Stories of hope and courage resounded through the region at the closing ceremony of the 6th Southeast Asia Breast Cancer Symposium (SEABCS), held Sept. 23 to Sept. 25 in Taguig City and online.
Hosted by Icanserve Foundation and Global Focus on Cancer and supported by the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the Union for International Cancer Control, SEABCS 2022 had close to 2,200 registrants from 24 countries, gathering doctors, caregivers, patient advocates and cancer survivors from Southeast Asia and beyond.
Emceed by actress, writer and Icanserve spokesperson Bibeth Orteza, the last session featured five breast cancer survivors: journalist and mental health advocate Alya Honasan, triathlete Sheilla Gagui, patient advocate Marivic Bugasto, pediatrician Dr. Anna Lisa Ong-Lim and entrepreneur and Icanserve president Nikoy de Guzman.
The survivors recounted their experiences and shared how they were living with cancer.
Honasan shared how experiencing clinical depression helped her focus on what she needed to do to beat breast cancer. She encouraged participants to look after their mental health and make use of counseling and other resources to resolve issues that stem from anxiety, fear and restlessness.
Gagui, a mother of two, said her “world stopped” after hearing her diagnosis. She believed she was at her fittest, having done gymnastics and participated in triathlons, marathons, Ironman and Spartan races. She is most grateful for the full support of her husband, “who never missed a race or a chemo session with me.” She is now back in competitive races and advises fellow survivors to “never lose hope and faith, because that is all we have left.”
Bugasto, a Stage 4 breast cancer survivor, narrated how she learned how to be a patient advocate from Icanserve when she attended the foundation’s very first Patient Power Summit, a training course for patient groups in the Philippines, in 2006. She shared her learnings with her support group, Minda’s Buddies and was then elected as its president. She is an award-winning civic leader in her home city of Baguio and continues to live in “love and service.”
Ong-Lim, a doctor and professor of pediatrics, recalled a series of “divine” appointments that somehow led to her early stage breast cancer diagnosis. As chief of the Infectious and Tropical Disease Division of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital, Ong-Lim was a leading public health expert during the COVID-19 pandemic, called upon to answer queries and educate Filipinos through media interviews and other fora.
De Guzman, who twice battled breast cancer as she was diagnosed on each breast 12 years apart, plunged headlong into learning, getting certifications to teach Bikram Yoga, Yoga for Breast Cancer Survivors, Kids Yoga, Chair Yoga, Zumba Kids, Zumba Gold, Pound Pro (a cardio workout using drum sticks and Pilates-inspired movements), Generation Pound Pro (for kids), Nirvana Fitness Restorative Yoga and Make Up Artistry—all these while managing the family business. De Guzman has led Icanserve as president since 2018.
Icanserve also launched a free online patient manual, “You Can Do This.” Edited by Honasan, it is meant to be a breast cancer patient’s companion throughout their journey. It also contains information for women who want to be vigilant about breast health, supporting Icanserve’s advocacy of early detection and timely and correct treatment. Download it for free from the Icanserve website (icanservefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/ICS-Patients-Manual-FINAL.pdf).
The next SEABCS will be held in Vietnam in 2023.