By RONALYN V. OLEA
In this country, poor cancer patients who go to public hospitals for treatment have remote chances of surviving.
I recently received a private message on Facebook calling for support for breast cancer awareness. As a response, I want to warn all those who battle against the disease not to rely on the “charity” of public hospitals. We did and we lost our beloved mother four years ago.
Her cancer was diagnosed at an early stage. Since we did not have the money, we went to the Philippine General Hospital (PGH). Along with hundreds of indigent patients, my mother waited for her turn for consultations and laboratory tests, going to the Breast Care Institute once a week or every two weeks. We would soon be told that she had to undergo an operation. We had to wait because we were “on charity.” After months and months of waiting and phone calls almost every week, the hospital said they could not accommodate her yet.
By the time we decided to go to another hospital, her cancer had progressed to stage 3, meaning the cancer cells had metastasized or spread to other parts of her body. Operation was no longer advised and instead, she had to undergo chemotherapy. If only I had known better, I would have dared send her to the pay ward of the hospital even without knowing how to raise the money for the bill.
Traumatized by our experience at the PGH, we went to the Jose Reyes Medical Center. The doctor there said we had to pay P30,000 for medicines for every session of chemotherapy. There were six sessions in one cycle. I would later learn that the cost of chemo drugs is much lower. Through the help of friends from health non-government organizations, we found two doctors who were willing to administer the drugs if we would buy the medicines. My mother had two cycles of chemo during her five-year battle against cancer.
When she was advised to undergo radiation therapy as palliative treatment, we went back to the PGH because it had the facility. Again, we were told that if we opted for charity, we would have to wait at least six months before my mother could be included in the waiting list. If we would pay, the session could start as soon as the assessment was done. After hearing this, my mother, who was suffering from extreme pain as cancer cells had already reached her bones, told the doctor—with tears welling up in her eyes and her voice breaking– that we had no money. I told my mother we would just pay and her radiation started the following week.
I wanted to shout, cry out of anger that very moment. But how could I show that to the doctors and health personnel when I knew that our public hospitals operate on a measly budget because this government chooses to spend more on debt and war than to save the lives of poor Filipinos? I wanted to rally those poor patients and their relatives to protest against this miserable public health care system.
Now, how could I stomach that this government is footing the bill for millionaire, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? It is disgusting. It is the height of injustice. It is immoral. What about the thousands of poor sick Filipinos being turned away by our public hospitals?
Our consolation then was the help of friends from people’s organizations and generous individuals. I never really had the chance to thank them all – to Dr. Delgado and Dr Clemente, the two doctors who administered chemo free of charge, to those who went to the benefit concert we organized for Nanay, to those who gave donations, including alumni of the CEGP, former classmates, cancer survivors and persons who did not even personally know us, to Becca Lawson who provided temporary shelter for my mother during her radiation, to Fatima Manuel who patiently listened to my mother’s fears and hopes, to all our friends who fetched my mother from our house in Laguna to PGH, thank you for making my mother’s journey a bit bearable.
My mother would have turned 57 last Valentine’s Day. I still miss her. I sometimes imagine her cuddling my little daughter. Thinking about her death still pains and angers me.