The high cost of surviving cancer

(When I read the news that the US Food and Drug Administration finally approved the use of Gardasil,the vaccine for cervical cancer, I thought of the thousands of women and their families who would be spared the pain and agony of that disease. It’s a most welcome news.

(Merck& Co, the manufacturer of Gardasil said the vaccine would cost $120 per dose (three doses in six months) That means a little less than P20,000.

(Here in the Philippines, the more serious problem for many afflicted with cancer is, where to get the money to buy the medicines to survive. I did this article for Mirror Magazine three years ago. The situation today is pretty much the same.)

When my oncologist gave me the prescription for my first chemotherapy, I sent our helper to the drugstore with P10,000. She came back empty-handed. Taxol (paclitaxel) , my chemo injection drug, costs P42,000.

I underwent six chemo sessions every 21 days.Taxol was just one of my medicines. There were many more like anti-vomit pills. When my white blood cell count went down to worrisome levels, I had to be injected daily for three days with Granulokine, that costs almost P7,000 per vial of 300 mg.

I had my surgery and chemo at the Philippine General Hospital which charges much lower rates than private hospitals. Still I was averaging P60, 000 per chemo session.

Then there are the high-tech tests – Ultrasound, CT Scan which are all awesome in what it can detect in your body and daunting in terms of costs. I had an abdominal CT Scan at the Asian Hospital and it cost me P23, 000.

Taxol was my most single expensive medicine. But there are more expensive cancer medicines. Breast cancer survivors use Herceptin that costs P96, 180 per vial of 440mg/50 ml. Cel Ajon, a breast cancer survivor, said she was taking it weekly for six months. She said she was consuming one vial in one month.

Movie and TV scriptwriter Bibeth Orteza, a breast cancer survivor, said so as not to be stressed out by the high costs of her medicines, every time she takes them, she thinks of herself as a royalty – “Ang Kamahalan”.

In a way, just to be able to have access to cancer treatment is something to be thankful of. It’s a special blessing and one has every reason to feel like a royalty.

In recent years, technology has made great strides in discovering new cures for cancer. Taxol, manufactured by Bristol-Myers Squibb, was initially extracted in the 1960’s from the bark of the Pacific Yew, a compelling example of the enormous medicinal potential of nature.

When it was first marketed, Taxol was priced at $5,000 per treatment. At that price, it was as if only the very rich had the right to survive cancer. Modern technology has made the cost of Taxol affordable to more people but it is still prohibitive at P42,000 per treatment.

What happens if you have no money to buy the medicines?

I know of some patients who just die.

The high cost of cancer treatment intimidates some charity organizations from helping patients. Kaisa, a Filipino-Chinese organization, allots P20,000 of their budget every week for medicines of neediest patients at the PGH charity wards. Their P20,000 usually covers the medicine requirements of ten patients.

“If we spend it for cancer patients, P20,000 will not be enough for the needs of one person,” Kaisa head Teresita Ang-See said.

Since it’s difficult to find one person or organization to shoulder the cost of the whole treatment of a cancer patient, one would just have to look for as many kind souls he or she can find in this world. The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office gives financial assistance of P30, 000 to P50, 000. That could take care of least one chemo treatment.

Members of Congress can also be a source of assistance through their Priority Development Assistance Fund, notoriously known as pork barrel. A number of senators or congressmen have allotted a large part of their PDAF to the PGH. To avail of the PDAF, the patient has to have his or her treatment at the PGH. The senator or congressman will write the director of PGH instructing him to allocate a certain amount from his PDAF for the medical needs of a particular patient.

The problem, however, is that the costly anti-cancer medicines are not carried by the PGH pharmacy because they have limited funds and they buy medicines like antibiotics that would be of use to a greater number of patients. To use their funds for chemo medicines would lessen the volume of their stock.

But at least, with a PDAF, the cancer patient has something for his or her other medical need.

There is the PGH- Cancer Institute where indigent patients can avail of free treatment. Due to limited funds, the PGH-CI has to evaluate and prioritize patients who apply for treatment.

The PGH-CI is being assisted by the Philippine Cancer Institute Foundation in raising funds so they can render quality care for as many indigent patients as their resources can afford.

