The Pink Ribbon Advocates of Palawan is a civic group dedicated to educating women about the need of breast self-examination and the risk factors connected with breast cancer.

Cancer patients are among the vulnerable sector afflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with difficulties accessing medical treatment and even financial assistance owing to funds being redirected to combat the infectious illness, according to a group of local medical specialists in a webinar recently hosted to commemorate October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

In the webinar hosted by the Pink Ribbon Advocates of Palawan, in partnership with the office of Vice Mayor Nancy Socrates and the City Health Office (CHO), they said that the pandemic’s impact on health care systems resulted in the interruption of routine treatment in hospitals, exposing susceptible cancer patients to considerable risks.

The Pink Ribbon Advocates of Palawan is a civic group dedicated to educating women about the need for breast self-examination and the risk factors connected with breast cancer.

“We do this every year and ginagawa ito to increase knowledge of everyone about risk factors tests na puwedeng gawin, and treatment options if diagnosed [of breast cancer]. We want to make people aware [of] the importance of early detection which is napakahalaga po,” Socrates said.

The month of October is designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. After heart disease, cancer is the country’s second-leading cause of mortality. Up to 90 percent of cancer patients in Palawan die within three years after getting their diagnosis.

Dr. Marissa Legaspi-Marcial, OB-Gyne and Vice President of the Pink Ribbon Advocates of Palawan, was the first speaker and gave a brief presentation on important terminology like risk factors and breast self-examination, which helps one become familiar with the characteristics of the breast and spot any changes early.

Marcial said that everyone should be conscious of their own breasts, regardless of whether they have a family history of breast cancer or not, since their family history has an influence on their risk of acquiring breast cancer. Being female is also a risk factor, and the primary culprit, since females generate estrogen. Males may get cancer, although it is very rare.

Family’s emotional support
In the face of having the disease, Dr. Joseph M. Tovera, oncologist and medical advisor of the Palawan Cancer Support Group (PCSG), said that individuals undergoing breast cancer treatment are much stronger with family support.

“Kung very strong ‘yong family support natin, magaan ang pagdadaanan ng pasyenteng may cancer. Nakikita natin na ‘yong laban ng cancer ng pasyente ay mas nagiging success kapag may emotional support ng family,” he said.

“Ang laban sa cancer, it will start from yourself. Ikaw mismo ang unang mag dedesisyon kung gusto mong magpagamot,” Dr. Tovera added.

Dr. Tovera said that the COVID-19 outbreak has impacted cancer patients’ access to medical treatment and even financial assistance, as funds have been redirected to combat the crisis.

“Naapektuhan ang ating panggagamot dahil sa pandemic dahil takot din tayo na ma-COVID ‘yong mga pasyente natin dito sa hospital, but dedicated ‘yong mga facilities natin for the patients. Magkahiwalay sila mula sa pila, swabbing area hanggang sa chemotherapy,” he said.

“In terms of finances bumaba ang support sa mga cancer patients dahil may konting shifting of funds from the government and PCSO (Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office) to some diseases like COVID na natanggal doon sa mga usual na support kay cancer,” he added.

On October 1, Socrates said City Ordinance No. 142-2020 was passed to strengthen Puerto Princesa’s public health systems, facilities, and services for cancer patients.

If the Mayor’s Office signs it into local law, it will give funds to the City Health Office (CHO) to offer subsidized medical services, notably to cancer sufferers. Subsidies for mammography, ultrasound, and treatment are also being pushed for in the 2021 budget.

Vaccine vs COVID-19
According to Tovera, cancer patients have no restrictions when it comes to getting vaccinated, and they can be immunized at any moment before and/or during their chemotherapy treatments.

“Yong mga patients din po ay hindi limitasyon ang breast cancer sa pagbabakuna ng COVID. Puwede pa rin magpabakuna kahit kayo ay either may cancer or may cancer na nagche-chemotheraphy,” he said.