Every cancer journey is difficult, but not impossible to overcome, especially when the patient has a strong, reliable support group.
In 2014, government employee Danny Dimabuyu had a bleeding, purplish mole on his back that he had surgically removed in a clinic near his residence in Pampanga. Biopsy of the mole revealed that he had skin cancer.
When his condition did not improve and the mole reappeared after three months under his armpit, he immediately decided to go to University of Santo Tomas Hospital in Manila with his wife, Evelyn, for consultation.
This is where he met the medical oncologist who will become one of his most trusted allies throughout his battle with cancer, and even after it.
Dr. Eugenio Regala, training officer of the fellowship program of medical oncology at the Benavides Cancer Institute at UST Hospital, asked him to take the necessary diagnostic procedures such as a PET/CT scan and another biopsy of his tumor after it was surgically removed for the second time.
Dimabuyu was diagnosed with stage four melanoma which had already spread to adjacent parts of his body. He and his wife were anxious and afraid due to the disease and inability to afford cancer treatments.
“Mahirap tanggapin dahil na rin napakamahal ng pagpapagamot ng cancer. Hindi ko alam kung makukumpleto ko ang lahat ng treatment dahil sa sobrang kamahalan ng kahit isang session lang ng pagpapagamot (It was even harder to accept due to the financial burden of cancer treatments. I didn’t know if I’d be able to complete the recommended cycle because even just one session was very expensive),” said Dimabuyu.
Dr. Regala then advised Danny to get tested for immunotherapy which is an innovative and breakthrough cancer treatment option. Recognizing the couple’s financial constraints, the doctor recommended that they sought financial assistance from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.
Dimabuyu’s sister worked on getting support from the government agency, which in turn shouldered a substantial share of expenses. Dimabuyu was also able to get financial help from the Department of Social Welfare and Development and local government offices of Pampanga, but most importantly, he received moral support from his caregivers and family members.
“Makita ko lang ang mga anak ko at iba pang kapamilya, gumagaan ang pakiramdam ko. Para bang nagkakaroon ako ng pag-asa para sa panibagong buhay (Just seeing my children and other family members cheered me up. It was like getting hope that I’d have new life soon),” related Dimabuyu.
Fighting cancer through continuous immunotherapy treatment did not cause negative side effects for Dimabuyu. He recalled that he didn’t even have to shave his head which is commonly done when receiving conventional treatment like chemotherapy.
“Noong unang araw ng aking immunotherapy session, akala ko manghihina ako at mahihilo. Pero nung paglabas ko ng hospital, walang pinagbago sa pakiramdam ko noong bago ako pumasok. Malakas ako. Parang walang nangyari (On the first day I received immunotherapy, I expected to come out feeling weak and nauseous. But when I came out of the hospital, I felt exactly the same as when I came in. I felt strong. It was like nothing happened).”
Dr. Regala explained that immunotherapy is one of the promising cancer treatments today. It enhances patient’s immune system to fight cancer cells and has significantly milder side effects.
Citing the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology, Dr. Regala further expounded in an interview that in a population of 100,000 Filipinos, 1.8 percent would be affected by skin cancer.
“Out of all skin cancer cases in the Philippines, melanoma comprises only a fraction because there are other skin cancer types—there’s basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and Merkel cell carcinoma. The incidence of melanoma is a lot lower in Asia compared with Caucasian counterparts,” he stated. Nonetheless, melanoma is considered as the most deadly form of skin cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
“We also warn against alternative or herbal treatments which are not backed by medical studies. Feedback on these medicines are anecdotal so it’s reasonable to not make generalizations. If say, this medicinal root can cure cancer, then it should be first studied extensively,” he added.
Dr. Regala also emphasized the importance of early detection. “If you have a strong family history of cancer, exposed to high-risk or carcinogenic substances such as cigarette smoke, or not feeling well, it’s best to see a doctor. Cancer detected at its earlier stages is easier to treat.”
Dimabuyu is currently free of the disease but he nonetheless religiously follows regular screening procedures with Dr. Regala to ensure that his cancer hasn’t recurred.
In addition, Dimabuyu is now a cancer patient advocate for the Hope From Within: Cancer Game Plan PH, a campaign that aims to put the patients at the heart of the fight against the dreaded disease. Using powerful voices from leaders, advocates, policymakers, survivors, support groups, and patients, it boosted awareness of proper cancer care, sparking conversations and actions on how to reduce the burden of cancer-related mortalities and other challenges, and spread information and increase access to new scientifically proven treatment options such as immunotherapy and targeted therapies.
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