IF NOT for their balding heads, face masks, droopy eyes, and wheelchairs for some, people wouldn’t even think that the 14 little children happily dancing to the music of “Kiss Me, Kiss Me”, perhaps Sarah Geronimo’s version, are cancer patients or survivors.

While the rest of the city celebrated graduation and moving-up ceremonies left and right, an invitation came to the office from the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) to attend the 6th Recognition Day of the children from House of Hope on April 1, 2019, who were taught by the teachers from Dumanlas Elementary School.

The music was lively enough to keep the energy of the children high, making everyone in the room beam with pride and whip out their phones to take a video. You take a look around and you see parents, who are at that particular moment, not stressed with the financial problems caused by the medication or the pain their cancer-stricken child is going through. You might ask, amid the sleepless nights of parents and the seemingly endless days of chemotherapy for the children, where is this particular hope coming from?

House of Hope, for six years now, has stood by its name providing hope to the children diagnosed with cancer through normal education that may have been deprived of them since they started with the treatment.

“House of Hope Foundation's vision is really to bring hope. So kung ang bata na may sakit with something like cancer at pumapasok sa school, this child would always think na meron syang hope, na matapos din itong gamutan, that they will get better,” Doctor Mae Dolendo, House of Hope director, said.

She shared how some children would even bring their homework to the hospital while undergoing treatment. More children would want to get better and be discharged already keeping in mind the classes they are going to miss at House of Hope.

“So doon mo makita na grabe ang spirit ng mga bata and I’ve always respected the courage and the bravery nitong mga bata maski maliit pa sila,” the pediatric oncologist added.

Hospital-bound educational program

The program, which started in 2013, has the main goal of bringing education to the cancer patients undergoing treatment with SPMC. According to Dolendo, the program is open even to outpatients who do not stay at House of Hope. Because the program is in partnership with the Department of Education (DepEd), different public schools has been partners of the program.

For their sixth year, the Hospital-Bound Educational Program was in partnership with the nearby Dumanlas Elementary School. Three teachers were exclusively deployed in House of Hope to teach Kinder to Grade 6 children lessons that are based on the curriculum approved by DepEd.

One of the teachers shared how they are moved all the time when they see that the children regain more strength and continue to be active in school. The program makes it a point to really teach children as much as normal children are taught. Dolendo shared how they ensure that the children learn the lessons before they are given passing grades by the teachers.

The students at the Hospital-Bound Education of House of Hope do not only comprise of cancer patients undergoing treatment, but also survivors. While their treatment is only minimal already, they still find it challenging to integrate with others in a regular school so the House of Hope still takes them in.

“I always say, kung right ng bata magpagamot, right din ng bata na magkaroon ng education and matuto. Every kid matters,” she added.

In the eyes of a parent

Nik Torres is one of the children on wheelchair. She is eight years old and has been grappling with cancer for four years now. She was diagnosed with cancer when she was four and has since been through a lot of treatments. Her mother was seated on one side of the room, far from the other parents. It was easier for her there to wheel her child to the stage and back again to their seat. Before I was able to talk to her, she was arranging the ribbons and the medal Nik received during the recognition. She was beaming with pride. Everyone in the room received an award but Nik was chosen, I think, as one of the most motivated and interested to learn among her other awards.

I learned from her mother that she was first diagnosed in Cebu City but they are originally in Matina, Davao City. She was a kindergarten student in Davao Christian School then and with lots of treatment at hand, she missed going to school. She went for treatment at SPMC and was also enrolled in the Hospital-Bound Education of House of Hope where she did her homework and other activities just like a normal kid.

But Nik, with an amputated left leg, is already on her end stage of battling cancer.

“I just give her anything that she wants right now, anything that would make her happy as long as it’s not prohibited by the doctor,” her mother, who is a few months pregnant, shares.

“We are sad that this is her situation now but we are very proud of her performance in school and her awards,” she said, adding that they pulled her out of the House of Hope School in November because it became harder for Nik to travel.

Children with cancer need more than just the treatment. They also need whatever a regular child needs – education, compassion, and understanding.