It was a double whammy for Cielito Sampayo. Her then 2-month-old daughter Nina had a seizure and was later diagnosed with hydrocephalus, the buildup of fluids in the brain, at the Philippine Children’s Medical Center. Her son, Dominic, then age 4, suffered from an advance stage of nasopharyngeal cancer, malignant cells behind the nose and the mouth.
Sampayo was tearful when she recalled the pressure of balancing her job while looking after her ailing children. Yet, her faith pulled her through.
“We are loved by God,” she said. Donations kept coming from relatives, friends and benefactors to pay for their needs.
Nine-year-old Nina has been bedridden ever since her condition affected her motor skills. Meanwhile, Dominic underwent chemotherapy at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH) in 2018 and finished in 2019. Dominic, now 8 years old, has been in remission.
Sampayo delivered one of the testimonials at the graduation of the patients of the University of the Philippines (UP)-PGH’s Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Department who completed their chemotherapy. Her son, though small for his age due to the chemotherapy, has been leading a normal life.
Since 2016, I Want To Share Foundation (IWTSF) has been raising funds to pay for the medical needs of young cancer patients of indigent families.
“If the MRI and CT scan of PGH are not functioning, our funds pay for the tests performed outside of the PGH,” explained IWTSF chairperson Sheila Romero. “This also includes outside laboratory fees, bone marrow aspiration (removal of liquid bone marrow) at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, transportation allowance of patients, the (cellphone) load allowance of the pedia-hemo oncology staff, office supplies, imaging tests, professional fees of anaesthesiologists for the MRI, the stipend of child life coordinator and other needs not available in PGH.” The foundation has also been hosting their “graduation” ceremonies to boost the morale of the families.
Last Dec. 17, 100 patients, from toddlers to young adults, marched on the stage at the Manila Prince Hotel ballroom to receive their certificate from Romero and her husband, Rep. Michael Romero. They had completed their chemotherapy in the past three years. In her keynote speech, Dr. Patricia Alcasabas, head of the Pediatric Hematology-Oncology Department, cited startling facts about the types of cancer among the 100 young graduates. More than half of them were afflicted with leukemia. Retinoblastoma (eye cancer that starts in the retina) was the second highest case followed by lymphoma, medulloblastoma (tumor in the primary central nervous system), yolk sac tumor (a rare cancer that starts in the eggs or sperm cells), germ cell tumors, Wilms’ tumor (kidney cancer) and an isolated case of osteosarcoma (bone cancer).
Miralou Yvette Rempillo, 19, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma (cancer in the lymphatic system) stage 2 when she was in high school. She underwent six cycles of chemotherapy and 17 sessions of radiation. Today she is a student at Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila. She said that IWTSF has helped ease the financial burden of the family. The Rempillos only pay for lab tests and maintenance medicines.
“After a checkup or a chemotherapy session, we are given free milk from the foundation,” she added.
Rempillo said the lump reduced dramatically and the cancer could recur. Her doctor has to monitor her condition periodically. “I feel okay. I just have to follow doctor’s orders,” she said.
New board of trustees
Anne Marie Andrecio, a housewife, told Lifestyle that her daughter Yunix was 5 years old when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (cancer of the blood and bone marrow). Andrecio was able to get a guarantee letter for medical assistance from Romero’s Partylist 1-Pacman. For three years, they would commute from Calamba, Laguna, to PGH for the chemotherapy. The IWTSF provided free lunch or merienda for the child in PGH. During the lockdown, a nurse would come to their place to check the child’s blood health.
Andrecio appreciated the foundation’s Christmas parties, wherein the families received gift packs of groceries and transportation allowance. Yunix, now 10, is in remission and goes to school.
The occasion marked the induction of IWTSF’s new board of trustees—Mich Ong, Suzette Ayson, Pinky Antonio, Trisha Calma, Cong. Samuel Versoza Jr, Talia Asuncion and actor Dominic Roque.
Dr. Jorge Ignacio, director of the PGH Cancer Institute, said there is a wide prevalence of mental health issues. He said one of the solutions is to look at these kids who conquered cancer. The problems of others seem so small.
Sheila Romero said in her speech that IWTSF plans to renovate the infectious ward, with the aim of making it more comfortable for the children as they recover from their chemotherapy. In 2023, plans are afoot to set up a pediatric cancer help desk.