A thief of time

A THIEF is still currently at large. Known very well for stealing time, people say it attacks when least expected. It takes away its victims’ breaths slowly—one cough at a time. And soon enough, it takes over all of their lungs, shaving years away from loved ones, those whom people thought wouldn’t be gone too soon.

Here in the Philippines, according to the Department of Science and Technology, lung cancer is the top cause of cancer-related deaths among men, and the third cause for women following breast and cervical cancer.

The thing about lung cancer is that this “thief” does not work loudly. Instead, it works slowly and subtly but leaves hints and pieces, creating a big yet damaged puzzle inside every survivor. Each puzzle left within one is extremely distinct from all the other puzzles left on others. The problem is that since it is subtle, these little hints are not seen until it’s too late and the puzzles have become too complicated, that solving them would take longer than the actual amount of time a survivor has left.

This is what Diego Castro learned about lung cancer when it took his father, renowned broadcast anchor Angelo Castro Jr. in 2012.

“It started about January 2008. My dad would be absent a lot from work due to coughing. We thought it was pneumonia or tuberculosis. By May, I told him to have himself tested. My dad was stubborn and so he simply dismissed it as pneumonia. However, when it was finally tested, we found out it was already stage 3 lung cancer,” said Diego in a media roundtable discussion entitled “Hope From Within: Test, Talk, Take Action for Lung Cancer.”

“Hope From Within” is a movement that symbolizes the optimism that novel treatments like immunotherapy bring to cancer patients, and the latest in its series of ongoing educational and informational forums, focuses on the importance of early detection for malignancy.

The forum was led by moderator Matthew Basabe with a panel of doctors ready to explain every portion of the forum. The panel was made up of five doctors: Ma. Noemi Alsay-Uy, medical oncologist (Cebu Doctors’ Hospital, Chong Hua Hospital); Dennis Tudtud, medical oncologist (Perpetual Succour Hospital, Chong Hua Hospital); Bernardita Chua, pulmonologist (Perpetual Succour Hospital); James Guardiario, thoracic and general surgery (Chong Hua Hospital, Perpetual Succour Hospital) and Clarito Cairo, program manager, Philippine Cancer Prevention and Control, Department of Health.

Test, talk and take action

Lung cancer is not difficult to treat if it is found early. Diego’s father died in less than three weeks after the cancer was found because it was already too late.

“He was diagnosed 10 to 11 years after he quit smoking. He would cough for two weeks straight and then it would go away for three days and then would come back for two weeks straight; by the time it goes away he would change his mind and forgo with the checkup,” recalled Diego.

For lung cancer, it is important for those at high risk to get screened so that the disease can be addressed immediately, according to Dr. Ivy de Dios, oncology medical adviser of MSD in the Philippines.

“In order to benefit from the innovation of immunotherapy particularly for certain types of advanced lung cancer, it is important that it is administered as early as possible upon the onset of the disease. That is why we are urging people to ‘Test, Talk and Take Action,’” said de Dios.

The “talk” phase involves constant and in-depth discussion with medical professionals and experts. “Prognosis and treatment should be threshed out well between the patient and doctor,” said de Dios. Finally, “take action” not only means undergoing proper treatment, but having a positive and proactive approach to battling the disease through healthy lifestyle changes and help from support groups.
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