Giving hope to kids with cancer

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Friday, February 14, 2014


CANCER. The word is associated with a lot of negativity -- death, large medical expenses, and gone dreams. Nobody wants to be inflicted with it because they know in a few years or months they will not be seeing their families anymore.

As hard it is for adults, it is also hard for children. Knowing that your child will not reach his teenage years or you will not be able to attend their graduation, is not easy.

Luckily for many children in Mindanao, someone was sent to them to bring them hopes and dreams.

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In 2004, pediatrician-oncologist Dr. Mae Concepcion J. Dolendo left Singapore and came back to the Philippines to bring hope to children with cancer.

Born in Iloilo, Dr. Mae said that at a very young age, she wanted to become a doctor.

"Maybe, the reason I wanted to become a doctor was I did well in school. And during those times when you did well in school, they usually tell you that you will become a doctor. I also liked what the doctors are doing," she said.

She took up her pre-medicine course at the Central Philippine University and graduated with a Bachelor's degree in medical technology. She took up her medicine at the West Visayas State University.

Initially, Dr. Mae became a pediatrician because of her love for children. "I liked children because they are fun to be with," she said. She had her pediatrics residency at the then Davao Medical Center (Southern Philippines Medical Center) from 1995 to 1998.

However, Dr. Mae never wanted to become an oncologist after her mother died of breast cancer.

"I lost my mom when I was 17 years old. I was very traumatized when it took her," she said.

Also, when she was doing her pediatrics residency at DMC, she was assigned most of the time at hematology-oncology.

"I didn't mind being rotated but I intially thaught that the specialty (pediatrics-oncology) was very hard because when I was doing my residency there was a very little survival rate among the patients," Dr. Mae said.

So what sparked the change of heart?

In 1999, she and her husband, Engr. Gabriel Dolendo togther with their children Ashpenn and Denise, moved to Singapore. There, she practiced her pediatrics at the National University Hospital wherein she was also rotated at the hematology-oncology.

"There I saw children with cancer survived! I was very impressed," Dr. Mae said.

When she saw the team of doctors working to keep these children alive and extend their lives, that is when she decided to become a pediatric-oncologist.

"I found they were compassionate with patients, good scientists and clinicians. I was very inspired of what they are doing and I told them I want to learn what they were doing," she said.

Dr. Mae said she really wanted to go back to the Philippines and help serve her fellowmen.

In 2004, she returned to SPMC as a pediatrician-onoclogist.

"When I came back, I was just a volunteer physician, I started seeing children with cancer, leukemia, or tumours," she said. She recalls the confidence she had in treating children after her trainings at NUH and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

However, she realized that despite her trainings, things were still difficult in treating children with cancer since there is no dedicated staff or facilities for children with cancer. She also realized the hardships many families faced when their children are stricken with cancer.

Determined to help the patients, Dr. Mae established the Davao Children's Cancer Fund Inc. (DCCFI) in 2005 with a few of her friends. who are doctors, and some from the community.

"I am the type of person that when I see a problem, I want to figure a solution for it. In this case, I want to do something to help the patients," she said.

She said when it began, the sole purpose of the DCCFI was to only accept donations but over the years it grew until they established the House of Hope, a transient home for children with cancer who are undergoing cancer treatment, in 2007. The home was in partnership with the Rotary Club of Waling-Waling Davao.

Dr. Mae said thay did not expect that it would be successful, in the sense that there were a lot of children who will survive. Since the establishment opened its doors around 400 children have survived.

She said she has the best job in the world.

"It is very rare for a person to find something that she really loves doing. I am not only happy with the accomplishments but also to be able to contribute and use my talents to make lives better or to help children. Whatever your capabilities or God given talent are, you are able to use it for the betterment of others," she said.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on February 15, 2014.

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