It’s good to know that there are a few corporate giants who have shown to have a heart. Smart Communications Pension Fund is a major contributor to PGH-CI. Every month, some 20 cancer patients get a new lease in life because of Smart’s generosity.

We need more big business with a heart.

June 11, 2006 9:24 am   Posted in: Health, Mirror

570 Responses

  1. ystakei - June 11, 2006 11:03 am

    Some months ago, a friend in Manila asked me to pitch in a little of my wealth in helping save the life of a cancer-stricken child in Manila. I did but it was not enough for the child’s chemo cost about 250,000 pesos per session, I was told. I also suggested that they try to go and see Manny Pacquiao, whom I met in Tokyo last year during a boxing tournament featuring some Philippine boxers, to part with some of his millions.

    I made posters and distributed them to places where Filipinos meet during their furloughs, but I never got any response to my call for additional financial help for the child. In the end, the parents of the child just gave up, and I guess content themselves with what God had in store for their 3-year-old daughter, whether here on earth or in heaven above!

    My heart bled for that girl, and it made me really angry that she could not be helped because of government negligence in providing the kind of things we enjoy in this land of the fluctuating yen, where medicare is expensive but affordable because of government welfare and subsidies.

    Thanks to the more civic-conscious people of this land who make sure that they are heard and the people they elect and work in the government are fully aware and know who butter their bread!

    Over where I live in fact, children from day 0 up to 16 years of age are eligible for free welfare and free health care as part of the initiative to encourage young Japanese couple to have more children to preserve the Japanese race.

    Everyone here is encouraged to get a national or social health insurance, which actually becomes our national ID, and with it we get lesser bills for our medicare. Those who cannot pay for their medication can apply for some welfare from the government, especially when they have to stay in hospitals longer like those people who contract diseases like TB, etc.

    Patients in Japanese Sanitariums get some government subsidy to stop them from worrying about financing that can adversely affect their health.

    In the Philippines, there has never been any such attempt, I believe, to ease the burden of the afflicted.

    So much for their professing to have faith in God, and pride themselves by calling the Philippines as the only Christian country in Asia!

    Filipino politicians, et al should burn in hell as a matter of fact, una na iyong Pandak!

    Kawawa ang mga walang pera sa Pilipinas! No wonder they want to get of the Philippines quick and die elsewhere!

  2. vic - June 11, 2006 11:22 am

    The cost of cancer treatment as enumerated by Ellen caused me to cringe and also makes me think that even here, not too many can afford it, except as Bibeth Orteza stated only the royalty and the wealthy. Even without it most people are deep down in financial worries with their house morgages, car payments and children stuffs and just basic daily needs. Luckily our government already figured this out a while back. It will let the “Royalty and the Wealthy”
    subsidized the health care needs of all its subjects. Without, although the cost of treatment here may not as expensive compares to that in the Philippines, could still be very hard on any average citizens and residents. And until now, I still can’t figure out that so many basic medications are still expensive over there, when generic equivalents we are using here cost just a fraction and it is also covered. Something to look into why?
    My own experience; two years ago I was off work for l5 months on doctor’s order because of health issue and my bill could have totalled more than $50 grand (doctor’s bill and hospital direct to the health care ministry and it is totally private) and it is only a minor but hard to diagnos issue and finally after all kind of tests and clinical exams, a proper medications was prescribed and successfully treated.
    Since Gadasil is a vaccine and only to be administered like any Vaccine-a series of application within the period, I suggest the Health Care Ministry should shoulder the cost like any Vaccine. I always believe the health of the nation is worth the money spent and in the long run a healthy populace is more productive and mentally less incline to committ Corruptions and all kinds of wrongdoings.

  3. Ellen - June 11, 2006 12:39 pm

    Vic, in what country are you based now?

    The government has no heart for the poor. Gloria Arroyo makes a big deal in photo-ops distributing medicines. There’s nothing there beyond press releases.

    Mike Arroyo is also making a big deal about his donations to PGH. PGH people said he imposes conditions with his donations. Like he has specific patients that the money should be used. Siguro yung mga humihingi ng tulong sa kaniya. Instead of helping them directly quietly, he gives it to PGH con todo press release, then specifies that it will be given to the people who approached him.

