cancer in the Philippines!