What you should know about leukemia

DIRECT LINE By Boy Abunda celebrity-advocacy-2.jpgClockwise from top left: Anne Curtis, Jasmine Curtis-Smith, Pops Fernandez, Vina Morales, Isabel Granada, Tirso Cruz, Angel Aquino and  have joined the roster of celebrity advocates who help spread awareness about the disease.

Everyone is susceptible to leukemia. It does not choose age or gender. However, there is hope. 

According to Dr. Erlyn Demerre, a noted cardiologist, all of us can be stricken with the deadly disease.

Dr. Demerre, founder of EPCALM, says everybody can hold onto hope, like what EPCALM does.

EPCALM is Erwin Piedad Cabanag Adult Leukemia Memorial, established in honor of Erwin Cabanag, a Dumaguete City fiscal who died of leukemia at age 42. The foundation is dedicated to helping people afflicted with leukemia cope with the rigors of the disease through various activities.

“God heals. The life of each patient who calls us is not in our hands,” says Dr. Demerre.

EPCALM has been in existence since 2005. It has spread awareness through advocacies and awareness events staged regularly in different ways and venues.

The first awareness campaign was a parade on August 2005 during the Silliman University Founders Day academic parade.

Then came the series of media events through medical fora; the launch of World Leukemia Awareness Month now being held every September; the healing seminars Understanding Grief that brought in grief expert Mary Ellen Erickson from Tacoma Washington and teen grief expert Dr. Bob Baugher alongside Filipino experts. EPCALM has also invited Dr. Dan Fowler who discussed new modalities of treatment available for leukemia, and Dr. Ronald Gress, head of experimental transplantation of the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda Maryland, among others.

Anne Curtis, Jasmine Curtis-Smith, Tirso Cruz, Pops Fernandez, Vina Morales, Angel Aquino and Isabel Granada have joined the roster of celebrity advocates who help spread awareness about the disease. Balladeer Martin Nievera has also been generous in sharing his talent in helping EPCALM’s advocacies.

Dr. Demerre reveals that in the patients they have serviced, most cases were leading stressful lives with unhealthy eating and sleeping habits.

Signs and symptoms of leukemia are non-specific and can come as headache, dizziness and fatigue. “Usually but not always, patients notice black and blue spots on their skin that is not related to any trauma.” She says that a complete blood count can be the first screening test. “For those who are suspected to have leukemia or related blood disorders, a bone marrow biopsy can confirm the diagnosis as well as the specific type of leukemia.”

Prevention of the disease is through observing a healthy lifestyle. This means, eating healthy food, getting exercise, having enough sleep and stress management.

“There is no direct relation with any identifiable offender that can cause leukemia. Though it is said that chemicals can be a cause, there is not much evidence to directly pinpoint which chemicals and the quantity or duration of exposure that can induce the disease,” Dr. Demerre explains.

According to DOH statistics, leukemia is the number four cancel killer in the country.

To help leukemia patients, EPCALM established a three-arm ministry. At the forefront is the spiritual arm that aims to represent God as the HOPE. The patients are given the HOPE pack which consists of a Bible, devotional and reading materials, a journal and a holding cross and a DVD movie on the life of Jesus. And prayer warriors are alerted to address patient concerns and needs. EPCALM has partnered with several churches to offer Griefshare, an initiative to bring grief counseling to the bereaved.

The second is the medical arm where patients are “given guided medical options for the best medical care and directed to appropriate centers for treatment, locally, nationally or internationally.”

The third is the financial arm where programs and projects are set up to help raise funds for the patients’ medical needs. This also helps connect the patients with charitable institutions like PCSO or charitable groups in the private sector in the country and abroad.

On its 12th year, EPCALM has grown in membership, affiliations and supporters.

“We have affiliations with the Philippine Cancer Society, Philippine Hematology and Blood Transfusion, Corridor of Hope, Cancer Warriors Foundation. Our church partners are growing, too, and we are now partners with the National City United Church, Ellinwood Malate Church, Union Church of Manila,” says Dr. Demerre.

Dr. Demerre likens the vision of EPCALM to the building of a huge ark like the Noah’s Ark. “We don’t exactly know how big it is going to be, how far we can go in our lifetime but we know the Master Builder is building it and He sends the right people at the right time for the job. He chooses the people and sends to EPCALM. We just need to obey,” explains Dr. Demerre.

Recently, EPCALM became the beneficiary of a new coffee-table book titled, Amorsolo Love And Passion, which features the portraits done by the National Artist Fernando Amorsolo and the stories behind them.

“The book is Sylvia Amorsolo-Lazo’s brainchild. Some four years back, EPCALM was led to the Amorsolo Foundation by God’s Divine design. We met with Sylvia, the eldest child of the maestro Amorsolo and her son Fernando ‘Nandy’  Amorsolo-Lazo and we planned on doing projects together to help our brethren through art as a form of therapy and as a source of funds,” offers Dr. Demerre.

At the book launch which happened several months ago, Dr. Demerre talked about the common link between EPCALM and the Amorsolo Foundation and its aficionados. Two of these Amorsolo aficionados are Susan Roces and Don Greggy Licaros.

“It is quite fitting because both the Amorsolo and EPCALM foundations are genuinely Filipino organizations with the heart to portray the happy disposition of Filipinos despite trials and hardships and preserve and uphold the Bayanihan Spirit,” she adds.

EPCALM will hold its first Hope in Wellness convention on Sept. 8, 9 and 10 at SM Aura Samsung Hall this year.

EPCALM is at Room 341, St. Luke’s Medical Center Medical Arts Building, E. Rodriguez Ave. Quezon City.

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