    His press releases picture him as generous. Far from it. It’s not his money. He conducts fundraising events. The money comes from his wealthy friends, who gets favor through government contracts. We don’t even know if Arroyo gives all the money he gets from his friends to PGH. So if you analyze it, it’s our money that he is donating.

  4. vic - June 11, 2006 2:28 pm

    Ellen I’m a Canadian Citizen and also a Pilipino by Birthright. Also by virtue of dual citizenships which Canada encourages for all her citizens to enjoy, I’m both. Although I maintain a resident at brookside hill and one in my hometown of Alimodian, Iloilo (click my link) honestly I would prefer to stay here until the country approaches the Maturity closer to Canada.
    Yes, we have a Universal Health Care system which I firmly believe could be equalled but hard to surpass by any country. Our Senior Citizen are home Free. Just a token of maybe a dollar of two for prescription fee and their medication is delivered free to their door if they want too. Hospitals and Doctors bills are totally shouldered by the govt. under the Health Ministries (provincial and federal budget). And patients who by nature of their illness are not capable of working for livelihood will be look after by our health care and welfare systems the rest of their lives. No matter the cost for a single patient. From the day you are born or become entitled to our system benefits to the day you leave this world, you are as precious as any of Canada’s 35 million citizens. It is not perfect, but everyday the people we voted to lead are doing their best to make it closer. Now can you blame for being one proud Canadian??

  5. vic - June 11, 2006 3:07 pm

    Talking of donation, last week a Canadian citizen, Mr. Munk, with his four year old grandson playing beside him donated 37 million dollars to our University Health Centre for its Heart Centre. In his press release, he simply said that “When you got a lot of money, you have a million oppurtunities to give them away” and added “this donation is somehow personal, this hospital had taken good care of my grandfather and my father and they both died here”. And Mr. Munk now one of the wealthiest Canadian may have been so poor at that time, but both his grandfather and father got the care for what he is grateful now. No conditions made, but the hospital now has the most advance equipments in treatment of Heart diseases and intervention for such disease.
    Glad we don’t have Mike Arroyos and pretentious philantropists only to get back more on what should be an honourable deed. but we have plenty of Peter Munks..

  6. Ellen - June 11, 2006 3:18 pm

    Vic, what’s your website? It’s not linked here.

    I admire the Canadian system, not only its health system but the way governance is structured. That’s why Canada is high, number one ot wo I think, in U.N’s human development index.

    In my short visit to Canada in 1998 (I was a marshall Mc Luhan fellow) I observed the lifestyle there to be less hectic than in the U.S. It’s a nice combination of both North America and Europe.

    A friend of mine, Ruben Cusipag,publisher-editor of Balita, is a recipient of Canada’s superior health insurance system. He met a vehicular accident and the care that he is getting is really impressive.

  7. Karl Garcia - June 11, 2006 3:37 pm

    Good news sa akin ang crevical cancer vaccine…

    Sa ngayon my wife has recurring cervical polips,nagkataon pregnant sya ngayon at last week akala ko na threatened abortion sya dahil nagbleed , the cause pala is that dreaded polip na twice na nangyari sa wfe ko.This would be my first child after eight years of marraige kaya sana tuto ang sinabi ng OB na mawawala ang root ng polip kasabay ng delivery…

    PS

    the wbesite of VIc is almodian.net

    I clicked his name sa blog ni MLQ3 and I am sure sya yun dahil alam ko that he’s been commenting on Canada.

  8. Karl Garcia - June 11, 2006 3:39 pm

    Vic, pardon me for preempting you,it just so happened that i know your website.

  9. Karl Garcia - June 11, 2006 3:50 pm

    Ellen,

    I hope you continue to be strong and well.

    God Bless You!

