With almost 25,000 new cases this year, breast cancer ranks first in cancer incidence among all other cancers here in the Philippines. In fact, one in every 13 Filipinas is expected to develop the disease in her lifetime.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month — a worldwide campaign held annually to raise awareness on the disease. With the World Health Organization reporting that early detection remains the best protection as the causes of breast cancer are still unknown, this awareness month is crucial to increase understanding of the disease in the Philippines.
In the Philippines, breast cancer screening is often seen as a burden and there is a false belief that breast cancer is a sure killer, even if caught in the early stages. The ICanServe Foundation, a breast cancer advocacy group in the Philippines, promotes early breast cancer detection, which encompasses education about breast cancer, breast self-exam (BSE), clinical exam, and mammography. Citing the American Cancer Society, ICanServe suggests women should perform a monthly BSE by the age of 20, schedule an annual clinical exam upon turning 30, and have their annual mammography by the time they hit 40.
Alya Honasan, ICanServe member and veteran writer and editor, was diagnosed at 49: “I was lucky because it was detected early,” she shared. Having always had regular checks, Alya stopped in 2011, and when she found time again in 2013, her doctor discovered a lump that didn’t look benign.
Due to her early detection, and after having multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, Alya successfully completed treatment in 2014. In a recent interview, she referenced both post-treatment depression and support groups as important topics of treatment that are not often discussed.
“Of course, it’s normal to be depressed while you have it, but in my case, I was depressed after,” Alya revealed. In a study, it was found that up to 50% of women diagnosed with early breast cancer had depression and/or anxiety in the year after diagnosis; 25% in the second, third, and fourth years; and 15% in the fifth year. This may be attributed to factors such as adjusting to life after treatment and having worries about breast cancer recurring.
A number of treatments for depression are available,7, and Alya found comfort in seeking professional help and therapy: “It also helps that my psychiatrist is a cancer survivor, so we speak the same language.”
Breast cancer buddies
Aside from seeking professional help, having a support group around you is essential during and after treatment — moms, daughters, and spouses are great point persons. Alya had fellow Bicol native and ex-Marine Ernesto Lozada, aka Kuya Kulot, who was assigned to her by her older brother and who drove her to and from chemo and work just like a true kuya or big brother. “If I’m not done with work by 9 PM, bubusina na nang bubusina yan sa labas (he would honk the horn repeatedly until I came out of the building). He was quite the disciplinarian but was also malambing (affectionate), always there to reassure me that I am loved,” Alya recalled.
Alya with her breast cancer buddies: retired Marine Sergeant Ernesto Lozada or Kuya Kulot, and her eldest dog or panganay Kikay
Aside from friends such as Kuya Kulot, workmates, and family, Alya also had a spiritual group and ICanServe Foundation to lean on. ICanServe’s flagship project, Ating Dibdibin (Take Your Breast Care to Heart), is the Philippines’ first community-based breast cancer screening program, launched in 2009 under the auspices of the American Cancer Society and with a grant from Pfizer.
Pfizer’s heritage and innovation in breast cancer
Pfizer’s legacy in breast cancer spans nearly two decades, being a leader in awareness campaigns, advocacy partnerships, and pioneering treatments. Among its latest breakthroughs in research and development is a therapy targeted for specific mutations in breast cancer, which is a significant advancement in first-line treatment of breast cancer in 10 years.
“We believe that more than the breakthrough therapies that Pfizer develops, our success is also measured by how we are helping redefine life with cancer,” Dr. Veronica Prasad, Medical Manager for Pfizer Oncology in the Philippines, shared. “We want the breast cancer community to know that they are not alone in their journey, and that Pfizer goes beyond treatments to help them live their best lives despite the disease.”