On Sept. 28, “Silver Linings,” the largest gathering of cancer survivors in the Philippines, will be held at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City. It is organized by the ICanServe Foundation Inc., the Philippine nongovernment organization that promotes early breast cancer detection.
“Silver Linings” will feature a host of experts and advocates speaking on various topics, among them the importance of peer support and adequate treatment for patients with advanced breast cancer, defined by the Advanced Breast Cancer Global Alliance as inoperable locally advanced breast cancer (LABC) and metastatic breast cancer (MBC), with the latter also known as Stage IV breast cancer.
In the spectrum of treatment and assistance, those with Stage IV breast cancer are often not prioritized due to the grave nature of the disease. In the words of ICanServe’s Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, “We want to remind people that in this day and age, Stage IV is not the end of the line.”
One of the invited speakers at “Silver Linings” is Ranjit Kaur, president of the Breast Cancer Welfare Association of Malaysia and a board member of Reach to Recovery International, a global breast cancer support and advocacy program founded in 1952 that helps improve quality of life for women with breast cancer and their families.
A breast cancer survivor herself since 1998, Kaur also sits on the executive committee of the Advanced Breast Cancer Global Alliance.
Lifestyle asked Kaur a few questions on her own experience as a breast cancer warrior.
Globally, what are the biggest challenges facing cancer survivors today?
Dealing with the fear of recurrence of the cancer during and after treatment is completed; the cost of diagnostic services and medical treatment in countries where there is no coverage by the government; and coping and dealing with social stigma, especially in Asian and African communities.
How about poor patients in particular? Aside from the financial problem, what stands between them and getting proper treatment?
Poor patients face multiple challenges besides the financial. They don’t get respect from the medical fraternity and from the public. They are not empowered, so they have no voice to demand for their needs, and they suffer in silence. Poor cancer patients and their families are in a very isolated and lonely space.
In the Philippines, women with Stage IV breast cancer are often not prioritized for assistance, and are considered “losing propositions.” What’s wrong with that picture?
It is a sad and grim picture for women with MBC in most countries. While there are many ways they can be helped, the healthcare services don’t seem to focus on robust treatment. There should be dedicated healthcare teams to offer fast-tracked treatment for MBC patients. They also need help with funds for innovative drugs.
You conduct training in peer support. What does such training entail? Why is peer support particularly important?
Peer support training equips survivors, who have completed treatment and are fit and well, to offer psychosocial support to newly diagnosed patients. They learn to be good listeners, nonjudgmental, supportive validators of how a newly diagnosed patient is feeling, and compassionate and good friends, especially when the new patient is facing crisis. They are also taught to offer practical solutions and information on coping with and managing side effects and the impact of the disease and treatment.
Cancer can be a major life stressor, resulting in a sense of uncertainty; hence the need for peer support, whereby the new patient can meet someone who has been through a similar journey. A woman who has lived through breast cancer and gives freely of her time to help another woman facing the same experience is a valuable source of support. Confidentiality, trust and respect are important factors when working with patients.
You’re a 21-year survivor of breast cancer yourself. What was most memorable about your own journey?
The support I received from a peer. It was such a relief for me to see and talk to someone who had been through a similar experience, and who looked and behaved normally. Her sense of confidence, her tone of voice and her pleasant disposition stabilized me emotionally, and I felt that there was hope. This support from another survivor gave me the motivation to go through my own treatment and fight the disease.
And what has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
There were too many well-meaning people giving me advice, mostly about alternative remedies and food restrictions, without any knowledge of the disease. This misinformation did cause me to feel insecure and undecided about treatment for a while. Fortunately, since professionally I have a medical background, I did some fact-finding before deciding to go through treatment.
Visit www.icanservefoundation.org for details and to register for “Silver Linings.”