  10. vic - June 11, 2006 4:01 pm

    Thanks Ellen, Our website, run by all Alimodiananons Worldwide is http://www.alimodian.net . It’s just our web to communicate among all townmates all over for our projects locally and in our hometown and also for get together and announcements of current events involving the town and her residents and her children worldwide.
    Ruben Cusipag, is a prominent writer here and his periodical Balita is one of the earliest of the many Pinoy’s publications here. I’m also from Toronto and aware of Mr. Cusipag unfortunate accident.
    Yes, you are exactly right, we are known all over as laid back, cross between the old and new world cultures. My own family is split. The newcomers are now residing accross the border and we both experience each others country. And also the Alimodiananon Worlwide (also Alimodiananon sa Amerika) is based in the East Coast of the U.S. and we go over to visit our townfolks once in a while for reunions. Like I would like to say to my townmates, we can make anyplace our home as long as we keep together and keep our cultures alive and respect all others. Thank you for your appreciations of Canada. Vic..

  11. Karl Garcia - June 11, 2006 4:20 pm

    Ay, hanggang 26 lang pala ang Gardasil …overqualified na si esmi.I hope in the future mastretch pa ng konti.

  12. vic - June 11, 2006 4:22 pm

    Thanks Karl. That’s it. It is “our” website. Just an open channel for us townmates to keep in contact and plan for our projects for the town, our town of Alimodian, Iloilo
    Ellen, thanks for your appreciations of Canada. She comes a long way. But gently and surely, we have minimized the inequality and discrimination that besieged us back then. And we are going to eliminate them eventually.
    I was aware of Mr. Cusipag unfortunate accident. He is the pioneer of Pilipino Publications here and now there are quite a few of them. I am from the same city.
    You are exactly right, we are known all over as laid back, and relax, cross between the old and new world cultures. And two weeks from now, my niece and nephew who immigrated in California December 05 will have their first taste of Canada. It’s school break and teenagers don’t want to stay home. Again Thanks and wishing you and yours Good Health and keep up the good work.. thanks..

  13. Ellen - June 11, 2006 4:24 pm

    Thanks, Karl. I’m sure there are other medical solutions for your wife’s problems.

  14. Karl Garcia - June 11, 2006 4:32 pm

    Many Many Thanks Ellen!

    Vic, thank you for the additional info about your site.

  15. schumey - June 11, 2006 4:36 pm

    Another feather on GMA’s cap. Health plays a big part on a country’s progress. Malnutrition and health has gone unchecked for so long that people just end up being a number in a statistic. The administration has given life very little value and couldn’t care less for its people’s sufferings. Still , P20,000 is quite steep with our less fortunate brethren but definitely welcome for those who can afford. One cannot put a premium on life and to think they repealed the death penalty because life is worth saving. But what about the countless faces who have to scrape our trash for food, and the afflicted who have to content themselves with quack doctors to remedy their illnesses? They too deserve to live. And what have the administration done to protect these people?

    The administration has instead focused on self-preservation with its increased budget for the AFP and its continuing push for Cha-Cha. They couldn’t care less if its own people die of hunger or disease. The charities and NGOs could only do so much. The government must address this reality head on and do its part “SINCERELY”. How cruel can they be, while its populace suffer silently, all they do is protect their own interests. A cruel reality of life we must face every single day.

  16. ystakei - June 11, 2006 6:27 pm

    Schumey:

    I was flabbergasted when I show the Pandak distributing a pack of rice (about a kilo or less) and some ramen to the needy for a photo-op. I have actually yet to see a Japanese politician to do that, but I doubt if they would since it is a reflection of their non-achievement and non-performance if they do that since the government is duty-bound to provide all services that the taxpayers expect to have for taxes. We surely won’t agree to be treated like beggars and given a pittance of rice and ramen.

    Golly, Ramen for “ulam”! Over here, ramen is substitute to rice, and everybody here knows without the vegetables and meat added to it, it cannot contribute to good health. So what is the Midget priding herself with those rice and ramens to the poor? Stupid!

    But then, over here, people are not actually fond of waiting for giveaways except when rightfully deserved as in exchange for some stored points like those offered by electric shops in Japan. Kasi ayaw ng mga hapon ng libre! It’s degrading really. Over here, we believe that “nothing free is cheap!”

    But when it comes to health care, the government should have enough budget to provide for the basic needs of the citizenry even just in exchange for their love of country.

    On the other hand, I see God’s justice working overtime over there. Many years ago, I went with a group of Japanese TV crew to do a documentary on Payatas after the landslide there that killed a lot many residents there who live on top of the garbage. Diring-diri ako but I could not help being awed by the residents there who could have such resistance to communicable diseases caused by the garbage thrown there.

