Healing one Child at at Time:
The Asia America Initiative's Cancer Treatment for the Poor program is the first of its kind in Asia. With medicines provided by the National Cancer Coalition of Florida and HFK KrebsAllianz in Germany, the program now has more than ten partner institutions in the Philippines. These include the Philippine Marine Corps, the Philippine Society of Pediatric Oncology, the Kythe Foundation for Children with Cancer, Philippine General Hospital, Philippine Cancer Society and the Philippine Veterans Hospital system. In the following article, oncology specialist Dr. Mae Dolendo of Davao describes how a 6 year old girl with devastating kidney cancer, named Jessalyn, was saved by a miracle of kindness by AAI's partner agencies -- especially the Philippine Marine Corps, who arrived on a critical day for Jessalyn's survival. They brought in specialized medicines from Asia America Initiative contributed by our US and European partners. The vision and objective of the Cancer Treatment Program is to bring life to adults and children like Jessalyn, who otherwise would perish. This act of caring also has the ability to demonstrate a valuable lesson to people living inside or outside of the war zones in Mindanao. Just as the miracle of healing from a terminal disease is possible when religiously and culturally diverse groups work together, so too is peace possible in seemingly intractable conflicts. All it takes is for people to care and believe that peace can be built "one child at a time." Dr. Dolendo's article follows:
The Philippine Marine Corps: Making a Difference in People's Lives
By Mae Concepcion J. Dolendo, MD, DPPS, FPSPO
What does it take to make a difference? Does it mean changing the whole world all at once? Does making a difference in the life of a small child mean anything?
A Miracle Girl
In April 2009, a six year old girl named Jessalyn from General Santos City started to have abdominal pain and vomiting which prompted her parents to bring her for consultation. When she was examined by the doctor, he noticed a mass in Jessalyn's abdomen and on further work-up, a tumor was considered. She was subsequently referred to Davao Medical Center in Davao City for definitive diagnosis and treatment.
When she first came to us, Jessalyn was a cheerful and cheeky girl who can dance to the latest pop tunes and television music videos. But unknown to this otherwise happy little girl, a tumor is treacherously growing on top of her left kidney, slowly wrapping around the major blood vessels and creeping into her bone marrow. When all the work-ups were done, Jessalyn was diagnosed with a stage 4 neuroblastoma, a type of cancer which has an affinity to neural tissue like the adrenals. Her cancer has spread to her bone marrow. She needed a highly intensive chemotherapy which hopefully will increase her changes to survival. That was the medical situation; the dilemma was how to access the otherwise very expensive chemotherapy medicine. Jessalyn was the youngest of thee children, her mother was a housewife and her father works as a garbage collector. Her parents were crestfallen and were praying for a miracle to happen.
And it did. As if by miracle, others may call it fate, or simply answered prayers, the donation of Ifinotecan by the Philippine Marines Corps arrived on the day Jessalyn needed the medicine. This donation was part of the cancer medicines donated by the Asia America Imitative to the Philippine Marine Corps. And we had access to it because on April 20, 2009 the PMC and the Philippine Society of Pediatric Oncology (PSPO) signed a Manifesto of Joint Advocacy in support of children with cancer. (Refer to CITEMAR06 article, Jan-June 2009 edition).
Today Jessalyn has completed four courses of chemotherapy. She has survived a major surgery that removed all tumors including her left kidney. She is bald and a little thinner but she remains the happy and hopeful little girl we first got to know, and we look forward to her writing more chapters in her own story.
Up Close and Personal with the Man
On my way back from Singapore last August, I made a courtesy call to the new PMC Commandant with the purpose of getting to know more about the new leadership and perhaps an insight on how PSPO can continue to collaborate with the Marine Corps. The meeting was arranged by Lt Col Jose Cabanban who also accommodated me with lunch at the Officers' Mess Hall and the opportunity to meet other PMC Officers.
At exactly 2:00 pm, I was ushered into the Commandant's office for m appointment. I was pleasantly surprised that Gen Juancho Sabban was such a gracious and accommodating host. He was very patient in answering my questions; and though he carefully considered each question, he as very candid and spoke from the heart. I can tell that he is passionate about his work and knows every aspect of his job. Since he just took on the new assignment as Commandant, I focused my questions on his experiences in Mindanao with the hope of getting an insight into the values and thinking of the man and soldier.
He is a member of the PMA Class 78 and his career which spans all of 31 years came full circle in various assignments in Mindanao where he became Battalion Commander, Brigade Commander and eventually Task Force Comet Commander prior to his current position. I would presume that for someone who was seasoned in battle; saw a lot of action; lost friends and comrades; he would be tough, callous and jaded. I was wrong. What I saw was an Officer made wiser by his years in Military Service and who had a deeper understanding of the conflict in Southern Philippines. He understood the root causes of this conflict and people who lived through it. Being in Sulu, Basilan and Palawan for many years had taught him that war is not won by counting dead bodies but by reaching out to people with the hand of peace. This is the reason why the Philippine Marines has long adhered to the precept of a holistic approach in tackling the Mindanao problem. This includes not only keeping the peace and protecting the innocent but also doing everything with the cooperation of the people - assisting them in livelihood activities, even turning a "Boulevard of Death" into a "Road of Peace." It is in engaging the local population that peace is won and surgical precision of military activities is possible when force becomes necessary. This approach spares innocent lives and should be supported by everyone.
Being a doctor and an oncologist, this is something that I fully understood. It is in knowing what ails a patient that one can treat judiciously. Most times, the problem may not only be medical but psychosocial as well. Discussing with families and interacting with the children gives a bigger insight on what ails them and therefore, better ways to treat them. It also provides bigger opportunities for friendships because a child is not a child alone. She is the center of a family, a family related to other families who have numerous friends.
In a civilian point of view, I think winning the war in Mindanao is not about looking for enemies but creating friendships; of building roads and bridges; not walls; of preserving and not taking lives, if possibly. It is to kill enemies by making friends out of them.
This is not to say that the Philippine Marines are being soft. They will maintain the core competencies and fight to the death for love of God and county when pushed. But given the choice, the ways of peace will be given a chance.
With Gen Juancho Sabban at the helm of the Philippine Marine Corps, I know that the Marines on the ground will be well taken care of and through him there will be a better understanding of the communities affected by the conflict. I hope that he will be able to bridge them with the rest of us, for we are after all, one country and one people.
Meeting the 4th Marine Brigade
In the same meeting, I came across the Officers of the 4th Marine Brigade which I learned are reservists on call for special missions by the Marines. Gen Sabban though this would be of interest to me also. This humility, openness and confidence in engaging people are perhaps Gen Sabban's most admirable attributes.
Indeed, just by listening in and occasionally asking question with the 4th Marine Brigade and current CMO LT Col Antonio Manlapas, I had better grasp of the opportunities by which we can all contribute to bringing peace. I am also sure the PSPO will do what it can in its own capacity.
And though we might not change the whole world all at once, we can probably make a difference one at a time - for a child, a family, a community and eventually a county.