Sunday, March 3, 2013

Breast cancer does not have to happen

March 3rd would have marked my 40th year with Rosa who passed away in 2000, a month after her 48th birthday. Rosa died 4 years after she was medically diagnosed with breast cancer at age 44.

That morning, I received the journal of a woman who died 10 years after her diagnosis of breast cancer at age 50. In the afternoon, I received a call from a 41 year old woman whose breast tumor had already burst and was seeking assistance. In one day, I faced two cases which I have become most familiar with in my more that 15 years of breast cancer advocacy. Two different cases which mirror the unacceptable breast cancer epidemic situation in our country today where one of 13 will get the disease within their lifetime.

The 1st woman had submitted herself to all medical interventions at the Chinese General Hospital and total expenses reached a total of around P2 million pesos. The 2nd  woman was so poor that she could not even afford a P3,000 biopsy at the East Avenue Medical Center. Rosa however, did not submit to chemotherapy and radiation by choice.

The 1st woman wrote in her journal that her medical breast exam a year before her diagnosis was just fine. The 2nd woman first noticed a breast lump 10 years before medical diagnosis. This brings forth what I have long been saying that there really is no such thing as early detection because it takes 5 to 10 years before the first symptoms of breast cancer are manifested. Moreover, 80% of lumps are normal in the course of a woman’s reproductive life and not all of the remaining 20% are necessarily a malignancy. Furthermore, not all malignancies are of the aggressive type and this is will only be known after the fact.

During Rosa’s time, we had zero knowledge and understanding of the disease and neither was thermal imaging available then.  I am very sure that if the 1st woman had undergone thermal imaging a year before her diagnosis, a severe breast abnormality would already have been seen as against her being told that all was fine. She could have had the benefit of avoiding the harrowing experience of chemotherapy. In her journal, she wrote that, “Chemotherapy was the most painful treatment I experienced in my whole life”.

The 1st woman mentioned of how kind, gentle and approachable her doctors were, especially that her surgeon was considered the “king” among breast cancer surgeons.  All I have to say is that they have to be such because of how unkind and terrible their treatments would be. The ill effects and irreversible damages done by invasive and toxic procedures are known only afterwards. But because of the hope of extending life, patients will “bite the bullet.”  Unfortunately the often said “5-year survival rate” is in the USA and not in the Philippines where I have observed to be much, much lower.  As far as the doctors were concerned, she had already surpassed the 5-year period.

The 2nd woman went to the provincial hospital in Sta Cruz, Laguna more than 10 years after she her lump first surfaced. She was then referred to the East Avenue Medical Center but could not afford treatment, no matter how negligible the costs. Her breast has now worsened because she did not do anything at all – but, she is "staying alive" without medical intervention. Breast cancer is not a disease that our Lord God Almighty created and neither can its resolution be given to His hands. Neither is the supposed cure a question of money.  

These two women had no prior information, knowledge and understanding of breast cancer. The 1st one died 10 years after diagnosis and medical treatment while the 2nd one is still alive after 10 years of non-diagnosis and non-treatment. Unlike many others, Rosa and I had learned tremendously from attending five World Conferences of Breast Cancer which is how the Philippine Breast Cancer Network was founded in 1997.

Had I then the knowledge and experience that I possess now, Rosa would most possibly be with me today continuing the advocacy for the eradication of breast cancer.  But then, if not for her battle with breast cancer, I would not be able to do what I do now.

The Philippine Breast Cancer Network continues its most difficult task in honor of Rosa, the 1st woman, the 2nd woman and countless victims of this most dreaded woman’s disease. The PBCN strongly believes that breast cancer does not have to happen.  

Happy "would-be" 40th anniversary, dearest Rosa!