    We actually saw children picking up human legs and limbs complete with the maggotsn being thrown there. I panicked in fact and asked them to call the police, but they said they were garbage from some medical university. Shocking!

    In Japan, in fact, not burying human corpses is a crime. Ganoong kawalanghiya!

  17. ystakei - June 11, 2006 6:30 pm

    Karl:

    I believe in miracles. I was infertile myself, but I never had any cancer symptoms. I just did not ovulate. After much praying, and imploring the Lord above, I found a doctor who helped cure my malady, and I had a son, who is now 22 years old.

    I’ll pray for your wife. May I know her name in full so I can submit her name at our temple for a special prayer?

  18. ystakei - June 11, 2006 6:31 pm

    Erratum, sorry. This should read:

    I was flabbergasted when I SAW the Pandak distributing a pack of rice (about a kilo or less) and some ramen to the needy for a photo-op.

  19. HILLBLOGGER - June 11, 2006 6:42 pm

    Karl,

    Am sorry to hear about your wife.

    I really hope everything will be alright.

    My sister in law in the Philippines (Paquito’s wife) was diagnosed with leukemia some 10 years ago. I strongly believe that prayers helped her survive – she’s one of the most dignified and kindest people I know – she’s still alive.

  20. Ellen - June 12, 2006 12:23 am

    Medical advances have helped prolong lives. But you are right Anna, the One up there has the last say.

    I believe in prayers.

  21. johnmarzan - June 12, 2006 4:00 am

    grabe na talaga ang presyo ng medicina ngayon.

  22. ystakei - June 12, 2006 5:54 am

    Ellen:

    One of the things I’ve learned in my search for the truth is that God is so good He would give everything that IS GOOD for us, and that He grants our prayers if they ARE RIGHT in His own good time and purpose like any parents would do for the sake of their children whom they love.

    The best is to pray that it will be in accordance with God’s Will and Commandments.

    Your country and people need you, and I pray that God will let you live long!

    Each day of our lives in fact is precious and should be spent for doing good for God and our fellowmen, not just for ourselves. You’re meeting that I guess.

  23. Karl Garcia - June 12, 2006 8:59 am

    To Anna,
    Thank you very much!

  24. Karl Garcia - June 12, 2006 9:01 am

    We all must continue to believe in prayers!

  25. Tom - June 13, 2006 5:13 am

    Not to diminish the high cost of treating/surviving cancer, kahit ano halos karamdaman can devastate some Filipino families. Ang nanay ko, age 85, recently had her gall bladder taken out due to gall stones. Kamuntik nang pumutok. Hospital and doctor fees ay almost P150,000. Wala namang medical insurance. Saan kukuha ng ganoong kalaking halaga ang walang trabaho/income? Tapos hindi pa idi-discharge kung hindi bayaran ang buong halaga ng fees. Para bagang hostage na ayaw pakawalan. E kung hindi nga mabayaran agad, e di lalo pang lalaki ang utang! Ano ang gagawin namin. E di nangutang para lang mailabas ang nanay. Hindi naman namin kahalubilo ang mga Manny Pacquiao, o mga big shot sa Pilipinas o France o Tokyo o Brussels o New York.

  26. Tom - June 13, 2006 5:19 am

    Karl, I hope you and your wife have a healthy child as this pregnancy continues to full term. I’m rooting for you. A child is a precious gift from God, actually a loan to manage. My wife and I have two sons but we don’t claim them as “ours,” only entrusted to us in the meantime.

  27. Ellen - June 16, 2006 9:51 pm

    Tom, you said it.

    Wow, yur mother survived an operation at 85? Galing niya!

    You mentioned medical insurance. That is what is lacking in our system. In my case, our office has a tie-up with Medicard. Before it was CAP.It’s a big help, kahit papano.But for big-ticket items like surgery and chemo, kulang na kulang talaga.

    Ibang-iba talaga in countries like Canada.

    It was a big help for me that I was treated in PGH. Mahaba lang ang pila but the rates are much lower than in private hospitals. But it is still a drain in he pocket.

    Mahirap magkasakit talaga.

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