Tie a pink ribbon
(Privilege speech on October 21, 2013)
Man, woman, and child - what do they all have in common? All are affected by breast cancer, as a victim, a husband, a daughter or a son.
It is a tragic fact that countless Filipinos know the pain of losing someone they love to cancer. The past decades have seen a significant increase in the incidence of cancer, with more Filipino families carrying the burden of losing a loved one, or facing the difficulties of battling this disease head-on.
Mr. President, esteemed colleagues, in the Philippines and in many countries all over the world, October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. The pink ribbon is a global icon for breast cancer awareness, and a symbol of support for breast cancer patients, survivors, and their families, as well as the brave warriors who have fought and succumbed to this disease.
Today, I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege to emphasize the significance of an aggressive local battle against breast cancer. According to the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology, the Philippines has the highest incidence of breast cancer in Asia. It has overtaken lung cancer as the leading cancer site for both sexes in the Philippines, and it is the number one cancer killer among Filipino women.
For breast cancer, “the best protection is early detection.” Indeed, early diagnosis and prompt treatment in its early stages have yielded excellent cure and recovery rates. Widespread awareness about breast cancer and its early detection can truly save lives. It is thus very important that women, especially those from poor communities, have access to useful information about breast cancer, as well as breast examinations, screenings, and early detection services.
In fact, United Nations humanitarian Angelina Jolie has become vocal about seeking out information, especially for women who have a family history of breast cancer. She recently revealed that she underwent a preventive double mastectomy because of her high genetic risk for breast cancer. This revelation has triggered the mindset that women can become proactive about finding out their risk for breast cancer, and that they have options to cancer care.
Breast cancer can be treated successfully if detection is made early on. The success rate is not only high but treatment is fairly affordable.
In fact, our collective efforts to improve women’s health services, specifically the passage of the Reproductive Health Law and the amendments to the PhilHealth Law, address key public health issues particular to Filipino women. The RH Law expressly states that the treatment of breast and reproductive tract cancers and other gynecological conditions and disorders is an important element of reproductive health care. Further, Section 12 of the RH Law states that:
“All serious and life threatening reproductive health conditions such as HIV and AIDS, breast and reproductive tract cancers, and obstetric complications, and menopausal and post-menopausal-related conditions shall be given the maximum benefits, x x x, as provided in the guidelines set by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PHIC).”
Furthermore, PhilHealth now offers “Package Z,” which provides free medical examination and treatment for women with detected breast cancer from stages zero to III-A. This puts breast cancer treatment within reach for majority of Filipinos, unlike in the past where only those who have the means can afford such services. However, whether rich or poor, the very first step in stopping breast cancer on its tracks is still awareness about its prevention, early detection, and cure.
Present here today are advocates of early detection and awareness about breast cancer. The breast cancer survivors of Fuego Filipinas, a dragon boat rowing team with powerhouse members from the Philippine Dragon Boat Federation and Philippine Canoe Kayak Foundation, prove that indeed, life goes on. These amazing women have lived through the disease and survived it to emerge stronger and tougher. They are warriors who form part of an international community of survivor rowers, competing and supporting each other, as well as raising awareness about the disease they conquered.
Also present today are members of the ICanServe Foundation, a non-profit organization founded by breast cancer survivors who saw the need to empower women with breast cancer and provide women with cancer-related information so they can take an active role in their health care. Their flagship program, Ating Dibdibin, is a community-based breast screening program that they seek to introduce to as many cities as possible.
These women are living proof that there is still so much to learn, share, and achieve, despite the life-threatening illness. Breast cancer did not prevent them from living their life to the fullest. Our inspiring survivors have shown that there is life after breast cancer, and it is a remarkable one, drawn from courage and strength.
Mr. President, I stand before you with a simple request: tie a pink ribbon and help raise awareness about breast cancer.
There will be more survivors when we acknowledge that breast cancer is not only a health issue, but also a women’s issue. For many years, women’s health issues have largely been ignored and relegated to the backseat of national policy. These issues need to be addressed by specific and well-formulated programs, which can only be achieved through responsible policy-making and budget planning. Let us remember that the way we handle women’s issues echoes how we, as a nation, look upon and treat our women. It is high time for us to shift the national perspective towards true gender equity.