THE theme was “It’s a Small World” as children survivors of cancer and those still undergoing treatment once again gathered to find inspiration in each other and from the throngs who have found their hearts’ purpose in giving to the children.

The children came dressed in attires from different nations, their parents just as excited.

The House of Hope Foundation’s Survivors’ Day is an annual December 8 event that children with cancer, survivors of cancer, and their parents look forward to because here they get to play and win in games, partake of treats children love, have dinner, and get their Christmas bags filled with the basic Noche Buena ingredients.

Survivors’ Day was first held in 2007 after Dr. Mae Concepcion J. Dolendo, House of Hope director and who was the only pediatric oncologist of DMC at that time thought it best to bring together all those who have survived to celebrate life and bring hope to those still undergoing treatment.

In 2007, child cancer survival rate was still very low and the patients were losing hope as yet another patient passes on.

But Doc Mae pointed out, there were those who completed the treatment and survived, except that they have all left for home. Thus, on her birthday on December 8, 2007, she decided to hold her birthday party with the survivors and the patients to celebrate life, instead of just facing death and suffering the pain.

As Jhoven Ramirez, a cancer survivor and now a second year Accountancy scholar at Ateneo de Davao University recalled, treatment for cancer is a painful experience, much more because they were just children. Jhoven was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) when she was five years old and completed her treatment when she was nine.

A consistent honor student since childhood, Jhoven said she didn’t give much attention to her academic medals and certificates, she does not even know where these are now. The only certificate she values is the one stating that she completed her cancer treatment and that she is cancer-free. She has been cancer-free for 11 years now.

Survivors’ Day is also a celebration by the donors, the House of Hope and its allied organization the Ambassadors of Hope, as yet another year has been hurdled despite the huge amount it takes to attend to cancer medication and antibiotics needed by every child cancer patient at the SPMC. Among those in attendance were former Ambassador Minda “Mindy” Calaguian-Cruz and her husband former Ambassador Luis Cruz.

Ambassador Mindy is the inspiration behind the Ambassadors for Hope, a support group for the parents and guardians of the children with cancer in recognition of the stress and anxieties that parents and guardians go through when attending to a child with cancer. House of Hope president for this year is Fatima-Inderah Disomimba, while Ambassadors president is Noel Galupar. The full force of House of Hope, Ambassadors of Hope and their volunteers were there taking care of everything for their special guests. The gay group of volunteers led by Edwin Luis as they manned game booths.

Doc Mae underlined the never-ending need for assistance as a single patient who suffers from fever because of his compromised immunity needs at least P90,000 for antibiotics alone. A one-week confinement for treatment can rack up at least P100,000 in medical expenses for one patient.

That’s why, even as House of Hope enjoys support from the community, there can never be enough because the SPMC pediatric oncology department, which used to just cater to the whole Mindanao, now also has patients from as far as Visayas and Luzon. Jhoven is from Surigao del Sur.

In 2019, House of Hope spent P12 million for antibiotics, chemotherapy, and other cancer medications alone. Prosthetics and similar needs are not included in this total.

Thus, the December 8 celebration is also a thanksgiving to donors.

Among those honored these year were the UK-DDS, who not just donated the Sensory Room at the pedia wing of the Cancer Institute at SPMC but also gave P500 cash gift to each survivor and patient for Survivors’ Day. Damosa Land and the Rotary Club of Waling-waling Davao were also recognized, while the Waterfront Insular Hotel turned over a check worth P237,750 from its fund-raising dinner last November. Incidentally, the RCWWD is the group that spearheaded the renovation of an old structure at the old DMC that became the first House of Hope transient home for the patients and their guardians while they undergo treatment. There are now five House of Hope homes all over Mindanao. While just the week before, the Ayala Foundation fully renovated the original House of Hope home at SPMC. Also recognized was the Great Mission on Bikes organized by the LYR Foundation involving different motorcycle clubs from all over Mindanao.

The expenses for the celebration is not taken from the House of Hope funds and is instead paid for by benevolent sponsors. For this year and several years before this, Johnny Ng and family has been picking up the bill for the Waterfront party.

For this year, 327 survivors and patients registered for the Survivors’ Day celebration. There were just 35 when it started in 2007.

“You don’t have to be a doctor, millionaire, or somebody famous to help the children,” Doc Mae said in acknowledging all those who have contributed, including those who celebrate their birthdays at the House of Hope or give whatever they can.

All these contributions, big and small, she said, provides the poor children with cancer equal chance at survival.

“If you can give every child a chance to be treated for cancer, they can build their dreams,” she said.

Jhoven is on the way to living her dreams. Having managed to convince Doc Mae that she can pursue an Accountancy degree at Ateneo through a scholarship, she is now on her second year and is in the President’s List.

While surviving cancer is already arduous, it becomes more difficult for a child cancer patient from poor families because along with the years it takes to complete a treatment comes the guilt of having taken much of their parents’ time and resources from their siblings. Thus, the challenge for the child from a poor family becomes not just about surviving but also in doing well after, and there can never be enough kind-hearted individuals and groups to face this challenge with them.

In the meantime, they celebrated for one day with beatbox king Neil Llanes and a group of acrobats giving each person in the audience a glimpse of how even the seemingly impossible can become possible.