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Advocating for cancer survivorship: Conversations close to the heart (Part 1)

“There can be life at the end of the cancer journey: the prerequisite is early detection and swift medical action.” 

These were the words of American actress Ann Jillian who, in 1985, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She would go on to be a survivor and live to share her story, and her advocacy for cancer survivorship.

Today, the fight against breast cancer continues. 

It’s a sad fact to know that this type of cancer is one of the most common and fatal diseases among Filipino women. 27,000 new cases are reported every year in the Philippines, and in previous studies, our country had one of the highest breast cancer mortality rates in Asia.

But there is hope! This I can confidently say as I witnessed the commitment and passion of many individuals, organizations, and agencies sharing their expertise during the 5-part roundtable discussion (RTD) series on breast cancer awareness that I recently moderated on behalf of the Swiss Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines.

During the RTDs, a clear consensus was established among panelists: breast cancer survivorship is anchored on early detection.

Early detection, however, is facing a significant barrier among Filipinos. According to Department of Health (DOH) Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire, patients often forgo proper treatment until it's too late due to financing. 

Dr. Corazon Ngelangel, President of the Philippine Cancer Society, also added that it was lack of awareness, late diagnosis, inadequate access, and low screening rates that were contributing to the inflated rate of advanced cancer stages, which also leads to higher mortality and morbidity rates.  

But beyond financial barriers, Dr. Ngelangel pointed out that “the burden of the diagnosis of treatment continues to impact all aspects of the patient’s life,including physical, emotional, cognitive, social, and spiritual.  

As the RTDs went on, I realized that when we’re someone’s immediate support structure, we have a significant influence on the success of early detection.

Dr. Buenaventura “Bill” Ramos, former president of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology, shared that cancer was still regarded with stigma – given the costly treatment and low