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By: Jullie Y. Daza

LT. Col. Fe Ea, an operating room nurse, used to collect wounded soldiers lying in the frontlines and take them to the field hospital or wherever a bit of shelter was available. Now she’s using her battlefield experience to wage war as a “cancer warrior” with the Cancer Coalition of 18 groups involved in oncology, hematology, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, surgery and other specializations, hospitals and hospices, pediatrics, etc.

Lani Eusebio twice underwent chemotherapy which she now considers “a walk in the park,” compared to the new, “more aggressive” treatments that give her depression and bone pain. Looking at her, who would think?

Kara Magsanoc Alikpala, cancer survivor, is slender as a reed but when she talks about the “catastrophic costs” that leave patients and their families poorer and sick with despair, her voice is as strong as her optimism that Congress will sooner than later give us a well-funded program, like P48 billion, to fight cancer as a health priority, at the same time assuring us that “cancer need not be a death sentence.”

Journalists heard the warriors two weeks ago, but the subject is so fraught with dread and pain – and painful memories – to everyone in the room that I, for one, kept postponing the writing of this report. Which family has not suffered the loss of a loved one due to cancer? For all its, er, cancerous growth, the disease has not prompted any move to build palliative care centers, hospices and survivorship programs. As Oliver Calasanz observes, cancer survivors are often left alone and penniless, without a job.

There’s more dreadful news. The trend is upward, so that by 2030 the incidence in developing countries will have jumped by 80 percent!

Why the rapid spread? Doctors blame lifestyle choices, bad habits. To Fe Ea, screen-culture addiction is a likely culprit. Dr. Chit Reodia, former Health secretary, wants to know if hair dyes are a factor. So far, 30 bills have been filed in the House and 12 in the Senate – yet cancer is not a course in med school, and few are trained in cancer pathology. Abroad, the survival rate in breast cancer is high, “but not here.”

As Dr. Reodia puts it, we’ve not moved fast enough, “but not to catch up quickly enough is worse.”